New Drug Czar Sought By Obama Administration

Addiction Treatment Industry Newswire
08/09/2013 –ATIN – President Obama is in the market for a new Drug Czar to oversee the nearly $25B the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy is currently spending annually, outlays that despite great hopes for drug prohibition reform when Obama was elected are still mostly spent on the futile effort to arrest our way out of the problem of addiction. On Friday, current Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske was nominated to run US Customs and Border Patrol, a job more in line with the skills he developed as the long time former Police Chief in Seattle.

Enormously Influential

The position of Drug Czar is enormously influential in that it sets the general tone and policy direction of an administration’s addictions initiatives, which filter down through the myriad agencies like the DEA, FBI, SAMHSA, the Bureau of Prisons and many others that together spend hundreds of billions a year on the War on Drugs. To his credit, Kerlikowske eliminated the term War on Drugs from official parlance at his drug control agency, a small but very importantly symbolic step that showed the Feds may finally begin to understand that drugs should be a health care issue and not a law enforcement matter. But despite a wave of reform attempts, all the way from myriad Latin American countries to state governments here in the U.S like Colorado and Washington, that demanded a top down complete reexamination of drug laws to include legalization and decriminalization, Kerlikowske and the Obama Administration steadfastly have refused all attempts to engage the federal government in any effort to reform the status quo of drug prohibition. The power of the Prison Industrial Complex – prison guards, cops, DAs, private attorneys etc… – perhaps proved too much for an administration to take on while fighting other powerful entrenched interests in huge battles like the one for health care reform.

New Health Care Focused Drug Czar

Getting rid of Kerlikowske could, of course, mean that the Obama Administration may want someone in the top addictions policy spot that has expertise on the health care, addiction treatment and prevention side, someone who will aggressively push demand management policies over interdiction. A former Deputy Drug Czar widely known as a thought leader within the addictions space is the University of Pennsylvania’s Tom McLellan who, if chosen as the new Drug Czar, would bring a laser like focus on drugs and addictions as problems best solved within the health care system, as well as an agenda of upgrading the quality of care at the thousands of publicly funded centers nationwide. A drawback is that McLellan is a Washington insider type guy completely unfamiliar with the fastest growing private, for-profit side of the addictions business that has sprung up the last 30 years or so and that is the subject of great interest to a wide array of private financiers, from small entrepreneurs all the way to heavyweight Wall Street types, interested in funding mergers, acquisitions and expansions of private for-profit addiction treatment ventures.

ObamaCare Looming

And as full implementation of health reform looms, the administration may want a health care expert in the Drug Czar position who will be able to help lay down a national agenda and policy, working with other agencies like Health and Human Services, with respect to setting the extent of substance abuse insurance coverages that will be offered on the myriad private health insurance exchanges soon to open nationwide. Perhaps finally we will fulfill the promise of the Wellstone Act so many years after it was passed with such great fanfare and to so little actual effect.


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