(Full disclosure: I am a registered Democrat who tends to vote that way, though I occasionally jump across the divide and choose a candidate from the other side.)
With fanfare and headlines to match, Gil Kerlikowske made a speech the other day in which he declared that addiction is exactly what many of us have known for a long, long time.
"Drug addiction is not a moral failing on the part of the individual but a chronic disease of the brain that can be treated."
And he should know; Kerlikowske is America's drug czar, the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
"This is not my opinion or a political statement open to debate. It is a clear and unequivocal fact borne out by decades of study and research, and it is a fact that neither government nor the public can ignore."
He also touted what he called a "paradigm" shift in the Obama administration's approach to dealing with addiction, moving away from the never-successful punishment angle to an emphasis on prevention, treatment and recovery.
Amen, Mr. Kerlikowske. You do get it. Treatment does work. And when people like me stop using, they stop demanding the illegal substances that flow into and around this country unabated no matter what law enforcement and international interdiction try to do to stop it. Treatment also reduces the tragic, costly toll of the legal drug alcohol.
Unfortunately, though, I doubt the drug czar has the full support of the guy in the Oval Office. For one thing, Kerlikowske, unlike his predecessor in the Bush administration, doesn't report to the big chief. President Barack Obama downgraded the head of the ONDCP from a Cabinet-level position when he took office in 2009. Too many wars to fight, I guess.
But more glaring is the Obama administration's utter failure to recognize, much less utilize, one of the most important "weapons" in this so-called war on drugs.
(I hate the war term but like the analogy to "weapons," so I'm using it even as this "war" always has been against sick people, not against the substances they use.)
There is a law in this country, passed by Congress and signed by then-President George W. Bush in 2008, that is supposed to end discrimination by insurance companies against people who need treatment for addiction and mental illness.
Yet both the Department of Labor and the Department of Health and Human Services have hardly put their collective weight behind support for implementing the parity law.
In the meantime, some major insurance companies continue to act with impunity in denying addicted people and their families what they need and deserve: resources to cover the cost of treatment.
True story: A colleague of mine recently called the Department of Labor's insurance parity "hotline" to ask about the particulars of the law. The federal employee on the other end of the line was nice enough but didn't even know the law existed.
Ironic, given the federal government's lack of funds to cover the trillions of dollars needed to pay for everything else that's swelled the nation's debt. Here is a way to pay for drug treatment, a key component of Kerlikowske's case: The private sector — in this instance, profitable health insurance companies — shares in the responsibility of treating addiction and transforming lives.
It isn't too late for the Obama administration to issue the final regulations — the teeth — to give this law the bite it deserves. It won't be too early for the next administration — whoever leads it — to make sure it sticks.
A lot of voters like me are watching.
William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs, and "A New Day, A New Life." Please send your questions to William Moyers at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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