For the first time since the inception of the drug war in the 1980s, the federal government would spend more money on treatment and research than on law enforcement and interdiction efforts under President Obama's proposed budget released Tuesday.

In drug policy parlance, the budget proposal focuses more on "demand reduction" instead of "supply reduction." Demand reduction includes measures aimed at keeping people from using drugs -- prevention and education programs, as well as treatment programs and research into drug use and its effects.

Supply reduction includes most of what we think of as the drug war-- drug raids, efforts to combat Mexican cartels, and arresting and locking up drug users and sellers.

Experts have generally agreed for some time that it's more effective to treat drug use as a public health issue emphasizing demand reduction, rather than a criminal justice one that prioritizes supply reduction. One big reason for this is that as authorities poured billions of dollars into supply reduction efforts in the 1980s and '90s, many illicit drugs became cheaper and easier to get and overall rates of drug dependency stayed the same.

But federal drug control priorities, as reflected in the national drug budget, have been slow to reflect this shift. Well into Obama's first term, supply reduction efforts continued to account for over 60 percent of federal anti-drug spending.

With the administration's 2017 budget request, however, that would change. The White House has requested $15.8 billion for demand reduction efforts, a sharp jump from the $12.3 billion spent last year. That includes $1.1 billion in new spending to address a rise in heroin and opiate dependence.

By contrast, supply reduction spending would be essentially flat, at $15.3 billion.

“The President’s 2017 Budget calls for our country’s largest investment in treating and preventing substance use disorders in history,” Michael Botticelli, director of the White House's National Drug Control Policy Office, said in a statement. “By funding public health and public safety efforts at near-identical levels, this budget demonstrates the Obama Administration’s ongoing commitment to a balanced approach to drug policy."

Some drug policy reformers were pleased with the shift, but frustrated to see so much money still spent on supply reduction efforts. "This is a good start, but they’re still wasting money on failed supply-side programs at a time when there’s a consensus drugs should be treated as a health issue," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "It is hard to get excited about a balanced approach that is one half good, one half ineffective."

But experts cautioned against reading too much into the federal numbers. Keith Humphreys, a drug policy researcher at Stanford University, noted that there are ways federal policy can affect drug control efforts that aren't reflected in these budget numbers. The Affordable Care Act, for instance, required many health insurance policies to provide coverage for drug use disorders.

"This doesn't show up in the equation because only public dollars are counted in the famous [supply/demand] ratio statistic," Humphreys said. "All that said, it is very good that the administration is spending more on treatment because we have an incredibly deadly epidemic underway and treatment shortages are common throughout the U.S."

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