Remarks at Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America National Leadership Forum
Gil Kerlikowske, National Drug Policy Director
National Harbor, MD—Thank you, General Dean for that kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here today with so many dedicated representatives of the kind of grassroots organizing that is always at the core of progress. As a former community organizer himself, the President understands the vital role that all of you play in making America the greatest Nation in the world.
And your continued inspiration, hard work and contributions are especially important now, because of the continuing challenge we’re facing as a Nation from drug use and its consequences. During his State of the Union Address two weeks ago, President Obama announced to the Nation that we are in the midst of our generation’s “Sputnik moment” and that “to win the future, we’ll need to take on the challenges that have been decades in the making.”
I cannot stress enough how all of you are part of this effort. Drug use and its consequences touch every sector of our society that is vital to a strong America.
Drug use strains our economy, our healthcare and criminal justice systems, and endangers the futures of all of our young people. Simply put, our Nation cannot reach its full potential without a drug-free and healthy generation of young people.
And the challenges we face are clear; Drug use in America is increasing. New data show that, 1 in 10 youth ages 12 to 17 and 1 in 5 young adults ages 18 to 25 reported drug use in the last month.
Additionally, prescription drug abuse is now our Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now calls prescription drug abuse in America an “epidemic.”
And today, 1 in 8 high school seniors report using Vicodin in the past year, followed closely by the non-medical use of seven other prescription drugs. (MTF)
We’re also learning about the shocking prevalence of drugged driving on our Nation’s roadways. A recent NHTSA survey shows that more than 1 in 8 weekend nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal drugs – and when you include pharmaceuticals, that number rises to 1 in 6.
Making matters worse, young people’s attitudes toward drug use are continuing to soften. In the past, similar “softening” in youth perceptions of drugs’ harmfulness has signaled future rises in youth drug use.
So clearly, the heavy toll that drug use is taking on our society demands a drug policy based on common sense, sound science, and practical experience. And this is precisely why this Administration is emphasizing a balanced approach to our drug control efforts, including a strong focus on drug prevention.
In these lean budget times, it’s especially critical for us to utilize the most cost efficient and effective means at our disposal.
Every dollar invested in prevention programs saves up to ten dollars in costs related to treatment for substance use.
And research shows that those who reach the age of 21 without using drugs to drugs are unlikely to do so later and life.
Most importantly, research confirms that when communities like yours work together they can produce community level change.
As a result, we have shifted the way we look at our Nation’s drug problem by supporting a National Drug Control Strategy that supports your work to prevent drug use before it starts.
The seriousness of our effort is underscored by President Obama’s request for an increase in funding for drug prevention programs by $203 million for this fiscal year.
Years of research on prevention taught us that youth substance initiation and use share some common risk pathways with other problem behaviors, like aggression and other risky behaviors.
But we know a lot more about prevention today than we did a decade ago.
I know all of you understand the importance of drug prevention, but as you take time to meet with your Members of Congress, state and local elected officials, and others about what you do, I encourage you to explain exactly what prevention does and what makes stopping drug use before it begins unique from other types of prevention.
Our supporters must know that there are risk factors specific to substance abuse, like missing school, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and bad grades, which must be considered in designing and supporting effective drug prevention programs.
Effective drug use prevention occurs at the local level, and requires cooperation across a community – where peer leaders, schools, law enforcement, health providers, faith communities, and neighborhood coalitions work together to spin a protective web around their children.
And we’re committed to equipping you with what you need to make a positive impact.
Let me take a moment to share with you one vital prevention program that supports your efforts. The Drug Free Communities program embodies the Obama Administration’s dedication to evidence-based community prevention efforts that protect the health of our young people.
As you know the Drug Free Communities program now supports over 700 drug-free community coalitions across the United States. As a cornerstone of the President’s National Drug Control Strategy, this program provides the funding necessary for your communities to identify and respond to local substance use problems.
Today, we are publicly releasing the latest National Evaluation of the Drug Free Communities program. It will come as no surprise to anyone here today that the results from this study suggest that DFC’s are an effective catalyst for change at the local level.
They make a difference; they contribute to reducing drug use. And this report contributes to the mountains of research that show why drug prevention is so critical.
I was delighted to hear recently about a young man named Teddy McCullough, from Lopez Island in Washington State, who attended last year’s National Forum.
Teddy got involved with a coalition in his area, and when a local coffee house located just a few hundred feet from a school applied for a liquor license, Teddy actually drafted legislation, introduced last month by a state senator, to strengthen state liquor control law for businesses located near schools.
Let me take a moment to share with you one vital prevention program that supports your efforts. As many of you are aware, ONDCP manages the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.
We have refreshed the campaign to provide a greater focus on local communities, and, through the Campaign’s “Above the Influence” youth effort, provide customizable resources that leverage the prevention work already taking place in our cities and towns.
