When Gil Kerlikowske took office as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in May 2009, his goal was to shift federal drug policies from ones of punishment to ones of prevention, treatment, and recovery. Addiction is a treatable illness. With treatment, offenders may be able to break a cycle of dangerous addiction and regain healthy control of their lives. Kerlikowske emphasizes that addiction is a public health issue which must be addressed in order to stop an epidemic.
Kerlikowske’s ideals are supported by current health statistics and other politicians. Fellow supporter, Representative Mary Bono Mack (R-Palm Springs), agrees that prescription painkiller addiction is rising at alarming rates. Nearly 3,000 people are rushed to emergency rooms each year because of painkillers and insomnia and anxiety medication overdose. Nearly 70 more people die from these drugs each year.
Kerlikowske’s work in reforming the drug policy has already raised awareness about the need for treatment and recovery from addiction, but he hopes to further it. He hopes to expand access to treatment, reform national drug laws, and strengthen community recovery programs for those with substance abuse.
Expanding Access to Treatment
The Access to Recovery Program has been helping those convicted of non-violent substance abuse crimes. Federal policies have been focusing on punishment, prevention, and treatment and have offered a payment voucher for treatment services.
Kerlikowske plans to expand access to treatment by also assisting in a person’s recovery back to a healthy lifestyle. Proposed plans are to offer a voucher that would cover items like childcare, professional work clothes, and transitional housing so that the individual can keep successfully moving on, securing a good job, and giving back to the community.
Changing National Drug Abuse Laws
During Kerlikowske’s tenure, the U.S. has seen a positive shift in spending more for drug prevention and treatment programs than on incarceration and punishment. $30 billion was spent over the last three years to help those with substance abuse end their addictions.
Kerlikowske stresses that some people with substance addiction are being punished by having items taken away that could actually help them get their life back together. He wants to look again at how certain punishment could be hurting, rather than helping those with an addiction to overcome that addiction.
If a job is lost, student loan revoked, or housing taken away, the addicted person spirals further into a position in which they feel hopeless to ever recover. Kerlikowske hopes with some changes in the federal drug policy, more people can have a chance to break out of addiction and stay out of addiction.
Strengthening Community-Based Recovery Programs
Kerlikowske hopes the country can broaden its recovery programs for youth and adults. Each community in the U.S. is composed of different cultures, values, and dynamics. Recovery is more likely if the person can relate to those around them and feel comfortable in that atmosphere.
Peer-led programs and local recovery support centers can provide individual help as the person navigates onto a healthier life path.
Addressing Addiction as a Public Health Issue
Some people are concerned that Kerlikowske’s good intentions may end up harming those with addiction problems. By suggesting that addiction is a public health issue, some believe that it may imply it is more like a disease and almost impossible to overcome.
Kerlikowske, though, stresses that addiction is definitely treatable and hopes to get the government focused more on recovery programs than on incarceration; more on positively moving forward with progress than pushing back with punishment.