Throughout much of the last century, scientists studying drug abuse labored in the shadows of powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When science began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society's responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punitive rather than preventative and therapeutic responses.
Even now, discussion of substance use disorders is too often relegated to the shadows, steeped in stigma and misunderstanding.
Today, thanks to significant advances in neuroscience, our Nation's responses to drug abuse have begun to change. Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of drug addiction, enabling us to respond more effectively to the problem.
“This issue touches every family and every community in one way or another. There are millions of Americans – including myself – who are in successful long-term recovery from a substance use disorder. This policy supports each and every one of us and demonstrates a real commitment to a smarter, more humane approach to drug policy in the 21st century.”
- Michael Botticelli, Acting Director, National Drug Control Policy
Science demonstrates that addiction is a disease of the brain—a disease that can be prevented and treated, and from which people can recover. The Administration's drug policy reflects this understanding by emphasizing prevention and access to treatment over incarceration, pursing "smart on crime" rather than "tough on crime" approaches to drug-related offenses, and support for early health interventions designed to break the cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and re-arrest.
“ [T]his Administration remains committed to a balanced public health and public safety approach to drug policy. This approach is based on science, not ideology—and scientific research suggests that we have made real progress.”
- President Barack Obama