ONDCP Blog

  • Obama Drug Policy: Reforming the Criminal Justice System

    Ed. note: This was cross-posted from Huffington Post

    Recently we had the privilege of recognizing 10 community organizers at the White House as "Champions of Change." Each of these Champions represent innovative organizations and programs working across America to reform the way we approach our nation's drug problem. Among this group of educators, physicians, social workers and people in recovery from substance use disorders, was a 25-year veteran of the Providence, R.I. police department.

    As we sat in the Roosevelt Room just steps from the Oval Office, Lt. Daniel Gannon told us something many Americans might not expect from a law enforcement officer. Not every drug offender belongs in prison, he said. "Prisons are for the bad guys." For many of the others, he said, what's often needed is access to drug treatment, community services and a second chance. Lt. Gannon -- who advocates for an innovative community policing program called Drug Market Intervention -- is just one among thousands of community leaders around the country working to implement a variety of innovative, compassionate and evidenced-based drug policies at the local level.

    Progressive and effective reform efforts like these could not come at a better time. More than seven million people in the United States are under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Of these, more than two million are behind bars. Making matters worse, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses. In fact, African Americans have higher proportions of inmates in state prison who are drug offenders compared to whites -- about 50 percent higher. For states and localities, the cost of managing the prison population has grown significantly. Between 1988 and 2009, annual state corrections spending jumped from $12 billion to more than $50 billion.

    Just as alarming is the strong connection between crime and substance use. Data shows that over half of state and federal inmates used drugs during the month preceding the offense corresponding to their sentence. And nearly a third of state prisoners and a quarter of Federal prisoners were using drugs at the time of the offense.

    The complexity and scale of our drug problem requires a nationwide effort to support smart drug policies that reduce drug use and its consequences. Since day one, the Obama Administration has been engaged in an unprecedented government-wide effort to reform our nation's drug policies and restore balance to the way we deal with the drug problem. We have pursued a variety of alternatives that abandon an unproductive enforcement-only "War on Drugs" approach to drug control and acknowledge we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem and, further, that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, not some "moral failing."

    This strategy is vital because by recognizing drug addiction as a chronic and progressive disease, we can actually work to prevent and treat substance use disorders and break the cycle of drug-related crime. Simply put, it makes more sense to prevent and treat drug problems before they become chronic than simply to legalize drugs altogether or keep filling our prisons with drug offenders over and over again. Neither of these extremes are sound or humane drug policies.

    Under the Obama Administration, the shift has already begun toward programs that emphasize public health over incarceration. Over the past year, the federal government spent $10.4 billion on drug prevention and treatment programs. That is more than twice the amount -- $4.3 billion -- spent on drug-related incarceration operations. And it's just the beginning:

    • Last year, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act into law. This important and long-overdue criminal justice reform dramatically reduced a 100-to-1 disparity between sentences for powder and crack cocaine that disproportionately affected minorities. More recently, we advocated for, and the U.S. Sentencing Commission approved, the retroactive application of these sentencing guidelines which became effective on Nov. 1.
    • The Administration ardently supports the expansion of drug courts, which place non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prison. Today, there are over 2,600 drug courts across the nation, diverting about 120,000 people a year into treatment instead of prison. Because of this expansion, someone in America is referred to drug treatment instead of jail through drug courts on average every four minutes.
    • 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. Specifically, it 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 reduce recidivism and improve the transition from prison and jail to communities.
    • Last year, the Department of Justice awarded $100 million to support 178 state and local reentry grants to provide a wide range of services and, in late September, awarded another $83 million to 118 new grantees.
    • The Department of Justice has urged state attorney generals to review the legal collateral consequences of their state laws being placed upon ex-offenders that may burden their successful reentry into society. (State and local governments are also taking action. During their 2011 legislative sessions, more than a dozen states tackled sentencing and corrections issues.)
    • The Administration has worked to make certain that local public housing authorities understand Federal law regarding the discretion housing authorities have to allow ex-offenders access to public housing. Research shows that ex-offenders who do not find stable housing in the community are more likely to recidivate than those who do. Studies have also found that the majority of people released from prison intend to return to their families, many of whom live in public or other subsidized housing. Clarifying these rules allowing ex-offenders to rejoin their families is therefore an important part of our overall criminal justice reform efforts. There are only two explicit bans on occupancy: Individuals convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine in public housing and registered sex offenders.

