The White House

Office of the National Drug Control Policy

Acting Director's Remarks at the 55th Meeting of CICAD

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  It’s a great pleasure to join my colleagues from throughout the hemisphere to participate in CICAD 55.  I would like to recognize Ambassador Simons and his talented team on the CICAD staff for their work year round to support all of our efforts.  I am honored to be here today with Dr. Wilson Compton of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  While Dr. Compton will touch specifically on cannabis, I will talk to you about the full range of health and policy issues we are addressing at the White House.

Drug use and its consequences challenge our shared dream of building a future that is healthier, safer, and more prosperous.  Drug use is associated with addiction, disease, and lower academic performance among our young people.  It contributes to crime, injury, and serious dangers on the roads.  And drug use and its consequences jeopardize the progress we have made in strengthening our economy, contributing to unemployment, impeding re-employment, and costing the international economy billions of dollars in lost productivity.

In the coming weeks, the Administration will release our 2014 National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy).  Our Strategy will highlight the full spectrum of drug policy interventions and balances – and often combines – public health programs with effective law enforcement.  

The Strategy directs Federal agencies to expand community-based efforts to prevent drug use before it begins, empower healthcare workers to intervene early at the first signs of a substance use disorder, expand access to treatment for those who need it, and implement criminal justice reforms designed to break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration.

This approach is built on decades of research demonstrating that addiction is a disease of the brain, and we are working to ensure prevention programs and treatment services – and the way they are provided – are in line with this reality.

The release of the Administration’s Strategy comes at a time of growing public support for public health approaches to drug policy. According to a Pew Research Poll released in April, 67 percent of Americans support providing treatment for those with substance use disorders compared to 26 percent who favor prosecution. 

As we know from this morning, this Administration is pursuing smart-on-crime policies.  Last summer, for example, Attorney General Holder announced major changes to charging policies regarding mandatory minimums for certain nonviolent, low-level drug offenses. And to further foster equity in criminal sentencing, the White House and Attorney General more recently called for reductions in sentences for drug offenders and for reviews of clemency requests from Federal inmates serving time for drug offenses.

While we have made significant progress in advancing evidence-based drug policy reform, serious challenges still remain. 

Improving treatment services and access to services is key priority for us. America’s new health care law will be a tremendous help. The Affordable Care Act provides for substance abuse and mental health benefits to be included as part of health insurance plans; this means more individuals will have access to treatment for their substance use disorders.  But increasing access is only part of our challenge: we must help reduce stigma so individuals in need of treatment seek it out.

Reducing stigma can play an important role in encouraging individuals to seek help at an earlier stage in the progression of the disease and help mainstream the care of substance use disorders. And part of reducing stigma is thinking mindfully about how we talk about the disease of addiction.

Use of stigmatizing words like “addict” defines a person by his or her disease, which is dehumanizing. Research shows, it can also discourage individuals from seeking help. I recommend we take a united approach to language here in the CICAD forum, and work together to reduce stigma. 

Another important challenge is the declining perceptions of harm—and associated increase in use—of marijuana among young people.  These challenges have become even more difficult with the passage of state ballot measures in 2012 legalizing marijuana in the states of Colorado and Washington. 

I would like to reiterate that marijuana remains illegal under U.S. law and will remain so.  The United States Department of Justice has stated that it will enforce the Federal Controlled Substances prohibition against the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana in all states.

The Department of Justice will continue to focus its efforts on key Federal enforcement priorities, such as preventing sale to minors, preventing interstate marijuana distribution, preventing marijuana activity related to violence or other criminal conduct, and preventing revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs, and cartels.  We are monitoring these states closely. 

And the US Government is working to provide information to all 50 states information about the health consequences of marijuana. As more information about the marijuana situation in Colorado and Washington becomes available we will share it widely, both domestically and with all of our colleagues here today.

The United States remains committed to international partnerships that reduce both the demand and the supply of illicit drugs.  Together with our host nation counterparts, we are enhancing our expert exchanges with other countries on demand reduction research, prevention, treatment, and alternatives to incarceration.  We hope to continue this dialogue in appropriate forums, and to continue seeking innovative and more effective ways to address the international drug problem.

We will also continue to support drug prevention and treatment internationally.  Through the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America—known as CADCA—we have funded training and technical assistance to drug-free community coalitions around the country since 1992.  And in the past 7 years, international interest in CADCA has surged.  CADCA now operates in 16 countries on three continents.

In Afghanistan, where more than 75 percent of the world’s potential opium production is harvested[1] and where drug consumption is a great threat to the future of the country, the U.S. Government supports emerging prevention programs and 50 drug treatment centers.

While the world drug problem is increasingly viewed through the public health and social welfare lens, we must remember that it also poses real challenges to citizen security in many parts of the world.  As you all are aware, the transnational criminal organizations we confront in our own countries now operate in many countries and regions across the globe. The globalized world allows them to rapidly expand their networks and seize new money-making opportunities wherever they emerge. They exploit porous borders and institutions to finance their criminal enterprises.

As we focus on supporting vital public health interventions to reduce drug use, we must also continue efforts to address the continuing threat posed by drug production and trafficking.  Reducing the availability of illicit drugs, especially cocaine and heroin, critically supports our efforts to reduce demand.  The supply reduction tools of interdiction, including eradication, alternative development, precursor chemical control and the disruption of drug trafficking networks - when used in concert with robust demand reduction efforts – provide necessary protection for our communities. 

As citizens of the most interconnected global community in human history, we know how important it is to support peace and stability. The U.S. Government is strongly committed to international partnerships that reduce both the demand and the supply of illicit drugs.

CONCLUSION

Re-thinking drug policy is a complicated task. We are constantly monitoring and analyzing the results of our programs to identify what works and what does not work and to seek ways to make our efforts more effective. Much of the work is done at the state and local levels within the United States, so it takes time for us to truly implement nationwide reforms. 

ONDCP will continue to pursue reform by advocating for a more comprehensive system of care for people with substance use disorders; for the increased availability of life-saving measures; and greater support for people reentering their communities from a period of incarceration.

We appreciate our shared responsibility to address all aspects of this problem.  The United States is committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with all of our partners in the hemisphere.  We intend to continue, and where possible, to expand our partnerships in strengthening institutions, sharing law enforcement intelligence, and disrupting criminal trafficking operations to address the world drug problem. At the same time, we are increasing our commitment to expert exchanges with other countries on demand reduction research, prevention, treatment, and alternatives to incarceration. 

The White House is very appreciative of the important work being done by Dr. Compton and his staff at NIDA for their continued commitment to research on the health consequences of drug use.  This research not only helps us here at home, but also throughout our global community. 

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today. We greatly value the forum CICAD provides for this critically important issue.  Each of you here today is doing vital work to make our world safer, healthier, and more just.

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[1] Table 11: Potential Production of Oven-dried Opium, from the UNODC 2012 World Drug Report, page 28.