- Posted byon November 21, 2011 at 4:49 PM EST
Compared to their representation among the U.S. population, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses. These two groups have consistently higher proportions of inmates in state prison who are drug offenders compared to whites - about 50% higher.
Over the past two months, we have met with African American leaders across the country – in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles – to listen to what they had to say. We discussed their concerns and ideas, and we outlined the Obama Administration’s approach to drug policy, presenting our view that it is guided by three indisputable facts: Addiction is a disease that can be treated; people can recover from drug addiction; and new interventions are needed to appropriately address substance abuse and drug-related crime. Simply put: We cannot arrest our way out of our Nation’s drug problem.
Addressing drug addiction as a public health issue will help us break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration. And in keeping with a balanced public health and safety approach, the Obama Administration is taking unprecedented actions to restore balance to how we address our Nation’s drug problem and its disproportionate effects on communities of color. As Director Kerlikowske has said, the “War on Drugs” metaphor is not something that captures the complexity of the problem, or our innovative response:
- This last fiscal year, the Obama Administration spent $10.4 billion on drug prevention and treatment programs compared to $9.2 billion on domestic drug enforcement;
- In August of last year, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law that dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine, which disproportionately affected minorities;
- The Administration also advocated for, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved, the retroactive application of these sentencing guidelines which became effective on November 1st.
- We are supporting the expansion of drug courts, which place roughly 120,000 non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison each year;
- The Administration is implementing the Second Chance Act, which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and provides resources for common sense, evidence-based approaches to reducing crime;
- The Administration has worked to clarify rules regarding the eligibility of housing authorities to allow ex-offenders access to public housing and ensure that they understand that they have the discretion to lease to all but two types of criminal convictions: Individuals convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in public housing and registered sex offenders; and
- Attorney General Holder has also contacted State Attorneys General to urge them to review the legal collateral consequences of their State laws being placed upon ex-offenders that may burden their successful reentry into society.
- Posted byon November 18, 2011 at 10:20 AM EST
Last week, Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Director Kerlikowske met with leaders of Los Angeles’ African American community to discuss the Obama Administration’s evidence-based approach to reforming the criminal justice system and hear suggestions on further advancements to reduce racial disparities.
Bringing together community substance abuse organizations, prevention advocates, law enforcement officials, members of the local judicial system, and representatives from national African American organizations, the group’s discussion centered around the current needs of the community and fostering collaboration for an integrated approach to building a healthier community. Co-hosted by the Congresswoman and Director Kerlikowske, the roundtable also highlighted the common understanding that reducing drug use and its consequences is a process that must include a balance of public health and public safety needs, and greater emphasis on research around the science of addiction.
“As our nation works to recover from one of the greatest recessions we’ve had, we must do everything we can to lessen the harm that drug use causes to the health, safety, and economic potential of our nation. As part of this effort, we must reform our criminal justice system so that it recognizes drug addiction as a disease and works in a way that is fair and equitable to every American. This challenge requires new and innovative ways of thinking about how we address our drug problem,” said Director Kerlikowske.
Recently, the Obama Administration has made significant progress in reducing disparities in the criminal justice system. One year ago, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. This important and long-overdue criminal justice reform dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine. The Administration also provided support for the Second Chance Act, which passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support and provides resources for common sense, evidence-based approaches to reducing crime. Specifically, the Act provides funding for programs that improve coordination of reentry services and policies at the state, tribal, and local levels, including demonstration grants, reentry courts, family-centered programs, substance abuse treatment, employment, mentoring and other services needed to improve transition from prison and jail to communities and reduce recidivism.
To continue this progress, the Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy recognizes that the criminal justice system plays a vital role in reducing the costs and consequences of crimes committed by drug-involved offenders. Director Kerlikowske and Congresswoman Waters are continuing their collaboration with communities and affected populations across the country to ensure that innovative, evidence-based solutions are used to foster healthy individuals and safe communities.
- Posted byon November 14, 2011 at 11:40 AM EST
The Lexington Division of Police operates one of the four police training academies in Kentucky and provides certified instruction, as set by the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council. Our recruits receive the same instruction as other recruits concerning narcotics identification and investigation (certified); however, we offer additional training we feel is critical to an officer’s development – the understanding of drug addiction and the behaviors associated with addiction. We believe having this basic understanding helps the officers make practical policing decisions when dealing with this population.
