• Real #DrugPolicyReform: DOJ’s Change in Mandatory Minimum Policies

    Today, the Department of Justice refined its charging policies regarding mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. The policy changes are part of the Department of Justice’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system aimed at ensuring federal laws are enforced more fairly, and federal resources are used more efficiently, by focusing on top law enforcement priorities.

    Until 2010, federal prosecutors were required to pursue the most serious, readily-provable charges in every case and for every defendant. Recognizing that equal justice depends on individualized justice, Attorney General Holder rescinded that policy in 2010 and now requires prosecutors to make charging decisions in the context of an individualized assessment of the specific circumstances of the case. These assessments take into account numerous factors, such as the defendant’s conduct and criminal history and the circumstances relating to the commission of the offense, the needs of the communities we serve, and federal resources and priorities.

    It is with full consideration of these factors that the Attorney General further refined DOJ’s charging policy for certain low-level non-violent drug offenses. The Attorney General has instructed prosecutors to (1) decline to pursue charges that would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence in the case of certain low-level, non-violent drug offenses; (2) in these cases, consider recommending a below-guidelines sentence to the court; and (3) decline to charge an enhancement that would double the sentences of certain second-time drug offenses unless the defendant is involved in conduct that makes the case appropriate for severe cases.

    With this policy, DOJ seeks to ensure that the most severe mandatory minimum penalties are reserved for serious, high-level, or violent drug traffickers. In some cases, mandatory minimum and recidivist enhancement statutes have resulted in unduly harsh sentences and perceived or actual disparities that do not reflect the Department’s Principles of Federal Prosecution. Long sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenses do not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Moreover, rising prison costs have resulted in reduced spending on criminal justice initiatives, including spending on law enforcement agents, prosecutors, and prevention and intervention programs. These reductions in public safety spending require us to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.

  • Real #DrugPolicyReform: DOJ’s New Criteria on Compassionate Release Requests

    In a new Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Program Statement issued today, the BOP will clarify and expand the criteria the BOP uses to review compassionate release requests – which are also referred to as “reduction in sentence” (RIS) requests.  The BOP is implementing these changes as part of the Department of Justice’s “Smart on Crime” initiative, a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system aimed at ensuring federal laws are enforced more fairly, and federal resources are used more efficiently, by focusing on top law enforcement priorities.

    Congress gave the BOP authority to ask a court to grant an inmate’s RIS request, prior to completion of the inmate’s sentence, for extraordinary and compelling circumstances.  If a judge grants the BOP’s motion, the judge will order the inmate’s release, and the inmate will usually begin serving a term of supervised release.

    Within the BOP’s authority under the existing statutory framework, the updated policy broadens the circumstances in which the BOP will consider RIS requests. These include:

    • Terminal and non-terminal medical circumstances;
    • Circumstances for elderly inmates;
    • Circumstances in which there has been the death or incapacitation of the family member caregiver of an inmate’s child; and
    • Circumstances in which the spouse or registered partner of an inmate has become incapacitated.

    In all cases, the BOP will continue to consider whether an inmate’s release would pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community before submitting a RIS request to a court.  Each RIS request continues to be subject to multiple levels of careful review within the BOP.  Further, in circumstances in which a victim or witness has elected to be notified, the BOP will solicit comments regarding an inmate’s possible release. For each RIS request, the BOP will also continue to consult with the U.S. Attorney’s Office responsible for the criminal prosecution.

    The new criteria are consistent with other federal government standards and programs.  For example, the criteria concerning the death or incapacitation of the family member caregiver of an inmate’s child are consistent with guidelines issued by the United States Sentencing Commission.  The criteria concerning elderly inmates are based on existing statutes and a pilot program enacted by Congress as part of the Second Chance Act. In addition, the new policy is responsive to reviews of the RIS policy by the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Justice, and external advocacy groups.

  • Honoring National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

    This is a cross-post from the National Partnership for Action, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 

    Since 2008, July has been recognized as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, providing an opportunity to explore issues concerning mental health and substance use disorders in our communities. As a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) illustrates, substance abuse and mental illness remain intricately linked.  In 2001, approximately 42 percent of adults who reported substance use within the last year – or 8 million out 18.9 million – also reported suffering from a mental illness as well.[i] In light of these staggering numbers it is important that we join with our many partners to raise awareness about substance use disorders and mental health, and to provide resources to support individuals, families, and communities across the Nation.

