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ONDCP: Addiction Specialist Nominated as Assistant Drug Czar

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #581)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

The Obama administration announced last Friday it was naming a prominent addiction specialist to the number two post at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), widely known as the drug czar's office. If confirmed by the Senate, University of Pennsylvania psychologist A. Thomas McLellan would be deputy director of ONDCP.

McLellan would serve under former Seattle police chief and yet-to-be-confirmed director of ONDCP, Gil Kerlikowske. The nominations of Kerlikowske, a progressive police executive not overtly hostile to drug law reform, and McLellan, a well-respected scientist and researcher, suggest that the Obama administration is moving away from the politicized and ideologically-driven ONDCP of the Bush years.

McLellan is considered a leading researcher on a broad range of issues related to addiction. Working at the Veterans Administration in the 1980s, he developed the addiction severity index and the treatment services review, two measures that characterized multiple dimensions of substance use. He later worked with the state of Delaware to tie payment for treatment at state-funded centers to predetermined measures of success.

In 1992, McLellan co-founded the Treatment Research Institute to study how to transform promising research findings into clinical practice. He is editor in chief of the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, and has published some 400 articles on various facets of addiction and treatment.

One of those was a groundbreaking 2000 article comparing drug addiction to other chronic medical conditions. In it, he urged consistent application of the disease model, noting that if diabetes patients relapsed after treatment, doctors would conclude that intervention had worked and more treatment was needed.

Drug addiction should be treated no differently, he suggested: "In contrast, relapse to drug or alcohol use following discharge from addiction treatment has been considered evidence of treatment failure," he wrote.

For those who view the disease model of addiction, humanely applied, as an improvement over arresting and imprisoning drug users, the McLellan nomination signals real potential progress. But for those who view the disease model as less an analog than a fuzzy metaphor, the nomination could signal the expansion of the therapeutic state in the name of our own good.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

McLellan is considered a leading researcher... wonder how much of it is in cannabis research... since marijuana prohibition is the lynch pin... representing 60% of the drug war budget.

I disapprove of the 'rehab nation' model for numerous reasons especially since it's still going to be the 'Control Of Some Substances Act' that will continue to determine what's legal and authorized... instead of individual rights and actual harm reduction!

As long as individual choice remains under political and religious control true reform will not happen... just the way it was never supposed to.

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 9:54pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Drug addiction should be treated no differently, he suggested: "In contrast, relapse to drug or alcohol..."!

WTF: guess we got us another rehabber that makes a distinction between drugs and the drug alcohol!

Q. Humanely Applied Coercion?
A. There is no such thing!

Coercion, such as 'rehab or prison mother fucker you choose'... is not a choice... to a libertarian minded fellow like myself.

The Dude Is Definitely In Denial...

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 10:10pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I'd rather have a therapeutic state than an incarceration state. No more criminal record, no more threat of jail, just the government forcing you to go to rehab. Big improvement. As long as it's ambulatory and you don't have to be locked up in the rehab center for months or a year, but just living your normal life and being forced to take time out to go to rehab a few days a week (they'd probably make you pay for it, too, which is outrageous, but at least there's no threat of jail or a criminal record).

Fri, 04/17/2009 - 11:14pm Permalink
mlang52 (not verified)

I am prejudiced! He should have appointed an MD addiction specialist! At least the guy admitted that drug and alcohol addiction had the same treatment and response. Now, if he can, only, figure out what the face of true addiction looks like, instead of politically described disease. In that same stream of thought, I wonder if he thinks all cannabis use is addiction? Baby steps, I guess!

Sat, 04/18/2009 - 10:14pm Permalink
aahpat (not verified)

brings the disease model more into focus in the government its a small step in the right direction.

But if this nomination only serves to rationalize treatment as a coerced re-education re-indoctrination machine then Obama's promise of more police and prisons comes further into focus for how he will abuse science, twist it into authoritarian justifications, under the guise of better applying science.

I think the latter is more likely.

Sun, 04/19/2009 - 12:20pm Permalink
meeneecat (not verified)

Both the rehab industry and the drug testing industry are each, by themselves, multi billion dollar industries. While I agree that addiction should be treated more humanely meaning better options and access to treatment as opposed to incarceration, I am strongly against forced or coerced rehab. There should also be major concern in how the government has grossly misused and promoted this horribly false concept of addiction (i.e. recreational pot smokers, occasional users of cocaine/opiates/speed/hallucinogens/ecstasy/etc.are "addicts"?!?)...Also, have you ever noticed, when you go to the doctor with something wrong with you, they don't know exactly what it they send you to a cardiologist, a psychologist, a pulmonologist, a endocrinologist, and so on. Well it's not very surprising that usually the heart specialist thinks you have something wrong with your heart, the psychologist thinks it's your mind, the pulmonologist thinks it's your lungs, and so on and so on. Well, I've noticed that many addiction specialists are no different...if they can find any little reason to label you an "addict", they most likely will. It's not that I think that all "addiction specialists" are evil drug's just that I don't trust the ones who seem to be satisfied with the current state of drug policy and the profits that some of them make from things like mandated rehab and the drug testing industry. However, there are many addiction specialists that understand very well what real addiction is, and the fact that our drug policies are doing more harm than good. I have no way of knowing what sort of "addiction specialist" this person who was appointed to the drug czar's office is...Usually it's my instinct though, if Obama nominated him to work on drug policy, then I'm not going to expect much...I don't expect anything progressive from why would I expect it from the people he appoints to work under him.

Sun, 04/19/2009 - 4:10pm Permalink

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