|Earlier this year the Obama administration declared a fundamental shift in the 40-year "war on drugs," that reflects what evidence and common sense tells us. That is, if our only strategy to fight against the devastation of drugs in our communities is to put people in jail, it is inevitable that we will continue losing this war.
That policy shift was very good news. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet President Obama's drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, who is leading the shift in U.S. drug policy. Kerlikowske, a former police officer with 40 years of law enforcement experience, served as chief of the Seattle Police Department and has a first-hand perspective of how drugs affect a community and the importance of thinking outside the traditional mindset to protect the public from the chaos drug addiction brings.
Kerlikowske, whose full title is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, shared his professional and personal experiences with the devastating effects of drug addiction. Kerlikowske said he strongly believes in the need for prevention and treatment. He also pointed to the costs of the "war on drugs" approach versus treatment; in short treatment is cheaper than funding crime and punishment. The war on drugs costs the U.S. an estimated $40 billion a year.
While billions are spent in an attempt to reduce supply and demand through enforcement, funding for prevention and treatment is miniscule. This use of funds makes no sense when you look at how, for every dollar we invest in addiction treatment we yield a return of between $4 and $7 in avoided costs to our justice system and human services system. That is an incredible return on investment.
We can no longer ignore the facts. We know untreated substance abuse costs Oregon about $6 billion a year or $1,600 per person. We know 60 percent of the children in foster care right now are there because their parent or parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. We know more than 260,000 Oregonians suffer with addictions and less than 25 percent have access to treatment. These untreated addictions drive our business and cause families to crumble and lives to collapse. We can do better. It's time we invest in treatment and prevention rather than the destruction addictions cause.
This is precisely the mission of the state's new Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission. The 16-member commission, which Oregon Attorney General John Kroger chairs, is made up of law enforcement, medical professionals, prevention specialists, drug and alcohol treatment providers, and advocates. I sit on the commission as does Max Williams, the head of the Oregon Department of Corrections. The commission is charged with producing a plan for the funding and effective delivery of alcohol and drug treatment and prevention services. This is an unprecedented effort to bring all sides of the addictions community together to problem-solve and plan for Oregon's future.
During his visit Kerlikowske met with Attorney General Kroger, Max Williams, Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler and me to discuss our progress and the effective partnership we have formed among local leaders, law enforcement, and the health and human services community. Our efforts to prioritize funding for drug and alcohol prevention and treatment are being recognized. We are on the leading edge of the national shift in drug policy and that is going to make a real difference for the people we serve.