We must not overlook
the drug abuse threat
While we are face threats from al Qaeda to our national security, an internal crisis also threatens our safety: substance abuse and drug related crime.
More than 50,000 people die each year from drug-related causes. Of the estimated 16 million people suffering from drug abuse, only 3 million receive treatment. Addiction and drug abuse cost U.S. taxpayers $200 billion dollars annually. Drug abuse is a major disruption to schools and families.
Texas is taking powerful steps to alleviate this situation. The Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse works with about 200 public and private agencies to provide prevention and treatment to more than 700,000 Texans each year. Today through Friday, Austin will host the commission’s annual policy conference, with 1,000 leaders and experts. A federal report said that the commission “has significantly increased the state’s capacity and leadership in substance abuse prevention.”
The agency has become a national model by initiating prevention and education campaigns that specifically target alcohol, tobacco and marijuana abuse. Over a two-year span, Texas has decreased seventh graders’ tobacco use by 30 percent.
In 2002, the agency started an inhalant abuse campaign to educate parents and youth on the dangers of inhalant abuse. “Few parents realize that common household products can be deadly and that their kids can find lethal drugs right under the kitchen sink,” said Dr. Dave Wanser, executive director of the commission.
Texans are learning that paint, glue, and gasoline are dangerous products if inhaled. The number of children experimenting with alcohol and drugs is shocking –72 percent of Texas students have tried alcohol, and one-third has tried drugs.
At the heart of the effort against substance abuse are anti-drug coalitions of parents, teachers, religious leaders, coaches, and health providers. We must fully fund legislation to support these groups. In addition, the COPS program -- 100,000 new police trained to work with communities, families, schools, and businesses -- is an integral part of reducing drug abuse and should be expanded.
Comprehensive recovery programs combined with community outreach also will reduce drug addiction. As a case in point, in nearby Center Point, the Starlite Recovery Center provides the Summit House for adolescents; an adult residential Program; an impaired professionals program; individual case managers who work with counselors and coalitions statewide, continuing to care for patients after rehabilitation; and live, interactive online group treatment program for adults and teens, which complements traditional strategies by providing confidentiality and at-home ease via the Internet. Starlite has more than 10,000 alumni after just three decades—Texans whose lives and productivity have been restored.
The White House Drug Policy Office’s five-year anti-drug media campaign, focusing on TV ads recounting the dangers of drug abuse and encouraging parents to talk to their children about the subject, is another major reason for the recent decline in drug use.
For the 2 ½ million heroin and opiate addicts, it’s past time to help them become productive citizens by promoting methadone, buprenorphine and suboxone to help them end their addiction without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
One solution we need immediately is “parity” for drug treatment, providing equal health insurance to coverage for other illnesses. In 2000 we succeeded in generating parity for all federal employees – but the private sector deserves no less.
As we confront national security threats abroad, it is equally important that we deter threats to our domestic security, and heading off the drug crisis is vital. Ongoing national action is necessary to make real progress against drugs.
a four-star general, was U.S. National Drug Policy Director from
1996-2001 and now is a professor at West Point.
Dr. Karlin is Chairman and CEO of CRC Health Group, a substance abuse treatment provider.