Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, speaking in front of the  International Association of Police Chiefs, could have taken a small step towards decriminalization of drug addiction and expanded drug regulation.  He didn’t do that.  His vision appears to maintain a status quo:  (Read his statement here) • marijuana remains illegal  • the war on drugs goes on •  drug addicts continue to face criminalization of their behavior.  He did, however, talk of ways we can reduce demand for illegal drugs, and offered a proposed budget of 120 million dollars to do this.

Consider that 21 to 25 million Americans are drug addicts and alcoholics in need of treatment ranging from a few counseling sessions to a year in residential care.  10% of them do receive some kind of treatment, privately and publicly.    6 to 8 million of these are addicted to hard drugs and require some level of controlled residential care.  A million and half of inmates today are incarcerated due to drug use and will be released untreated.  Some of them are there for direct drug offence, while over half of these inmates are there for doing something to get drugs.  Stealing to get drugs usually equates to addiction.   This new spending is supposed to stimulate efforts for treatment programs, expansion of drug courts, better problem solving in the court system, and treatment of incarcerated inmates.  Do the math.  With a negative cost impact to America  of 480 billion dollars due in some way to drugs and alcohol,  can 120 million make  a dent in curtailing the problem?  Treating roughly  60,000 thousand  incarcerated opiate addicts alone could cost 1.5 billion dollars for a solid year of compulsory treatment and recovery.

Part of a new treatment paradigm can look like using the same dollars it takes to incarcerate opiate addicts;  to treat them.   That begins to look like no extra dollars are needed  for treatment facilitated within the legal system.  To help this comparison, consider that an incarcerated opiate addict even if released much less than a year,  will return to prison numerous times after that, while failing drug court efforts and  continuing  to inflict financial damage to society which is part of the overall cost of alcohol and drug addiction to America.  See The Impact of Just One Addict.   Roughly, the financial impact to Americans of one addict averages 25K per year.  Coincidently, the  cost to incarcerate that addict for an aggregate of one year is about the same.  You can begin to see that having an addict leave the legal system free of drugs and alcohol and a good chance to stay sober has it advantages.

Back to the status quo, delivering treatment outside the penal system would in fact take at least two more digits added to Kerlikowske’s budget and of course expand the current cost impact to America due in some way to drugs and alcohol.  The reality of the situation is that we don’t have extra money and states don’t fund most drug court mandated treatment.  Case and point.  Most offenders are simply returning to jail for re-offence or  drug court non-compliance.  At that point, they are back in jail where treatment is not available other than optional AA and NA 12- step meetings in some prisons.  Beyond that, prison health management falls short of even treating conventional diseases, much less drug addiction and parallel mental illness.  A fresh look at new solutions and ideas requires a  necessary attitude change in legal policy.  These points were absent from Gil Kerlikowske’s speech.  We are in for more of the  same for now.

By maintaining the status quo of the war on drugs we, unfortunately  insure that the current cost impact of 480 billion dollars to Americans due to drugs and alcohol will continue to grow.  History already informs us that get tough on drug and 3-strike laws doesn’t reduce demand.  Statistics show that the rate of drug abuse and addiction is growing.   The step that wasn’t taken yet is the one towards  policy reform, budget re-allocations and facing the reality of a crisis of drug addiction in America.  Notwithstanding, our biggest concern right now is the economy.  Having just punished our budgets by more than a trillion dollars to seed economic recovery, American’s can’t stomach adding more dollars to new budget needs.

Drug addiction is an ugly horse and easy to ignore.  It’s impact is small on the surface and big where you don’t like to look.  Drug addicts and alcoholics comprise 7 to 8% of our population.  If we took 7% of the T.A.R.P. funds to seed recovery programs, we would have over 10 billion dollars, roughly two digits more than what Kerlikowski is proposing.  The drug czar is sweeping the problem under the rug.  Here’s where the 7% becomes a much bigger problem.  Our own government figures show that when you consider the collective expense of incarceration, an out of hand drug war, record deaths, hospitalization, demoralized families, and damaged communities, the impact now touches 60% of American lives and 17% of Americas operating budget.  That’s a big problem.   This is why Mr. Kerlikowske’s speech underscores an already ineffective status quo approach to addressing the scourge of drugs and alcohol.  In fairness, I will reserve final opinions until we see upcoming strategy statement scheduled in 02/10 from the ONDCP.   Look for that to come.    Dadonfire.