For the past 14 years, the Lexington Division of Police has had a full time Drug Court Liaison Officer. This position and our relationship with our local Drug Courts is critical to the Lexington community’s understanding that the Lexington Division of Police takes a truly comprehensive approach to addressing illegal drug use in our community. While we maintain aggressive enforcement of drug laws we also have a real commitment to the treatment of those individuals who qualify for our Drug Court programs and want help to change their life.
Our Drug Court Liaison Officer conducts four hours (non-certified) of instruction to our new recruits outlining the role of our agency in working with drug courts and the results of that relationship. It describes the Liaison Officer’s responsibilities of conducting periodic home visits and the importance of law enforcement involvement in the Drug Court process. In addition, the officers speak to Drug Court graduates and current participants and learn about the life changing experiences of those who successfully complete the programs and the very real challenges that current participants face in treatment. Accompanied by their counselors and our Liaison Officer, the participants speak to their particular addiction and how it affected their life.
Also included in this instruction is a four-hour block on the chemistry of addiction – what is happening in the brain of the drug user and why that translates into specific kinds of behaviors including criminal behavior. Developed with the help of the Drug Court treatment professionals, the course provides a basic understanding as to why an individual may display a particular kind of behavior. For instance, it is beneficial for our officers to understand why a drug dependent individual will have difficulty following multiple step instruction especially if they are asked to perform the task the following day. The officers learn that this particular individual is not, at this time in their life, able to resolve even minor conflicts that we take for granted. The portion of the class that seems to garnish the most interest is walking the recruits through what happens emotionally with the addict based on the chemical changes occurring in the brain. This benefits the Division because the officers come to recognize that if they do not take an active role in assisting the individual in resolving the issue, it is likely they will be returning to that location for subsequent calls for service.
In this class, we use actual criminal investigations of crimes to demonstrate many of the principles discussed. I find that by tying this information directly to what officers experience on the streets makes the material more relevant. They begin to understand how this information will assist them in doing a better job as officers and for the community.
When we don’t understand someone’s behavior, we have a tendency to resort to making moral judgments. Judgments concerning the behaviors of those dealing with addiction only hamper an officer’s interaction and clouds the practical decisions police officers must make on a daily basis. In my 29 years of law enforcement I have noticed a significant difference in officers who have a basic understanding of addiction and the behaviors associated with it. These officers tend to be less judgmental, more patient and ultimately more efficient than officers who don’t have this training and tend to see the addict more as a problem rather than a person. Officers who don’t have this type of understanding tend to resort to arrest rather than committing to resolving the problem that brought them to the addict. While both scenarios take time, assisting the addict with resolving the problem when it is practical to do so prevents call backs. Always settling the issue with arrest uses resources we don’t have and is only a temporary solution since the problem still exists.
Mike Bosse is Assistant Police Chief of the Lexington Division of Police
- Posted byon November 8, 2011 at 2:21 PM EST
Law enforcement, jail personnel, pretrial services, probation,prosecutors and other justice system decision makers every day encounter individuals facing charges relating to substance abuse. Whether the alleged offense is a drug charge, a probation violation due to a positive drug test, or an offense committed to get money for drugs, a significant percentage of criminal charges in every court are related to or determined to be due to a substance abuse disorder.
All of us have witnessed this cycle of substance use, crime and arrest playing out again and again. More and more judges and others in the justice system seek solutions that would stop the cycle. Understanding the neuroscience of addiction is critical to facilitating imposition of court sanctions in concert with clinical interventions and other responses leading to recovery. Evidence-based solutions are the key to helping these individual offenders not repeat their patterns of crime and substance abuse. A justice system response which includes screening, assessment, treatment, monitoring, supervision, or involvement in programs addressing criminogenic behavior is the answer.
Drug courts, Veterans courts, DWI courts, and other problem-solving initiatives work. However, given the overwhelming number of substance-involved offenders recycling through the system, more needs to done. As a matter of effective and efficient policy, decision makers need to look at the entire criminal justice system from point of first contact through supervision after sentencing for alternatives that are effective and just not less expensive.
In an attempt to facilitate a discussion leading to creation of evidence-based responses, several Federal partners, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (SAMHSA/CSAT), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the National Judicial College (NJC) and the Center for Health and Justice at Treatment Alternatives for Safe Community (TASC), developed the National Judicial Leadership Systems Change Initiative (NJLSCI). This initiative was offered to:
- presiding judges in September 2011;
- judicial district teams in the State of Texas; and
- local court and state policymakers teams in the State of Georgia in October 2011.
