Advocates: Public Health Goals Are Positive, But Overreliance on Law Enforcement Destined to Fail
Obama Administration Urged to Take More Meaningful Steps to Treat Drug Use as a Health Issue
Washington, D.C. – The Obama Administration announced a new program today to fund “public health-public safety partnerships” to address the heroin and prescription opioid crisis. The new program would hire 15 drug intelligence officers and 15 health policy analysts to work within High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) programs. The drug intelligence officers are expected to gather information on trafficking patterns and trends for street-level law enforcement. The health policy analysts are expected to help improve regional overdose surveillance, identify adulterated batches of heroin that could pose a major threat to public health and train first responders on how to recognize and handle overdoses, including the administration of naloxone. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced it would fund this new program using HIDTA funding that ONDCP administers.
“Half of what they’re doing is right – the focus on health and overdose prevention – but the other half, the side that focuses on the failed arrest and incarceration policies of the past is destined to ruin lives and fail,” said Bill Piper, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of national affairs.
Congress established the HIDTA program in 1988 to disrupt major drug trafficking networks. However, advocates have long observed that HIDTA programs lack congressional oversight and generally waste resources pursuing individuals engaged in low-level drug crimes. The original purpose of HIDTA programs to focus resources on high-level traffickers is not being met. The HIDTA program has also grown from five original HIDTAs to covering 60 percent of the U.S. population. HIDTAs now exist in at least 45 states. Advocates believe that this expansion to nearly all 50 states has defeated the purpose of the program, which was to focus resources on top priority areas.
In 1998, Congress banned the use of HIDTA funds for “the establishment or expansion of drug treatment programs.” Advocates point out that this statutory ban undermines program flexibility and blocks access to treatment. They have called on Congress to repeal this ban so that HIDTA funding can be directed to treatment and other health-centered approaches that are more cost-effective at reducing problematic drug use and demand. Advocates have also called on Congress and the Administration to eliminate HIDTA entirely, or move the program to the Justice Department and merge it with the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force as the Bush Administration once proposed.
The Drug Policy Alliance also urges the Obama Administration to take further steps to treat drug use as a health issue by: