• Watch Dr. Nora Volkow Explain How Neuroscience Shapes Drug Policy

    Watch Dr. Nora Volkow describe the scientific foundation for Federal drug policy:

    The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Office of National Drug Control Policy agree that throughout much of the last century, scientists studying drug abuse labored in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When science began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society's responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punitive rather than preventative and therapeutic actions.

    Today, thanks to science, our views and our responses to drug abuse have changed dramatically. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of drug addiction, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem.

    As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug abuse takes on individuals, families, and communities. 

  • Drug Laws: Why Do We Have them, and Do They Work?

    It’s a question often raised in today’s heated discussion about the efficacy of drug policy in America: Do regulations outlawing certain drugs actually work?

    Let’s go to the data. Here’s what the Nation’s largest, longest-running, and most comprehensive source on the state of drug use in America shows:

    As you can see, the use of legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco far outpaces the use of illegal drugs. It is clear, then, that laws discouraging drug use do have an effect in keeping rates relatively low compared to rates for other drugs that are legal and therefore more available.  Even beyond this one-year snapshot, we know that significant progress has been made in the long term.  Since 1979, there has been a roughly 30 percent decline in the overall use of illicit drugs in America. . (Related: Independent fact checkers at Politifact dispel claim that marijuana is easier for young people to get than alcohol.)

    So our challenge is not that we’re powerless against the problem of substance use in America. The challenge is that rates of drug use – a behavior that harms too many of our fellow citizens -- are still too high. That’s why the President’s National Drug Control Strategy supports innovative and proven programs that aim to reduce drug use and its consequences through a combination of public health and public safety interventions.

    It boils down to simple arithmetic: The more Americans use drugs, the higher the health, safety, productivity, and criminal justice costs we all have to bear. And if sensible drug laws (in combination with a wide array of prevention, treatment, and other health interventions, of course) help keep those numbers down, then the answer is yes, they are working.

    This is part of a series of blog posts that address myths about federal drug policy. Related: Are Drugs Today Really Cheaper, Purer and More Available than Ever?

  • Guest Post: Michael Banyard’s Story, Part 1.

    In June 2012, National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske visited the Betty Ford Center, one of the Nation’s oldest and most recognized addiction treatment facilities. There he gave remarks to a crowd of leaders in the field of recovery. In the audience were two special guests—Michael Banyard and Federal District Court Judge Spencer Letts. In his remarks, Director Kerlikowske mentioned Banyard’s improbable—and inspirational—journey from crack cocaine dependence and homelessness, to prison, to a successful sentence appeal, to the chambers of a federal district court judge and completion of his GED.

    Michael Banyard has graciously shared his story—in his own words—with ONDCP, which we are posting in conjunction with National Mentoring Month. Please find the first installation of Michael’s story below.

    I was a young man born in Compton, California and raised by a single loving mother. I made a lot of bad decisions; even though my mother raised me right and worked hard to make sure I always had a roof over my head and food on the table.


    Michael Banyard in his youth (Photo courtesy of Michael Banyard).

    Although I had my mom and two sisters, I still felt alone and would play by myself a lot. I was the only male in the house and felt like I was missing a father figure, so I began looking for guidance outside my home.

    Obie Chappell, Michael's mother (Photo courtesy of Michael Banyard).

    It was around the age of 12 that my mom started taking me to church. By then, I had already smoked my first joint and had my first drink of alcohol. Around the age of 16, I stopped going to church and went after what I thought I was missing in my life. This led me to a lot of negativity.

    My drug and alcohol use got worse, and I became completely detached from school. In 1985, I finally dropped out, and during that same year, I smoked crack cocaine for the first time. 

    Crack cocaine took my life to another level. I always thought drugs were for fun, but I had no idea it would lead to making me homeless and would have my mind focused on drugs every second of every day. From 1987 to 1995, I ended up in prison five times, and was already in my first four drug programs. Also in that period, I became homeless for the first time. And by 1996, I went back to prison and was convicted of possession and sentenced under the California "Three Strikes" law to a whopping term of 25 years to life. 

    I was sent to a high security prison called Pelican Bay. While at Pelican Bay, another lifer had one day told me, "You won't feel the life sentence until after your first 10 years." Even though I had been to prison before, I could not see myself behind bars for ten years straight.

