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Kerlikowske opposes legalizing marijuana; Obama drug adviser cites painkiller abuse

People seeking the legalization of marijuana or any other kind of drug will get no help from R. Gil Kerlikowske.

Kerlikowske, a former Buffalo police commissioner who now serves as President Obama's chief adviser on drug issues, said he is dead set against legalizing marijuana or any other drug.

As director of the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, Kerlikowske made his position clear Monday during a Buffalo visit. He spoke about the issue at a meeting with the Editorial Board of The Buffalo News.

He noted that, while alcohol use is legal in the United States, "hundreds of thousands of people" are arrested each year for driving while intoxicated, illegally selling beer to underage drinkers and other offenses.

And while prescription painkiller drugs also are legal, Kerlikowske said, abuse of those drugs is skyrocketing throughout the nation, causing a major public health problem.

"Prescription drug use is legal and we can't control it," Kerlikowske said during the hourlong session.

The 61-year-old former police commissioner is on a two-day visit to Buffalo that included a Monday visit to Erie Community College's City Campus to hear about a drug rehabilitation program called E2R, or education-to-recovery.

Today, he will speak at a Kids Escaping Drugs luncheon and visit Buffalo's Veterans Treatment Court, which is designed to help veterans get help with drug and mental health problems without going to jail.

Since Obama appointed him to his Cabinet-level job nearly two years ago, Kerlikowske has traveled throughout the U.S. and to countries all over the world in search of answers to the drug problem.

He has found no easy answers but said he strongly feels that drug treatment is just as important as arresting drug dealers.

"You can't arrest your way out of this problem," he said during a wide-ranging discussion of drug issues.

He commended The News for its recent series on prescription drug abuse in Western New York and said he believes the prescription drug problem is only beginning to receive the amount of attention it merits.

Within the next month, he said, his office plans to come out with a "comprehensive prescription drug strategy."

Two facets of that strategy will be to improve the training that new doctors get when it comes to "doctor-shopping," drug addiction and addiction treatment, and to make it easier for people to legally dispose of old prescription drugs that sit in their medicine cabinets.

He said the federal government also wants to focus more attention on helping military veterans with drug problems.

Kerlikowske served as Buffalo police commissioner from 1994 to 1998. Calling his Buffalo experience "the best law enforcement job I've ever had," he said he is proud of steps he took to modernize the department, including putting laptop computers in every patrol car.

He also addressed a recent incident that made news throughout the nation March 8, after he twice collapsed and briefly had to be hospitalized during a speaking engagement at Harvard University.

The drug czar said he collapsed because he was stricken with a severe case of influenza. He said he now feels "just fine."


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