Brian Morales: Career highlight is helping setup Afghanistan’s drug treatment system

Brian Morales, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Brian Morales, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Brian Morales, chief of the Criminal Justice Division of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the Department of State, shares his thoughts with Federal News Radio about what it means to be as public servant.

Tell us something about your job that most people don’t know or realize.

Most people do not realize that the U.S. government works in over 80 countries around the world to prevent substance use and treat substance use drug use disorders through the State Department’s INL Demand Reduction Program.

Drug addiction affects people and communities around the world in common ways.  The U.S. conducts most of the world’s research in the field of addiction science through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).  Therefore, we have decades of research in the field of addiction science which we can contribute to the rest of the world.

How does your job connect the government with citizens in a more efficient or effective way?

One of the greatest challenges that we face internationally is that the scientific research is not being translated into practice.  Some studies have found that translating research into practice takes an average of 17 years.  In the meantime, we are finding too many cases where addiction is misunderstood and non-evidence-based practices are utilized.

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As a result of these ineffective practices, treatment fails, clients and families lose hope in rehabilitation and recovery, and communities lose confidence in treatment as a viable measure.

My office develops curriculum to train prevention and treatment professionals around the world, including in the U.S., so they can better prevent and treat addiction. Through the Universal Treatment Curriculum (UTC) and Universal Prevention Curriculum (UPC), we are working with governments, universities, and civil societies in 47 countries to build the knowledge and skills of the workforce on the front lines of addressing the global drug crisis.  My job connects the U.S. government to citizens of the U.S. and other countries by empowering drug treatment counselors, community workers, social service providers, and educators to more effectively prevent drug use and treat drug use disorders.

INL also funded the development of guidelines by the World Health Organization and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for the identification and management of substance use disorders in pregnancy.  These guidelines have been disseminated to public health systems in South America, Africa, and Asia, as well as in the United States, helping the drug using mother and unborn child.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever done in job with the government?

Participating in the development of Afghanistan’s drug treatment system is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.  Since 2009, INL established 76 treatment programs in Afghanistan where previously practically none existed.

Drug use has reached epidemic proportions in Afghanistan, 30.6 percent of all households testing positive for at least one drug — typically opioids.

Many of our centers (31) are for children from infancy to 11 years of age.  To provide adequate treatment for them, we had to support the development of the world’s first protocols for children’s treatment.  Now we are using these in South Asia (India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan) for street children who use opium and heroin, as well as in South America (Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay) for children who use crack cocaine.

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In Afghanistan, we also built a previously non-existent treatment workforce of 500 professionals, through constant training and mentorship with our implementing partner, the Colombo Plan.  Now these professionals are fully funded by the government and incorporated as government employees.   We are also undergoing a transition plan with the government of Afghanistan where we have already transitioned half of our centers to the Ministry of Public Health.  Through this program we have worked with the Afghan government and civil society (10 NGOs) to build, evaluate and sustain the country’s treatment system, and transition it to the government.

What’s the best piece of job related advice you ever got?

My mentor and predecessor, Thom Browne, who was a finalist for the Samuel Heyman Service to America Medal Award, encouraged me to utilize all of the partnerships and tools at my disposal.

As a program manager and U.S. government representative, I have incredible access to governments and civil societies, and am empowered by the support of our embassy structure and my INL team in Washington.  I visit the most marginalized and impoverished citizens one hour (e.g. former child soldiers, homeless drug users), and the next hour I meet with the Minister of Education or Health.  Through this broad exposure, I am able to carry with me the voices of these individuals.

I feel a sense of responsibility to help those vulnerable populations with special needs that governments are unable or sometimes unwilling, to assist.  My team has identified 19 different populations that we support through programming and partnerships with international experts and local implementers. The situation of these vulnerable groups is made significantly worse by drug use, which has the potential to affect and destabilize their countries.

Drug use abroad has an impact on a wide range of U.S. interests, beyond to drug production and public health to also include public security, economic development and governance.  Building an inclusive global community of partners that includes research scientists, practitioners, policymakers, and clients and their families, is key to confronting the problem.  I am most excited by the development of two networks that are mobilizing and uniting the addictions field around the world.  Last year, the International Society of Substance Use Prevention and Treatment Professionals (ISSUP) was launched with INL support to unite the workforce and promote training and credentialing.  At the local level, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) has remained a reliable and innovative partner in supporting communities around the world to develop nearly 200 drug-free community coalitions.

The opportunity to serve my country is a tremendous privilege, even more so when working in the company of so many inspiring colleagues dedicated to a common cause.

Read all our coverage of the 2016 Public Service Recognition Week.