In recent years, the polarizing debate on national drug control policy has been largely dominated by two conflicting perspectives: the nation is fighting a ‘war on drugs’ and legalizing drugs is the silver bullet.   

With that challenge in mind, the White House today released its 2012 National Drug Control Policy Strategy, a so-called blueprint for approaching drug control with a greater emphasis on treatment rather than arresting our way out of the problem.

“This strategy restores balance to drug policy,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy on a call with reporters to unveil the plan.

Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief, said the new strategy represents the future of drug policy for the U.S. that takes a public health approach to drug control — treating drug addiction as a disease and promoting a criminal justice system “that addresses the problem in a fair, equitable manner.”

Experts say the strategy couldn’t come at a better time. The nation’s drug problem poses a tremendous economic burden. Every year, $194 billion is spent on drug control efforts. Today, 7 million people in the U.S. are under supervision of the criminal justice system – many, Kerlikowske noted, have been drug offenders.

The plan, which builds on the administration’s first national drug strategy in 2010, is seen as a template for states across the country to tackle the drug problem. It supports innovative reform efforts that have been proven to reduce the burden on society. One such program is Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE), established by a cross section of community leaders to reduce probation violations throughout the state.

“Recent research has shown that each dollar invested in an evidence-based prevention program can reduce costs related to substance use disorders by an average of $18,” wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder and Kerlikowske in a jointly authored post on the White House blog.

Go here to read the full strategy. Read a recent Q&A with Kerlikowske in the April 2012 issue of The Nation’s Health newspaper.