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"Drug Czar" Choices

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News Alert:

Washington, DC (March 11, 2009) – Vice President Biden announced today that President Obama will nominate Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as the new Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"Gil Kerlikowske is recognized both nationally and internationally for his innovative leadership and law enforcement solutions. He brings a lifetime of experience working on drug policy issues. He has worked on the issue at all levels – from the Department of Justice to the front lines as a major city chief. He understands that combating drugs requires a comprehensive approach that includes enforcement, prevention and treatment," said Vice President Biden.

That would be very good, if it was true that Chief Kerlikowske had wide experience on drug policy issues. Unfortunately, his experience is almost entirely in the area of arresting people for possessing or trafficking in illegal drugs. There is nothing in his background to suggest that he has any grasp of the larger issues of drug policy or of the realities that underlie America's very large drug abuse problem.

"Gil Kerlikowske has the expertise, the experience, and the sound judgment to lead our national efforts against drug trafficking and use, and he will make an excellent addition to my Administration," said President Obama. That too would be true IF what was needed was a law enforcement approach aimed at combatting trafficking and use. What America really needs in the way of drug policy, however, is one focused on prevention and control of drug ABUSE. The failure to distinguish use from abuse and to focus prevention on abuse has consistently led to the failure of America's drug policies.

Original Homepage Text prior to 3/11/09:

One of the appointments that has not yet been announced by President-Elect Obama is that of Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- popularly known as the "Drug Czar".

Commitment to science or even simple respect for facts has not characterized the recent predecessors of whoever he may choose. Speculation about likely choices has raised concern among drug abuse professionals and researchers that another such choice would bring a continuation of the failed policies of the past rather than the much needed change the Obama Presidency is hoped to bring.

In his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama pledged to be an agent of change. Many of us have hoped that this will include an end to the diastrous failure of the "War on Drugs".

Obama's choice of a new "drug czar" will send a signal of whether the nation can expect change or more pursuit of unacheivable goal of a "drug free" society achieved through draconian law enforcement. If he chooses a "drug czar" who is open to systemic change and committed to evidence-based policy, then we will finally be headed for meaningful change in this area. If not, then we will go on wasting billions of dollars, filling our prisons to overflowing, supporting the profitability of a black market in drugs, and refusing to follow sensible public health practices regarding HIV, Hepatitis C, and addictive disorders.

While the official title has varied, a "drug czar" has served every President since Nixon. Some have been respected addictions treatment professionals while others have had no obvious qualifications for the position. Recent occupants of the office have been rigidly committed to continuing the failed approach of the "War on Drugs" and unwilling to be guided by scientific evidence in their assessing of policies and practices.

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