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Obama Administration Anti-Drug Budget Continues to Prioritize Interdiction Over Treatment

The Baltimore Sun posed an interesting question in its July 27, 2009 edition ("Drug War's Wrong Focus"). After discussing drug czar Gil Kerlikowske's visit to the city the previous week, during which he "made the case for the expansion of drug courts to treat rather than imprison offenders and called for drugs to be considered a 'public health crisis,'" guest reporters Robert Weiner (former spokesman for the White House National Drug Policy Office) and Zoe Pagonis (a policy analyst at Weiner's eponymously named company of research associates) ask: "Why, then, is the Obama administration proposing to spend an even higher percentage of its anti-drug resources on law enforcement than the administration of George W. Bush?" As the article states, "in the 2010 budget, there is a 3.3 percent reduction in treatment and prevention initiatives since 2008, exacerbating the bias toward enforcement, which now represents 65.6 percent of the budget." The Bush administration spent "62.3 percent" of its anti-drug budget on enforcement measures.

The Sun cites numerous statistics to provide evidence that treatment initiatives and public health-based approaches are not only best for drug users but their communities as wholes as well. For example, "Participant's in the Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court were re-arrested 34.5 percent fewer times than other offenders," and "a study commissioned by the U.S. Army [found that] for every dollar invested in drug treatment, taxpayers save upward of $7 in crime-related reductions due to less incarceration and hospitalization." Indeed, Weiner and Pagonis spend much of the article advocating for treatment over incarceration due to the latter approach's cost-effectiveness. They contend that "the $5 billion currently budgeted for prevention and treatment" could produce "savings of $35 billion for American taxpayers." Perhaps most importantly, "20.8 million Americans [need] treatment but are unable to get it." The writers assert, "If we can spend $6 trillion to shore up our financial institutions and a trillion on Iraq [...], increasing drug treatment to stop the main catalyst of crime and save families would be an extraordinarily rational policy shift."

The wonky budget numbers reported in the Sun's article thus leave astute readers wondering what happened to promises Obama made on the campaign trail and in office to rely more heavily on science than ideology in policy-making decisions. As the President was quoted stating in a March 10, 2009 Washington Post article ("Obama Lifts Federal Funding Ban on Embryonic Stem Cell Research"), "we make decisions based on facts, not ideology." So, in light of proliferating studies citing the monetary, public health, and crime-reducing benefits of valuing drug treatment over incarcertaion, how can this purportedly evidence-based administration not just continue but ramp up funding for interdiction-based programs, which have for years proven ineffective, costly, damaging, and dangerous? The figures just don't add up.

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