Drug Policy

Trump's First National Drug Control Strategy Reads Like a High School Book Report Written 30 Minutes Before Class

Does anyone still work at the Office of National Drug Control Policy?


Oliver Contreras/SIPA/Newscom

Since the Anti-Drug Abuse Act was passed in 1988, every presidential administration has been required by law to publish a document each year outlining its plans for addressing illicit drug use.

After spending the first two years of Donald Trump's presidency in limbo, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has released its first congressionally mandated report since the Obama era.

Not counting the cover page, the table of contents, or the opening letter from Drug Czar James W. Carroll, the 2019 National Drug Control Strategy is 20 pages long. For comparison's sake, the 1992 National Drug Control Strategy ran 182 pages, not counting the introduction or index. (And no, the 2019 report does not contain an index.) The 2016 National Drug Control Strategy was 87 pages.

The 2019 National Drug Control Strategy is like a book report from a student who may or may not have read the book, and who may or may not have written his report on the bus ride to school.

That said, it does contain some food for thought.

What's new for 2019? Broadly speaking, not much.

As was the case under Barack Obama, Trump's 2019 report focuses on reducing demand by informing the public about the dangers of illicit drug use, micromanaging prescribers in order to reduce opioid availability, increasing the availability of drug treatment options, and cracking down on the illicit drug trade. And by "focuses," I mean the report mentions these things.

What's specifically different from years prior? Marijuana and kingpins.

Previous National Drug Control Strategies generally contained lengthy sections on marijuana. But in keeping with the recent trend toward state-level legalization, Trump's 2019 report focuses only on reducing underage cannabis consumption (via grants to state and local organizations), interdiction of marijuana trafficked from overseas and Latin America, and cracking down on marijuana cultivation on public lands.

In total, the word "marijuana" appears only four times in the 2019 strategy, while the word "opioid" appears 53 times. There is no suggestion in this report that the Trump administration plans to undermine state-level legalization efforts. This is a good thing!

Watchers of the drug war in Latin America may also be surprised to learn that the report contains some subtle criticism of what's called the "kingpin strategy," which, for two decades now, has seen U.S. and Latin American law enforcement agencies focused on identifying and arresting the leaders of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). Critics of this approach have shown for years that taking out cartel leaders causes DTOs to fracture, factionalize, and fight for territory and control, which leads to more violence and political destabilization and corruption. The 2019 Drug Control Strategy is the first report I've seen that sorta-kinda acknowledges this consequence:

Our conventional focus on targeting high-level individuals within the hierarchy of well-organized and sophisticated DTOs must evolve toward identifying and targeting vulnerable critical components of more fluid and dynamic organizations such as financial facilitators, corrupt officials, and key transporters, to affect a significant disruption of DTO activities, targeting key nodes to attack the entire network through its enablers.

Degrading and defeating criminal networks that have become more resilient because they are decentralized, redundant in capabilities and capacities, and compartmentalized, requires identifying the key nodes enabling DTO operations and simultaneously targeting them for maximum effectiveness over time. Agile interagency and international coordination will allow for better detection of changes in the trafficking supply chain, which will support intelligence-driven operations against identified vulnerabilities, from drug production to delivery to the end user.

Unfortunately, the 2019 report does not tell us what the administration thinks the U.S. should be doing instead. We know the Drug Enforcement Administration continues to operate in Latin America, but it is not clear from this report that the ONDCP or the White House is overseeing or coordinating those activities.

What are the goals of the 2019 Drug Control Strategy?

In short: "Do everything we've always done, only better!"

Here are the actual "measures of effectiveness":

  • The number of Americans dying from a drug overdose is significantly reduced within five years
  • Nationwide opioid prescription fills are reduced by one-third within three years, and within five years all healthcare providers have adopted best practices for opioid prescribing
  • Evidence-based addiction treatment, particularly Medication-Assisted Treatment for opioid addiction, is more accessible Nationwide for those who need it
  • The production of plant-based and synthetic drugs outside the United States has been significantly reduced, illicit drugs are less available in the United States as reflected in increased price and decreased purity, and drug seizures at all U.S. ports of entry increase each year over five years

The phrases "significantly reduced" and "more accessible" are pretty sly! We should expect the administration to take credit for any decrease in overdose deaths, even if there's no way to prove a causal effect. This is the prerogative of every president, of course.