The participants acknowledged the need for institutional change in the criminal justice system, a principle highlighted in the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy. The following are some of the proposals drafted by teams/judges:
- Determine what information prosecutors or judges need to exercise discretion in ordering offenders into treatment, diversion or alternative programs;
- Convene local criminal justice collaboratives to determine which offenders should be addressed for their substance use and which prosecuted through the regular criminal justice system;
- Examine the points of contact that offenders have with the judicial system and determine what information is available or should be made available in determining how to address the substance abuse of the offender;
- Determine how a court or judicial circuit could conduct screening of persons arrested or contacted by law enforcement officers at the earliest time possible; and
- Identify which offenders need to be brought into the system and those that can be addressed through alternative programs.
From a judge’s perspective, the NJLSCI, by working with and supporting the efforts of criminal justice systems through presiding judges andlocal, circuit or statewide teams to plan and implement systemic interventions for offenders with substance use disorders, is effective. Innovative leaders must collaborate and determine how their local justice system can best address substance abusing offenders beginning with the point of first contact utilizing evidence-based interventions at each opportunity.
William F. Dressel is President of the National Judicial College
- Posted byon November 3, 2011 at 10:36 AM EST
In 2009, nearly seven million individuals were under supervision of the state and Federal criminal justice systems. Nearly two million of these individuals were incarcerated for their crimes, while the remaining five million were on probation or parole. While both the Federal and state correctional systems must address this challenge, states generally bear the costs related to this population, and correctional spending has increased accordingly. Between 1988 and 2009, state corrections spending increased from $12 billion to $52 billion per year.
Despite these significant expenditures, far too many offenders return to drug use and crime upon their reentry into society. Part of the reason for this phenomenon is that many offenders are dealing with chronic substance abuse - a disease for which too many are inadequately treated.
Among state prisoners with a substance use disorder, 53 percent had at least three prior sentences to probation or incarceration, compared to 32 percent of other inmates. Drug dependent or abusing state prisoners (48 percent) were also more likely than other inmates (37 percent) to have been on probation or parole supervision at the time of their arrest.
The revolving door of the Nation’s criminal justice systems is one of the most significant challenges in reducing the devastating consequences of drug use. This cycle deprives too many Americans of their chance to lead healthy, safe and productive lives. That’s why the Obama Administration is taking steps to prevent Americans from becoming involved in drug use and crime, and providing a continuum of interventions, treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and reentry support for those that do. We are also focusing on getting treatment to people before their substance use becomes chronic.
The Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy supports comprehensive change within the criminal justice system, promoting the implementation of a continuum of evidence-based interventions to address the needs of drug-involved offenders, while ensuring the safety of the community. The goal is to integrate these approaches throughout the justice process: at arrest, in jail, in the courts, while incarcerated, or upon release back into the community. One aspect of comprehensive change within the system is to ensure effective alternatives to incarceration and reentry support are provided to these populations.
The Administration’s Strategy promotes a variety of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration for drug-involved offenders. These include Drug Market Interventions (DMI) to disrupt open-air drug markets; Drug and Veterans Treatment Courts designed to effectively treat the substance abuse and mental health disorders of adults, young people, and Veterans in the system; smart probation strategies, like Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), to use existing community supervision mechanisms to address probationers’ underlying substance abuse issues; improved service delivery behind the walls of jail and prison; and reentry support to ensure that offenders don’t return to drug use and crime once released.
States are taking steps to improve how their justice systems address substance-abusing offenders, and are re-examining and reforming sentencing structures to better align with evidence-based approaches. These approaches include treatment and other supportive services, as well as enhanced community supervision. Despite budgetary challenges, states must invest in these programs and services to ensure the effectiveness of key sentencing reforms.
The Administration is committed to smarter investments in the criminal justice system, recognizing that addiction is a disease and ensuring that the system is improving the health and safety of our communities. In the coming weeks, this website will highlight a number of these innovative programs, all of which share the same goal of breaking the cycle of drug use and crime, and ensuring the public health and safety of our citizens.
