The Obama administration is making drug abuse problems in the U.S. part of the debate on health care reform, says White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske. Speaking to the annual National Institute of Justice crime research conference yesterday in northern Virginia, Kerlikowske said, “We need to change the conversation” about drug treatment. The former Seattle police chief said many Americans would be surprised to hear that drug overdose deaths exceeeded gunshot deaths in the nation in 2006, the last year statistics are available.
Fewer than 10 percent of the 20 million U.S. substance abusers are getting adequate treatment, Kerlikowske said. Alluding to long-term treatment given to many people with serious illnesses, the drug czar said it is unrealistic to depend on drug treatment programs that many last anywhere from 10 to 30 days. The Obama administration will take a “balanced approach” to the problem of illegal narcotics, Kerlikowske said. He assured the audience that his talking about drug treatment did not mean that the administration would seek to take funds away from law enforcement antidrug efforts.