The continued emphasis on controlling prescriber behavior remains troubling. (See Jacob Sullum on the disastrous consequences of punishing doctors for helping people.)

I should add that striving for "increased price and decreased purity" is essentially how we arrived at the fentanyl crisis. Federal regulations made prescription pills harder to come by, so consumers turned to street drugs, which are notoriously impure. Countries that have seen street drug shortages, meanwhile, saw consumers turn to other street drugs or to even more impure formulations of the newly scarce drug. The report is at least right that reducing supply drives up costs and decreases purity, but this is not a good thing.

With the exception of a relaxed attitude toward domestic marijuana production, the federal drug war appears to be the same as it ever was.

NEXT: Fewer U.S. Cold Waves

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  1. Seems like a good thing if they don’t actually give much of a shit about “addressing illicit drug use.”

    1. Tell that to the DEA, fella.

      1. Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

    2. Why does the headline give the impression that Trump personally wrote the report and did a piss-poor job of it?

      1. Because even Reason is not immune to the allure of clickbait.

        Gotta generate that ad revenue somehow!

  2. the federal drug war appears to be the same as it ever was.

    Letting the days go by, let the government hold me down
    Letting the days go by, the drugs are flowing underground
    Into the jail again after the fun is gone
    Once in a lifetime, people could own their bodies

    *Written on a phone while pooing*

    1. Some of my best comments are made while pooing.

      1. Too bad Crusty was just sitting at a light in his car at the time.

  3. Trump’s First National Drug Control Strategy Reads Like a High School Book Report Written 30 Minutes Before Class

    That’s what everything I write looks like so I won’t give him a hard time for it.

    1. You should have heard the oral report:

      While pushin’ back his glasses Sam is sayin’ casually
      “I was elected by the masses”
      And with that in mind he starts to unwind
      A vicious attack on the finest of grasses

      Well it’s evil, wicked, mean and nasty
      (Don’t step on the grass, Sam)
      And it will ruin our fair country
      (Don’t be such an ass, Sam)
      Well, it will hook your Sue and Johnny
      (You’re so full of bull, Sam)
      All will pay that disagree with me
      (Please give up you already lost the fight, alright)

      1. Did anyone see a signing date on the OBAMAWar on Drugs report?

  4. Does anyone still work at the Office of National Drug Control Policy?

    After spending the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency in limbo, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has released its first congressionally mandated report since the Obama era.

    So serious question for the REAL libertarians in the group, does this listless, late, shittily written report bode well or poor for future drug policy?

    Because what’s worse, a sharp, on-point, laser-focused federal bureaucracy with a well defined and aggressive plan, or one that sort of kind of has absentee personnel who don’t really have a clue what’s going on with a director who’s more interested in planning his retirement than getting stuff done?

    1. It’s more like…is the policy officially getting worse or is it officially staying the same?

      1. But… if someone who works at NPR or teaches at the Kennedy School of Government defines worse as “no longer laser focused and producing 3 ring binders full of plans for the future”, is that worse? I might call it “staying the same while slouching towards better”.

        1. I agree. Looks like better than the last guy and could get better still. Baby steps but possibly in the right direction.

    2. Previous reports have provided the most comprehensive look at what the government is up to, whether it’s meeting its own goals, etc. I personally (as a libertarian and a voter and a journalist) want to know what they’re up to so that I can think and then complain about it. A skinny report does not mean we have a skinny drug war.

      1. Although I am neither a libertarian, voter, nor a dreaded evil journalist I agree.

    3. Door number three; an agency that is doing something actually listed in the constitution, and doing so economically.

    4. Like most of the rest of Trump administrative decisions thus far, it’s a bit of a push — 50/50.

      On the one hand, sliding in favor of consumer choice on marijuana. On the other, believing that reducing physician’s options in prescriptions will make a dent in illicit opioid consumption.

      I’m not entirely sure that the degree to which an administration is devoted to a topic necessarily bodes well/poorly one way or the other.

