White House Drug Czar Praises Oregon Partnership

During last week’s visit to Oregon, White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske toured Oregon Partnership’s crisis lines, and spoke about the importance of OP’s reaching out to returning veterans and soldiers suffering from emotional distress, drug and alcohol abuse and thoughts of suicide.

He praised OP for its effective ways of helping these men and women.  And he talked about “The War on Drugs,” a term of which he dispises and how efforts to combat drug abuse needs redirection.

Here’s an editorial that ran in the Oregonian this week:

Everyone talks about the importance of treatment for drug abuse. The tricky part is delivering it.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration’s director of national drug control policy, affirmed during a visit to Portland this week that the president’s forthcoming drug policy statement wouldn’t use a phrase like “war on drugs,” but would instead favor drug prevention and treatment.

He said he thinks the American public is ready to try an approach that’s more balanced than some of the tough-on-crime measures, such a mandatory minimum sentences, that have proliferated in recent years.

It’s a question, not just of effectiveness, but of cost, said Kerlikowske, who toured drug treatment centers during a visit to Oregon last week. Treatment is simply cheaper for society than a crime and punishment.

Similarly, Oregon Attorney General John Kroger won election two years ago on a platform that emphasized treatment over enforcement for drug offenders. “For every dollar you spend on drug treatment you save between six and seven dollars in the state budget — health care, law enforcement, prison,” he pointed out while campaigning in 2008. “My goal on drug treatment is to bring down the crime rate.”

In 2008, Oregon voters passed Measure 57, the gentler of two anticrime measures on the ballot. Measure 57 balanced a lock-em-up approach with a promise to expand drug treatment programs for prisoners. But the treatment portion of that measure is on hold, a hostage of the state’s budget crunch. It is not scheduled to take effect fully until 2012.

The developments in Oregon and Washington, D.C., reflect what Kerlikowske believes to be a growing acceptance by the public that drug abuse and addiction is more of a public health problem and less a criminal choice that demands a harsh response. But he acknowledges that society traditionally has viewed drug abuse as “a moral failure.”

During his visit to Portland, Kerlikowske highlighted such programs as High Point, N.C.’s pre-arrest deterrence program. In High Point, he said, police will build a case against a young drug offender, documenting his drug sales or purchases. But rather than taking the young person out of his neighborhood in handcuffs and putting the first mark on his criminal record, the police send him a letter and ask him to come to the station for a visit. When he comes, they show him the evidence they’ve amassed and they ask him to pick one of two doors.

 Behind one is a cop ready to make an arrest. Behind the other is a counselor with access to resources for literacy, vocational education and drug treatment. It’s a pretty easy choice for most young people. Not everybody stays straight. But the early intervention scares some down the proper path, keeping them out of trouble and out of jail.

The program has spread to other cities, such as Providence, Seattle and Hempstead, N.Y., where it is credited with a marked reduction in the crime rate. Kerlikowske, who was police chief in Seattle, Buffalo and Port St. Lucie, Fla., says the country is ripe for an approach to drugs that doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker. Recent evidence suggests he’s right.


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