    After a couple years my custody points dropped, and I became a level three inmate and was allowed to transfer to a lower level three yard. I relocated to Lancaster State Prison in L.A. County.

    Michael during his incarceration, facing a 25 year-to-life sentence under California's "Three Strikes" law (Photo courtesy of Michael Banyard).

    While at Lancaster Prison I became the G.E.D. Clerk, and while working one day, I overheard the correctional officer talking to her workers. She said, "The sun rotates, and while the sun is rotating, the earth is rotating around the sun, and while that is happening the moon is rotating around the earth."

    When I pictured that in my head I thought to myself, "Whoever is in control of that has the last say on whether I spend the rest of my life in prison." 

    After work I got on my knees and had a long talk with God. The first thing I felt I had to do was take responsibility for the role I played in my situation. Second, whoever I felt may have wronged me, I had to inwardly forgive them before I could move on.

    That inner freedom allowed me, a high school drop-out, to start going to the Prison Law Library and studying for the first time. 

    Note: This is Part 1 of the Michael Banyard guest blog post series. Read Part 2 here

  • Transportation Safety Leader Prioritizes Drugged Driving Prevention

    Americans are well aware of the dangers associated with drunk driving. Thanks to a public awareness campaign spanning decades and driven by a spectrum of government and private organizations, both public perception and the criminal justice system have moved to decrease the rate of driving under the influence of alcohol.

    However, drugged driving is now emerging as a growing problem in America. ONDCP, in partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal agencies, has been working to raise awareness about—and prevent—drugged driving.

    We are encouraged that last week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced that drugged driving is one of its advocacy priorities for 2013. From the NTSB website:

    More people die on the highways than in any other mode of transportation. In fact, over 90 percent of all transportation-related deaths occur on highways. Unfortunately, the substance-impaired driver greatly contributes to this average. For example, in 2010, more than 10,000 deaths (30 percent of all highway deaths) involved an alcohol-impaired driver. Over the last decade, 130,000 people have died in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver—20,000 more than the number of seats at the University of Michigan football stadium! According to the 2011 Traffic Safety Culture Index of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, over 14 percent of drivers admit to driving when they thought they were close to or over the legal limit.

    The statistics for drugged driving are no less concerning. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly 10.5 million people age 12 and above admitted to driving while impaired by illicit drugs. And among drivers fatally injured in 2009 who were tested for drugs and for whom results were known, one-third tested positive. From 2005-2009, the proportion of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for illicit drugs rose from 13 to 18 percent. The battle against substance-impaired driving is far from over.

  • Does Drug Treatment Work?

    Addiction is a chronic disease that can be successfully treated. We need to look no further than the millions of Americans who are in long-term recovery today from drug and alcohol addiction to see that recovery is possible.   Still, there remains some cynicism about the efficacy of drug treatment, and some people claim that the chances of treatment succeeding are very low.  In actual fact, relapse rates for drug-addicted patients are about the same for other chronic illnesses.   

    According to the National Institutes of Health:

    “Does relapse to drug abuse mean treatment has failed?

    No. The chronic nature of the disease means that relapsing to drug abuse is not only possible, but likely. Relapse rates (i.e., how often symptoms occur) for drug addiction are similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma27, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment failure. For the addicted patient, lapses back to drug abuse indicate that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed.

    Source: JAMA, 284:1689-1695, 2000 

    Relapse rates for drug-addicted patients are compared with those suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. Relapse is common and similar across these illnesses (as is adherence to medication). Thus, drug addiction should be treated like any other chronic illness, with relapse serving as a trigger for renewed intervention.27

  • Hundreds Gathered in Washington, D.C., for 2012 HIDTA Conference

    More than 500 leaders from the law enforcement, prevention, and treatment communities gathered in Washington, D.C., last month for the 2012 National High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) Conference.  For two days, a diverse group of speakers addressed the conference on a number of topics, including:  the effects of marijuana use on the brain, the importance of intelligence-led policing, and the need for the prevention and law enforcement communities to further their already strong partnership.

