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    Posted January 22, 2013 by
    Encino, California

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    . . . and three hundred and seventeen will die premature deaths tomorrow, the next day, and the next. One hundred and sixteen thousand are projected to die this year, but this will not make the headlines today. We say to these Americans their illness is a choice and offer most of them no assistance. We condemn them. These Americans will die preventable deaths from an illness which knows no racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, or age boundaries and kills with abandon: addiction. Alcohol and drug addiction is far more dangerous to our children than guns, threatens twenty three million Americans and costs us close to two hundred billion dollars a year. Curtailing this epidemic – for humanitarian and financial reasons -- can be achieved if policy makers redirect “The War On Drugs” toward recovery from this disease.

    Past federal substance abuse policy has relied upon criminalization (better known as "The War On Drugs"), prevention and treatment, and has been ineffective. Similar to gun control laws, criminalization and prevention seek to stop the supply and use of illegal drugs. Yet, drugs do not misuse people -- people suffering from addiction misuse drugs -- and if one drug is in short supply, another will take its place. In addition, without diminishing the sanctity of any life lost to this disease, the use of illegal drugs accounts for only about sixteen thousand of the one hundred and sixteen thousand deaths from alcohol and drug abuse each year. Moreover, although treatment serves an often critical purpose, funding is extremely limited, treatment is expensive, and such medical care usually lasts for a relatively short period of time. Addiction, however, is a chronic illness, like diabetes, for which there is no medical cure. As a result, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, recovery can be achieved and maintained through an individualized approach including ongoing medical care as needed, continued participation in 12 Step recovery programs, and transitional support, such as sober housing, childcare and work training.

    We are at an urgent crossroads in fighting this epidemic. In a recent speech at the Betty Ford Treatment Center, Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the National Drug Control Policy, announced that we can and must make progress against this disease by allocating some of our substance abuse resources to programs which support recovery. The new approach would be about working smarter, not harder.

    Our states and local governments also need to redirect their efforts. Kerlikowske pointed out that our states and local governments have enacted over thirty eight hundred laws which impede access to recovery. One law, for example, is the proposed Los Angeles Community Care Facilities Ordinance, which may be enacted this year. The ordinance is not designed to help those in our community suffering from substance abuse -- it is aimed at preventing them from living and recovering together in residential homes, despite federal endorsement of these homes and established law prohibiting this type of housing discrimination. Although Kerlikowske has committed to litigate against all state and local laws which impede recovery, is that really going to be necessary? States and local governments, like Los Angeles, should be policy leaders, not adversaries, in combating this disease. Our community members and children are being lost. We have the most at stake in winning the substance abuse battle by directing our efforts toward recovery.

    Kerlikowske’s statements signaled that President Obama may be the first president, in the 41 years since “The War On Drugs” began, to fundamentally change ineffective substance abuse policy by supporting recovery as a pillar of the government’s attack on this health crisis. The shift in national policy may not be about legalizing illicit drugs - - it may be about curbing the substance abuse epidemic by enabling the sufferer to achieve long term recovery from the disease itself. It is unclear, however, whether Kerlikowke's words will translate into action. The President made no mention of the substance abuse epidemic in his inauguration speech when he spoke of other civil rights and health issues demanding our attention.

    One thing is clear -- If Kerlikowske was just paying lip service to this crisis, it will continue unabated. Charitable organizations, volunteer groups and individuals have been doing their part to support recovery for decades.  It is time for a larger, more concerted effort.

    Lisa M. Jacobsen, Harvest House





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