New Report Evaluates U.S. Methamphetamine Policies, Recommends Comprehensive and Integrated

Press Release March 17, 2008
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper at (202) 669-6430

At a tele-press conference today, the Drug Policy Alliance released a groundbreaking report that evaluates current state and federal methamphetamine policies and recommends major reforms. The report, entitled “A Four-Pillars Approach to Methamphetamine: Policies for Effective Drug Prevention, Treatment, Policing and Harm Reduction,” is the first report in the U.S. to lay out a “four pillars” approach to addressing methamphetamine abuse. In Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, Sydney and other major cities around the world, most notably Vancouver, the four pillars approach to substance abuse has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of users consuming drugs on the street, a significant drop in overdose deaths, and a reduction in the infection rates for HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

“The U.S. government has taken a punitive, supply-side approach to methamphetamine for more than 40 years, and at every step of the way this approach has enriched organized crime, made street methamphetamine more potent, and worsened meth-related problems,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and author of the new report. “It’s time for a demand-side approach that prioritizes treatment, public health and family unity.”

Other speakers included Reena Szczepanski, director of DPA New Mexico and a member of the Mid Region Council of Governments’ Methamphetamine Task Force; Lou Martinez, a former methamphetamine user and graduate of California’s successful treatment-instead-of-incarceration program, Proposition 36; and Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, statewide Prop. 36 coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The report makes numerous recommendations for improving U.S. prevention, treatment, policing and harm reduction efforts, including:

While the report concludes that the federal government has failed to enact an effective methamphetamine strategy, it finds that several states are already leading the way, including California, New Mexico and Utah.

California’s Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (Proposition 36) has proven to be the nation’s most systematic public health response to methamphetamine to date. This landmark measure, approved by 61% of voters, diverts approximately 35,000 persons from jail to drug treatment every year–over half of whom identify methamphetamine as their primary illegal drug. No other statewide program in the nation has offered treatment to or graduated more methamphetamine users than Proposition 36. In the process, California taxpayers have saved more than $1.3 billion over the program’s first six years.

New Mexico is the only state to have developed a statewide methamphetamine strategy that combines prevention, treatment, policing, and harm reduction. This strategy is becoming a model for bringing together key stakeholders, fostering interagency collaboration, and implementing a coordinated methamphetamine strategy. In addition, DPA New Mexico is working with state agencies and the private sector to implement a youth methamphetamine education program funded by federal grant money that will serve as an alternative to the failed scare tactics of D.A.R.E., the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, and the Montana Meth Project.

Utah recently enacted an innovative program that provides substance abuse screening and assessment to anyone convicted of a felony offense (drug- and non-drug-related). The results of these screenings and assessments are provided to the court before sentencing, allowing judges to divert certain offenders to treatment instead of jail. This program, the Drug Offender Reform Act (DORA), is based on a pilot program that has diverted more than 200 offenders in Salt Lake County to treatment instead of jail, many of whom have methamphetamine-related problems. The Utah Methamphetamine Joint Task Force recently rejected calls to develop scare-based TV ads in favor of developing a more realistic and uplifting prevention campaign.

“Our country cannot incarcerate its way out of the methamphetamine problem,” said Piper. “Punitive policies have been exhaustively tried and they have failed, not just with methamphetamine, but also with cocaine, heroin, marijuana and numerous other drugs including alcohol during Prohibition. The federal government should follow the lead of California, New Mexico and Utah and emphasize treatment over incarceration.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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