President Obama said on Tuesday that the war on drugs was largely a failure, and the only way to get ahead of the problem is to view addiction as a mental health problem and not a criminal act. He made the statement in Atlanta while attending the National Prescription Drug Abuse Heroin Summit.
Obama said he hoped his role as president would draw media attention to this new way of thinking, which includes $116 million toward treatment of addicts who would otherwise go to jail. Sanjay Gupta, who works as the chief medical correspondent on CNN, said the panel was created to seek better solutions for addiction, which caused nearly 29,000 deaths in the last two years, a number that has quadrupled since 2000. The panel also included Leana Wen, the health commissioner for the city of Baltimore, and two recovering addicts to lend insight into the issue.
A large problem for addicts is the lack of available medical care. Obama’s plan will tackle that by allowing doctors to prescribe a medication called buprenorphine to more patients. Some community health centers will see $94 million to expand drug treatment efforts. States would receive $11 million for naloxone, a drug than can reverse overdoses and save lives. In addition, the plan will expand Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to include more comprehensive mental health and drug abuse treatment.
Drug Policy Alliance deputy director, Michael Collins, applauded the Obama plan and said treating addicts is a more effective approach than stopping drug trafficking or putting drug lords and dealers in prison. Obama stated he wants another $1.1 billion dedicated to the issue and warned that unless that commitment is made, the country will continue to fail miserably in regard to addiction.
Obama added that since addiction has historically been seen as a problem of minorities and poor people, it was not considered to be a public health concern but more as a flaw in character. He said that addiction is no different from traffic fatalities or smoking and should receive the same level of concern and resolution.