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The White House
For Immediate Release

Remarks SAMA Knowledge is Power Luncheon

Gil Kerlikowske, National Drug Policy Director


Seattle, WA— Thank you Steve (Burns) for that kind introduction. It is nice to be back home with so many friends. I’d like to commend the find work of SAMA and its co-founders Bob Day and CJ Taylor. As well as Gina Grappone, SAMA’s Executive Director. And Jean (Enersen), your presence here today is a testament to the great work you do to support this community.

As Director of National Drug Control Policy I am on the road most of the time. And that is not just because I enjoy the airplane food – it’s because drug addiction is a local issue that requires collaboration at the Federal, state, and community levels.

At ONDCP, we recognize that addiction is a brain disease, one that often co-occurs with other mental health problems. We must educate the American public about the fact that drug use and its consequences are public health issues, as well as public safety issues. Because addiction doesn’t just harm individuals.

Addiction is also a family disease − no one who struggles with it suffers alone; it impacts mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and especially children. Parents, caregivers, and siblings need support to help their loved ones, and themselves.

That’s why our approach starts with prevention – the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences.

Research shows that well-designed prevention programs can help protect young people from a variety of risky behavior, from drug use, to teenage pregnancy, to youth violence. Keeping young people from ever starting is the most effective way to reduce demand for drugs, and parents are key to this effort.

We also 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 elected representatives and others at the state and local level, 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 and allies must know that there are risk factors specific to substance abuse, like hanging out with the drug-using peers, inconsistent or unclear parental expectations about drug use, and inconsistent anti-drug use rules in school settings, 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.

Unfortunately, not even the best prevention programs can prevent every young person from using drugs. Here, we are applying a lesson learned from other public health crises: When prevention falls short, the next priority must be Early Intervention. When the goal is to contain a crisis, responding at the first sign of trouble is essential.

That’s why early intervention in health care is so important.

Consider that the majority of Americans see a healthcare provider at least once a year. These visits are crucial opportunities to detect substance abuse problems. Recognizing early health-related signs of drug abuse is a valuable tool that can literally save lives. And because unchecked addiction usually results in huge healthcare costs, early intervention can also save a lot of money.

Washington has been a pioneer in demonstrating the effectiveness of early intervention, and demonstrating the cost savings states can realize by catching abuse early – an important accomplishment in times of state budget crisis.

For too long, addiction treatment has been provided apart from the mainstream healthcare system, and we’re committed to bringing quality, evidence-based addiction medicine into the mainstream of American health care.

That includes expanding access to family-based treatment opportunities that allow families to remain intact while a parent or parents get the help they need for an addiction. The current dearth of family-based treatment programs is the biggest obstacle to families and kids affected by substance abuse getting the help they need.

Bringing substance abuse treatment into the mainstream of medical care can also help end the stigma associated with substance use disorders.
In a great success for the Obama Administration, new regulations and the health care reform bill will require private group health insurance programs to offer benefits for substance abuse disorders that are comparable to benefits for other illnesses. This parity requirement will help remove a barrier to treatment for millions of Americans, but it will not happen overnight.

We’re also working to address the stubborn fact that significant barriers to treatment remain for people behind bars or otherwise involved the criminal justice system.

The failure to address the addiction of those under criminal justice supervision has severe consequences for society, the offender, and for taxpayers.

Our Strategy to significantly reduce drug use and its consequences also emphasizes the importance of breaking the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration.

There have been significant strides over the last 20 years to expand proven alternatives to incarceration for the addicted population.

We recognize the important role that drug courts continue to play and we strongly support related programs that combine the efforts of the criminal justice and substance abuse treatment fields. Through collaboration, we can protect public safety and address the underlying substance abuse problems of drug-involved offenders.

I want to make a special point about the marijuana issue since there’s so much misinformation being spread about it. We oppose marijuana legalization not on ideological grounds, but because we know price would drop and use and consequences would increase.

We have already seen how legalizing any drug – whether alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals – increases access and availability and changes social norms.

We know that marijuana can significantly harm adolescent brain development and is a significant risk factor in the onset of mental illness.

An analysis in the Archives of General Psychiatry released about two weeks ago once again confirmed this finding: a review of 83 major studies found that the age of onset for psychosis was almost 3 years younger for marijuana users versus non-substance users.

We also know that marijuana is addictive; scientists have put the rate of addiction to marijuana at about 1 in 10 people who ever use it. It is top reason youth enter treatment both in Washington state and across the country.

There’s absolutely no legitimate reason to promote or encourage the use of this or other harmful substances. Instead, we must educate parents and children about the risks and harms, and promote treatment for those in need.

Promoting the possibility of recovery, and the awareness that addiction or other substance use disorders are not a death sentence, is another critical part of our efforts.

I’m proud to say that for the first time, the National Drug Control Strategy emphasizes the importance of recovery, and our office is leading the Federal effort to develop and implement policies and programs that support and promote substance abuse recovery.

Countless Americans are in successful recovery from addiction, and we should not only celebrate their success, but work every day to remove unnecessary policy, administrative, or legal barriers to people achieving successful recovery.

This includes supporting young people in recovery. Young people who return to high schools or colleges after treatment must be supported as they pursue a healthy, substance-free lifestyle. Unfortunately, being surrounded by the same circumstances they were in prior to treatment can cause problems.

That’s why the Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy supports high schools and colleges with specific recovery programs to help young people on their road to recovery.

I’ve visited some of these schools and talked to the young people who attend them, and been highly impressed by these programs’ success in creating supportive, drug-free environments that ease the path of young people working to overcome addictions.

I encourage you to learn more about these programs and look into whether they are feasible option for Washington to explore.

The Federal, state and local collaboration to reduce drug use and its consequences must span all of the fields that have a stake in the issue, including law enforcement, the prevention and treatment communities, the medical community, schools, neighborhoods, and community leaders.

Seattle, which has spawned so many innovative foundations and businesses, is at the forefront of many promising initiatives, ranging from prevention, to treatment, to recovery support.

Here, so many disciplines are already working together to improve the way we support young people with addictions in their long-term care and recovery, including UW, Group Health, Swedish Medical Center, the Recovery Café, and treatment providers.

SAMA embodies this kind of innovation, as an organization born of tragedy that is truly making a difference.

I applaud you for the valuable work you do, I appreciate the opportunity to be here today to speak with you, and I look forward to any questions you may have at this time.

Thank you.