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Latin America: UNODC Head Again Blames Drugs -- Not Drug Prohibition -- for Crime and Violence

UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) executive director Antonio Maria Costa used the occasion of the October 8 meeting of Ministers Responsible for Public Safety in Mexico City to again blame the drug trade for the crime and violence caused by drug prohibition. In so doing, he also took a pot-shot at drug reformers, calling them the "pro-drug lobby."

"As a hemisphere, the Americas face the world's biggest drug problem," Costa told the assembled drug fighters in a speech opening the event." Whether we measure it in hectares of cultivation, tons of production, its market value or even by the gruesome number of people killed in the dirty trade," the drug crisis affecting the security of the ordinary people in the area is huge.

"Your citizens indeed say that what they fear the most is not terrorism, not climate change, not a financial crisis. It is public safety. And in the Americas, the biggest threat to public safety comes from drug trafficking and the violence perpetrated by organized crime," he stated.

But Costa ignored the incontrovertible fact that the threat to public order and safety from illicit drug trafficking is a direct result of drug prohibition, which creates the conditions in which such lawlessness and violence thrives, and not of some property inherent to currently proscribed drugs. He blamed everything from urban violence in the US to Canadian biker gangs to Mexican drug wars to Colombia's insurgency and Brazil's drug "commandos," on "drug crime," not drug prohibition.

And even as more and more Latin American governments, tired of trying to achieve UN and US drug policy goals, ponder drug decriminalization and/or legalization (see related story here), Costa sounded the tocsin about the temptations of legalization. "At this point, we know what some people -- the pro-drug lobby, for example -- would say: 'Legalize drugs and crime will disappear.' In other words, while facing an undeniably tough problem, we are invited to accept it, hide our head in the sand and make it legal."

In the face of decades of failed international drug control policies that rely on prohibition enforcement, demand reduction, and to a lesser degree, drug treatment and prevention, Costa called for more of the same, although he seemed to admit that the world could not enforce its way to total sobriety. "Until more resources are put into drug treatment and prevention as well as viable alternatives for illicit crops, narco-traffickers will continue to ply their lucrative and deadly trade across the Western hemisphere," Costa warned.

Study: Drug Czar’s Billion Dollar Anti-Drug Ad Campaign is a Failure

The drug czar likes to claim that we criticize his ad campaign because we want more kids to use marijuana. Will he say the same about researchers hired by Congress?

Despite investing $1 billion in a massive anti-drug campaign, a controversial new study suggests that the push has failed to help the United States win the war on drugs.

A congressionally mandated study released today concluded that the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign launched in the late 1990s to encourage young people to stay away from drugs "is unlikely to have had favorable effects on youths."

In fact, the study's authors assert that anti-drug ads may have unwittingly delivered the message that other kids were doing drugs, inadvertently slowing measured progress that was being made to curb marijuana use among teenagers.

"Youths who saw the campaign ads took from them the message that their peers were using marijuana," the report suggests as a possible reason for its findings. "In turn, those who came to believe that their peers were using marijuana were more likely to initiate use themselves." [ABC News]

Ironically, if reformers actually wanted more kids to use marijuana, we’d support the drug czar’s ad campaign. His propaganda appears to have encouraged use among those viewing the ads, even as marijuana use among America’s youth was decreasing overall. Based on the data, it's entirely possible that youth drug use would be even lower – and U.S. taxpayers would be $1 billion richer – if the drug czar had never run these ads in the first place.

Press Release: Innovative Drug Prevention DVD, Just4Teens, Premiered at Oct 8th Event

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 1, 2008 Contact: Reena Szczepanski (505) 699-0798 or Jeanne Block (505) 983-3277 Innovative Drug Prevention DVD, Just4Teens, Now Available to Teachers, Counselors, and Prevention Specialists in New Mexico Community Comes Together to Address Methamphetamine and Other Drugs at Santa Fe DVD Premiere Event on October 8 Video, Facilitator’s Guide, and Upcoming Statewide Trainings to Focus on Effective Drug Prevention Strategies for New Mexico Santa Fe - Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico (DPANM) is proud to announce the release of Just4Teens: Let’s Talk about Meth and Other Drugs, an innovative drug education DVD that serves as a tool for teachers, counselors, prevention specialists, and parents to initiate an open, honest discussion with young people about drugs and drug use. The video will premiere October 8 at Warehouse 21 in Santa Fe. Doors open at 6 p.m. Following the video screening, a panel of DPANM staff, local youth, and adults working with young people will discuss drugs, drug prevention, and resources available in Santa Fe. “DPANM is offering educators and teens an innovative drug prevention resource with the Just4Teens video and Facilitator’s Guide,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of DPANM. “For over 25 years drug prevention has meant using scare tactics and ‘just say no’ messages. These strategies are failing our young people, and it is time for our community to embrace effective drug prevention.” The Just4Teens DVD includes a 15-minute video and a 14-page Facilitator’s Guide. The DVD and Guide can be used to supplement current prevention programs. Teachers and other adults can use this tool to start in-depth conversations about drugs and drug use in their after school program, classroom, or other youth group. In addition to providing the video for free to residents in New Mexico, DPANM will be conducting free train-the-trainer drug education workshops in 2008 and 2009 around the state. “Effective drug prevention is more than just showing a video,” said Jeanne Block, Methamphetamine Project coordinator with DPANM. “The trainings will provide people who work with youth the tools, resources, and strategies they need to make a difference in the lives of young people.” DPANM will be hosting Just4Teens video premiere events in communities around New Mexico, including Albuquerque, Alamogordo, and Farmington. The educational DVD was produced through the support of a U.S. Department of Justice grant championed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman.
Location: 
Santa Fe, NM
United States