    A priority of the Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy) is to reduce the demand for drugs significantly through effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support. Looking closely at the NSDUH data, we can see trends in drug use among various ethnic and cultural groups and in different geographic regions. These trends compel us to seek approaches tailored to specific groups and parts of the country. For example, among persons aged 12 or older in 2011, American Indians or Alaska Natives had the highest rates of illicit drug use (13.4 percent), followed by Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders (11 percent).[ii]

    While the Federal Government plays a vital role in developing policies, these broad approaches only work if they meet the needs of local communities.


    Encouraging our family and friends to live free of the influence of substance abuse is one of the most important steps we can take. Drug Free Communities coalitions are a crucial component to prevention.  By bringing together the various sectors of a community to address substance use and working with schools, parent groups, businesses, youth, and others, these coalitions implement environmental strategies to raise awareness of the consequences associated with drug and alcohol use. Coalitions also provide access to resources to help individuals and families affected by substance use disorders. You can learn more about what coalitions are doing in communities around the country and in your state at http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/state-map.

    There are a number of tools available to assist communities with assessment, planning, implementation, and outcome evaluation of substance abuse prevention programs. One such tool, the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), is a searchable database of programs shown to be effective at helping community leaders select target populations. For example, there are more than 70 substance abuse prevention programs for assisting Latino youth, more than 40 for helping Native American youth, and others designed specifically for girls.


    In 2011, only about 11 percent of those with a diagnosable substance use disorder received treatment at a specialty facility. Effective treatment models incorporate features such as trauma-informed care, developmentally appropriate interventions, and culturally and linguistically sensitive practices. You can find more information on principles of effective treatment and how to integrate them into practice in Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide, provided by the National Institutes of Health. To find a treatment program in your community, you can search SAMHSA’s interactive Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.


    Millions of people are successfully in recovery from substance use disorders, working hard to reclaim their lives and positively contributing to their families and communities. Building a strong network of peers, family, and professionals is key, and helps communities promote cultural mores and norms that promote improved health and wellness for everyone. For more information on building a recovery supportive community, visit the Partners for Recovery page on SAMHSA’s website.

    Minority Mental Health Awareness Month provides a catalyst to highlight the link between mental health, substance abuse, and minority communities, but let us all make mental health and substance use disorder services a priority throughout the year; to help empower individuals, strengthen families, and save lives. With dedication and focus, and the support of our family, friends, and neighbors, we can work together to make a difference for those who know the challenges of substance use disorders, and continue to face them.

    David K. Mineta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Demand Reduction (ODR) for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Ben Ray Luján is a United States Congressman representing New Mexico's 3rd district.


    [i] Figure 4.2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-45, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4725. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012

    [ii] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-44, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4713. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012. Figure 2.11


  • 2013 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy Released

    Today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released the 2013 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, a key component of the Obama Administration’s unprecedented work to strengthen security along the Southwest border.

    Since the implementation of the inaugural 2009 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, significant progress has been made to secure our border with Mexico while reducing the demand for drugs in the United States.

    The Strategy released today shows that the Southwest border is better patrolled now than at any other time in history. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has increased on-the-ground personnel from 9,000 Border Patrol agents in 2001 to 21,000 agents today.  A focus on interdiction efforts, improved cooperation with the Mexican government, and legislation such as the Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2012 have resulted in significant currency, drug, and weapons seizures.

    During 2010-2012, DHS seized 71 percent more currency, 39 percent more drugs, and 189 percent more weapons along the Southwest border as compared to fiscal years (FY) 2006-2008. These are just some of the metrics reported in the 2013 Strategy. Equally important, the Strategy defines new goals to build upon these successes and focuses on border-specific challenges to reducing both drug demand and supply. The timing of the Strategy’s release could not be more appropriate, coming only days after a vote in the U.S. Senate to reform our Nation’s immigration system. Sixty-eight Senators – Democrats and Republicans – voted for a bill that provides undocumented immigrants with a way to earn citizenship so they can come out of the shadows. If enacted, the Senate bill would also establish the most aggressive border security plan in our history.

    The 2013 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy complements the President’s plan for drug policy reform, which is rooted in evidence-based programs that treat substance use as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice problem. We have seen encouraging trends in drug use in this country over the past three decades. Since 1979, the rate of overall drug use has declined by roughly 30 percent. More recently, the number of current cocaine users has dropped by 44 percent since 2007, and the number of meth users has been cut by 40 percent. To build on this progress and support public health approaches to drug control, the Obama Administration has requested more than $10 billion in FY 2014 for drug education programs and expanding access to drug treatment for people suffering from substance use disorders. This includes a requested increase of $1.4 billion to expand treatment and prevention, the largest percentage increase in at least two decades. 