    But more still must be done. That is why we are closely examining innovative new programs that show great promise in extending our approach to criminal justice reform and alternatives to incarceration. Here are two that are already showing solid results:

    • The Drug Market Intervention program.This community-based strategy has shown tremendous promise in disrupting open air drug markets by directly engaging drug dealers, their families, and communities by creating clear and predictable sanctions, offering a range of community services including drug treatment, and improving community-police relations. Jurisdictions that have implemented this strategy have experienced decreases in drug crime and other crimes without displacement of the drug market activity into other neighborhoods.
    • Hawaii's HOPE Probation program(Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement).This program reduces probation violations by drug offenders and others at high risk of recidivism. Probationers in the program receive swift, predictable, and immediate sanctions - typically resulting in several days in jail - for each detected violation, such as detected drug use or missed appointments with a probation officer. So far, evaluation results indicate the program is highly successful at reducing drug use and crime, even among difficult populations such as meth users and domestic violence offenders.

    There is no simple, straightforward fix to America's drug problem. Successfully combating this social challenge and reducing the toll substance abuse takes on our nation requires a broad approach that blends drug treatment, smart law enforcement and effective alternatives to incarceration. With these proven public health and public safety strategies, we can break the vicious cycle of drug use and crime, thereby saving countless lives and taxpayer dollars and helping to make it possible for all Americans to achieve their full potential.

    Rafael Lemaitre is Associate Director for Public Affairs

  • Prisoner Reentry Programs: Ensuring a Safe and Successful Return to the Community

    Each year, more than 700,000 people are released from state and Federal prison, while another 9 million cycle through local jails.  Statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release and half are re-incarcerated.  High rates of recidivism mean more crime, more victims, and more pressure on an already overburdened criminal justice system.   The Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy supports comprehensive change within the criminal justice system, promoting a combined public health/public safety approach to stop the all-too-common cycle of arrest, incarceration, release, and re-arrest.

    Reentry programs are designed to assist incarcerated individuals with a successful transition to their community after they are released.  Improving reentry is a critical component of President Obama's Strategy to reduce drug use and its consequences.  Specifically, the Strategy calls for supporting post-incarceration reentry efforts by assisting in job placement, facilitating access to drug-free housing, and providing other supportive services.  To further these goals, ONDCP is participating in the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, first convened in January 2011 by Attorney General Eric Holder.  The Council’s main purpose is to make communities safer, assisting those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax-paying citizens and saving taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.

    To support this effort, the Council launched a website, as part of the National Reentry Resource Center, designed to provide information for State and local leaders, community and faith-based organizations, and people returning from jail or prison.  Of note is a series of “Reentry Mythbusters” that address a number of issues pertaining to reentering offenders, employers, and housing officials.  The Web site also contains an interactive calendar listing upcoming trainings and a service directory of state-by-state information.

    In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan issued letters seeking to clarify current policies surrounding reentering offenders.  Attorney General Holder’s letter to State Attorneys General urged them to review the legal collateral consequences of their State laws that may impede the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals into society, such as housing and employment restrictions.  This parallels the Justice Department-led review of Federal collateral consequences as a step to reducing the unnecessary burdens placed upon reentering offenders.  Secretary Donovan’s letter to executive directors of Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) clarified HUD’s position regarding eligibility for public housing among people with criminal records.  In the letter, Secretary Donovan encourages PHA executive directors “to allow ex-offenders to rejoin their families in the Public Housing or Housing Choice Voucher programs, when appropriate,” an important step to connect reentering offenders to stable housing. 

    The Administration recognizes the importance of offender reentry as a critical tool in breaking the cycle of drug use and crime, and improving the public health and public safety of our communities.  These ongoing efforts are necessary at all levels of government, and we hope you can support these efforts at the community level.