- Criminal Justice System Reform
- Alternatives to Incarceration
- Drug and Veteran Courts
- Matthew Perry Voices His Support for Drug Courts(Video)
- In-Custody Treatment and Reentry
Benjamin B. Tucker is Deputy Director of State, Local and Tribal Affairs at the Office of National Drug Control Policy
- Posted byon October 28, 2011 at 4:11 PM EST
As reflected in the 2011 National Drug ControlStrategy, a key ingredient for preventing drug use is ensuring that communities, parents, and especially our youth, have the most up-to-date scientific information about drug use and its consequences. National Drug Facts Week provides young adults with science-based facts and information about drug and alcohol use, and empowers them to make healthy decisions as informed consumers.
By joining forces and bringing young adults and scientific experts together with a common goal, National Drug Facts Week aims to shatter the myths that surround teen drug use and underage drinking, and provides an invaluable opportunity for youth to find out the true facts. The fifth annual National Drug Facts Chat Day on November 1st will provide further opportunities for teens across the country to engage in meaningful conversation and receive honest and factual answers to their questions. In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s (NIDA) Sara Bellum Blog highlights people from across the country who are participating in CyberShoutout! And helping to raise awareness about drugs and drug abuse.
Experience shows we can continue to make progress in reducing drug use by supporting balanced and evidence-based approaches, and ONDCP commends the NIDA for providing a free program that encourages science based information sharing. ONDCP encourages you to take advantage of the instrumental and innovative opportunities that National Drug Facts Week provides for young adults, and also parents, educators, and the community at large.
- Posted byon October 28, 2011 at 3:55 PM EST
The home medicine cabinet is a minefield. Each day, nearly 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time – and a majority of those pills are known to come from family and friends, including the medicine cabinet. Most leftover and expired medicines can be thrown in the household trash, and a few must be flushed down the toilet. But I suggest taking advantage of the growing number of community-based “take back” or drug disposal programs that offer a safer alternative.
Disposal programs, cost-effective programs allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. The drop-off locations vary across the country. Many are at police departments. Others are at temporary places like pharmacies and community centers. All of them use secure equipment and strict procedures to prevent theft or diversion.
I’ve seen first-hand in Florida as nervous parents returned containers of old drugs, fearful that their toddlers will get their hands on them or that their teens will want to experiment with them.
It’s no joke. Home medicine cabinets have become the new drug dealers. But it’s one drug dealer that parents can put a stop to. For me, the take-back programs are the only secure and environmentally sound way to dispose of unwanted pharmaceuticals without contaminating surface and ground waters.
Started in the mid-2010s, the take-back programs spread fast to keep up with the prescription drug abuse epidemic that kills thousands and thousands of people annually in the United States. The effort picked up steam when the Drug Enforcement Administration organized the National Prescription Drug Take Back Days in September 2010, April 2011, and again this past August. Nearly 4,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation have participated in these events, collecting more than 309 tons of pills. Another national take-back day is planned for tomorrow, October 29, so check the National Prescription Drug Take Back Days website to find upcoming events in your area. Unfortunately, there are restrictions on disposing of controlled substances. The DEA is working on changes to these rules to make it easier for people to dispose of controlled drugs. However, until these changes are made and there are regular disposal sites, many consumers keep prescribed drugs in their medicine cabinets and other places for a long time, not knowing how to get rid of them properly.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the following steps need to be taken to dispose of unused medication:
- Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, throw the drugs in the household trash, but first:
- Take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter. The medication will be less appealing to children and pets, and unrecognizable to people who may intentionally go through your trash.
- Put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
Hopefully, it won’t be too long before take-back programs reach most corners of the country. This will address the real concern that teens could misuse these very accessible drugs.
Until that happens, let’s all make sure we clean out the medicine cabinets and get potentially dangerous leftover drugs out of our homes.
Karen H. Perry is the executive director of NOPE Task Force
- Posted byon October 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM EST
Across the Nation community leaders, public health offices, and police departments are working to address today’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. As part of the Smart Policing Initiative, the Reno, Nevada Police Department recently launched an innovative new project aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse within our community. Based on a comprehensive strategy with both enforcement and prevention components, the initiative decreases availability of prescription drugs, increases knowledge about the dangers of substance abuse, and enforces laws designed to reduce prescription drug fraud and diversion.
This collaborative initiative was developed in partnership with the pharmaceutical, medical, education, and business communities, and with the support of substance abuse prevention advocates. Ongoing activities include:
- Prescription fraud training for over 300 pharmacists in the Reno area;
- Meetings with pharmaceutical and medical boards to enhance knowledge sharing and collaboration;
- Prescription Drug Round Up events which have collected and destroyed over 285,000 pills including highly addictive opiates, depressants , and stimulants;
- Distribution of over 500 lockable medicine cabinets that help limit in-home access to prescription drugs; and
- Series of interactive discussions and surveys with teens and adults to gain better understanding of the extent and nature of prescription drug abuse.
