White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske addressed the public from the Betty Ford Center on Monday. Kerlikowske's statements are not revelatory but certainly worth noting. We expand on some of his major points below.
“We know from scientific research conducted by some of the world’s leading neuroscientists that drug addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual, but a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated. This is not my opinion or a political statement open to debate – it is a clear and unequivocal fact borne out by decades of study and research. And it is a fact that neither government nor the public can ignore.”
Detailing a plan devised by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Mr. Kerlikowske stresses that, “one, overarching motivation drives this work: Lifting the stigma surrounding those who suffer from addiction.” The plan consists of a three-pronged approach:
- Creating greater access to treatment
- Re-evaluating the current drug laws
- Strengthening/fostering community-based programs to assist in recovery
Creating greater access to treatment. The Access to Recovery Program will provide people with vouchers that can be used on anything from treatment, clothing for interviews and the workplace, to housing. The point is to give people the means to support their own recoveries. And as SAMHSA revealed in their newer, more thorough definition of recovery, the importance of “a stable and safe place to live” cannot be overemphasized.
Re-evaluating the current drug laws. Kerlikowske cites zealous statutes that are added to sentences that prohibit addicts from achieving recovery and becoming responsible citizens. One such case is that of Cameron Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas. While incarcerated, Douglas was caught with Suboxone, a drug used in step-down treatment of opioid addiction. Had Douglas been receiving proper treatment for his addiction he would not have had to illegally procure the very drug dozens of treatment facilities use in their programs. Instead, Douglass was sentenced to an additional 4.5 years.
Strengthening/fostering community-based programs to assist in recovery. Invoking the strength of peer mentors in the recovery process, Kerlikowske said the administration is focused on programs like sober schools and recovery support centers. Because kids often do not have the security/identity shared with a spouse or partner, getting and staying sober is even more of a challenge for that demographic.
But perhaps most important was Kerlikowske's message to the recovery community. Nimbly quoting AA founder Bill Wilson, he made it clear that this was not about AA or the absence of it. This is about recovery and the many ways to get there.
“The more we in Washington see ourselves in those in recovery, the more likely we will be to pursue the policies necessary to support treatment and recovery…By talking about addiction in the light of day—and by celebrating recovery out loud—we can help correct the misinformation and stigma that become obstacles for people who want to live healthy, productive lives.”
His remarks were fittingly delivered on the steps of the agency Betty Ford created several decades ago to battle alcoholism. A champion in her own right, Mrs. Ford knew that the only way the plight of the alcoholic would improve was through the deliberate placement of recovery into the American psyche. That is, recovered individuals need to share their story, which is precisely the backbone of Kerlikowske’s initiative:
"This country needs to hear your stories—your setbacks, your stumbles, your hopes, your victories—not just to know how to support you, but to understand that the differences between us are nothing compared to bonds of humanity that link us together.”