By Greta Lieske
Gil Kerlikowske, White House Drug Policy Director—the country’s “drug czar”— spoke live Monday from the Betty Ford Center in California saying Washington’s changing approach to addiction and recovery, as a disease rather than a moral failure, is due to talking to people in treatment and their families. This understanding of addiction is needed more across the country, he says.
The address was live webcast by the Betty Ford Center online and Kerlikowske was also joined by U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs. Bono Mack says the current battle to fight addiction is being lost across the nation because people keep dying. This is due in part to a lack of understanding of the disease and policies to aid those in need.
“Washington D.C. is failing in our policies,” she said of Washington’s drug larger conversation. “ … Washington has to change its way of thinking.”
Kerlikowske says one of the ways Washington, and society in general, will change its way of thinking on addiction and recovery, is for the stigma of addiction to be lifted—more understanding and discussion needs to take place. Those in recovery must share the stories — successes and struggles.
He added that the national must “talk about recovery in a way that is more meaningful” and “bring it out from behind the curtain.” And once people are in recovery and doing better, healing from past addictions, Kerlikowske says there should not be a feeling of being continually punished for the past.
“We know from the research that had been conducted by the nation’s leading neuroscientists that drug addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual — it’s a chronic disease of the brain. It’s not a political statement. It’s not open to debate because the evidence is clear and it’s unequivocal. It’s a fact from decades of study, research and it’s a fact that neither government nor the public can ignore.”
Kerlikowske says in the past, people thought (and policies and discussions reflected) only two roads to solve the nation’s drug problem — legalization or arresting individuals. Behavioral and mental health care and treatment is all too often missing from the conversation, he says. This is where focus needs to be placed.
“Real people are successful every day in lasting recovery and our policies need to support them.”