Changing National Priorities regarding Substance Abuse: Detente Comes to the War on Drugs

Article excerpt

The drug issue is about the responsibility of government to its citizens and the kind of society we aspire to be.

President Bill Clinton, 1993

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the former command post of the War on Drugs and the drug czar, is orchestrating a subtle but distinctive course change in national drug policy, articulating its own priorities, timetables, and approaches. On November 1, 1992, the new director, Lee P. Brown, the former police commissioner of New York City, announced his agency's Interim National Drug Control Strategy (White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 1993). Although it contains neither detailed nor quantifiable goals and objectives yet, it provides a sneak preview of the comprehensive strategy President Clinton will submit to Congress on February 1, 1994. Social workers in every line of practice will appreciate the urgency behind these new priorities and are likely to find the direction for change clear and refreshing.

INTERIM NATIONAL DRUG CONTROL STRATEGY

Brown deliberately eschews the warfare and militarism motifs that drug czar William Bennett so heartily embraced a few years ago. Like the Clinton health care reform proposal, the drug control policy is multifaceted, intertwined with other major policy initiatives, and deliberate. As with health care reform, this proposal strives to embrace both prevention and treatment. Its key domestic objective is to reduce drug use and demand. The Interim National Drug Control Strategy spells out four main priorities: reducing demand, preventing crime, streamlining government activities, and cooperating with countries where drug supplies originate.

The first priority is to concentrate the government's efforts to reduce the demand for illegal drugs. The concerted efforts of the criminal justice and health care systems will focus on the treatment of addicts and heavy users. Government agencies will also work together to promote drug treatment, convey skills and values to prevent relapses and recidivism, include drug treatment in all health insurance plans, promote drug-free workplaces to enhance safety and productivity, and help youngsters be resistant to drugs through education and service programs in their own schools and communities.

The second priority is to reduce drug-related activities and violence by controlling and preventing crime and strengthening neighborhood structures, involving law enforcement personnel, educators, substance abuse treatment specialists, and religious and community leaders both in and outside of communities. The administration will emphasize innovative efforts, such as community policing in neighborhoods, schools, and public housing, to strengthen and maintain social structures and lay the foundation for constructive involvement by government, the private sector, and neighborhood residents. Educational benefits will be given to students willing to serve their communities as police officers and public safety volunteers. Clinton has already made $150 million available to put additional police on the streets and urged Congress to enact the Brady Bill and legislation to ban the domestic manufacture of assault weapons. Congress has also been urged to pass the Safe Schools Act of 1993, with its initiatives to lessen the impact of drugs and violence on youths by teaching conflict resolution skills. Further, the administration will seek sentencing policies to ensure swift, fair, and appropriate punishment for convicted drug offenders.

The third priority, in line with the administration's "reinventing government" emphasis, is to empower communities by streamlining government's activities. This priority entails activating communities to combat drug trafficking and use; focusing federal efforts to eliminate duplication by government agencies; and reviewing the appropriate roles of federal, state, and local governments in controlling and interdicting drugs. …