What Obama Really Said About Our Country’s Drug Policy

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, I was excited to watch President Obama’s YouTube video broadcast as he answered questions from average Americans about topics ranging from education, to war, to healthcare reform. I was especially glad that the President took a question from a former deputy sheriff who expressed his concerns about our country’s failed “War on Drugs.”

What surprised me were today’s headlines on the Huffington Post and other news outlets—all of which lifted one line of Obama’s response and framed it as his endorsing a debate about drug legalization. The President did say that he supported debate, but he immediately added, “I am not in favor of legalization. I am a strong believer that we need to think more about drugs as a public health problem.” He went on to discuss the importance of shrinking the demand for drugs—not just the supply—and ensuring that more Americans have access to the treatment they need.

For me, these were the key takeaways of President Obama’s response. Currently, 23 million Americans need substance abuse treatment, but only one in ten adults receives it. As the President said, we need to “shift resources” in order to bridge this enormous gap. Investing in treatment versus incarceration is the only way to help the millions of Americans who are struggling with addiction, a serious chronic health condition which jail time alone cannot solve. And it’s the only way to curb the massive amounts of money spent each year on the consequences of addiction—without addressing its root causes.

Those who are in recovery know that treatment works. They are living proof that when people receive the care they need and gain the tools to manage their condition, they can go on to become productive, drug-free members of their families and communities. When it comes to ensuring that every American who struggles with addiction has access to critical, live-saving services, we have a long way to go. But the President’s remarks were a small step in the right direction.

Howard Meitiner
President and CEO, Phoenix House

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