    The full text of the 2013 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy is available here.

  • Guest Post: A Policy Focus on Recovery in New York

    On June 4th, Deputy Director Michael Botticelli joined public health officials in New York to discuss integrating a focus on recovery into alcohol and substance abuse treatment services.

    The half-day conference, hosted by the State of New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), was led by Commissioner Arlene Gonzalez-Sanchez and attended widely by state and city public health experts, treatment providers and social workers.

    Entitled “Recovery 2013: Charting the Future of Policy and Practice,” the event emerged from the state’s participation in the ONDCP ROSC Learning Community. With a current membership of 10 states and two local governments, the ONDCP ROSC Learning Community gives members access to expert presentations, group consultation, and opportunities for cross-jurisdictional sharing and collaboration. It receives ongoing support from the SAMHSA Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network Coordinating Office and from various regional ATTCs.

    The conference raised awareness about the state’s ROSC efforts and helped expand their base of support. Mr. Botticelli spoke of the importance of developing recovery-oriented systems and services, which helps lay the groundwork for health reform implementation, and how states such as New York  (who participates in the ONDCP ROSC Learning Community), are national leaders who serve as examples for other state and local governments.

    The State of New York has been working on ROSC implementation for the past five years. To date, it has begun establishing recovery community centers, has instituted training for Recovery Coaches, and has taken significant strides in developing sustainable mechanisms for reimbursing peer-to-peer services provided in outpatient treatment settings.  Since joining the ONDCP ROSC Learning Community in March 2012, the State of New York team has focused its participation on developing flexible funding mechanisms to develop, sustain, and integrate peer recovery support services.

    With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the concurrent charge from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to make sweeping changes to the structure of the State Medicaid system, New York State stands poised to make bold leaps toward a more recovery -oriented system of behavioral health care.  Participating in the learning community gives the state a mechanism for better guiding its ongoing ROSC efforts.

    Lureen McNeil is a Program Manager at the State of New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Peter Gaumond is the Recovery Branch chief at ONDCP.

  • Cross Post: Statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Supreme Court Ruling on Defense of Marriage Act

    Posted: June 26, 2013

    Today’s Supreme Court decision finding the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is a victory for equality, which is a core belief of this administration.

    It is also a victory for families, especially those children whose parents’ legal same sex marriages can now be recognized under federal law.

    As a result of today’s ruling, the federal government is no longer forced to discriminate against legally married same sex couples.

    The Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA reaffirms the core belief that we are all created equal and must be treated as equal.

    The Department of Health and Human Services will work with the Department of Justice to review all relevant federal statutes and ensure this decision is implemented swiftly and smoothly. 

  • Synthetic Drugs - An Emerging Global Threat

    Note: This is a cross-post from DipNote, the U.S. Department of State Official Blog. The original post can be found here
    "Bath salts, spice, and jewelry cleaner" – what sounds like a normal shopping list is actually a list of new and dangerous drugs known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), many of which are synthetic cannibanoids. In 2011, in the United States alone, an estimated 28,531 emergency room visits involved a synthetic cannabinoid product. Synthetic cannabinoids are substances that are designed to affect the body in a manner similar to marijuana, but that are not derived from the marijuana plant. However, the effects of these new substances can be severe and dangerous and may include hallucinations, vomiting, agitation, and elevated heart rate. While some of these substances are controlled, others are easily available to teens and young adults on the internet, in smoke shops, and even at gas stations.
    The United States and the international community are increasingly concerned about this growing public health threat. Today, June 26, in commemoration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is releasing the annual UN World Drug Report, underscoring the emergence of NPS in 70 of 80 countries that reported to UNODC. 
    While most markets for plant-based organic drugs such as cocaine and heroin are stable or declining, synthetic drug use is rising. Greater efforts are needed to educate people at home and around the world about the dangers of these synthetic drugs and also work with the international community to reduce their availability. Synthetic drugs are in many ways more difficult to counter than other drugs – they originate from a wider range of production zones than cocaine or heroin, they are less vulnerable to law enforcement intervention, and they are found in otherwise legal chemicals needed for legitimate industry. Synthetics manufacturers have also shown an ability to alter their chemical composition while retaining their psychoactive effects in order to skirt existing drug laws and put them on the market faster than they can be scheduled for control.
    The United States is deeply committed to reducing drug abuse within our own borders, and we are also working with international partners to reduce the availability of illegal drugs and minimize the harm they cause around the world. In 2012, the United States passed domestic legislation to enhance law enforcement's ability to respond to NPS. Last year, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) provided funding to support the UNODC’s Global Synthetics Monitoring, Analysis Reporting, and Trends program, which tracks new synthetic drug production and trafficking trends and disseminates this information to governments around the globe.
    Creating systems to limit the production and movement of these drugs are more vital than ever. At the same time, governments must engage with civil society to educate families and communities about the dangers of this new class of drugs.
    Go to www.drugabuse.gov to learn more about this emerging threat.
    William Brownfield serves as the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

