Drug Control Policy Director: We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out of the Drug Problem

In light of findings from a new national survey on drug use released this week, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said the days of treating drug use exclusively as a law enforcement issue are long gone. While the rate of overall drug use in America has fallen by roughly one-third since 1979, the survey found 8.7 percent of Americans say they regularly use illegal drugs recreationally.

“As someone who has spent their entire career in law enforcement, I know we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem,” Kerlikowske said in a statement. “That’s why our policies are now based upon the recognition that drug addiction is a disease that can be successfully prevented and treated. The tragic wreckage wrought by drug use can and should be prevented before it becomes a criminal justice or public health emergency.”

The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health found marijuana use is on the rise, while methamphetamine use is on the decline. The survey was sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

While there were no statistically significant increases in the use of any illegal drugs between 2009 and 2010, the survey found over the past two years the rate of marijuana use increased significantly, driving up overall rates of illicit drug use. The survey found the most popular drug is marijuana, with 17.4 million regular users. In 2007, 14.4 million Americans said they used marijuana.

An estimated 6.9 percent of those surveyed said they use marijuana regularly, compared with 5.8 percent in 2007. Among 12- to 17-year-olds, 7.4 percent said they had used marijuana in the previous month in 2010, about the same percentage as 2009. Among 18- to 25-year-olds, 18.5 percent said they used marijuana in 2010, up from 16.5 percent in 2008.

2 Responses to Drug Control Policy Director: We Can’t Arrest Our Way Out of the Drug Problem

  1. Larry | September 10, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    At 12 Step meetings, I constantly hear: “a drug is a drug is a drug.” Whether you are talking about substances such as meth or cannabis or alcohol or about neurotransmitters that we manufacture in our brain in response to stimuli, as happens with process addictions such as sex, gambling and food, an addiction is an addiction is an addiction. Arresting an addict does nothing to solve the problem. It just removes him or her from the street for a little while. Then he or she comes back to homelessness and joblessness, which he or she probably treats with what? You guessed it — more substances or compulsive behavior. Treatment is more cost effective and addresses the problem head on. Jail is just societies’ way of hiding their heads in the ground and not seeing the problem.

    • john | September 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

      Larry while I agree that treatment is the primary goal, addicts rarely change unless there are concequences for their behaivior. Law enforcement is a critical part of a system that works. Mandated treatment such as Drug Courts have been one of the most successful programs we have.

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