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Ramstad as Drug Czar?

November 14, 2008
by Daniel Guarnera
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The Politico -- a fairly new but very influential free politics-focused newspaper in Washington, D.C. -- is circulating a rumor that retiring U.S. Representative Jim Ramstad from Minnesota is a possible candidate for the job of drug czar in the Obama Administration.

The article quotes Rep. Ramsta'd chief of staff, Dean Peterson, saying, "It’s gratifying to hear Jim’s name being mentioned for drug czar."

Photo by Charles Votaw; Rep. Ramstad speaks at parity rally on Capitol Hill, Sept. 19, 2008.

Although Ramstad is a Republican, many political observers expect Obama to name a handful of Republicans and Independents to high-level posts. (The conventional wisdom is that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will remain in his post at least initially, for example; Colin Powell, Sen. Richard Lugar, and retiring Sen. Chuck Hagel are among the other high-profile Republicans who may be under consideration for key positions.)

It's important to remember that the rumor-mill in Washington goes into overdrive in the period between a presidential election and the time that new appointments are announced (the "Plum Book," listing over 7,000 political appointments, was released yesterday). The frenzy during this time among politics-watchers (myself included) is rivaled only by the vice presidential selection. Political observers scour Capitol Hill, governors' mansions, think tanks, and "Who's Who in American Politics" to find the people best suited for leadership positions in federal agencies and the White House. Of course, there's often a huge disconnect between the calculations of outside observers and those of the president-elect -- it's easy to justify a choice retrospectively, but very hard to predict with any degree of certainty beforehand.

That being said, Rep. Ramstad's career and personal experience certainly give him exceptional credentials. He would be particuarly well-positioned to work with Congress (not an area where former drug czars have focused) and help oversee the implementation of the parity law that he himself helped write. However, Rep. Ramstad has frequently expressed his desire to return to Minnesota as one of the primary reasons he's retiring from Congress. (In the interest of full disclosure, NAADAC awarded Rep. Ramstad with its President's Award in March 2008, its highest award for a non-addiction professional.)

Like with all transition rumors, this one has to be taken with a grain of salt (probably a few grains ... ). The Transition Team has said that there will be no Cabinet-level appointments made before Thanksgiving (Director of the Office of National Drug Control Strategy is a Cabinet-level position). Just one more thing to watch for over the next few weeks. ...



Ramstad would best be served (and serving)
to pursue decriminalization - the drug war has not
and will not ever be successful with the prevailing
Federal mind-set.

Readers need to take a harder look at the positions taken in the past by Ramstad such as his views on methadone treatment (one of our most successful) and other evidence based practices which are helping our clients. Appointing him to the position of "Czar" would be a real disservice to the work we are doing in this field and our efforts to improve and enhance our understanding of the disease.

Criminalization is the main thing that stands in the way of treatment and recovery for most. Addicts of illegal drugs basically have an illegal disease. Alcoholism (same disease) is a legal disease unless you drive under the influence, yet untreated alcoholism costs society a pretty price in the unbridled destruction it wreaks on social services and the end stage organ damage it causes.

As the mother of a 27 year old heroin addict in early recovery I've spent more time and money trying to keep my sick son out of jail these last 6 years. I now wonder if I had put that same energy and resources in trying to get him treatment if things would have been better as it is known that the earlier the intervention the better the chance of recovery.

I'm glad Congress has passed the Parity Bill and I sure hope that now FAVOR will hone in on decriminalization of drug possession in favor of immediate treatment.

Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...

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