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From the Director


By R. Gil Kerlikowske Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Washington, D.C.

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s a former police chief and life member of IACP, I want to tell you a little bit about my new job. As Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, I advise President Obama on drug policy. One of the most important tasks we complete is production of the National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy). The president released the Strategy in May 2010, presenting federal, state, local, and tribal leaders with a blueprint for steps all of us can take to tackle the nation’s drug problem. The Strategy was produced after touring the country and listening to law enforcement executives, line officers, narcotics investigators, judges, elected officials, individuals who operate prevention and treatment programs, and individuals in treatment and in recovery from drug abuse.

The Strategy is comprehensive, balanced, and designed to reduce illicit drug use and its harmful consequences. Regardless of where they live, how much money they make, what race they are, and what gender they are, Americans have been impacted by drug abuse. No one knows this more than law enforcement officers. Drug use affects the lives of millions of people. It affects the U.S. health-care system and costs, our military preparedness, and domestic and international law enforcement. It also affects whether children will stay in school and have a chance at becoming tomorrow’s leaders.

During my work in developing the Strategy, I recognized that in many ways, we were fighting the problem of drug abuse with one hand tied behind our backs. In the past, policy leaders viewed and dealt with drugs as mainly a criminal justice problem. There was little recognition of drug use as a complex public health and public safety problem. I want to briefly discuss two aspects of this, and then, I want to ask for your help.

The first aspect is prescription drugs. Prescription drug abuse is our nation’s fastestgrowing drug problem. Many of these drugs are sitting in medicine cabinets and are increasingly being used for diversion and abused by millions of Americans. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 6.2 million people age 12 and older used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs for nonmedical purposes in the month prior to the survey.

Among high school seniors, seven of the most prevalent misused drugs are legitimate drugs used nonmedically, according to data from the 2009 Monitoring the Future Survey, with results taken from table 2, “Trends in Annual Prevalence of Various Drugs in Grades 8, 10 and 12.” A recently released Department of Defense study shows that one in four activeduty military personnel reported misusing prescription drugs within the past year. We also have seen dramatic increases in emergency department admissions for treatment of painrelieving pharmaceutical misuse.

There are several ways we can reduce prescription drug diversion and abuse. First, parents must keep prescription drugs in a secure place. The family medicine cabinet is often where young people find the painkillers and the tranquilizers that they abuse. When it comes to disposing of these drugs, many law enforcement organizations have participated in drug takeback programs following the guidelines of the Drug Enforcement Administration. For example, last year in New Jersey, a statewide coalition of law enforcement, nonprofits, corporate partners, and media sponsored a take-back day that, in just four hours on Saturday, November 14, collected more than 9,000 pounds of medicine.

Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) can also curb abuse by cutting down on doctor shopping and “pill mills.” PDMPs are databases operated at the state level that track prescriptions and their fulfillment, minimizing the potential for individuals to go from doctor to doctor or from pharmacy to pharmacy receiving or filling multiple prescriptions fraudulently. Thirty-nine states and one U.S. territory have received federal funding to start these programs.

The second aspect is drugged driving. According to the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers: Drug Results, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and released in December 2009, one in eight nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal drugs. Most of those testing positive for an illegal drug tested positive for marijuana, although prescription drugs, barbiturates, and cocaine also were common. And we know from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health that 12 percent of 18- to 25-year olds admitted to driving after taking an illicit drug in the year prior to their interview.

Law enforcement and education have been successful in reducing alcohol-impaired driving, and we must not let up on that effort. But we need to bring more attention to drugged driving. We can save lives by increasing the number of officers who are Drug Recognition Experts through the training they receive in programs funded by NHTSA and managed by the IACP. Currently, just 6,000 officers in the United States have this expertise, according to the certification database. We also need to see that per se laws are in every state to help ensure our roads are safe and that those who drive with drugs in their systems are held responsible and can get the substance-abuse treatment help they need. According to A State-by-State Analysis of Laws Dealing With Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, distributed by NHTSA, only 17 states have some sort of per se drugged driving laws in place, which make it a violation to have an illegal drug in one’s body while driving. Per se statutes not only help prevent accidents; they can also help to identify individuals with drug problems and in many cases connect them with needed treatment.

Lastly, in bringing this issue to the public’s attention, we need a clear and simple message to encourage individuals not to use drugs and drive.

As you well know, we face many challenges in reducing drug use and its consequences. We have no better partners than those in law enforcement when it comes to addressing our national drug problem. By working in a partnership of prevention, law enforcement and treatment professionals have the tools and dedication to improve the lives of all Americans. ?

The National Drug Control Strategy is available online at IACP has not taken a position on the Strategy.

Please cite as:

R. Gil Kerlikowske, "From the Director: Office of National Drug Control Policy," The Police Chief 77 (August 2010): 14, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 8, August 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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