Public Opinion: Three-Quarters of Likely Voters Believe Drug War is Failing and More than One-Quarter Favor Legalization, Zogby Poll Finds

According to a Zogby/Inter-American Dialogue poll released Thursday, more than three-quarters of likely voters polled said America's drug war is a failure. That is a sharp contrast with current US and state drug policies. The poll also found significant differences between US policy in the hemisphere and what respondents would like to see.

On drug policy, 76% believe the US war on drugs is failing. That included the vast majority of Democrats (86%) and independents (81%) and even a majority of Republicans (61%). Among Barack Obama supporters, 89% agreed, and among John McCain supporters 61% agreed. While it is not clear that a belief that the war on drugs is failing suggests support for drug reform -- it could include those who believe it is failing because we have not tried hard enough -- it does suggest an emerging consensus that the current path is the wrong one.

When asked what was the best way to confront drug use and the international drug trade, respondents were split. Some 27% of likely voters said legalizing some drugs was the best approach (Obama supporters 34%, McCain supporters 20%); 25% said stopping drugs at the border (Obama supporters 12%, McCain supporters 39%); 19% said reducing demand through treatment and education; and 13% said crop eradication in source countries was the best approach.

The poll was by no means limited to drug policy. On other hemispheric issues, it found that 60% believe the US should revise its policies toward Cuba, 67% support a path to citizenship for tax-paying undocumented immigrants who learn English, 46% believe the US should seek to improve ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (10% want to completely break relations), 54% believe the US should lower tariffs on Brazilian ethanol, and 42% believe the North American Free Trade Agreement should be revised.

"The poll results indicate that American public opinion is far more open and flexible on issues of importance for US relations with Latin America than current policy would suggest," noted Peter Hakim, the President of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank that collaborated with Zogby International on the poll. "It also suggests, however, that public opinion may not be all that relevant in decisions regarding policy issues of greatest concern to Latin America -- that these may be largely determined by smaller groups with intense sentiments about the issues," he said in a press release accompanying the poll results.

"While there are significant differences between Obama and McCain supporters on most issues, the poll suggests that the general public agrees on ethanol tariffs, temporary workers, and the failure of the drug war -- these are important issues in hemispheric relations that the next US president will have an opportunity to deal with," Hakim added.

Concerned Citizen Launches "Drugs Bring Death" Campaign

A bold new anti-drug campaign has emerged in Lima, OH, the site of a shocking drug raid gone wrong in which the SWAT team killed Tarika Wilson -- an unarmed mother of six -- and shot her baby:

For about four hours, Jesse Lowe stood silently by himself holding a cardboard sign with three words scrawled in black marker: "Drugs Bring Death."

His message wasn't aimed just at the dealers or residents of the neighborhood scarred by shootings and fear. He wanted the city to hear him.

In the months since, Lowe's solitary protest has drawn together black and white, rich and poor in a city simmering with anger since a white police officer shot and killed a black woman and wounded her baby during a drug raid. The officer faces trial Monday on negligent homicide and negligent assault charges.

Upwards of 100 people have shown up at many of the nine rallies he's put together, waving "Drugs Bring Death" signs. They've handed out thousands of stickers, T-shirts and signs that now blanket the city midway between Toledo and Dayton. A billboard company donated space on four signs, and businesses have supplied food for the rallies.

"The courage of one man is spreading to everyone," said police Maj. Kevin Martin. "This is what the solution has to be. As police, we're limited in what we can do." [AP]

This is the same department that posted an image on its website that was threatening to the public and even positioned snipers over a peaceful public protest against their own violent tactics.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that in a town plagued by aggressive drug war policing, law enforcement would rally around a man who blames drugs and not the drug war for the suffering that surrounds him. Yet it was police who killed Tarika Wilson and who've kept their mouths clamped shut as the community cried out for answers. Across the nation, police are killing innocent people through needlessly confrontational paramilitary drug raids. It's a disturbing trend that will surely grow worse if we continue to blame drugs themselves for the preventable consequences of overzealous narcotics enforcement. Just look at the effect Lowe's campaign is already having:

"I don't know what caused Jesse to go out there, but thank God," said Bob Horton, a minister. He listens to a police radio scanner at home and has noticed a change in the neighborhood.

