Advancing Public Health, Medical and Legal Approaches to National Drug Policy

Expanding outreach to policy-makers to advance public health and medical approaches to drug policy

From 1998 to 2004, Physician Leadership on National Drug Policy (PLNDP)—a group of 37 physicians with experience and national recognition in medicine, public health and public policy—worked to advance public health and medical approaches to national drug policy. From 2004 to 2007, the legal community joined this effort as part of the new Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy (also PLNDP).

Key Results

  • From 1998 to 2004, PLNDP reached out from its core group of 37 leadership members to engage some 6,000 physicians and 300 health professional students in national drug policy. In April 2004, PLNDP expanded to include members of the legal community in the new Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy. As of spring 2008, the total number of leadership members was 54 and included physicians, lawyers, judges, ethicists and social scientists.

  • PLNDP led a successful application to the American Medical Association (AMA) for the establishment of two new Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for substance abuse screening and brief interventions. CPT codes describe medical services and procedures for administrative, financial and analytic purposes. PLNDP hoped these new codes would encourage increased use of screening and brief interventions in medical settings.

Key Findings

  • The combined prevalence of alcohol and drug dependence is about as great as that of heart disease, but addiction accounts for more lost productivity than do heart disease and diabetes combined. 

  • Drug court programs produce lower recidivism rates, decreased costs of addiction, decreased drug use and increased gainful employment of the participants-both during their participation and after graduation.

  • Much of drug dependence treatment, such as detoxification, resembles treatment for acute conditions, despite evidence that drug addiction is a chronic condition.

  • Medical students do not receive much training in drug addiction.

  • Addiction treatment reduces medical care utilization and costs.

Key Recommendations

  • "Reallocate resources toward drug treatment and prevention. Increase the proportion of the federal drug control budget allocated to demand reduction (treatment and prevention) from 32.6 percent to 50 percent in the near term, and thereafter to 65 percent."

  • "Increase the proportion of health insurance plans giving parity to substance abuse treatment."

  • "Train physicians and medical students to be clinically competent in diagnosing and treating drug problems. Substance abuse education should be a required element in the accreditation standards for all health professional schools."