New Drug Czar Breaks From Bush-Era Policies

In America, more people die each year from drugs than from gunshots.

This fact surprised the nation's new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, who promised to "shout that from the rooftops" in an effort to get his message across.

Kerlikowske said that Americans worry too much about drugs smuggled into the country, when one of the largest drug problems exists as a purely domestic concern: prescription drug abuse. To continue the fight against the abuse of drugs like OxyContin, Kerlikowske says that more states need to adopt programs to monitor prescription drugs, and that drug courts need to play a bigger role.

Kerlikowske, who has called the drug problem "a public health problem," said that he also supports harm-reduction strategies such as needle exchange programs.

Although the newly appointed czar (who formerly served as chief of the Seattle Police Department) hasn't been on the job long, he has already signaled a sharp departure from the law-and-order emphasis of the previous administration's drug policies.

Some notable recent changes in the way Washington looks at the drug issue:

  • President Barack Obama's call for an end to longer sentences for crack cocaine than powdered cocaine, a sentencing distinction that many have said unfairly targets the poor and visible minorities.
  • An end to the federal prosecution of those that administer marijuana to sick people or their caregivers, unless those who do so violate both state and federal law. Under President George W. Bush, drug enforcement agents had been known to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries in states such as California, which allow their operation.
  • Increase support and a doubling of funding for drug courts
  • Calling for public health workers, and not police, to lead the charge in reducing illegal drug use

In a during a recent visit to Tennessee, the new drug czar said he agreed with Drug Court Judge Seth Norman, who called for fewer prisons and more treatment.

Rotating people in and out and through the system doesn't make a lot of sense," Kerlikowske

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