Blog Editor’s Note: On June 23, 2011, the United Nations launched its 2011 World Drug Report. Here, Phoenix House Chief Clinical Officer Deni Carise, Ph.D, responds to the report’s findings.
The newly released United Nations World Drug Report provides further evidence of the devastation caused by illicit drug production, trafficking, and use. Despite recent recognition of the need to address the demand for drugs—not simply the supply—substance misuse continues to destroy many lives. The report found that some 210,000 million people worldwide use illicit drugs each year, and 200,000 of them die from substance abuse. These figures point to the ongoing threat illicit drugs pose for individuals, families, and communities around the globe.
As a provider of substance abuse and mental health treatment and prevention services and as advocates for people in recovery, we at Phoenix House were particularly struck by the report’s explicit call for the expansion of “drug use treatment, prevention, care, and support.” In the United States, more than 90 percent of those who need substance abuse treatment do not receive it. This is due, in part, to the fact that those who need treatment often lack access to it, do not have the means to pay, or simply do not want the type of treatment available. But many others do not seek help due to the stigma of receiving substance abuse treatment that still persists in our society. The UN World Drug Report, along with the provisions of healthcare reform, reflect a growing awareness that the stigma should be placed on illicit drug use, not on substance abusers who are trying to get well. As the report correctly states, we must differentiate between “criminals (drug traffickers) and their victims (drug users).” We must also recognize that addiction is a chronic medical condition for which treatment is far more effective than punishment.
Sadly, in the midst of this new awareness, U.S. drug treatment programs are facing widespread budget cuts. In many cases, this loss of funding has severely curtailed the ability of treatment organizations to provide much-needed services. We applaud the UNODC for drawing attention to the role of treatment in ending the cycle of addiction, both at home and abroad. Having finally officially ended our own “War on Drugs,” we must also end the war on substance abusers by removing the barriers that prevent far too many from receiving the care they need.
Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer