Nation’s drug czar to outline drug policy reform

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — President Barack Obama’s new strategy for fighting the nation’s drug problem will include a greater emphasis on using public health tools to battle addiction and diverting non-violent drug offenders into treatment instead of prisons, under reforms scheduled to be outlined by the nation’s drug czar Wednesday.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy, is scheduled to release Obama’s 2013 blueprint for drug policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Millions of people in the United States will become eligible in less than a year for treatment for substance abuse under the new health care overhaul.

“We know that if drug treatment is done early it is usually more effective, and it’s usually less costly than longer term, because drug addiction is a progressive disease,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s announcement.

The strategy also includes a greater emphasis on criminal justice reforms that include drug courts and probation programs aimed at reducing incarceration rates. It also will include community-based policing programs designed to break the cycle of drug use, crime and incarceration while steering law enforcement resources to more serious offenses, according to details of the strategy released by Kerlikowske’s office.

“I think the important part is that a lot of criminal justice experts and police chiefs and sheriffs — my colleagues for many years and myself included — recognize that with a drug problem you can’t arrest your way out of the problem, and so we really need to be smart on the drug problem,” Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief, said.

Kerlikowske will be joined by Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Tony Batts, Baltimore’s policy commissioner, and Dr. Eric Strain, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

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