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Drug Strategy Must Address Needs of Different Populations

Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly By Peter Provet, Ph.D.

With some fanfare, President Bush announced his national drug control strategy this week. Propelled by an opportunistic association between drug use and terrorism, President Bush did what many presidents before him have done – strike a perceived balance between interdiction and prevention/treatment.

Unfortunately, he was unwilling to shift the funding balance towards demand reduction, something that has steadily gained public support. That remains unchanged with double the amount for interdiction and law enforcement at $8 billion (10 percent increase), compared with $3.8 billion requested for demand reduction and research (six percent increase).

President Bush is requesting some extra money for treatment: $100 million over five years. This, in large part, is in response to the mounting, incontrovertible data that supports a greater focus on demand reduction through drug education, prevention, and treatment. Spent wisely this money could provide long-term, residential treatment for an additional 7,000 people.

President Bush, no stranger to the plight of the drug and alcohol-addicted, also went further than expected with his appeal to “. provide addicts with effective and compassionate drug treatment … and be compassionate to those addicted to drugs.”

This was unfamiliar music to the ears of treatment providers more used to battling political rhetoric spiced with moral condemnation of addicts. President Bush, successful so far in rallying the country behind the war on terrorism, is using his popularity to call for a change in the direction of drug policy towards a much more effective public health and education focus, in place of hugely expensive crop eradication and supply interdiction efforts in Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Afghanistan.

But saying that treatment is a critical part of our nation’s strategy in addressing an ongoing drug epidemic, and providing the means to make it work, are two different things.

Faced with a growing youth drug epidemic fueled by marijuana, Ecstasy and methamphetamine, President Bush is hoping for a different kind of fix, galvanizing American families by putting them in the center of the equation.

There is no doubt a child’s most important teachers are parents who must consistently work to help their children understand the damage drugs bring to one’s life. Preventing youthful drug use must begin at the earliest age when a child begins to take pride in physical self-control which evolves into a respect for and appreciation of one’s body and mind.

There is also no doubt that American families are key to effective drug control. But some families need extra help, and Bush was on target when he talked about marshalling treatment resources to the most vulnerable drug abusers, “people like pregnant moms, the homeless, people with HIV/ AIDS, and teenagers.” This list can easily be expanded to include mentally ill chemical abus-ers, the elderly, and addicts arrested for low-level drug crimes.

This shows a sophisticated understanding of the drug problem. Only recently have the treatment and research fields begun to systematically address the needs of drug abusers who fall outside of the norm – single, adult males in their 20s or 30s. Far more work needs to be done in this regard. Taken together, these “special populations” comprise a sizable minority of drug abusers in treatment, and in need of treatment.

We can applaud President Bush for taking some chances, but for the president to reach his target of a 25 percent reduction in drug use over a five-year period, the needs of these special populations must be addressed head-on. And for the drug treatment field the message is clear: We must continue to evolve from a grass-roots profession into one that integrates best practices in medicine, psychiatry, and social work.

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