  • Sesame Street, Incarceration and Drug Policy Reform

    Yesterday, the White House hosted twelve Champions of Change, individuals who work to support children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers. Today over 2 million children have a parent who is  incarcerated,[i] and those honored yesterday work every day to bring stability and support to these young people and their families. 

    In conjunction with this event, Sesame Street released a toolkit for parents and caregivers of children who experience the incarceration of a loved one. The toolkit features videos, tips, activities, songs, and smartphone apps to help providers and caregivers support children struggling with the effects of a parent’s incarceration.

    You can watch the video here

    To learn more about the President’s plan for drug policy reform, visit this page.  


  • Lowering Incarceration Rates, Honoring Children of Incarcerated Parents

    Today, the White House honors twelve Champions of Change who are helping children of incarcerated parents and their caregivers.  These heroes work every day to help families affected by incarceration. 

    The courageous work of these Champions of Change is complemented in government by an interagency group committed to identifying and eliminating legal obstacles faced by people reentering society after incarceration. This group, the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, was convened by the Attorney General 2 years ago and seeks to reduce barriers to jobs, housing, and education, with a special emphasis on the needs of veterans and women as they rejoin society after involvement with the criminal justice system.

    The Council’s record includes:

    • Training and collaboration. The National Institute of Corrections funded intensive technical assistance in six states for the Transition from Jail to Community Initiative, which advances collaboration between jails and communities to enhance public safety, reduce recidivism, and improve reintegration processes.
    • Employment and legal aid. The Department of Labor and the Department of Justice issued grants for employment and to help pay for legal assistance for such actions as securing drivers’ licenses and expunging criminal records.
    • A focus on veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is piloting the Veterans Reentry Search Service, a web-based system to allow court, jail, and prison staff identify veterans among their inmate or defendant populations—an important step toward linking justice-involved veterans with VA substance use, mental health, and other clinical services.
    • Support for women. The Department of Labor funded grants to provide employment and support services to justice-involved females using a comprehensive care management strategy.  The grants are now active in nine locations, with seven sites serving adults and two serving youth.

    In conjunction with today’s Champions of Change event, the Reentry Council has published a new online resource to explain the Council’s work, outline its accomplishments, and share its plans for the future. To learn more about the Reentry Council, please visit this page. To view and join the conversation about today's Champions of Change, use the hashtag #WHChamps.

  • Director Kerlikowske Delivers Keynote Remarks at NMPI Conference

    On May 7, ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske delivered keynote remarks at the annual Strategy Summit of the National Methamphetamine and Pharmaceuticals Initiative (NMPI) in Charleston, South Carolina. In his remarks, Director Kerlikowske highlighted the “Smart on Crime” approach to drug enforcement and recognized the important role law enforcement officers play in implementing a balanced drug control policy.

    Following his remarks, the Director was presented with the IMPACT award in recognition of his commitment and leadership in reducing the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs and the production and trafficking of methamphetamine in the United States. The IMPACT Award is presented to individuals whose actions have resulted in a significant impact on the Nation’s methamphetamine or pharmaceutical abuse problems. Recipients are selected by the NMPI’s advisory board, which is composed of local, state, and Federal law enforcement officials and policy makers.

    Over the course of 4 days, more than 250 attendees from across the United States, as well as delegations from Canada, Mexico, and China, met at the summit to share information, cultivate contacts with partners at the Federal, state, and local levels, and develop operational strategies and best practices critical to their efforts to seize and prevent clandestine methamphetamine laboratories and disrupt and prosecute prescription drug crimes.

    Reflecting the Administration’s balanced approach to drug policy, speakers delivered presentations on such topics as the role of law enforcement and first responders in reversing opiate overdoses with naloxone, working within communities to prevent prescription drug abuse, and treating individuals suffering from addiction. Presenters also provided information on the latest trends in methamphetamine production and trafficking and prescription drug diversion.

    The diverse group of attendees included law enforcement officers, public health officials, medical professionals, family welfare advocates, laboratory chemists, and policy makers. The range of expertise and experience created a vibrant environment for an informed discussion and a rich exchange of information about the prescription drug and methamphetamine threats facing the United States.