Presentation at Hopkins featured an interesting blend of science and law enforcement

Drug Control Strategy presenters Mr. Kerlikowske, Dr. Volkow, and Dr. Batts

Drug Control Strategy presenters Mr. Kerlikowske, Dr. Volkow, & Dr. Batts

This morning, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director R. Gil Kerlikowske, NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Dr. Anthony Watts presented the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.   The presentation streamed live online.  The full strategy is available for download now.

On the wall behind them hung a picture of one of the founders of Johns Hopkins, William Stewart Halsted, who was addicted to cocaine during much of his career.  Evidence, said Dr. Eric Strain, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research at Hopkins, that addiction can happen to anyone.

A New Orientation

Leading up to its release, ONDCP emphasized the strategy’s newness: that the war on drugs is over and our country will approach substance use and its consequences with:

For the first time, this year's Drug Control Strategy budget favors prevention and treatment

For the first time, this year’s Drug Control Strategy budget favors prevention and treatment

@ONDCP’s twitter hashtag for the presentation, #DrugPolicyReform, further accentuated their message the strategy as a new direction.

SBIRT Featured in the Strategy


At IRETA, we were delighted that Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment got major billing in this morning’s presentation and in the strategy itself.

Kerlikowske commented that healthcare professionals have become dissociated from substance use disorders, but that early detection in healthcare systems will take on new importance as millions of Americans gain insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The National SBIRT-ATTC, housed at IRETA, was specifically mentioned in the Strategy, as a federally-funded entity to provide “extensive resources for the implementation of SBIRT to SAMHSA grantees (with the exception of current SBIRT grantees) and other interested health care entities” (page 15).

Science to Guide Policy

The Strategy finds a middle ground between our country’s historically punitive approach to drug abuse and the legalization movement.  Neither incarceration nor legalization, said Kerliwkoske, will address the consequences of drug use in America.  He criticized any policy that “fits on a bumper sticker” as unlikely to work.

Dr. Nora  Volkow, who has led NIDA for ten years, emphasized scientific gains in our understanding of addiction.  She suggested that the US, as a leader in addiction  research, has much to offer other countries who struggle with substance use and its effects.

“Let’s export that research,” said Kerlikowske.  To reduce substance-related harms, he said, “We can export more than just helicopters.”

The interplay between law enforcement representatives and researchers was a unique aspect of this morning’s presentation.

Kerlikowske, former police chief of Seattle, and Police Commissioner Watts both discussed their growth as law enforcement officers and policymakers as they came to a deeper scientific understanding of addiction.  Both of their presentations displayed the Strategy’s commitment to “smarter policing,” informed by data, an understanding of the social underpinnings of crime, and ongoing addiction research.

And Kerlikowske pointed out that police officers often don’t get credit for their work preventing drug abuse, that they are rewarded for arrests and other interdiction activities.  The 2013 strategy points to many current and potential vital contributions on the part of law enforcement toward prevention efforts.

Dr. Holly Hagle, Director of the National SBIRT-ATTC, had a positive take-away from this morning’s presentation and on the newly-published Strategy.  She said, “I’m thrilled that substance use is being embraced as a public health issue.  I think that’s great for everyone involved.”

Recommended Resource

Download the National Drug Control Strategy Fact Sheet