  5. Photo caption:

    “Look, I have never done drugs, I don’t need them, I can make myself high any time I want, just using my own thoughts, ok? But if I ever smoked a joint, it would be the greatest, most tremendous joint ever made, at least this long.”

    1. “World’s biggest spliff, buddy.”

  6. So in other words no different than any previous president since they are all high schoolers anyone better would never run for the job

  7. “Do everything we’ve always done, only better!”

    Well, at least they’re not taking on new tasks. Isn’t that progress?

  8. “…have wrote…”


  9. *Nationwide opioid prescription fills are reduced by one-third within three years, and within five years all healthcare providers have adopted best practices for opioid prescribing*

    Best practices as determined by the prescribing physician, not a bureaucrat with an Excel spreadsheet, right?

    1. Didn’t you hear?
      Warren is going to put all doctors out of business, and make them federal slaves who MUST do what the spreadsheet says.

      1. What’s the spreadsheet have to say about disagreeing with Comrade Warren? Psychiatric commitment?

        1. They get an implant similar to the one Picard got from the Cardassians in ‘Chain of Command, Part 2’.

      2. That was the Harrison Tax Act of 1914, comrade. See Schaffer Drug Library

    2. This policy is evil. Full stop.

      And not for “anti-drug-war” reasons.

      The people who have been dealing with opioid addicts have successfully framed the argument in terms of “we must do everything we can to prevent people from using opioids, lest they become addicts. And we must ensure that addicts have a very difficult and expensive time acquiring pharmaceutical grade opioids – thereby ensuring that they move to cheaper and more dangerous alternatives on the black market. (that last bit is particularly incoherent, but that’s where our drug warriors are pushing us.)

      And these people are by and large physicians and drug counselors. People like “Dr. Drew” Pinskey. He’s a drug treatment guy who helps addicts, in addition to his radio and TV gigs. He’s personally pretty liberal about drug use (in terms of pot or booze at least). But he’s a staunch drug warrior on the opioid issue. There’s some science mixed in there (research is starting to show that use of opioids for treatment of chronic pain is perhaps not a great idea), but mostly he’s violently opposed to allowing anyone to have a Tylenol III because some people become addicted.

      1. And the result of that is that my kid’s doctor wouldn’t give him an effective pain reliever after a painful injury. And my doctor wouldn’t prescribe effective pain relievers after a minor surgery. Both cases only needed 12-36 hours of medication, but fear of federal action meant we just had to gut it out instead of using an effective tool that is sitting on the shelf. In my case the doctor at least acknowledged that it was a crackdown by the feds that led to my sleepless night, writhing in pain. He told me that prior to the crackdown he would have prescribed a morphine drip, but that he couldn’t do so any more without risking his license.

        In my son’s case, the doctor had fully bought in to the Dr. Drew family of rhetoric, that prescribing opioids is mostly universally unwarranted and bad. So he didn’t even entertain the thought, and put his own stamp of approval on the decision – “we don’t prescribe anything stronger than ibuprofen for this type of injury”. Even after I told him that my son was already on ibuprofen and it wasn’t touching the pain.

        So once again, screw you drug-warriors in the neck. Your new focus on addiction prevention may be noble in some cases, but it is misplaced. If you want to work on preventing addiction, work on removing the stigma from getting high and allow companies to legally produce products that are safe and effective for that purpose.

        Then we won’t have people getting addicted to Oxy and using them off-label to get high.

        1. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood. http://powerandcontrol.blogspo…..eroin.html

          Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

          Drug Prohibition is socialism for criminals. Says Milton Friedman. Besides we learned that from Alcohol Prohibition.

  10. Whereas this great country was founded on individual freedoms, and whereas the root cause of drug violence is the need to not get caught, and the excessive costs, and whereas the funds spent chasing non-violent drug users can be redirected anywhere and be better spent, therefore we resolve that our plan for addressing illicit drug use is to lobby from the bully pulpit to make it non-illicit. MAGA.

    There you go Donald, wrote next year’s report for you. (just for the record, 5 minutes)

  11. To be fair, ‘a high school book report written 30 minutes before class’ is at the high end of reason and articulation for drug policies in my adult life. Most read like an undergraduate paper written to please a TA in a required class the student doesn’t care about.

