Today, President Biden sent his Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy to Congress at a time when drug overdoses have taken a heartbreaking toll, claiming 106,854 lives in the most recent 12-month period. The Strategy delivers on the call to action in President Biden’s Unity Agenda through a whole-of-government approach to beat the overdose epidemic.
The Strategy focuses on two critical drivers of the epidemic: untreated addiction and drug trafficking. It instructs federal agencies to prioritize actions that will save lives, get people the care they need, go after drug traffickers’ profits, and make better use of data to guide all these efforts.
Addressing Untreated Addiction for Those At-Risk of an Overdose
According to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among the 41.1 million people who needed treatment for substance use disorders (SUD), only 2.7 million (6.5-percent) of them received treatment at a specialty treatment facility over the previous year. One reason for this gap is that people with addiction and those who care for them face too many barriers to treatment. Similarly, key tools like naloxone and syringe services programs are often restricted or underfunded at the community level, which limits access for people who use drugs. For example, some states still have legal barriers that limit access to naloxone, and even in states where those barriers don’t exist, naloxone does not always make it to those most at-risk of an overdose. The President’s National Drug Control Strategy is the first-ever to champion harm reduction to meet people where they are and engage them in care and services. It also calls for actions that will expand access to evidence-based treatments that have been shown to reduce overdose risk and mortality. Finally, it emphasizes the need to develop stronger data collection and analysis systems to better deploy public health interventions.
- Expand high-impact harm reduction interventions like naloxone
The Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts focus on meeting people where they are, and building trust and engagement with them to provide care and services. Specifically, the Strategy calls for greater access to harm reduction interventions including naloxone, drug test strips, and syringe services programs. It directs federal agencies to integrate harm reduction into the U.S system of care to save lives and increase access to treatment. It also calls for collaboration on harm reduction between public health and public safety officials, and changes in state laws and policies to support the expansion of harm reduction efforts across the country.
- Ensure those at highest-risk of an overdose can access evidence-based treatment
The Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to expand access to treatment are focused around delivering treatment to those at the highest-risk of overdosing, which includes people experiencing homelessness, those who are incarcerated or re-entering society, and people who inject drugs. The Strategy directs federal agencies to take actions that meet people who need treatment where they are, improves the quality of treatment to include payment reform, supports those at-risk of an overdose, and builds up the Nation’s treatment workforce and infrastructure. It also includes a chapter on Criminal Justice that focuses on direct actions that will improve the delivery of evidence-based treatment when appropriate for people in carceral settings or in the reentry process in addition to other justice-impacted persons.
- Improve data systems and research that guide drug policy development.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to deploying an evidence-based approach to policy-making as directed in the Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity and evidence-based policymaking. Development of effective drug policy requires timely and rigorous data covering the full range of trends and activities, including consumption patterns, drug use consequences, prevention, harm reduction, treatment, recovery, drug production, transportation and distribution by drug trafficking organizations, and many more. The Strategy directs relevant agencies to strengthen existing data systems, establish new data systems, including for non-fatal overdoses, and enhance the usefulness of drug data for practitioners, researchers and policy-makers.
Going After Drug Trafficking and Illicit Drug Profits
Law enforcement agencies at all levels—federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial—work to reduce domestic and international cultivated and synthetic drug production and trafficking with the goal of protecting Americans. However, drug producers continue to produce entirely new synthetic drugs, and drug traffickers continue to refine their methods and techniques for distributing them throughout our communities.
The Strategy builds on the President’s FY 23 budget request for a $300 million increase to support the work of Customs and Border Protection (CBP)–one of the largest ever increases for CBP–and for a $300 million increase for the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Strategy prioritizes a targeted response to drug traffickers and transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) by hitting them where it hurts the most: their wallets. It also includes efforts to strengthen domestic law enforcement cooperation to disrupt the trafficking of illicit drugs within the United States, and increase collaboration with international partners to disrupt the supply chain of illicit substances and the precursor chemicals used to produce them. Lastly, the National Drug Control Strategy includes three companion documents that direct Federal agencies to take actions that stop the trafficking of drugs across our Caribbean, Northern, and Southwest Borders.
- Obstruct and disrupt financial activities of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) that manufacture illicit drugs and traffic them into the United States
The illicit drugs smuggled throughout the world generate enormous revenue, which must be moved and laundered so that traffickers can profit from their illicit enterprise.TCOs also require funds to operate their illicit supply chains and exert their transnational corruptive influence. While bulk cash smuggling remains one of the predominant methods for moving illicit proceeds, smugglers also use trade-based money laundering (TBML) such as Black-Market Peso Exchanges and mirror transfers via informal networks. Additionally, TCOs are adept at using darknet markets and virtual assets to launder funds. The National Drug Control Strategy directs agencies to strengthen and employ every available tool, and seek new ones, to uncover financial networks to obstruct and disrupt the illicit financial activities that fund the TCOs who produce and traffic illicit drugs into the United States.
- Reduce the supply of illicit drugs through domestic collaboration and international coordination.
The Strategy directs federal agencies to improve cooperation across all levels of government to strengthen our domestic response to drug trafficking; commercially disrupt the production, trafficking, and distribution of illicit substances; improve assessment of supply reduction initiatives; and protect individuals and the environment at home from criminal exploitation. The Strategy also aims to strengthen foreign partnerships to address drug production and trafficking, leverage the influence of multilateral organizations to tackle shared challenge of synthetic drugs, and protect individuals and the environment abroad from criminal exploitation by those involved in drug trafficking.
- Reduce the supply of illicit drugs smuggled across our borders.
The Biden-Harris Administration is focused on stopping drugs from entering our communities. The President’s National Drug Control Strategy includes specific border strategies that direct federal agencies to strengthen interdiction and law enforcement capabilities on our Nation’s borders, counter criminal networks, disrupt illicit finance efforts, target drug transportation routes and modalities, and otherwise aggressively reduce the trafficking of illicit drugs. The Strategy also directs agencies to work with partner governments in drug producing and transit countries to prevent illicit drugs from ever reaching our borders.
In addition, the Strategy directs federal agencies to expand efforts to prevent substance use among school-aged children and young adults, and support community-led coalitions implementing evidence-based prevention strategies across the country. It directs federal agencies to expand scientific understanding of the recovery process by establishing a federal recovery research agenda; adopt flexible, responsive approaches that help people with SUD find and follow a pathway to recovery or remission that works for them; and eliminate barriers and increase economic opportunities for people in recovery. And the Strategy includes specific actions to improve access to medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) programs for jails and prisons; identify ways to advance racial equity in the investigation, arrest, and sentencing for drug related offenses without negatively impacting public safety; divert non-violent individuals from the criminal justice system and juvenile justice systems to treatment when appropriate; and remove barriers and expand supportive services to help reintegrate people into society after incarceration.