Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384</p>
Earlier this week, the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) unanimously adopted a resolution calling for improved treatment and harm reduction services for U.S. veterans who return from combat with mental health or substance abuse problems.
The sweeping resolution, ranging from alternatives to incarceration for drug-related offenses, to allowing veterans access to methadone and medical marijuana, urges state and federal government entities to take immediate actions to ensure veterans receive adequate treatment rather than being criminalized and incarcerated.
"The nation's mayors recognize that far too many veterans are falling victim to the drug war, America's longest war," said Daniel Robelo of the Drug Policy Alliance. "The mayors have proposed a responsible, compassionate and cost-effective set of policies to promote the health, reduce the likelihood of accidental death, and preserve the freedom of the men and women who have served in our armed forces. We'd like to see the appropriate governmental bodies act on the mayors' recommendations without delay."
Adopted resolutions become the official policy of the USCM, which speaks as one voice to promote best practices and the most pressing priorities of our nation's cities. As concrete first steps to promote the health and wellbeing of returning veterans, the nation's mayors call for:
Expanding and improving alternatives to incarceration for veterans who commit nonviolent drug-related offenses. The mayors commended local communities that have implemented these programs, usually based on the drug court model, but called on them to make needed improvements, such as allowing veterans to access treatment without first pleading guilty; expanding their treatment options and quality; embracing medication-assisted therapies like methadone and buprenorphine; prohibiting the use of jail sanctions to punish veterans who relapse during treatment, which would likely exacerbate veterans' mental and physical injuries or illnesses; and empowering treatment professionals to make treatment decisions.
Adopting overdose prevention programs that target veterans who abuse substances or take prescription medications. The mayors expressed great concern that so many veterans are at risk of fatal overdose, and called on cities, states and even military bases to adopt life-saving interventions like naloxone distribution and policies that grant amnesty to witnesses of an alcohol or other drug overdose.
Increasing access to methadone, buprenorphine and other medication-assisted therapies among opioid-dependent veterans. The mayors called on the Department of Defense to eliminate current restrictions preventing its TRICARE insurance system from covering buprenorphine and methadone for active military, veterans transitioning from active duty, and their families.
Many of the mayors' recommendations mirror proposals made by the Drug Policy Alliance, which issued a report last year addressing these issues, Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration.
The resolution also acknowledges the medical value of marijuana for veterans suffering from PTSD or other service-related conditions, and calls on the VA to remove its ban on VA physicians from recommending medical marijuana to their veteran-patients, even in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal for medical use. The ban, which is official VA policy adopted in response to threats from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), has come under fire from veterans and their advocates, including former Senator Bob Kerrey and DPA Board Member Jason Flom, who recently published an op-ed criticizing the ban.
The US Conference of Mayors' resolution is available here: http://www.usmayors.org/resolutions/78th_Conference/adoptedresolutionsfull.pdf.