    Hall of Fame baseball star, Cal Ripken, Jr., kicked off the opening reception on December 12th with remarks about the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, which seeks to provide positive influences for youth in disadvantaged areas.  In addition to Senator Max Baucus and Representative Jo Ann Emerson, several leaders in the prevention and law enforcement communities addressed the group, including Dr. Robert DuPont; Dr. Doug Marlowe; Commander Melvin Scott of the Washington, D.C. Police Department; Administrator Michele Leonhart of the Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI Executive Assistant Director Rick McFeely; and INTERPOL Washington Director Shawn Bray—as well as award-winning New Yorker journalist Patrick Keefe and former NFL linebacker Ken Harvey.  At the annual HIDTA Awards Banquet, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske delivered remarks.  In his remarks, Director Kerlikowske provided an update on several ONDCP initiatives and reiterated the Obama Administration’s third way approach to drug policy—a path that balances public health programs, law enforcement, and international partnerships.

    In all, 21 task forces and 10 individuals were recognized for their outstanding performance in their effort to reduce drug production and trafficking in the United States. The Washington-Baltimore HIDTA, under the leadership of Director Tom Carr, was selected as HIDTA of the Year.

    For information about the HIDTA program, click here.

  • ONDCP Leaders in Baltimore on National Day of Service

    On Saturday, Jan.19, Director Kerlikowske, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction David Mineta, and ONDCP staff joined the Baltimore City Mayor’s office, Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Inc. (BSAS), Rep. Elijah Cummings’ staff, and the Baltimore Recovery Corps’ Peer Recovery Advocates (PRA) to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and answer President Obama’s call to serve in the community on the National Day of Service.

    The Director honored members of the Recovery Corps' Peer Recovery Advocates who are working to build stronger communities across the City of Baltimore by providing services and supports to people seeking or in recovery. Following his remarks, the Director presented certificates of appreciation to the advocates and to five individuals who have shown exceptional leadership in helping Recovery Corps members support sustained recovery in the community. The Recovery Corps program is “designed to provide men and women in recovery from substance use with opportunities to ‘give back’ through volunteering to serve as peer-recovery support advocates.” It was launched in spring 2011 as part of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s stepUP! Baltimore volunteer initiative.


    After the gathering, Director Kerlikowske, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction Mineta and staff participated in a community clean-up in the Hollins Market and Washington Village neighborhoods, which surround the University of Maryland treatment facility.


    President Obama and the First Lady have asked all Americans to serve their communities not only on National Service Day, but throughout the year. To find a service project near you, visit www.serve.org.

  • Director Kerlikowske to Participate in National Day of Service in Baltimore

    “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” — Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    On January 21st, our Nation will celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) Day coincides with the Presidential Inauguration, and the President is calling on all Americans to join him in a National Day of Service on Saturday, January 19th.

    Director Kerlikowske, Deputy Director for Demand Reduction David Mineta, Deputy Director for State and ONDCP staff are answering the President’s call to action this Saturday. Together with Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, Inc. and the Baltimore City Mayor’s office Director Kerlikowske will honor the Baltimore Recovery Corps’ Peer Recovery Advocates (PRA) for their outstanding volunteerism and join them for a community clean-up in Baltimore.

    The members of the Baltimore Recovery Corps are recruited from people who have at least two years successful recovery from a substance use disorder and seek to use their experience to serve others.  They coach and mentor people in or seeking recovery and help them access the services they need, find and maintain housing and employment, and connect to a community of recovering peers who can help them in their journey to sustained recovery.

    We are inspired by the work of the Baltimore Recovery Corps and encourage all Americans to get involved in service projects that matter to them and their communities. To search by zip code for a service opportunity near you, go here.

    For more information about Presidential Inaugural Committee’s National Day of Service, go to http://action.2013pic.org/service. To learn more about MLK Day, visit MLKDay.gov.

  • New Data, Online Resources on Synthetic Drugs

    In 2012, synthetic cathinones—better known as “bath salts”—made international headlines as reports of deaths and grave injuries related to this family of drug emerged. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the term ‘bath salts’ refers to an emerging family of drugs containing one or more synthetic chemicals related to cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant found naturally in the Khat plant.”

    These reports drew widespread attention to the severe public health and safety risks associated with “bath salts.” In response to increased awareness about these drugs—and to ensure the American people had access to credible, scientific information about the drugs—earlier this month, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a “DrugFacts” page on these substances. You can learn more about “bath salts” by visiting NIDA’s web site on synthetic cathinones.

