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Nation’s Top Drug Officer Gets Briefing From College of Medicine

WASHINGTON (June 21, 2010) -- The nation’s top drug officer received a briefing by Howard University College of Medicine educators on their efforts to fight drug and alcohol dependency Monday morning. The visit was part of a tour of various efforts in the District of Columbia to combat drugs and rehabilitate offenders.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, met with Dr. Robert E. Taylor, dean of the College of Medicine and founder of the University’s Alcohol Research Center, Dr. Eve Higginbotham, senior vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences, as well as other members of Taylor’s team to familiarize himself with the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program.

SBIRT is a federally funded program that trains medical residents how to identify people with substance abuse problems and how to intervene appropriately. Howard is one of 11 recipients of a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Since receiving the grant in 2008, Howard has trained 146 medical residents in SBIRT.

Kerlikowske’s visit to Howard was part of a tour of four facilities in the District of Columbia, which included the D.C. Superior Court for Family Treatment, the District’s Youth Work Intervention program and the Behavior Health Urgent Health Care Clinic.

Kerlikowske said his tour had two purposes.

“We travel all over the world looking at drug treatment, prevention and enforcement programs,” he said. “I felt we needed to spend more time in our own backyard. Second, we are following a model using prevention, treatment and the criminal justice system. The District has already done a good job of blending these together.”

Taylor said he wanted to drive home two important points to Kerlikowske during his group’s presentation.

“I wanted him to understand that Howard is at the forefront of addiction medicine,” he said. “We use the latest technology and a personal touch to advance our social and academic mission of fighting drug and alcohol addiction.

“Also, we also wanted him to know that we here at the College of Medicine ‘get it’ that alcohol and drug addiction is a big public health problem.”

Substance abuse costs the nation an estimated $346 billion annually in health care expenditures, lost earnings and costs associated with crime and accidents. Studies have shown using SBIRT in emergency rooms and other health care settings can reduce substance abuse related health problems and injuries.

Routine screening helps identity those patients with substance abuse or dependence as well as those patients who are not yet dependent, but who may be at risk for future problems.

Despite the proven effectiveness of screening for substance abuse, studies also show that less than half of those eligible are receiving services in alcohol screening.

Kerlikowske, former chief of police in Buffalo, N.Y., and Seattle, is the nation’s 6th “drug czar” and coordinates all aspects of federal drug control programs and implementation of the president’s National Drug Control Strategy.

He will also appear on Howard University Radio WHUR, 96.3 FM, at 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, June 22, to discuss the nation’s drug policy and efforts with Daily Drum host Harold Fisher.