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Gil Kerlikowske, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy

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The White House

Gil Kerlikowske, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Kerlikowske has been the nation's drug czar since May of  Obama's first term. This spring, the former police chief released a new and different national drug-control strategy that closely reflects his somewhat counterintuitive views: We are not waging a "war on drugs," and we can't incarcerate our way to a solution. Kerlikowske, 63, has worked for five police departments and led four of them since receiving bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of South Florida. He was police chief in Seattle when he was tapped to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The hallmark of Kerlikowske's approach is that drug addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing, and should be seen as an issue of public health and not just criminal justice. The new strategy, based on science and research, centers on getting everyone access to treatment and using drug courts to help nonviolent offenders stay out of jail. An important tool will become available next year under the Affordable Care Act. Kerlikowske calls the law "revolutionary for drug policy" because for the first time, insurance policies will have to cover treatment for substance abuse. Nancy La Vigne, director of the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, said at a recent panel that Kerlikowske is "a tough-as-nails law-enforcement leader" who also brings to his work "a vision of shared ownership, of collaboration and problem solving." Kerlikowske says he wondered at first if the job was the right fit for him. As it turns out, he says, there may be "no better messenger than a former police chief" to shift the terms of the debate. 

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