"People are calling in more when they see something," he said. "They didn't use to do that."

Unfortunately, the more calls police receive about suspected drug activity, the more mistakes will be made and the more innocent people will be killed. That is just the inevitable consequence of declaring war within our own communities. You get just exactly what you ask for, except, of course, any lasting peace and security.

So while I don't fault Jesse Lowe at all for spreading the message his challenging life has taught him, it's frustrating to see the discussion of drug abuse boiled down to such a simple soundbite. It is precisely the "Drugs Bring Death" mentality that fosters tolerance for the excessive drug war violence carried out by our own public servants. It is that sense of morbid inevitability that prevents too many of us from envisioning an answer beyond the endless war taking place in our own streets.

As long as the drug war continues, there will be no control, no security and no solution. If communities can muster the bravery to stand up to the dealers on their block, let's hope they'll someday join us in challenging the laws that created those enemies and recognize at long last that drugs are only as dangerous as we allow them to be.

The Drug War Doesn't Reduce Drug Use. Drug Users Reduce Drug Use.

Blogger and biomedical research scientist DrugMonkey asks drug war critics to explain declining rates of drug use over the last several years.

…for those of you who insist vociferously that the War on Drugs (considered inclusively with the Just Say No, D.A.R.E, main-stream media reporting, and all that stuff that is frequently rolled into a whole by the legalization crowd) is an abject failure...

for those of you who insist vociferously that you cannot tell teenagers anything about the dangers of recreational drugs and expect them to listen to you...

I would like these data explained to me.

There are many ways to respond to this and I wasn't surprised to find Pete Guither in the comments section with some good points. I guess I'd begin by observing that the existence of a massive often-brutal campaign to end drug use simply doesn't mean that said campaign is responsible when drug use declines. The drug czar has an obnoxious tendency to claim success by comparing current drug use rates to their highest point in history, which isn't exactly helpful.

But if there is one point that I think really illustrates the absurdity of crediting the drug war at large for the reductions in drug use we've seen, it is this: rates of alcohol and tobacco use have fallen in virtual lockstep with these declines in illegal drug use. That happened without any effort to eradicate the manufacturing of those substances, without interdicting the supply, without revoking financial aid for college from those found in possession, without mandatory minimums, drug-sniffing dogs, or student drug testing (which doesn't look for tobacco and utterly sucks at detecting alcohol).

The drug czar has actually gone so far as to imply that the war on illegal drugs somehow reduced alcohol and tobacco use, I guess through some sort of reverse gateway theory that he didn't flesh out for obvious reasons. But even if someone were to buy that argument (at tremendous risk of becoming an idiot), it would still be true that we were able to reduce consumption of our two most harmful drugs without deploying against them any of the costly, destructive and controversial tactics that characterize our modern drug war.

I would like that explained to me.

Feature: US Drug Policies Flawed and Failed, Experts Tell Congressional Committee

The US Congress Joint Economic Committee yesterday held a historic hearing on the economic costs of US drug policy. The hearing, titled Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Responses, was called at the request of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who in his opening remarks described the all-too-familiar failure of US drug policy to accomplish the goals it has set for itself. It was the second hearing related to incarceration that Webb has convened under the auspices of this committee.

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Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
"Our insatiable demand for drugs" drives the drug trade, Webb pointed out. "We're spending enormous amounts of money to interdict drug shipments, but supplies remain consistent. Some 86% of high schoolers report easy access to marijuana. Cocaine prices have fallen by about 80% since the 1980s," the freshman senator continued. "Efforts to curb illegal drug use have relied heavily on enforcement. The number of people in custody on drug charges has increased 13-fold in the past 25 years, yet the flow of drugs remains undiminished. Drug convictions and collateral punishments are devastating our minority communities," Webb said.

"Our current policy mix is not working the way we want it to," Webb declared. "The ease with which drugs can be obtained, the price, the number of people using drugs, the violence on the border all show that. We need to rethink our responses to the health effects, the economic impacts, the effect on crime. We need to rethink our approach to the supply and demand of drugs."

Such sentiments coming from a sitting senator in the US in 2008 are bold if not remarkable, and it's not the first time that Webb has uttered such words:

In March of last year, he told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program This Week: "One of the issues which never comes up in campaigns but it's an issue that's tearing this country apart is this whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in our criminal justice system more -- I think we have two million people incarcerated in this country right now and that's an issue that's going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom of and that's where I want to put my energy."

