World Drug Report

ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske

Remarks in commemoration of the
United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and the 2013 World Drug Report Release

Vienna, Austria

June 26, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  It’s a great pleasure to join my colleagues from around the world to participate in the commemoration of the United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

I would first like to thank Executive Director Fedotov and his staff for the 2013 World Drug Report.  The data being presented today are immensely useful to policy makers around the globe.

The United States would also like to thank the UNODC for its invaluable contributions worldwide.  UNODC assistance programs play a crucial role in supporting the demand reduction and drug control efforts of Member States, and the organization has earned a well-deserved reputation for the expertise of its staff, its insightful analytical reports, and responsible stewardship of resources.

The United States welcomes the expansion of prevention and treatment efforts under Director Fedotov’s leadership.  Science-based demand reduction is an integral component of the UN Drug Control Conventions, and a critical component of every country’s national drug policy.

The United States recognizes its responsibility to reduce its own consumption. I am pleased to report that the rate of past-month cocaine use in the United States has declined by 50 percent since 2006. (1) Of course we have much more work to do and face continuing challenges with prescription drug abuse and new synthetic drugs.

But it is clear that our reliance on evidence-based approaches is producing results.  Today, the Federal Government spends more on drug prevention and treatment than domestic law enforcement.

When I was confirmed to this position 4 years ago, I said the “war on drugs” would no longer define the U.S. approach to the drug problem.  I banished that phrase because the war analogy is dangerously misleading.  We cannot solve our drug problem by arresting more users and building more prisons.  I remain committed to that philosophy.

However, the end of the “war on drugs” does not mean we are giving up on our efforts or making dangerous, addictive drugs more easily available for abuse.  Drug policy reform means investing in public health interventions, instituting alternatives to incarceration, and focusing our law enforcement efforts on major drug cartels, not ending longstanding efforts to protect our citizens from drugs.

Legalization is not a “silver bullet” that would magically cause transnational organized crime to disappear.  That is a fallacy and a distraction from global efforts to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal groups through strong government partnerships.

The truth is, both of these extreme approaches run counter to what experience, compassion, and – most important – science demonstrate about the nature of substance abuse.

The U.S. 2013 National Drug Control Strategy, released in April, presents a new reform path – a “third way” that balances public health programs, law enforcement, and international partnerships. This third way is rooted in a science-based approach to drug addiction as a disease of the brain that can be prevented, treated, and from which people can recover.

The Strategy establishes a blueprint for a science-based drug policy reform that contains a series of more than 100 specific actions to reduce drug use and its consequences, beginning with an emphasis on prevention. We know that preventing drug use before it begins – particularly among young people – is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences.

That is why this Strategy calls for expanding national and community-based programs—including our Drug-Free Communities Support Program—to prevent substance use in schools, on college campuses, and in the workplace. Research has shown that each dollar invested in proven school-based prevention programs can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18.(2)

This Strategy also points to the important role health care professionals play in the drug policy issue. Health care professionals have the opportunity to intervene in a substance use disorder early – before it becomes chronic.  Early detection and treatment of a substance use disorder by a health care professional is an essential element in the public health approach to drug policy.

In the past, U.S. drug policy relied too heavily on the criminal justice system for solutions – as though drug use were purely a matter for the police, courts, and prisons.

But now, armed with research about the nature of addiction, we know that drug use is a medical and health problem—one best addressed by preventing individuals from beginning drug use, treating those who have developed the disease of addiction, and helping those who are battling addiction attain and sustain their recovery.

This does not mean that those who commit serious crimes should not be fined or incarcerated.  It means that we should recognize that addiction is not just a criminal matter, but a medical condition that deserves proper medical attention.

While the Strategy acknowledges that law enforcement will always play a vital role in upholding the rule of law and protecting communities around the world, law enforcement alone cannot address the problem of substance abuse.  What is needed is continued global expansion of treatment and prevention programs.

To that end, the United States is providing more than just security assistance in support of counterdrug efforts across the world.  Through the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America—known as CADCA—we have funded training and technical assistance to drug-free community coalitions across the United States since 1992.  And in the past seven years, international interest in CADCA has surged.  CADCA now operates in 16 countries on three continents.

In Afghanistan, where more than 75 percent of the world’s potential opium production is harvested (3) and where drug consumption is a great threat to the future of the country, the U.S. government supports 50 of the country’s treatment centers. The United States also plans to open 17 additional Afghan programs with a total capacity of 14,000 individuals per year. These U.S.-supported Afghan programs support treatment services for men, women, and children.(4)

By partnering with foreign governments to invest in the health and future of young people in these countries, we can lay the groundwork for increased international stability.

Domestically, the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act represents the most significant piece of American drug policy reform in generations – and one that makes access to treatment a reality for millions of Americans.  Reducing demand in the United States through treatment and prevention is a key component of hemispheric and global anti-drug efforts.

Even with an expanded focus on treatment and prevention, the United States remains committed to international law enforcement cooperation.  We know how important it is to support peace and stability, which is why the U.S. government is so strongly committed to international partnerships that reduce both the demand and the supply of illicit drugs.

Currently, the United States is engaged in confronting violent transnational criminal organizations across the globe.  Advocates for legalization of drugs suggest that these criminal organizations would cease to operate if the government would legalize and regulate the sale of drugs like marijuana or cocaine.  I wish the solution to transnational organized crime were so straightforward and so simple.  But it’s not.

Last year, the distinguished Mexican journalist Alejandro Junco made another compelling point: Once the dominating cartel establishes territorial control, it turns to the most profitable part of its operation—selling protection to local businesses.

Cartels will turn to almost anything illegal that makes money, including kidnappings, extortion, piracy, contraband, and prostitution. The profitability of drugs is actually quite low compared to the profitability of many other activities.

The globalized world allows for both the rapid expansion of criminal networks and opportunities to seize new money-making opportunities wherever they emerge. They exploit porous borders and institutions to finance their criminal enterprises.  That is why government partnerships to disrupt and dismantle violent transnational criminal organizations are so vital.  These government partnerships have yielded extraordinary results.  In Colombia, a decades-long effort, supported by the United States and other partner nations, has yielded extraordinary results—freeing Colombia from the grips of violent drug trafficking organizations.

The United States is confident that a balanced, strategic approach to the drug problem – one that emphasizes public health and effective international law enforcement cooperation – is making a difference.

Our drug policy is also based on the understanding that the drug issue is a global one that must be addressed in the spirit of shared responsibility.

The United States is committed to standing shoulder to shoulder with all of our international partners.  We intend to continue and, where possible, expand our partnerships in strengthening institutions, sharing law enforcement intelligence, and disrupting criminal trafficking operations to address the world drug problem.

The United States also remains committed to enhancing our expert exchanges with other countries on demand reduction research, prevention, treatment, and alternatives to incarceration.  We hope to continue this dialogue in appropriate forums, and to continue seeking innovative and more effective ways of addressing the international drug problem.

Drugs represent a significant challenge, to be sure. But I know that if all of us continue working together, we will make real progress.  It is a challenge that we can meet – and that we must meet.

Thank you.

(1) 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, SAMHSA, Sept. 2012..

(2) Miller, T.R., and Hendrie, D. Substance abuse prevention dollars and cents: A cost-benefit analysis. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Rockville, MD: DHHS Pub.  No (SMA) 07-4298, 2009

(3) Extrapolated from Table 11: Potential Production of Oven-dried Opium, from the UNODC 2012 World Drug Report, page 28.

(4) Factsheet: Drug Use and Treatment in Afghanistan, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, United States Department of State, December 2012.