Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD)

Impact of the Hemispheric Drug Stategy


The Impact of the Hemisphere’s New Drug Strategy

by Anna McG. Chisman

Drug dependence is a chronic, relapsing disease that must be treated through the health care system, just like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension. This is the finding of years of research on changes in the brain caused by drug abuse. Accepting drug addiction as a disease, as the OAS member states did in 2010 in their new Hemispheric Drug Strategy, has far-reaching implications for the treatment of drug addiction and for drug control policy in general.

As a consequence of the new strategy, governments will need to shift resources and policies.

In practical terms, national health care systems will need significantly greater funding to cope with a large influx of drug-dependent individuals. Drug treatment counselors will need much more intensive training to enable them to provide quality service. Physicians will need to learn how to screen all of their patients for drug abuse and addiction and refer them to specialized treatment centers. In addition, health insurance schemes will need to cover drug dependency treatment in the same way that they cover other physical and mental disorders.

The new strategy will also have an impact on drug policy. Criminalizing the use of illicit drugs by people who are addicted to them will make less and less sense as policy makers understand the disease of addiction. Drug-dependent prisoners will be offered treatment while serving their sentence, and treatment alternatives to incarceration for offenders will become more and more common as lawmakers come to realize that court-supervised drug treatment lowers recidivism and reduces relapse into drug use. Some countries of the Western Hemisphere have already embraced the drug court concept, both as a means of reducing prison costs and prison overcrowding, and as a shift to a rehabilitative approach to justice and corrections policy.

Substance abuse prevention takes on much greater urgency in this new policy context. Parents, teachers, and health care professionals know that they must help children and adolescents to take care of their health and prevent illness. Schools, youth programs, community centers, parents groups, and religious organizations will need to adopt an aggressive approach to substance abuse prevention, folding it into other types of health education such as non-smoking and seat-belt campaigns and violence and accident prevention programs.

The factors that put a child or adolescent at risk for drug use and abuse are the same as those that contribute to violent behavior, criminal involvement, and adolescent pregnancy. Prevention programs, delivered on a sustained basis from early childhood through young adulthood, are essential to preventing and containing the disease of addiction to drugs and related social pathologies. 

Note: A version of this article appeared in Americas magazine in May 2011.


updated on 4/16/2012 4:18:53 PM