• Friends and Family are Primary Sources of Abused Prescription Drugs

    One year ago, the Administration released Epidemic: Responding to America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis, a national framework for reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion. This plan outlined action in four major areas to reduce prescription drug abuse:

    • Education: supporting education for patients and healthcare providers;
    • Tracking and monitoring: supporting the expansion of state-based prescription drug monitoring programs;
    • Proper disposal: recommending more convenient and environmentally responsible disposal methods to remove unused medications from the home;
    • Enforcement: reducing the prevalence of “pill mills” and “doctor shopping” through enforcement efforts.

    Today, ONDCP released new data analysis revealing that the majority of first-time or occasional prescription drug abusers are most likely to get their drugs from a friend or family member-- for free, or without permission 1.  Prescription drugs are the second-most abused category of drugs in the United States, following marijuana.  When taken as directed for legitimate medical purposes, prescription drugs are safe and effective.  However, they are just as dangerous and deadly as illegal drugs when used for non-medical reasons.  This new analysis found that:

    • Among new abusers of pain relievers (those who began misuse of pain relievers in the past year), 68 percent obtained the pills from a friend or relative for free or took them without asking, 17 percent got them through prescription by one or more doctors, and 9 percent purchased them from a friend, dealer, or the Internet.
    • Among occasional abusers of pain relievers (less than once a week on average in the past year), 66 percent obtained the pills from a friend or relative for free or took them without asking, 17 percent got them through prescription from one or more doctors, and 13 percent purchased them from a friend or relative, dealer, or the Internet.
    • Among chronic abusers of pain relievers, 41 percent obtained the pills from a friend or relative for free or without asking, 26 percent got them through prescription from one or more doctors, and 28 percent purchased them from a friend or relative, dealer, or the Internet.

    These findings underscore the importance of one of the core elements of the Administration’s prescription drug abuse prevention plan: the proper disposal of unused medications. To help Americans dispose of any unneeded medications in their homes, the Drug Enforcement Administration will host its fourth National Take Back Day on Saturday, April 28th, at over 5,000 collection sites across the United States. 

    Last October, Americans disposed of 377,080 pounds—188.5 tons—of prescription drugs at over 5,300 sites operated by the DEA and nearly 4,000 state and local law enforcement partners.  In its three previous Take Back events, DEA and its partners took in almost a million pounds—nearly 500 tons—of pills.     

    To find a collection site near you, visit the DEA’s site locator online.  Additionally, the FDA provides guidelines on how consumers can properly dispose of unused medicines on their own here.

    1 Source: Data averaged from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration’s 2009 and 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

  • The National Drug Control Strategy: From “Rethinking” to Reform

    In a recent Saturday Essay in the Wall Street Journal, drug policy experts Mark A. R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins, and Angela Hawken note that the problem of drug abuse and addiction does not lend itself to simple solutions: neither an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” nor the simple notion of drug legalization provide the answer to this complex public health and safety problem.  Rather, the authors point out that innovative criminal justice programs and policy reforms—backed by evidence—hold great promise for reducing drug use and its consequences in the United States.

    I am pleased to see innovative ideas for addressing our country’s drug problem gaining traction in a public debate that is increasingly dominated by extremes.  Just last Tuesday I released the Obama Administration’s 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, which serves as the Nation's blueprint for reducing drug use and its consequences.  The new Strategy provides a review of the progress we have made over the past 3 years and looks ahead to our continuing efforts to reform, rebalance, and renew our national drug control policy to address the public health and safety challenges of the 21st century.  Since the publication of the Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy in 2010, the annual Strategy has been incorporating much of the research cited by the essay’s authors and turning it into action.

    For example, the authors cite the promising results first achieved by Judge Steve Alm of Hawaii through the use of an enhanced probation program (Project HOPE) that employs drug testing and swift, certain—but moderate—sanctions for detected drug use.  As part of the National Drug Control Strategy, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is funding a demonstration field experiment to test this approach in four new jurisdictions that vary widely in demographics, population, density, and geographic location—Clackamas County, OR; Essex County, MA; Saline County, AR; and Tarrant County, TX (the probation chief for Tarrant County, Leighton Iles, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal essay).  The National Institute of Justice will be conducting an evaluation of this project.

    In addition, the essay highlights the Drug Market Intervention program, which reduces drug dealing and related violence by creating clear and predictable sanctions, offering a range of community services, establishing community standards for acceptable behavior, and improving community-police relations through direct engagement among law enforcement, prosecutors, drug dealers, their families, and communities.The 2012 National Drug Control Strategy includes support for technical assistance and program evaluation in communities that are implementing the Drug Market Intervention program.

    These are just two examples of the Strategy’s criminal justice reform efforts, which also include support for drug treatment courts, sentencing reform, institutional change initiatives, evidence-based community supervision and reentry programs, and efforts to eliminate legal and regulatory barriers facing individuals in recovery from substance use disorders.

    More information on the criminal justice reform efforts included in the National Drug Control Strategy can be found here.

    R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy

  • Addressing Drug Use and Its Consequences in the Latino Community

    Today, I had the privilege to join California Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard to discuss our Nation’s drug problem and explore ways we can work together to improve public health and safety in the Los Angeles area.

    Drug abuse affects every demographic group in America.  However, data show in some ways, it disproportionately affects Latino communities. In fact, between 2008 and 2009, we saw a 39 percent increase in drug use among male Latino teens.  Additionally, another recent poll found that Hispanic parents now ranked drug abuse as the number-one health issue facing children in their communities.

    During my visit I stressed how important prevention can be.  This is where parents and adult influencers can play a critical role in raising healthy children.  Research continues to show the most powerful force in the lives of young people are their parents, and the Obama Administration stands ready to provide families with the tools they need to protect young people.  We’ve even put together Spanish language material at www.LaAntiDroga.com with tips on how to talk to teens and science-based information on drug use and its consequences.

    I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with L.A. Latino community members today, and I look forward to continuing our work together to reduce the burden of drug use on Latino communities.

     R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy

  • A Drug Policy for the 21st Century

    Ed. Note: The following is a cross-post that originally appeared on the White House blog.

    Illegal drugs not only harm a user’s mind and body, they devastate families, communities, and neighborhoods. They jeopardize public safety, prevent too many Americans from reaching their full potential, and place obstacles in the way of raising a healthy generation of young people.

     To address these challenges, today we are releasing the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy—the Obama Administration’s primary policy blueprint for reducing drug use and its consequences in America.  The President’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, published in 2010, charted a new direction in our approach to drug policy.  Today’s Strategy builds upon that approach, which is based on science, evidence, and compassion.  Most important, it is based on the premise that drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated.  Simply put, we are not powerless against the challenge of substance abuse – people can recover, and millions are in recovery.   These individuals are our neighbors, friends and family members.  They contribute to our communities, our workforce, our economy, and help make America stronger. 

    Our emphasis on addressing the drug problem through a public health approach is grounded in decades of research and scientific study.  There is overwhelming evidence that drug prevention and treatment programs achieve meaningful results with significant long-term cost savings.  In fact, recent research has shown that each dollar invested in an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18.

    But reducing the burden of our Nation’s drug problem stretches beyond prevention and treatment.  We need an all of the above approach.  To address this problem in a comprehensive way, the President’s new Strategy also applies the principles of public health to reforming the criminal justice system, which continues to play a vital role in drug policy.  It outlines ways to break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and arrest by diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment, bolstering support for reentry programs that help offenders rejoin their communities, and advancing support for innovative enforcement programs proven to improve public health while protecting public safety. 

    Together, we have achieved significant reform in the way we address substance abuse.  And the Affordable Care Act will—for the first time—require insurers to cover treatment for drug addiction the same way they would other chronic diseases.  This is a revolutionary shift in how we address drug policy in America. 

    Over the past three decades, we have reduced illegal drug use in America.  Over the long term, rates of drug use among young people today are far lower than they were 30 years ago.  More recently cocaine use has dropped nearly 40 percent and meth use has dropped by half. And we can do more. As President Obama has noted, we have successfully changed attitudes regarding rates of smoking and drunk driving and with your help we can do the same with our illegal drug problem.

    1. Click here to see videos and read more about innovative new alternatives to drug control supported by the Obama Administration
    2. Click here to download the infographic: “Obama Administration Drug Policy: A Record of Reform

     A full copy of the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy is available here.

    Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services; Eric Holder is the U.S. Attorney General; and Gil Kerlikowske is the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy

  • 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