During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President
Bush announced a new drug treatment initiative, promising a $600
million dollar program to place an additional 300,000 people in
treatment during the next three years. "As a government," said
Bush, "we are fighting illegal drugs by cutting off supplies, and
reducing demand through anti-drug education programs. Yet for
those already addicted, the fight against drugs is a fight for
their own lives."

Bush tied the treatment initiative to his push for faith-based
initiatives as "acts of compassion that can transform America, one
heart and one soul at a time." He further emphasized the faith-
based aspect of his program when the only treatment provider he
mentioned in was the Healing Place Church in Baton Rouge, LA. And
he waxed religious again, telling Americans who are addicted to
drugs that "the miracle of recovery is possible, and it could be

On Wednesday, Bush's point man on drug policy, drug czar John
Walters, provided a few details at a Washington press conference.
The new initiative creates a voucher program that will complement
existing alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs, said Walters,
increasing treatment capacity and access to effective treatment
programs. Under the plan, people assessed as needing drug
treatment will receive vouchers to pay for drug treatment under
programs monitored by the states. The states will be required to
monitor the outcomes of treatment and seek cost-effective
treatment modalities.

"This initiative offers a new and effective way for the federal
government to help people get into recovery," said Walters. "We
know that treatment works. But we also know that there are too
many Americans who, for a variety of reasons, cannot access the
treatment they need. By giving people a choice, and the direct
means to help connect them with effective treatment, we will be
able to more directly help drug users who have recognized their
problem. This program will also help treatment providers and the
overall drug treatment system by bringing increased accountability
into the system."

Drug reformers and treatment experts greeted the announcement with
a mixture of wariness, mistrust and hope. "We hope this means
that people given vouchers can seek out not just unproven faith-
based programs, but also treatment modalities that are well-
studied and known to be effective," said Bill McColl, a policy
analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance (
"Study after study has shown there are effective forms of
treatment, such as cognitive behavior therapy and moderation
management," he told DRCNet.

Dr. Bill Miller, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and
Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico and former co-director
of the school's Center for Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addiction,
also urged the use of proven drug treatment models.

"I think the government ought to be putting its money into
evidence-based treatments, not experimental ones," he told DRCNet.
"Faith-based, what does that mean? What is the treatment that is
being delivered?" he asked. "I haven't seen any evidence for the
efficacy of treatment based on religious content, but that's not
to say that a faith-based counseling center using couldn't use
evidence-based treatments. We're not talking about faith healing
here, and I hope the government will spend its money in a way that
encourages people to use the scientific base that is available."

Mary Barr, director of Conextions (, a
New Jersey counseling center that combines public education,
broad-based counseling and drug treatment, was skeptical about
where the treatment dollars would end up. "Bush is going to say
this is a drug treatment initiative, but he is going to put more
money in law enforcement anyway," Barr told DRCNet. "He said he's
going to create 300,000 new spaces; how is he going to do that
when he's putting everyone in jail? Will these be spaces for
court-ordered treatment?"

That's a good question, and there is as yet no firm answer. The
Bush Justice Department sought substantial funding increases to
support drug courts and their mandated drug treatment in budget
proposals released last week. But the Drug Policy Alliance's
McColl doesn't think drug courts will eat up all the funds. "It
will be up to the states," he said. "The likelihood is that we
will see substantial non-criminal justice system treatment, but a
lot of grants currently go to coercive treatment. We just don't
have any information on how much will go to drug courts yet."

Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy (
also expressed concern about what the treatment money would buy.
"A word of caution is needed," Zeese told DRCNet. "The treatment
push has been leaning too much toward coercion and faith-based
treatment in recent years. It is important that we start to treat
drug treatment as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue and
not a religious issue."

If groups like DPA and CSDP expressed reservations about the
initiative, organizations representing marijuana users -- the vast
majority of all drug users -- are even less excited. Among drug
czar Walters' other initiatives is the ongoing campaign to portray
marijuana as a dangerously addictive drug and its users as drug
addicts needing treatment. "In many ways, this treatment
initiative is shaped to play into the drug czar's campaign theme
that marijuana is addictive," said Paul Armentano, senior policy
analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana
Laws ( "Of course, that's not the case," he
told DRCNet, "but with marijuana arrests at an all-time high, many
will be arrested and face the option of treatment or jail. We
don't believe the overwhelming majority of marijuana smokers need
or will benefit from drug treatment, but that helps pump up the
numbers of smokers in treatment and advances Walters' false
argument," he said.

"It's a double-edged sword," Armentano continued. "We don't want
to see marijuana smokers going to jail. So from a pragmatic
standpoint, I guess we applaud that choice. But we have to
remember these people are seeking treatment not because they are
in trouble with their habit, but because it's that or jail."

Mary Barr, herself a veteran of brutal "therapeutic community"
treatment programs based on the Synanon model, remains wary of any
sort of coerced treatment, but also reluctantly agreed that it
beat jail. "I distrust mandated treatment," said Barr. "Mandated
treatment leads us down a dangerous path. People are caught up in
the criminal justice system and go to prison if they break the
rules. I don't want to give up and say that mandatory treatment
is okay, but until we have some real changes in policy, even that
is better than nothing. What we really need is treatment on
demand, not by court-order, and the only way to get money for that
is to stopping spending it on throwing people in jail. Let's take
the money out of corrections and put it in social programs."

But this is the Bush version of a social program, and there may be
some good to it. "No one really knows how this will work yet,"
said DPA's McColl. "The devil is in the details."