• Director Kerlikowske Speaks at the World Traffic Safety Symposium

    I was honored today to serve as keynote speaker at the World Traffic Safety Symposium (WTSS), part of the New York International Auto Show. The symposium, hosted by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, brought advocacy and community organizations together to raise awareness on drugged driving. Experts from the National Traffic Safety Board, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Road Safety Foundation spent the day discussing the issue and identifying possible solutions.

    The toll drugged driving takes on our Nation is greater than many people realize. According to a 2010 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 1 in 3 drivers with known drug test results who were killed in a motor vehicle crash in 2009 tested positive for drugs (illicit substances as well as over-the-counter and prescription medications). The report from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System also showed that drivers under age 35 represent nearly half (46 percent) of all drug-involved fatally injured drivers and 40 percent of all drivers killed on America’s roadways.

    The President’s stated goal is to reduce drugged driving 10 percent by the year 2015. To this end, ONDCP is working closely with groups in the public and private sectors to highlight the issue of drugged driving. We have joined forces with Federal partners such as the Department of Transportation and NHTSA, as well as with key advocacy organizations, including MADD, the National Organizations for Youth Safety, SADD, and RADD – the Entertainment Industry’s Voice for Road Safety.

    Curbing drugged driving requires a unified, coordinated effort that emphasizes the important roles of education, policymaking, and legislation. To increase public safety on the Nation’s roads, I encourage states to examine enhanced legal responses such as per se, or “zero-tolerance,” laws that make it easier to keep drugged drivers off the road. Seventeen states currently have per se statutes, and I urge others to consider adopting these standards.

    In my three years as the Director of the National Drug Control Policy, I have been impressed by the effort and dedication I’ve seen among Americans working to rid their country of social ills such as substance abuse and violence. While in New York for today’s symposium, for example, I dropped by Phoenix House, where I learned about a new program called West Side Story Project. This program uses theater to bring young people, police officers, and other community partners together to discuss and learn about violence prevention. It’s this kind of innovative approach that can help us address a variety of social issues.

    Thanks to public awareness campaigns by MADD and others over the past three decades, our Nation has seen a significant drop in the prevalence of drunk driving. There is no reason why we can’t achieve the same success against the threat of drugged driving.

    R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy

  • Strengthening Partnerships to Combat the Threat of Synthetic Drugs

    Calls to Poison Control Centers relating to synthetic drugs, such as synthetic marijuana and bath salts, have increased dramatically over the past two years.  In the United States, Poison Control Centers report that calls relating to synthetic marijuana more than doubled last year, rising from 2,915 in 2010 to 6,890 in 2011.  Calls relating to bath salts skyrocketed from 303 in 2010 to 6,072 in 2011.  And the harms resulting from the ingestion of synthetic marijuana, sometimes marketed as K2, and bath salts, are real.  The effects of synthetic marijuana include agitation, extreme nervousness, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia (fast, racing heartbeat), elevated blood pressure, tremors and seizures, hallucinations, and dilated pupils.  Similar to the adverse effects of cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine, bath salt use is associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and violent behavior, which causes users to harm themselves or others.  Recognizing this emerging threat, the Obama Administration is taking decisive action to protect public health and safety.

    The Drug Enforcement Administration used its emergency scheduling authority last year to ban eight substances related to synthetic marijuana and synthetic stimulants deemed harmful to public health and safety.  We are also working with Congress to pass legislation that would make this ban permanent, as states across the nation also take action. 

    However, because the drug trade knows no national boundaries, we must also leverage the power of international cooperation to address the issue.  Not only does the consumption of these drugs affect citizens worldwide, but many of the substances used to make synthetic drugs sold in the United States are manufactured and distributed in other countries.  We must therefore, work closely with the international community to promote smart international controls on synthetic drugs. 

    As part of this effort, the U.S. Government engaged with other nations to pass a resolution on synthetic drugs at last month’s meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs in Vienna, Austria. The resolution promotes broader international cooperation and, more specifically, calls on the World Health Organization to review synthetic substances for possible international scheduling—the first step in tightening international controls on synthetic drugs.  Approval of the resolution by United Nations Members is a strong indication that many nations, not just the United States, want to see action to address the global synthetics trade.

    The resolution also calls for:

    • Improved research, forensic analysis, and monitoring of internet sales of synthetics;
    • Countries to address the synthetics threat via emergency scheduling and the use of consumer protection, health, and hazardous substances legislation;
    • Enhanced criminal sanctions to prevent the illicit manufacture and trafficking of synthetics;
    • The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to exchange information on synthetics with the International Narcotics Control Board, the International Criminal Police Organization, and the World Customs Organization;
    • Enhanced collection and sharing of information on these substances through existing and new mechanisms, including consideration of the creation of a UNODC “watch list” that could serve as an international early warning advisory system for new psychoactive substances.

    The resolution is a significant step forward, and we look forward to continuing our work with partners at home and around the world to reduce the availability and use of synthetic drugs and protect Americans from this growing public health and safety threat.

    Recent information from the Office of National Drug Control Policy on synthetic drugs can be found at:


    Richard Baum is Branch Chief for International Policy in the Office of Supply Reduction

  • Working Together to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses involved prescription painkillers—also called opioid pain relievers.  In fact, these drugs were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008, more than cocaine and heroin combined.

    This is a challenge that hits some parts of America disproportionately, with states in Appalachia and the Southwest having the highest overall drug overdose death rates in the U.S.  In a period of nine months, for instance, a tiny Kentucky county of fewer than 12,000 people saw a 53-year-old mother, her 35-year-old son, and seven others die by overdosing on pain medications obtained from pain clinics in Florida.[i]

    The good news is that Federal, State, and local health and safety authorities are working together in unprecedented ways to address this crisis.  Moreover, this is a response that transcends party lines, with Republicans and Democrats working together. 

    Today, we had the privilege to participate in a National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, hosted by Kentucky Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers and Operation UNITE - the organization he launched in 2003 to reduce the impact of the drug problem in his state.   At the Summit, we met with leaders from the entire spectrum of civic life – from public health experts, to elected officials, and even students – all of whom understand how vital it is we work together to protect public health and safety. 

    This Summit served as a reminder to everyone that we can make a substantial impact in saving lives.   As always, our approach starts with prevention, which is why we continue to support Drug Free Communities, a Federal grant program that provides funding to community-based coalitions that organize to prevent youth substance use.  Just as importantly, we can support other community organizations and initiatives that emphasize the prevention and treatment of drug use: programs like Operation Unite and initiatives like DEA’s Take Back Day and NIDA’s PEERx.

    I want to thank the conference organizers, participants and many attendees for the opportunity to discuss this issue and learn from each other. I hope we can all walk away from this experience with a renewed optimism for tackling this challenge head on.

    R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy


  • The White House Honors “Champions of Change” in Youth Violence Prevention

    Yesterday, the White House recognized twelve leaders from across the Nation as “Champions of Change” for their work to prevent youth violence in their communities as part of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.

    One of the honorees was Fernanda Ocana, a young community activist from Salinas, California. Fernanda grew up in a community that had few positive role models for young Latinas.  To counteract the lack of positive influences, she got involved in the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace and in Building Healthy Communities for East Salinas.  Fernanda is now a sophomore in college and looks forward to continuing her work in the community once she graduates.

    Another honoree was De Quan O’Neal, an advisory board member of Neighborhood Service Organization’s Youth Initiatives Project (YIP), a youth leadership and advocacy training program in Detroit, Michigan.  De Quan got involved in community activism, working with 35 of his peers to kick off the 2012 “Hugs Not Bullets” Campaign to discourage gun violence, and working with other youth because he wants a better future for himself and his peers.  He also believes that young people need adults to provide strong leadership and mentoring, so that youth are provided with a clear roadmap for success.

    These “Champions of Change” were honored on the 44th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.  As we reflect on his legacy, it is wonderful to see his vision of community service present in these young leaders, who continue to work toward violence prevention and improving the lives of youth all across the country.

    To learn more about these courageous leaders, visit the Champions of Change website.  You can also visit the ONDCP website for more information on ONDCP’s work on community-based prevention and breaking the cycle of drug abuse, crime, and recidivism through criminal justice reform.

  • ONDCP Celebrates National Public Health Week

    This week, ONDCP joins the American Public Health Association (APHA) and partners across the country in celebrating National Public Health Week.  Following the release of the Obama Administration’s National Prevention Strategy, Federal, state, and local officials around the Nation are participating in this annual observance to provide education, resources, and tools to help people lead healthier lives.

    As Director Kerlikowske stated in a recent interview with The Nation’s Health, the official newspaper of APHA, the drug problem is “…a public health issue as much as a public safety issue.  Whether it’s through (screening and brief intervention and referral to treatment) or moving to additional work with primary care physicians who become more knowledgeable about the issues around dependence and addiction, etc.—all of that means that we have a better chance of dealing with this and reducing the problem if it’s part of a public health, education, and criminal justice focus.”

    Research shows preventing drug use before it begins is a cost-effective, common-sense approach to promoting safe and healthy communities.  Teens who don't use drugs perform better academically, have fewer auto accidents due to drugged and drunk driving, and are more productive due to lower absenteeism.  Preventing drug use also lowers rates of HIV transmission due to decreased injection drug use and other risky behaviors, creates safer home environments for children previously considered drug-endangered, and revitalizes neighborhoods through coalition-based efforts.  Put simply, drug prevention saves lives and cuts costs. 

     For additional information, tools, and resources, visit the National Public Health Week website.

     For more information on ONDCP’s prevention efforts, visit our prevention page

  • Director Kerlikowske Addresses the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs

    In Vienna, Austria last week to attend the opening of the 55th Commission of Narcotic Drugs (CND), Director Kerlikowske spoke candidly about drug policy in the United States and the Obama Administration’s unprecedented efforts to rebalance the way we address this global challenge.  Outlining a coherent strategy that recognizes the answer lies neither with the extremes of drug legalization nor excessively punitive policies for individuals with substance use disorders, Director Kerlikowske called for global reforms in drug policies while affirming the vital role of the United Nations drug control conventions. See full remarks here.

    While in Vienna, Director Kerlikowske and U.S. Department of State Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols met with counterparts from other countries to discuss issues of concern such as synthetic drugs and other emerging psychotropic substances. Director Kerlikowske also led a panel discussion on drugged driving to promote awareness of the problem and effective ways reduce it.

    For the 55th CND, the United States developed resolutions on alternatives to incarceration and the centennial anniversary of the first international drug control treaty, the 1912 Opium Convention.  The resolution on alternatives to incarceration was developed with Mexico and emphasized how public health and public safety can be promoted through effective alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment courts and drug testing and brief sanctions programs (modeled after the Hawaii HOPE probation program] for drug using offenders. This centennial resolution gained a record number of co-sponsors from Russia and China to European and Latin American countries, and recommitted countries around the world to continue to reduce drug production, trafficking, and use, while ensuring the availability of controlled drugs for medical and scientific purposes. The United States cosponsored several other resolutions including one on preventing drug use and another to help prevent overdose deaths, which requests the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization collect and circulate best practices on prevention, treatment, and emergency responses to drug overdose, including the use of naloxone.

    Established in 1946 as a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the CND reviews and analyzes the global drug control situation, considering the interrelated issues of drug abuse prevention, the rehabilitation of drug users, and preventing the supply and trafficking of illicit drugs. The CND is also responsible for supervising the application of international drug control treaties and advising ECOSOC on matters pertaining to the control of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and their precursors. Resolutions negotiated at the annual sessions of the CND shape global drug control policy and direct the work of UNODC on these matters and related initiatives.

    Christine Kourtides is Strategic Planning and Event Coordinator

  • New Report: Cocaine Smuggling in 2010

    Scientific data, research, and evidence drive U.S. drug policy.  Accordingly, ONDCP is constantly working with other Federal agencies and other partners to obtain as much data and information as possible to form a more complete picture of illegal drug trafficking, production, and use trends in the United States and throughout the world.  The surreptitious nature of the drug trade means that the information we have is often fragmentary and incomplete, leaving gaps that we continue to work to fill.  Nonetheless, over the past year, we have worked with the intelligence community to compile a picture of the latest cocaine trafficking trends based on the data we have available.  The most recent report—Cocaine Smuggling in 2010—is now available online

    Here are some key findings from the report:

    • Diminished availability of cocaine in the United States, which began in 2007, continued through 2010. Decreased availability was evidenced by diminished use, higher prices, lower purity, and lower seizure amounts when compared to 2006.
    • The amount of cocaine departing South America decreased for the third straight year. This decline also correlates to reduced potential cocaine production in Colombia. In 2010, for the first time in the last decade, most of the cocaine seized in South America was seized in countries other than Colombia.
    • Approximately 95 percent of all cocaine detected moving toward the United States transited the Mexico-Central America region, while the remaining 5 percent moved through the Caribbean region.
    • Available information suggests that some Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine is consumed in South America, but most is destined for Europe.  Bolivian cocaine moves into or through Brazil, and to a lesser extent Argentina, Chile, and Ecuador, for onward shipment to Europe. Although estimates of European cocaine consumption remained relatively stable from 2009 to 2010, both the increase in Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine production and the increase in related port seizures indicate expanded transatlantic flow via commercial maritime container.
    • Spain continues to be the primary entry point for cocaine smuggled into Europe, as indicated by the high percentage of European Arrival Zone seizures in that country.

  • New Study Highlights the Importance of Drugged Driving Prevention

    A recent teen driving study by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Liberty Mutual Insurance highlighted a disturbing new finding about teens and driving:  According to the SADD/Liberty Mutual Insurance survey, nearly one in five teen drivers reported that they have driven under the influence of marijuana—a figure even higher than surveyed teens that had reported driving after drinking (13 percent).  The study also reports that more than one-third of teens who have driven after using marijuana say the drug presents no distraction to their driving.  “Marijuana affects memory, judgment, and perception and can lead to poor decisions when a teen under the influence of this or other drugs gets behind the wheel of a car,” said Stephen Wallace, Senior Advisor for Policy, Research, and Education at SADD.

    SADD, a peer-to-peer youth education and prevention organization, has been working with ONDCP to educate young people about the dangers of driving while under the influence of marijuana and other drugs.  In October 2011, ONDCP held a Drugged Driving Summit that brought together leaders in youth prevention, highway safety, law enforcement, government, and research to discuss how to best address the growing concern of drugged driving.  As part of these education efforts, ONDCP has released a toolkit aimed at teens, parents, and community leaders to help prevent drugged drivers from hitting our roads.  

    Next week, ONDCP staff will meet with more than 30 SADD state-level directors to discuss how teens can get involved in their own communities to prevent drugged driving and to support President Obama’s goal of reducing drugged driving in America.

  • George Washington University Reaches Out to Those in Recovery

    This month, George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. joined the growing number of campuses across the Nation that are establishing programs to address the needs of students in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. The Association of Recovery Schools, which worked with GWU in creating its program, lists 14 member colleges and universities with links to additional information, including Rutgers University in New Jersey, the University of Texas at Austin, and Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

    In 2009, President Obama set a goal for the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Assisting students who are seeking help for substance use disorders and effectively supporting those already in recovery are important ways to accomplish this goal. That is why the Obama Administration broke new ground by making support for those in recovery an integral component of the National Drug Control Strategy.

    More information about the GWU program can be found in this article from The GW Hatchet, the student newspaper.

  • New Synthetic Drugs Information Kit for Parents

    This morning Director Kerlikowske and Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of The Partnership at Drugfree.org, co-hosted a working group session at ONDCP to share information regarding the emerging threat of synthetic drugs and promote a coordinated response.  Participants included high-level officials from the Department of Health and Human Services; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Department of State; the Department of Defense; the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the American Association of Poison Control Centers; and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

    Public health authorities across the Nation continue to report serious adverse effects from these drugs, including seizures, elevated blood pressure, nausea, hallucinations, and paranoid behavior.  There have also been news reports of fatalities. 

    To help parents address the threat posed by synthetic drugs, today The Partnership at Drugfree.org introduced a kit for parents and adult influencers that provides the tools they need to talk with their teens about these drugs and to recognize the warning signs of use. The information kit includes a slidecast about synthetic drugs, a corresponding podcast and video, and a printable guide so parents can share details on what to look for, what the street names are, and what the effects of these substances are with others in their community.  The information kit is available at The Partnership at Drugfree.org website and is part of a "Parents360" community education program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

    Rafael Lemaitre is Associate Director for Public Affairs