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Recent developments are showing a turning point in US drug policy. While drug policy up to this point has mainly focused on criminalizing drug abuse and addiction, new strategies are beginning to treat addiction and drug abuse as a health issue. This is resulting in a more treatment-oriented approach by the government.

In April, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) announced the 2013 National Drug Control Strategy. This is the document detailing the Obama administration’s new efforts to reform its approach to drug policy. “Research shows that addiction is a disease from which people can recover. In fact, success rates for treating addictive disorders are roughly on par with recovery rates for other chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension,” reads the document. “Recognizing this, the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented action to expand access to treatment for millions of Americans.”

Drug Policy Finally Turning an Eye Toward Rehabilitation

This could be the government’s response to the fact that only 1 in 10 people in need of treatment for substance abuse actually receive that treatment. President Obama is trying to increase that number by requiring insurance companies to cover addiction treatment.

The report states that by 2020, the Affordable Care Act will provide addiction treatment benefits to over 32 million people who need it, but will finally be getting it for the first time. The ONDCP’s report goes on to explain the huge investment of funds for this initiative: “To support this expansion, the President’s FY 2014 Budget includes an increase of $1.4 billion for treatment over the FY 2012 amount, the largest such request for treatment funding in decades.”

This strategy by the White House comes from a belief that it can no longer treat drug abuse and addiction as a crime. “This 21st century drug policy outlines a series of evidence-based reforms that treat our nation’s drug problem as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice issue,” the document’s introduction reads. “This policy underscores what we all know to be true: we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.” This was a big reason why the Affordable Care Act forced insurance companies to provide coverage for addiction treatment with the same standards as other chronic illnesses. This is just one example of the move to treat addiction as a health issue.

While the federal government refocuses its drug efforts on recovery, state governments are following suit. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) recently reported plans to create nine new recovery courts throughout the state of Tennessee.

Recovery courts, sometimes call drug courts, are specialty courts designed to help participants recover from substance abuse. These courts recognize drug abuse as a health issue. They work with drug rehab centers and apply a mix of incentives, judicial supervision, and treatment to help people leave the court system having had their addiction addressed.

But not all government involvement has received a warm welcome. A recent bill proposed in the Alabama state legislature by Republican Senator Del Marsh will require Alabama drug rehab centers to be approved and policed by local governments. The Senator expressed concern over the complete lack of supervision for these centers. The bill is currently being debated. Many are identifying this kind of proposed government as a potentially negative effect of treatment-focused drug policy.