To date, the results of this initiative, which is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, include enhanced collaboration and cooperation throughout the area. Among the participants, both physicians and pharmacists have stated that they believe improved protocols for the dispensing of drugs are required and that police should play a major role in this issue. By taking a comprehensive and proactive approach to addressing prescription drug abuse, the Reno, Nevada Police Department is working hard to ensure that our community is healthy and safe.
Stacy Shamblin is Drug Abuse Prevention Coordinator at the Reno Police Department
- Posted byon October 24, 2011 at 2:08 PM EST
Decades of research on adolescent drug use demonstrate that the only prevention approaches with a chance of having a real impact on attitudes and prevalences are those that are built around scientific facts and delivered honestly.
There are no shortcuts: Even when the scientific picture is partial or incomplete (as it usually is), the best strategy is to give teens the most accurate and straightforward information we have. Most young people are eager to learn (even if they won’t admit it) about what different drugs of abuse do to their brains, their overall health, and their academic and social performance. Luckily, we have a fascinating and relevant story to tell them. Just from the most recent research we have learned, for example, that the human brain is not fully developed until the early 20s, which helps explain young people’s bias toward risky decision making, that addictive substances begin by affecting the pleasure centers of the brain but can go on to disrupt higher functions, like learning, impulse control, and decision-making, and that some of the negative effects that drugs of abuse can have on physical and mental health may result from their ability to change the patterns of gene expression in the brain. Discoveries such as these will no doubt influence how we prevent and treat drug abuse and addiction in years to come.
Like everybody else, young people want to make their own decisions based on what they perceive to be the best available information. However, young people can only listen and take in that information when they trust the messenger. Unfortunately, it would be hard to argue that we, as a society, have done a particularly good job in this regard.
NIDA’s National Drug Facts Week (NDFW) strives to earn back young people’s trust. From October 31st through Sunday, November 6th, the second annual NDFW will bring together teens and scientific experts in communities across the country to bring forth the facts and “Shatter the Myths.”
To encourage conversation about drug use during National Drug Facts Week, NIDA has developed the 2011 National Drug IQ Challenge - a 10-question, multiple-choice interactive quiz that teens and adults can take to test their science-based knowledge about drugs. NIDA will also hold its fifth annual National Drug Facts Chat Day on November 1st. On that day, I will be one of forty NIDA scientists and science writers answering questions about drugs from teens in schools around the country via a live Web chat. Anyone can follow the Chat by going on NIDA’s Web site.
NIDA recognizes that teens have the need and the right to know about drugs and their effects on brain and body. To cut through all the confusion I encourage you to join us this week and learn the facts about drug abuse and addiction. Information on National Drug Facts Week can be found at http://drugfactsweek.drugabuse.gov.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D., is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Posted byon October 21, 2011 at 1:00 PM EST
The Oregon Partnership gave high school volunteers an opportunity to engage their peers in a survey about school alcohol and marijuana use – with a fascinating result. The students developed a scientific questionnaire with professional assistance, and then used PDAs to poll their respective student bodies. After the surveys were tabulated an extraordinary fact emerged: The actual use of alcohol and drugs was extremely lower than - practically the opposite of- perceived use.
The next challenge: Get that word out and see if it would affect conditions at the two pilot high schools. The student group developed posters and advertisements, as well as town halls, to share the news that most of their high school’s population was not regularly using alcohol or marijuana.
Six months later the survey was repeated – with significantly different results. In one high school, not only had perceptions lowered, but actual use of alcohol and marijuana had decreased as well. A vice-principal at one of the schools was thrilled to report drug and alcohol-related school infractions had decreased by 28%. By empowering teens they became agents for positive social change through careful research and targeted messages, resulting in safer communities.
The Oregon Partnership is a statewide non-profit promoting healthy kids and communities through drug and alcohol awareness, drug prevention programs, and 24 hour crisis lines for treatment referrals, members of the military and their families, and suicide intervention. We work with schools, law enforcement, the military and community coalitions statewide to create public awareness on the dangers of substance abuse.
Tom Parker is Communications Director at the Oregon Partnership
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