NPR logo

Tackling America's Drug Addiction

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Tackling America's Drug Addiction


Tackling America's Drug Addiction

Tackling America's Drug Addiction

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Michele Norris speaks with Joseph Califano, founder and chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, about the appetite for drugs in the U.S. and what's being done to curb it.

: Mr. Califano, welcome to the program.

: Nice to be here.

: Now first, any truth in President Calderon's statement? Is it fair to characterize the U.S. as the biggest drug addict in the world?

: The U.S. is 5 percent of the world's population. We consume two-thirds of the world's illegal drugs. So there is a lot of truth...

: Hmm.

: what President Calderon said.

: Will that shrink the domestic market for drugs - since when you're talking about treatment, there are so many issues surrounding access to treatment?

: You're absolutely right. The rhetoric of the administration is good, but the dollars haven't changed. We're still putting roughly two-thirds into interdiction and enforcement, and one-third into treatment and prevention. Interestingly, when President Nixon started the war on drugs, his first budget was two-thirds for prevention and treatment, and one-third for interdiction.

: Oh, so it's flipped.

: It's flipped totally. Now, we have to look at a lot of systems to really do something about this. The drug courts are great. We've analyzed them at our center. They work. And the prison population is important because 65 percent of the people in prison meet the medical criteria for drug or alcohol abuse and addiction. That's a wonderful - in a sense, captive audience. But we don't provide much treatment for them.

: So it's just a wasted opportunity. They're not getting treatment.

: About one in 10 that need treatment gets some kind of treatment. But most of it is not good.

T: There's a longer-run solution. We know from our research that if you get a child through age 21 without getting into this stuff, that child is virtually certain to be home free for the rest of his or her life. And when you say a drug-free society - and there will always be drugs being used - what you're really talking about is that population of children - and that's parents, that's schools, that's people that are dealing with that. And they've got to get focused on it.

: Is the U.S. serious enough about the war on drugs?

: Let me give a comparison. AIDS was a social curse. In a matter of three...

: AIDS, you're talking about?

: You know, when I was secretary of HEW, I went after smoking. I started the anti-smoking campaign. Everybody said, my God, it will never happen. It's all smoke and no fire. Look at the country today. If we get some leadership, we'll have a real impact. And this is the country's biggest disease, the biggest cause of cancer, strokes, accidents, murders, violence. We've got to do something about it.

: Joseph Califano, thank you very much for coming in to talk to us.

: OK, been great.

: That's Joseph Califano. He is the former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. He is now director of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse; that's at Columbia University.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.