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President Obama’s ‘Drug Czar’ Comes To San Diego

Audio

Aired 5/18/10

President Obama's "drug czar" comes to San Diego today/Tuesday. Joining us on Morning Edition is National Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske.

The White House Drug Czar's in San Diego to talk about his drug control strategy today. Joining us on Morning Edition is National Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske. Good morning, sir.

GIL KERLIKOWSKE: Good morning.

DWANE BROWN: Before we get into your top priorities, tell us why you chose to visit San Diego today.

KERLIKOWSKE: A wonderful invitation, for two things, last night, yesterday afternoon, to visit the Don Allen ParentCare center, where I met with a number of women who have been in recovery. They're back at home, back taking care of their kids, it was really terrific. And then this evening, there is a large graduation from the very successful drug court program that is run here in San Diego County.

BROWN: Are prescription drugs still on the top of your target list for abuse?

KERLIKOWSKE: They are. We saw the significant increase in deaths in this country from drugs, they're now taking more lives than gunshot wounds, and in 16 states they're taking more lives than car crashes, and that is primarily driven by the drugs coming right out of medicine cabinets.

PAMELA DAVIS: So how would you describe your top priority, and how realistic are your goals?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I think the goals have to be ambitious, but they have to be grounded in common sense, and be realistic. One thing that after many, many, many years in law enforcement and at the local government level, you'll be shocked to know that probably not all good programs are developed inside the Beltway, and what really occurs and puts people back on the right track and keeps communities safe, is done at the city and county and at the state level, and we want to be helpful in this administration making sure those goals are achieved.

BROWN: You mentioned you came to visit a couple of prevention programs. Many critics say the amount of money the federal government spends on treatment programs isn't enough to solve the nation's drug problems. Do you agree or disagree?

KERLIKOWSKE: I think that one, President Obama's budget request to Congress for 2011, includes a 13 percent increase in prevention. The other problem that we have is getting the message out that prevention actually works. That there are good programs and that they are very cost effective. And I think sometimes people don't always see that.

BROWN: What about the enforcement side of this thing? Do you think we depend too much on that side?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I think that when we look at border security, and I'll be traveling this afternoon with the DEA along the border. This is my fifth trip to the southwest border, and I've had three trips to Mexico; that's a significant issue, but it isn't all just about the drugs. We have to work hard to stop the money that flows back to the cartels, through the United States, and the firearms that flow south into Mexico.

DAVIS: You talked about the states and the role that the states play. Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating alcohol and drug treatment, except for children and pregnant women. What do you think the impact of that might be?

KERLIKOWSKE: Well, I think the long-term impact of cutting back on treatment which is about one-half the cost of incarceration, and cutting back on prevention programs, will be felt later on. All the states are having to look at how they handle criminal justice programs, and many of course are looking at alternatives to incarceration that both keep communities safe, but also get particularly nonviolent low level drug offenders back on the right path.

BROWN: A big issue here, in southern California, drug cartel violence in Baja California, what role is your department playing in combatting drug cartels?

KERLIKOWSKE: Last June Secretary Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and myself released the southwest border strategy, which combines a huge number of assets in the Department of Justice and along with the Department of Homeland Security, which covers customs and the border patrol, and that's a strategy that is to get everyone kind of working and pulling together, and just as importantly, bringing together state and local law enforcement. In a meeting last night with Chief Lansdowne, it's very clear that the relationship with the City Police Department in San Diego and the Sheriff's Department, and the work that they do with their colleagues in Mexico is important.

DAVIS: National Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

KERLIKOWSKE: Thank you.

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