Heroin major focus of new WH drug strategy

The White House on Wednesday rolled out a 2014 drug control strategy that targets the growing scourges of heroin and prescription drug abuse, while placing a premium on treatment programs over incarceration for offenders.

At the same time, the Obama administration remains firm in its view that marijuana is illegal in the eyes of the federal government, despite President Obama's view that pot is no more dangerous than alcohol.

The administration’s stance on marijuana, now legal for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington, is just one of a litany of thorny issues detailed in the 102-page document.

“Among those challenges are the declining perceptions of harm — and associated increases in use — of marijuana among young people,” according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) report, which contends those challenges “gained prominence” with the developments in Colorado and Washington.

Last August, the Justice Department laid out eight priorities that would guide the enforcement of federal laws, while allowing legal pot use to continue in those states. But the administration remains steadfast in its position that using marijuana remains a crime at the federal level.

The firm policy is out of touch with the growing number of Americans who support the drug’s legalization, said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“The drug czar's office is still tone deaf when it comes to marijuana policy,” he said. “It appears to be addicted to marijuana prohibition.” 

The White House plan is far more concerned with the abuse of opioids, both in the form of heroin and prescription drugs like oxycodone, methadone and hydrocodone. In 2010 alone, some 16,600 Americans died in overdoses involving those drugs.

While heroin use remains relatively low, officials have seen a “troubling increase” in the drug's prevalence, with many abusers graduating from prescription pills to the needle.

The 2014 policy sets our a multipronged plan to address the rise in opioid abuse through a public education campaign and redoubled enforcement efforts — both domestically and in partnerships with authorities in Mexico — to crack down the illegal drug trade.

Also in the administration’s crosshairs is the proliferation of synthetic drugs, such as “K2” and “Spice,” which are often marketed as an alternative to marijuana but can be far more dangerous, federal officials say.

The White House has increasingly promoted treatment and alternative sentencing instead of jail time for people arrested for garden-variety drug use.

That strategy, defended in the 2014 plan, is embodied by the Justice Department’s Smart on Crime Initiative. Through the program, the administration has dialed back charging policies for low-level nonviolent offenders, among other steps to promote sentencing reform and combat demographic disparities in the criminal justice system.

Acting Drug czar Michael Botticelli said Wednesday that the policy, “rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.”

“Instead, it builds on decades of research demonstrating that while law enforcement should always remain a vital piece to protecting public safety, addiction is a brain disorder — one that can be prevented and treated, and from which people recover,” Botticelli said.