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Lifting Stigma and Celebrating Recovery at Betty Ford Center

Today I had the privilege of speaking at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, to treatment and recovery specialists from around the country about the Obama Administration’s support for the vital work they do. I cannot overstate my admiration and appreciation for the efforts of these dedicated professionals to help people in recovery from substance use disorders.

Their work, in fact, aligns precisely with the Obama Administration’s approach to drug policy – a balanced, 21st century strategy that views substance use not as purely a law enforcement matter, but as a complex public health and public safety issue that must be addressed as such. The Administration’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, released in 2010, changed the way the Federal Government perceives and responds to the drug problem. In the past, the debate about drug control lurched back and forth as if between two incompatible extremes—drug legalization on one hand and heavy law enforcement on the other. Lost in the argument was the immense value of a policy guided by science and the tenets of mental and behavioral health care. Also neglected in that old-school “either-or” debate were the hundreds of thousands of people in treatment and recovery who are working hard to break free from the grips of substance use and reclaim their lives.

The 2010 Strategy captured the nuances between those stark extremes and, for the first time, brought recovery to the center of national drug control policy. As a further measure of the Administration’s new direction and commitment, it also called for creation of a special team within ONDCP devoted exclusively to recovery issues.

Over the past three years, we have continued on the course set in that first Strategy, tightening our focus on recovery and setting forth clear recovery-oriented goals. These goals include expanding access to recovery support services; identifying and addressing barriers to recovery in the community, and fostering the development of recovery-oriented systems and services. In April, my office released the 2012 National Drug Control Strategy, which outlines an array of innovative and evidence-based health and safety approaches to our Nation’s drug problem, supports alternatives to a law-enforcement-centric “war on drugs,” and gives treatment and recovery the attention they deserve.

The new Strategy also defines 113 specific actions to be undertaken throughout the Federal government to reform U.S. drug policy through innovative and evidence-based public health and safety approaches, which include reviewing laws and regulations that impede recovery from addiction, improving access to drug treatment, and expanding community-based recovery support programs.

Central to the new Strategy is a clear understanding of the nature of addiction. Drug use, of course, begins with personal choice and deliberate action. However, research has shown that the addiction that can come as a consequence of drug-using behavior is a chronic disease that, like many diseases, can be treated – even defeated.

The Betty Ford Center, which opened in 1982, provides treatment and recovery services for alcohol and other drug dependencies and boasts more than 90,000 alumni around the world. It grew out of a dream by its founder, an inspirational leader who was not afraid to break taboos and speak out on issues that affect the lives of millions of people who might otherwise be left in the shadows. It is only fitting that the Center that bears her name should be the setting for our discussion about the important role of recovery in our Nation’s struggle against substance use.