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  13. This is a strange criticism.

    1. They mostly didn’t change policy.
    2. They mostly cut out references to Marijuana.
    3. They kept it short.

    Ok, (1) for most Americans no change is probably good – most Americans being faux pearl clutchers on the dug war. (2) Most of America is on-board with de-emphasizing and eventually eliminating MJ from the Drug war. And (3) why bloviate for nearly 200 pages if 20 gets the job done?

    There’s loads of different ways to critique national drug policy – most on ideological grounds. But “they wrote a statement of policy and it was too short” is pretty weak tea. As is “they mostly didn’t change anything, but what changes they did make seem to be for the better.”

    Look, the base of the issue is our inability to acknowledge “getting high” as a legitimate goal for anyone. As long as we (the American people) continue to reject “getting high” as a legitimate purpose, drug policy will continue to be terrible. And recreational drugs will continue to be dangerous, because “making safer and more predictable ways to get high” will continue to be an illegitimate goal for research and development efforts.

    This battle doesn’t start with the National Drug Control Strategy, or with national politicians. It starts with us giving up on our facade of puritan ideals – judging others while holding out that we ourselves are perfectly capable of making our own decisions. In short, winning the drug war simply requires defeating human nature.

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  15. How odd. Coolidge signed the 5 Anti-Alcohol Abuse Act increasing penalties and asset forfeiture just hours before Herbert Hoover took office. And wasn’t 1988 the year AFTER money fled the stock market in fear of the Shape of Things to Come? I also distinctly recall a sudden crash immediately after Clinton signed the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program and Special Forfeiture Fund which, with the Money Laundering and Financial Crimes Strategy Act of 1998 became Public Law 105-310. Then of course there was the Bush Junior faith-based asset-forfeiture Crash of 2008. Unkind and suspicious persons might even wonder if there is some sort of connection between wholesale government looting of consenting adult commerce and these financial collapses, recessions and sudden depreciations of retirement funds assets.

  16. Remember the March 20, 2015 Flash Crash? The one that coincided to the hour with the moment the looters issued their prohibitionist asset-forfeiture under pretext of laundering money to rid it of parasites Policy? The subsequent Obamawar and Trumpwar attacks on individual rights include no dates. No signing date, no release date, even the ancillary documents are vaguely waved at as from “March, 2018” and such. The 1987 robbery plans were signed and dated to the exact day. If I were a looter gang kingpin this is the exact precaution I would have taken lest some parasite-host retirees find out their pension fund lost 88% of its value in a Crash the day the report was signed and became official.

    1. Classic Hank post

  17. The Director of National Drug Control Policy, colloquially known as the Drug Czar, heads the office. “Drug Czar” was a term first used in the media by then-Senator Joe Biden in October 1982.

    Biden coined the term ‘Drug Czar’ after watching ‘Reefer Madness’. According to Biden, the movie set him on a path to have the government warn the nation’s youth about the dangerous marijuana.

    Biden is in constant contact with past and present Drug Czars, who say that the current marijuana is much more powerful that the 1960s marijuana. So much so, that it’s now considered by them to be not only highly addictive but a gateway drug to LSD.

    Unnamed sources say Biden was maneuvered to be Obama’s Vice President so Biden could keep an eye on him. (Although others have said that Biden was Obama’s ‘weed connection’). There was a feeling that Obama would start to smoking marijuana again, even though he swore he was off the stuff. So Biden was there to make sure Obama behaved and did not reclassify marijuana.

  18. How responsible to demand doing a better job on the homework.

    Because studies demonstrate that cannabis causes mental illness and it’s probably not a good candidate for legalization.

    That would’ve like approving a beverage that causes cancer.

    1. Fuck off slaver.

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  20. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood. http://powerandcontrol.blogspo…..eroin.html

    Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

    Drug Prohibition is socialism for criminals. Says Milton Friedman. Besides we learned that from Alcohol Prohibition.

  21. A short government report is a good thing. This is a liberatarian website for crying out loud. Do we really need 100s of pages of Gov documents and rules and laws and what have you?

    I took the brevity of the report as a bit of good news. Maybe this the first sign that the feds are starting to give up on the “war on drugs”

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