Opening Statement before the 2nd Annual World Forum Against Drugs, Stockholm Sweden

Delivered by R. Gil Kerlikowske Director oF National Drug Control Policy, United States – May 24, 2010


Thank you, Mr. Carlsson. It is my great pleasure to be with you here today to represent the United States. I would like to congratulate you on your second convention and on the establishment of this forum which the United States so strongly supports. I would also like to thank the leadership and staff of the WFAD board for their fine work in support of your efforts.


Throughout my 37-year career in law enforcement, I saw first-hand the terrible toll drugs take on individuals, families and communities. Drugs are a huge threat to all of our citizens, one that is ignored at our peril. I am very appreciative of the tireless work the individuals and organizations represented here have conducted, not only to provide desperately needed direct help to those seeking to turn around their lives, but also to ensure that our nations do not take the serious consequences of drug use for granted.


In the United States, two weeks ago, President Obama released our new National Drug Control Strategy, which represents a new direction in U.S. drug policy. This policy forcefully addresses the enormous public safety threat posed by transnational criminal organizations and activities which supply drugs to our citizens. It also addresses the public health threat posed by drugs by emphasizing the need to invest in prevention, treatment, and recovery support, ensuring the addicted get the help they need. This balanced approach requires the coordinated and complementary efforts of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement professionals.


The United States’ commitment to reducing drug use and its consequences in the United states and around the world is exemplified by the President’s FY 2011 Budget request. We have increased our investment in vital demand-side programs, while maintaining the long-term commitment to disrupting drug trafficking organizations at home and abroad. Key themes of our Strategy, reflected in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2011 Budget request, are:


Community-Based Prevention: Preventing drug use before it begins is a cost-effective, commonsense way to build safe and healthy communities. Research on adolescent brain development shows there is an at-risk period for the development of substance use disorders; people who reach the age of 21 without developing a substance abuse problem, in most cases, will never do so. For this reason, the largest percentage increase in anti-drug funding in the Obama Administration budget – over 13% - is for prevention.


Early Intervention: Substance abuse costs over $50 billion in health care spending annually, with most of these funds expended on avoidable, catastrophic consequences of addiction, such as emergency room visits, rather than its treatment. It is time to integrate care for substance use disorders into the rest of the health care system. This includes an expansion of screening and brief intervention and referral to treatment programs in an array of settings. Screening programs have repeatedly proven to be extremely cost-effective by interrupting drug-use patterns before severe addiction develops.

Treatment and Recovery

Addiction treatment should be readily available and of high quality. We must integrate addiction treatment into mainstream medicine, and we must ensure care is guided by the best scientific evidence. Treatment must also offer the continuing support required to provide a reliable pathway not only to short-term stabilization, but also to sustained recovery – meaning a full, healthy, and responsible life for persons who once struggled with addiction. It is also important to focus on vulnerable populations, such as addicted women who have dependent children. In these cases, family-based treatment programs can accommodate the needs of both mothers and children.


Drugs and Crime:

Drug use is often interwoven with criminal behavior that disrupts family, neighborhood, and community life in fundamental and long-lasting ways. The criminal justice system plays an important role, therefore, in reducing drug use and its consequences. The results from long-standing initiatives, such as drug courts, and newer alternatives to incarceration, including “smart” programs which incorporate swift, certain, but modest sanctions, have been extremely encouraging. An excellent example of this is the HOPE project, which will be presented in the late special session this afternoon. We must now expand such initiatives so all those for whom diversion from prison is appropriate, can participate. These innovative programs break the cycle of drug use, arrest, release and re-arrest and and much more cost-effective than long-term incarceration.


Domestic Enforcement: Drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) move large quantities of illicit drugs world-wide. Indeed, they are transnational criminal enterprises that perpetrate extreme acts of violence and intimidation, foster corruption, and destabilize democratic institutions and the rule of law. The activities of these DTOs affect the security of all Member States. These same groups often work through street and prison gangs, and frequently employ local criminal networks. It is important to seize drugs, money, and weapons from DTOs, but it is even more important to use seizures to increase our understanding of how these groups operate, so they can be disrupted and dismantled.


International Partnerships: We recognize that U.S. drug consumption directly affects many countries around the world by supporting illicit drug markets, production, and trafficking. Thus, our efforts to provide law enforcement ad interdiction assistance to many partners around the world will continue. Our multilateral collaboration will also include an increased emphasis on prevention, treatment, and recovery support to assist nations who have developed a worsening drug consumption problem due often primarily to their role as a transit nation. As noted by a U.N. Security Council Statement in late 2009, West African nations in particular have experienced the negative consequences of drug trafficking related crime and violence even though many of the drugs and illicit proceeds that transit this region are destined for elsewhere. All of us have a responsibility to assist our fellow nations, but we recognize that major consuming nations such as the U.S. have a special obligation to do so.



As I have already mentioned, one of the hallmarks of the Obama Administration is collaboration. We recognize that we cannot all agree on everything, but all of us most seek common ground and avoid getting side-tracked in ideological debates when there is so much vital work to do. I want to be clear about our Administration’s views on marijuana. In our country, we have seen significant consequences of marijuana use. For example, more and more people are dependent on the drug and treatment and call-in centers cite marijuana as a major reason people are presenting for help. We in the Obama Administration are opposed to legalizing marijuana or any other illicit drug. Research and experience have shown that by widening availability, we increase the acceptance and use of these drugs and the harmful consequences that go with them. As Dr. Madras described previously in her remarks, we also believe medicine should be determined by science, not popular vote.


The Road Ahead

I would like to close by emphasizing how important and beneficial the work of this Forum is to protecting citizens of all nations from the terrible consequences of drug use. It is clear that those of us that oppose drugs must work together. Those who raise their voices to promote drug legalization must hear our response, loud and clear, that making drugs more available and accessible is a path to despair and destruction. The Obama Administration is committed to opposing drug legalization, fulfilling our responsibilities to address our own drug use in the United States, and to partnering with the many organizations around standing up to overcome the challenges posed by drugs. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today and for your important work, year round, in your home countries. You have a friend and partner in the United States.