Kerlikowske Says Drug War Has ’Not Been Successful’

The War on Drugs, declared by President Nixon in 1970 and continued for the past four decades, has “not been successful,” said Obama administration drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, echoing a common trope of the drug-policy reform movement.

“In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said of a campaign that has cost more than $1 trillion since its inception. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

The Associated Press reported May 14 that Kerlikowske said that the Obama administration’s new anti-drug strategy calls for a shift in focus toward addiction treatment and prevention, with an emphasis on attacking drug use as a public-health problem. Still, the bulk of federal anti-drug money continues to go toward efforts to control drug supply, not demand.

“Nothing happens overnight,” Kerlikowske said. “We’ve never worked the drug problem holistically.  We’ll arrest the drug dealer, but we leave the addiction.”

John Walters, President George W. Bush’s drug czar, defended the drug war, saying it resulted in historic declines in overall use of illicit drugs. “To say that all the things that have been done in the war on drugs haven’t made any difference is ridiculous,” he said. “It destroys everything we’ve done. It’s saying all the people involved in law enforcement, treatment and prevention have been wasting their time. It’s saying all these people’s work is misguided.”

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