Today's guest blog was written by R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy .
Drug use and its consequences takes its toll in our Nation – in 2007, approximately 28,000 people in America died from unintentional drug overdoses – that’s about one person every 19 minutes and, unfortunately, this number is on the rise. And the drug problem doesn’t just harm individuals, but others around them as well. We know, for instance, that over eight million young people in the United States live with at least one parent who is dependent on alcohol or drugs, putting them at risk for physical or emotional abuse. In addition, visits by individuals to hospital emergency rooms involving the misuse or abuse of pharmaceutical drugs have doubled over the past five years and have now exceeded the number of visits involving illicit drugs for the third year in a row.
To address these serious challenges, the Obama Administration has embarked on a fundamental refocusing of America’s approach to drug control. Our efforts must be balanced and focused on treating the disease of drug addiction and we must address the drug problem in general as both a public health and public safety issue.
In support of this effort, the Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy emphasizes drug prevention education and drug treatment, as well as reforming the criminal justice system and supporting international partnerships to disrupt international drug trafficking organizations. We’re putting real resources behind these efforts. Despite the difficult budget environment, the President has requested increases in funding for drug prevention education by $123 million and drug treatment programs by $99 million for Fiscal Year 2012. By taking a comprehensive, public health approach to this problem, we can reduce unintentional overdoses, workplace injuries, drugged driving, and other negative health outcomes while protecting our communities from drug related crime. But we need your help.
As I’ve noted before, our Strategy requires strong collaboration between the Federal Government and those working at the local level. One issue on which we can work together is drugged driving. As public health experts, you are well aware of the dangers of driving after consuming drugs or alcohol, including adverse effects on judgment, reaction time, motor skills, and memory. But new data are revealing an alarming prevalence of individuals driving after consuming illicit drugs. One national study found that one in eight nighttime weekend drivers tested positive for an illicit drug. Also, we found that one in three drivers with known drug-test results who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 tested positive for drugs. The Obama Administration has set a goal of reducing the prevalence of drugged driving by 10 percent by 2015, but we can’t do it without the support and expertise of the public health community.
During National Public Health Week, ONDCP is proud to join the American Public Health Association in recognizing the outstanding public health work going on across the county. We recognize the importance of working together to reduce injuries and promote safe choices. But most of all, we hope that you join us in helping to reduce drug use and its consequences. Your public health expertise is part of our strategy for building a safer and healthier America.