    Cynthia Caporizzo  is Senior Policy Advisor for Criminal Justice

  • Maricopa County Works to Break the Cycle of Drugs, Crime, and Incarceration

    The 2011 National Drug Control Strategy recognizes that many individuals who use drugs become involved in the criminal justice system.  This is also the case in Maricopa County, Arizona.    The most recent Arizona Arrestee Reporting Information Network (AARIN) Annual Adult Report, which provides data on arrestees in Maricopa County, indicates that in the 30 days prior to arrest 56% used marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, or heroin. 

    Many of the principles identified in the Strategy that are intended to break the drugs and crime cycle are being implemented in Maricopa County by the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department.  Below are some accomplishments and ongoing projects focused on assisting offenders.

    • Evidence-Based Practices (EBP) - The department is committed to using evidence-based practices (EBP) in its supervision strategies and has translated EBP into practical approaches that probation officers can incorporate into their daily supervision practices, such as using validated risk and needs assessments and reassessments to develop probationer case plans.  Individuals with drug abuse disorders are referred to drug court or other relevant treatment programs. 
    • Reentry - In January 2010, through a federal stimulus grant, the department implemented a Prison Reentry Unit, changing the way released offenders are supervised.  A key priority is ensuring these offenders report to the probation department following their release from the Arizona Department of Corrections.  In the first year, over 1200 offenders received services from the unit.  The rate of offenders failing to report to probation following release from prison dropped from 23% to 2.3% with the grant.  In addition, the rate of petitions to terminate probation and return the offender to the Department of Corrections (called “petitions to revoke”) filed in the first twelve months after release dropped from 10.1% to 4.9% with the program, and the rate of new felony arrests dropped from 13.8% to 10.8% with the program.
    • Earned Time Credit (ETC) - Effective January 1, 2009, the State of Arizona implemented Earned Time Credit (ETC), providing eligible offenders the opportunity to earn 20 days of credit for every 30 days they comply with their court-ordered financial obligations, community restitution hours and are making progress towards their case plan goals.  In the short-term, it is anticipated that this legislation will reduce the length of time on probation while increasing the likelihood of successful completion of probation.  In the long term, we expect that the likelihood of recidivism will be reduced following termination from probation. 
    • Probation Outcomes - While evaluations of the effectiveness of these initiatives are ongoing, we have seen positive results.  Crime reduction is a key goal in the department’s strategic plan and is measured through three main results: successful completion of probation, termination of probation and returning to the Department of Corrections, and new felony sentences.  From FY2008 to FY2011, the percentage of offenders successfully completing probation increased from 66% to 80.3%; the percentage of offenders returned to the Department of Corrections decreased from 28% to 18.4%, and the percentage of offenders with new felony sentences decreased from 8.0% to 4.9%.  How does this affect public safety? In FY2011, an additional 1,340 offenders successfully completed probation, 1,601 fewer offenders were returned to the Department of Corrections, and 885 fewer offenders were sentenced for new felony offenses.

    These results are encouraging. It suggests that offenders can be effectively supervised in the community without negatively affecting public safety. And we can break the cycle of drugs, crime and incarceration.

    Barbara Broderick is Chief Probation Officer at the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department

  • Alternatives to the “War on Drugs:” Obama Drug Policy and Reforming the Criminal Justice System

    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. 

  • Director Kerlikowske and Congresswoman Waters Meet with Los Angeles Community Leaders

    ONDCP - Waters and Kerlikowske

    Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Director Kerlikowske participate in the roundtable discussion, Los Angeles, November 10, 2011

    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. 

    ONDCP - Roundtable participants

    Participants at the roundtable share ideas and discuss the needs of the community, Los Angeles, November 10, 2011

    “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.

     

  • Why Police Officers Need to Understand Addiction

    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 

  • Creating Institutional Change in the Criminal Justice System

    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

  • Breaking the Cycle of Drug Use and Crime

    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.

    Learn more:

    Benjamin B. Tucker is Deputy Director of State, Local and Tribal Affairs at the Office of National Drug Control Policy

  • ONDCP Joins NIDA in Celebrating National Drug Facts Week 2011

    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.

    Learn more about NIDA and National Drug Facts Week 2011.

  • Highlighting National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

    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