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The Biggest "Change" We Need from Obama: Get Politics out of Drug Policy

From 2003 through the present, 4,200 Americans died and over 30,000 have been wounded in the war in Iraq. This toll has generated justifiable outrage among those who consider invading Iraq a colossal mistake. Indeed, President-elect Barack Obama, has pledged to end the war soon after taking office.

Meanwhile, right here at home from 2003 through 2008, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports indicate that around 200,000 Americans died from overdoses of illegal drugs;  SAMHSA surveys indicate that more than 3 million were treated in hospitals for drug-related injuries;  the FBI reports close to 7,000 Americans died in murders related to drug dealing and drug-related disputes;  and Federal Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports indicate at least 25,000 drivers illegally under the influence of drugs were involved in fatal traffic crashes.

These tolls generally represent huge increases over their numbers and rates before the War on Drugs was launched in the mid-1980s. They are simultaneously staggering and understate the death, injury, and crime drug abuse inflicts on American society.

The purpose here is not to equate war deaths with drug deaths. The point is that the War on Drugs dwarfs any other policy failure this country has suffered. Only the relentless propaganda issued by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) along with the dereliction of major institutions and the news media and has prevented Americans from comprehending just how catastrophically the drug war has sabotaged reasoned approaches to stem drug abuse. The ONDCP was created and maintained for the purpose of facilitating political interference in drug policy and has been staffed by ideologues who consistently overrule scientifically validated measures to reduce drug abuse in favor of destructive, crowd-pleasing dogmas.

The worst thing the new president could do is to appoint yet another ideologue who will perpetuate political interference in drug policy. Obama reportedly leans toward appointing Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN) as the ONDCP's next "drug czar" or to a high drug-policy post. Unfortunately, Rep. Ramstad's record detailed by several concerned medial and policy reform groups reveals a consistent history of political and ideological opposition to the very harm-reduction strategies consistent research links to reductions in drug abuse.

Whatever one's moral ideology about "drugs," the U.S. now has profound obligations to take the most effective steps to reduce our rampant drug abuse (international agencies estimate the US consumes half or more of the world's illicit drug supply) that is massively disrupting our own society and those of other nations caught up in supplying our rapacious habit. This requires radical, not cosmetic, change. The most productive step Obama could take--consistent with his promise to reverse Washington's old, failed policies--is to abolish ONDCP in favor of an open, dispassionate scientific panel to recommend drug policy reforms.

Keywords: Mike Males, substance use

Posted in Blog, Drug Policy

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