Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Drug Policy and Residential Drug Treatment Programs

Official portrait of United States Director of...
Official portrait of United States Director of National Drug Policy Gil Kerlikowske. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Policy used to dictate that law enforcement was the most important component in lowering drug use. The idea was that if the supply was not as available, fewer people would become addicted. That approach has been changing since 2010, as a dent in drug supply doesn’t prevent use, abuse and addiction. The White House issued a statement last week reiterating that the drug policy now prioritizes prevention and improving treatment over law enforcement.  The idea is that we can start by tying to prevent drug use, and make treatment accessible and effective for those who have crossed the line into addiction. This shift in policy highlights realities – drugs are available, people can find their way into using them if not prevented and treatment can and does work.

While the War on Drugs will remain a fixture of US policy, its small impact has prompted policy makers to take the next necessary step to focus on what happens after one has become addicted - as Director of the National Drug Control Center, Gil Kerlikowske stated in a press conference on April, 18th “we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem.” Although the White House unveiled this policy shift in 2010 by allocating more money for prevention and treatment, the strategy for 2012 goes a step further by make the de facto statement that prevention and treatment should be emphasized over targeting drug crimes.

So far the numbers have matched policy – to an extent. In 2011 $7,645 million dollars were allocated for domestic law enforcement and interdiction efforts combined compared to $5,601 million for drug treatment and prevention programs combined. The numbers for treatment are promising however - as   $3,883 million was allocated for treatment, just slightly lower than the $3,918 million allocated for law enforcement. The next important step is having policy makers realign their idea of what type of treatment works. Empirical evidence shows the efficacy of residential treatment programs in combating addiction, but only a small percent of the budget is allocated for inpatient residential programs. Drug policy makers could learn a lot from private residential drug treatment programs that have been greatly effective in combating addiction for the past 50 some odd years – but as with most things, it is progress, not perfection, that matters.  

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