In the last six months, ONDCP has partnered with more than 40 organizations serving youth across the country – in many areas that are also served by DFC-funded coalitions. These partnerships provide local organizations with a recognized, national platform to further their specific goals and initiatives.
What makes these partnerships so powerful is they help engage with youth at the community level, so we can hear first-hand what issues our young people face, and involve them in efforts to address them in ways that are relevant and credible.
We are now delivering Above the Influence materials and resources to DFCs and other community-based organizations. Please visit the ONDCP exhibit booth for more information on this effort.
Our partnership with CADCA is vital. You already know how to work with the multiple sectors in your community. You can, and do, make a difference in your communities every day, and your ability to understand the unique nature of your local problems and to mobilize others to address those problems has an immediate and a lasting impact on youth substance use in your area.
Because of the work you’re already doing, fewer young people will use alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Your community will see fewer healthcare and law enforcement problems as the result of substance use, and young people in your community will have the support they need to make better choices and become more actively involved in your efforts.
You’re already in the business of creating new, positive community norms where young people who make good choices, who don’t use drugs, who are actively involved in bettering their community are not only celebrated, but serve as role models for others – adults and young people alike.
You are also best positioned to quickly and effectively respond to emerging drug threats. You will see these problems emerge before we do at the Federal level, and you will have the infrastructure, knowledge, and tools necessary to respond to those problems.
We have some recent examples that highlight your capacity to make a positive difference. One is the 4-LOKO issue. Community coalitions across the country first alerted us to this dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol that was being abused by teenagers.
We heard those concerns, and the attention that you helped bring led the FDA to act quickly. You should be proud to know that these products will soon be off the shelves.
Secondly, with the synthetic marijuana, or “K2” and “Spice” issue, it was community coalitions that told us kids were buying these products under the guise of “incense” at neighborhood stores and on the Internet. Reports from concerned and engaged citizens led the DEA to invoke its emergency scheduling authority for the major components of these substances.
Because of ongoing reports of hallucinations, emergency room admissions, and other negative consequences of taking these drugs, we are currently looking at all the options available to deal with this issue.
Even more recently, we’ve gotten reports of the emerging threat of synthetic stimulants being sold and marketed in stores and online as “bath salts” under names such as “Ivory Wave” or “Purple Wave.”
Recent information from poison control centers indicates that abuse of these unlicensed and unregulated drugs is growing across the country. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 251 calls related to “bath salts” to poison control centers so far this year. This number already exceeds the 236 calls received by poison control centers for all of 2010.
ONDCP has already convened our Federal interagency group on this issue, and we are facilitating discussions at the Federal level on how to prevent this threat and others like it from growing and spreading. Our efforts to stem it early can be aided by your continued vigilance and attentiveness to what is happening in your own communities.
Let me take a moment to talk about how smart law enforcement supports what you do. As someone who has spent their entire career in law enforcement, I got a lot of attention for declaring an end to the rhetoric of the so-called War on Drugs. But that doesn’t diminish the urgent need for innovation and collaboration among the public health and safety sectors.
Our brave men and women who wear the badge protect public safety and our communities every day by disrupting drug trafficking, but they also help guide people into drug treatment and work collaboratively with community partners to promote and practice effective prevention programs.
In fact, in recognizing how important drug prevention is, I have directed ONDCP’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program to begin supporting drug prevention as part of their law enforcement work.
Over the past two years, we’ve provided $1.6 million to HIDTAs to work with communities to stop drug use before it starts. We have also expanded the number of HIDTAs that fund prevention activities from 4 to 20 over the past two years.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not address the issue of marijuana legalization.
Media reports might lead you to believe that marijuana legalization is sweeping the country. But as you know, in California, Proposition 19 was recently rejected by the voters.
I believe the citizens of California recognized that legalizing marijuana will not solve California's budget crisis, make them healthier, or reduce drug-related violence in Mexico.
Proponents of Prop. 19 out-spent the opposition, and were soundly defeated, as they were on legalization initiatives in Oregon and South Dakota. The more voters see and hear the facts, the more they realize legalization is a non-answer.
The President has been clear in this Administration’s opposition to marijuana legalization because research shows that marijuana use is associated with addiction, fatal drugged driving accidents, mental illness, and emergency room admissions.
It’s true that 13 states have passed laws that authorize so-called “medical marijuana,” but marijuana remains illegal under Federal law, and many communities are taking steps to crack down on those who would use state laws as cover for illicit activities.
Already in California, which has a large number of marijuana dispensaries, 64 cities and 6 counties have passed moratoria and 130 cities and 8 counties have imposed bans on marijuana dispensaries, collectives, or cooperatives.
These are just some of the issues we’re facing together in our common goal of protecting public safety and public health by reducing drug use and its consequences.
As the President said during the State of the Union, “The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.”
I look forward to working with you to meet these demands in the coming days. Thank you for your dedication, your support, and for all you do to protect your communities from drug use and its consequences.
I’m happy to take any questions you may have.