    Complementing this new resource is the December 4, 2012 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that shows an alarmingly high number of emergency room visits related to another family of synthetic drugs, synthetic cannabinoids (sometimes referred to as “synthetic marijuana”). In 2010, an estimated 11,406 emergency department (ED) visits involved a synthetic cannabinoid product. Three-fourths of these ED visits were patients aged 12 to 29—78% of whom were male.

    As we learned in data released this month from the 2012 Monitoring the Future study, which reports on drug use and attitudes among teens across the country, synthetic cannabinoids are the second most used drug among 10th and 12th graders after tobacco and alcohol. As we continue to confront the public health challenge of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, we encourage parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and other adult influencers to learn about the health risks of these drugs and share that information with the young people in their lives.

  • Guest Post: Wake up and Smell the Recovery

    I'm Devin Fox, and I am a person in long-term recovery. I'm a young person, a gay man, an activist, an advocate, a son, a brother, an employee, an executive director, a social worker, and–most importantly–a human being. To me, being in recovery means being free from drugs and alcohol. In November 2012, I celebrated 4 years of continuous recovery, with all of its ups, downs, and even boring days.

    I strive each day to live to my greatest potential and to reach for a life focused on being the best that I can be. My life was not always so solution-focused however. Although my story is not entirely unique, it’s unusual enough to make me feel special.

    Those who have known me for a while know I have been an activist and an advocate since grade school. I have an innate ability to gauge a roomful of people's concerns and then clearly articulate those concerns to the most likely person, persons, or system that can bring about some type of effective change. This ability has enabled me to help support young people in recovery as together we seek to make our voice heard in a Nation caught in the grips of a mentality that revolves around the problem of addiction. Instead of this fixation on addiction as the problem, it is time to focus on the solution of a person’s own identified recovery and how we as a whole can support that effort.

    Like many others, I suppose, I often feel as if I am focused on how to live only one "life" at a time. The mixing of roles and worlds into one individual can be tricky and most certainly frustrating. As I continue to progress in my recovery, I am discovering and learning to accept my own complexity – the multiple sides of my personality that make me who I am.

    On one side is Devin the advocate, a well-informed, well-groomed, well-maintained machine. Devin the advocate lives for the "cause." This Devin can move with ease through crowds because his intentions are almost always well-meaning and his actions thoughtful and appropriate.

    Devin the person-in-recovery is just about everything except a machine. This includes the good (which I will gladly disclose here), the bad (I'll think about it), and the ugly (please!). You see, Devin-in-recovery can hide behind Devin-the-advocate. My asset of being an effective advocate and activist has the potential to overrule the necessity to focus on a personal life of wellness and recovery. This awareness of how closely my assets and my defects are connected helps me live in the moment and be the most effective agent for change that I can be.

    My life often becomes chaotic and overcome with the pressures of work, business meetings, and conference calls. In a sense, it’s not much different from the seminars, recitations, and homework I left at Rutgers last spring. When I become unbalanced and afraid, I grasp onto my "causes." I cling to their truth and take it as my own. I revel in the injustice and emerge with chest puffed, cape billowing, and the ugly sword of truth unsheathed. The wonderful outcome is that today my “cause” has become my personal mission in life.

    I find joy in helping others and fulfillment in spreading a message of hope to any who will listen or will join me in experiencing it. For me, young people in recovery finding a voice in a world that has been deaf to our input is more than a “cause.” This movement is not something I hide behind. I stand proudly beside it and acknowledge it belongs to me, you, and everyone who wants it. This movement is life. This movement is recovery. This movement is the solution.

    This is my truth. It is just a small piece of the multi-faceted human being that I am, and a snapshot of how recovery shapes my life and my work. The steps that I take on a daily basis to help me heal and grow into the best man that I can be are simple, and they often rest on my decision to show up for my life one day at a time. The result of my choosing a new way of thinking, and therefore a new way of life, is a freedom that cannot be felt or fully understood by simply reading about it in this blog. To those in recovery and struggling against the tyranny of addiction to alcohol or other drugs, I say this: Go experience this freedom yourself. Embrace it, own it, and then share it. Our personal recovery stories are our asset today not our defect.