The United States is looking to other nations for ideas on how to treat addiction as a disease, the U.S. Director of National Drug Control Policy said Tuesday. Gil Kerlikowske, who spoke during a visit to London, said the Obama Administration wants to speak to drug addiction experts in other countries to learn whether elements of their programs could work in the United States, according to Reuters.
Kerlikowske has visited Portugal, Italy, Mexico, Colombia and other South American countries to see different types of drug treatment programs, the article notes. He said the approach to drug addiction in Portugal was somewhat successful. Since 2001, authorities in that country have focused their efforts on prevention messages and treatment, and stopped arrests, trials and imprisonment of people who carry a personal supply of drugs.
He said the U.S. is taking a more balanced approach to substance use, with an emphasis on treatment instead of law enforcement. He urged the international community to work together on substance abuse prevention and treatment programs, to stop the cycle of drug use, criminal acts, imprisonment, release, and re-arrest.
Last week, the Office of National Drug Control Policy released a report that it said showed the importance of addressing the nation’s drug problem not just as a criminal justice issue, but as a public health issue.
The report showed a decline in cocaine use since 2003, which indicates that law enforcement efforts and public education campaigns may be having an effect. Illegal drug use overall has decreased about 30 percent since 1979.
An average of 71 percent of men arrested in 10 U.S. metropolitan areas in 2011 tested positive for an illegal substance when they were taken into custody, the study found. The rates ranged from 64 percent in Atlanta, to 81 percent in Sacramento, California. These rates were higher for almost half of the collection sites since 2007.