"We need to re-focus our efforts in the 'drug war,'" he said. "We waste billions with ineffective attempts at interdiction, money that could be used for prevention, education and treatment. Additionally, we need to re-structure our criminal justice system to get addicts help rather than incarceration. More drug courts and rehabilitation programs are critically needed."
Expanding such programs also may be critical because of the time needed to fully aid an addict who wants to recover.
"The tragic death of the young actor, Corey Haim, reminds us that drug dependence is a chronic, relapsing illness," said Dr. Eden Evins, director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Relapse is common, even the norm. Relapse is usually preceded by strong drug craving that is triggered by stress, small doses of the drug, or exposure to others using drugs or to situations that remind the person of previous use. It is for this reason that treatment that is extensive is much more effective than intensive treatment that is of short duration."
Unfortunately, even people who are able to get addiction treatment face an obstacle that does not relent, even if their own motivation does.
"Relapses do occur, even after an individual has demonstrated significant determination and commitment to change," said Thomas Irwin, program director of the McLean Center at Fernside in Princeton, Mass. "Relapses can occur after years or even decades of being abstinent from alcohol and drugs. Motivation and confidence to remain committed to change is not as stable as most would like it to be, including those with addictive disorders and their family and friends."
ABC News' Kate McCarthy contributed to this report.