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The White House
For Immediate Release

Remarks by ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske at the National Conference on Substance Abuse, Child Welfare, and the Courts

Remarks as Prepared

Thank you for that kind introduction. Let me begin by thanking the National Center for Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, and everyone at Children and Family Futures who made this conference possible.

I know all of you are well aware of the tragic cycle of substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, violence, and poverty. Substance abuse and its consequences harm too many of our fellow citizens, damage our families, and place obstacles in the way of building a stronger America for our children. To break this cycle, we have to prevent our children from getting involved with drug use, and the best prevention comes from reaching children in all areas of their lives, including in a stable, supportive family.

As I’ve travelled throughout the Nation, I have heard too many stories of families and children suffering the impact of drug use. Just a few months ago, in fact, during a visit to Columbus, Ohio, I met a young mother who had developed an addiction to prescription drugs she had started using under doctor’s orders. When pills weren’t readily available any longer, she started using heroin to feed her addiction. She knew she wasn’t able to be a good mother to her son and begged her own mother to take care of her son and raise him. She was arrested a short time later, and was no longer able to see her son. Stories like these are difficult and heart-breaking, but they remind us of the responsibility we have to work together to make sure families remain strong and recover from drug addiction.

You have heard again and again that drug addiction is a disease - and that individuals with this disease should be treated. Because of a court system that was able to connect her with a family-based treatment program, this woman in Ohio was treated for her addiction and received the support she needed to get her life back on track. And a short time later, she was reunited with her son.

I’d like to take a minute to discuss why this story is so important and how a parent’s substance abuse affects children. Tragically, for too many children, the problem starts before they are even born. Data show that over 4 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 are current drug users, and there has been a rise in the number of drug exposed newborns. And we know that substance abuse is responsible for one-third of child welfare removals.

When we developed the Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy we made a commitment to treating our Nation’s drug problem as a public health threat. As I stated previously, science tells us that drug addiction is a disease of the brain that can be prevented and treated. That is why we are laser focused on emphasizing programs and policies that will reduce the public health and safety harms caused by drug use and their consequences.
As part of this effort, we are working to support systems that treat the family as a whole, getting parents treatment for their addiction, connecting them with services they need to create safe, stable homes, and helping their children to grow up drug-free and become productive citizens. Even in this tough budget environment, we are committing serious resources to efforts to prevent drug use before it starts and expand access to treatment. In fact, in Fiscal Year 2011 alone, we spent $10.4 billion on drug education and treatment programs.

Specifically, ONDCP is bringing together key Federal agencies to highlight the urgency of protecting drug endangered children and families by supporting a variety of efforts. We’re encouraging the use of tools like up-front assessments, which ask questions to identify the problems faced by substance-affected families. This can connect families with support services they need to get better, before children ever come into contact with the foster care system. Social service agencies should use the opportunity of interacting with families to help get them back on track wherever possible.
Mothers, who are often the primary caregivers of their children, should never have to choose between their families and getting the help they need to treat their addiction. That is why we support family-based treatment programs and family drug courts that allow families to heal together and get on track to lead drug-free, productive lives.

This Administration is also providing unprecedented support for Reentry programs that prepare mothers and fathers to be reunited with their children and build home environments that are healthy for their kids. ONDCP is actively participating in Attorney General Holder’s Interagency Reentry Council. As part of this group, we are working to eliminate barriers to re-entry by improving access to safe housing, employment, and ongoing recovery support to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a chance to become productive members of the community.

In May, Attorney General Holder and I went to Chattanooga for the grand opening of the Release Center, a facility for incarcerated women who leave jail or prison before the ends of their sentences so they can address issues such as substance abuse, poverty, trauma, and violence that led them to the criminal justice system in the first place. While we were there, we met mothers who believed they didn’t give their children the attention and care they deserved. They were not only getting better and learning to be better citizens, but were rebuilding their lives so they could be outstanding mothers. These are the kinds of successes we need to learn from and build on.

I ask you all to bring what you learn at this conference back to your communities. Help others in your community understand that: A family’s needs don’t end when they receive substance abuse treatment; Treatment for substance use disorders works; and we need to address all of a family’s needs before a family is ever broken apart and before children enter the foster care system. By promoting models like family drug courts, family-based treatment, and family-centered reentry programs, we can help families stay together and get better, together.

On behalf of President Obama, Thank you. Your work to assure the safety and well-being of children in your care is invaluable.