Sur­geon Gen­eral: Drug clas­si­fi­ca­tions need change


BOS­TON — The nation’s drug clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem should be re­vis­ited but il­le­gal drugs shouldn’t sim­ply be de­crim­i­nal­ized na­tion­wide, U.S. Sur­geon Gen­eral Jerome Adams told a gath­er­ing of po­lice lead­ers fo­cused on the opi­oids cri­sis Thurs­day in Bos­ton.

“Our sched­ul­ing sys­tem is func­tion­ing, but not as ideally as it could,” he said of the fed­eral sched­ule for con­trolled sub­stances main­tained by the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Things aren’t static. We have to con­tinue to evolve.”

Adams, who serves as the pri­mary ad­viser on pub­lic health and sci­en­tific is­sues for U.S. Sec­re­tary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Alex Azar, said one con­cern is that re­searchers are hav­ing dif­fi­culty study­ing the me­dial po­ten­tial of mar­i­juana be­cause of the drug’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

The DEA con­sid­ers mar­i­juana a “Sched­ule I” drug along with heroin and LSD be­cause it has no “cur­rently ac­cepted med­i­cal use and a high po­ten­tial for abuse,” ac­cord­ing to its web­site.

“Just as we need to look at our crim­i­nal jus­tice laws, we need to look at our health laws and reg­u­la­tions, and that in­cludes the sched­ul­ing sys­tem,” Adams said.

But Adams said he isn’t sup­port­ive of “across-the­board” de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of il­le­gal drugs as some coun­tries in Europe have tried.

“I don’t think it’s the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s place. I don’t per­son­ally think it makes the coun­try safer,” he told the roughly 400 law en­force­ment of­fi­cials from about 30 states in at­ten­dance.

He said the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should in­stead en­cour­age lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions to de­velop drug poli­cies that work for them.

“Lo­cal con­trol and lo­cal in­no­va­tion is what I’m all about,” said Adams, who was ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump last year after serv­ing as In­di­ana’s State Health Com­mis­sioner un­der then-Gov­er­nor Mike Pence, who is now Trump’s vice pres­i­dent. “What works in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, isn’t go­ing to work in Dal­las, Texas and vice versa.”

As the na­tional opi­oid epi­demic rages, Adams said his of­fice is fo­cused on ad­dic­tion preven­tion and ed­u­ca­tion ef­forts around pre­scrip­tion painkillers.

It’s also push­ing for ex­panded use of nalox­one, an over­dos­ing-re­ver­sal drug, among emer­gency re­spon­ders and fam­i­lies deal­ing with sub­stance abuse. His of­fice is­sued a re­cent ad­vi­sory stress­ing the im­por­tance of it close at hand and hav­ing the proper train­ing to ad­min­is­ter it.

The two-day sum­mit at Har­vard Med­i­cal School runs through Fri­day and is be­ing hosted by the Po­lice As­sisted Ad­dic­tion & Re­cov­ery Ini­tia­tive.

The Mas­sachusetts-based or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ports po­lice ef­forts na­tion­wide that are try­ing to get more peo­ple strug­gling with drug ad­dic­tion into treat­ment pro­grams.

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