In his recently-released book, A Time to Fight, Webb wrote: "The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana," "It makes far more sense to take the money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related activities" and "Either we are home to the most evil population on earth, or we are locking up a lot of people who really don't need to be in jail, for actions that other countries seem to handle in more constructive ways."

Still, drug reformers may be impatient with the level of rethinking presented at the hearing. While witnesses including University of Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter, author of "Drug War Heresies," and John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) offered strong and familiar critiques of various aspects of US drug policy, neither of the words "prohibition" or "legalization" were ever uttered, nor were the words "tax and regulate," and radical alternatives to current policy were barely touched upon. Instead, the emphasis seemed to be on adjusting the "mix" of spending on law enforcement versus treatment and prevention.

The other two witnesses at the hearing, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern and community coordinator Norma Fernandes of the same office, were there to talk up the success of drug court-style programs in their community.

[The written testimony of all four witnesses is available at the hearing web site linked above.]

"US drug policy is comprehensive, but unbalanced," said Reuter. "As much as 75% of spending goes to enforcement, mainly to lock up low-level drug dealers. Treatment is not very available. The US has a larger drug problem than other Western countries, and the policy measures to confront it have met with little success," he told the committee.

Reuter said there were some indications policymakers and the electorate are tiring of the drug war approach, citing California's treatment-not-jail Proposition 36, but there was little indication Congress was interested in serious analysis of programs and policies.

"Congress has been content to accept rhetoric instead of research," Reuter said, citing its lack of reaction to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's refusal to release a now three-year-old report on drug use levels during the Bush administration. "It's hardly a secret that ONDCP has failed to publish that report, but Congress has not bothered to do anything," he complained. "We need more emphasis on the analytic base for policy."

But even with the paltry evidence available to work with, Reuter was able to summarize a bottom line: "The US imprisons too many people and provides too little treatment," he said. "We need more than marginal changes."

"US drug policies have been in place for some time without much change except for intensification," said WOLA's Walsh, noting that coca production levels are as high as they were 20 years ago. "Since 1981, we have spent about $800 billion on drug control, and $600 billion of that on supply reduction. We need a stiff dose of historical reality as we contemplate what to do now," he told the committee.

With the basic policies in place for so long, some conclusions can now be drawn, Walsh said. "First, the balloon effect is real and fully relevant today. We've seen it time and time again, not just with crops, but also with drug smuggling routes. If we want to talk about actually reducing illicit crops and we know eradication only leads to renewed planting, we need to be looking for alternatives," he said.

"Second, there is continuing strong availability of illicit drugs and a long-term trend toward falling prices," Walsh said, strongly suggesting that interdiction was a failed policy. "The perennial goal is to drive up prices, but prices have fallen sharply. There is evidence of disruptions in the US cocaine market last year, but whether that endures is an open question and quite doubtful given the historical record," he said.

"Third, finding drugs coming across the border is like finding a needle in a haystack, or more like finding lots of needles in lots of different moving haystacks," he said. "Our legal commerce with Mexico is so huge that to think we can seal the borders is delusional."

With respect to the anti-drug assistance package for Mexico currently being debated in Congress, Walsh had a warning: "Even with US assistance, any reduction in the flow of drugs from Mexico is unlikely." Instead, Walsh said, lawmakers should adjust their supply-control objectives and expectations to bring them in line with that reality.

Changes in drug producing countries will require sustained efforts to increase alternative livelihoods. That in turn will require patience and a turn away from "the quick fix mentality that hasn't fixed anything," Walsh said.

"We can't expect sudden improvements; there is no silver bullet," Walsh concluded. "We need to switch to harm reduction approaches and recognize drugs and drug use as perennial problems that can't be eliminated, but can be managed better. We need to minimize not only the harms associated with drug use, but also those related to policies meant to control drugs."

"It is important to be able to discuss the realities of the situation, it's not always a comfortable thing to talk about," Webb said after the oral testimony. "This is very much a demand problem. I've been skeptical bout drug eradication programs; they just don't work when you're supplying such an enormous thirst on this end. We have to find ways to address demand other than locking up more people. We have created an incredible underground economic apparatus and we have to think hard about how to address it."

"The way in which we focused attention on the supply side has been very much mistaken," agreed Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were the only other solons attending the hearing. "All this focus on supply hasn't really done anything of any value. The real issue is demand, and prevention and dealing with people getting out of prison is the way to deal with this."

Reuter suggested part of the solution was in increase in what he called "coerced abstinence," or forced drug treatment. Citing the work of UCLA drug policy researcher Mark Kleiman, Reuter said that regimes of frequent testing with modest sanctions imposed immediately and with certainty can result "in a real decline in drug taking and criminal activity."

That got a nod of agreement from prosecutor Swern. "How long you stay in treatment is the best predictor of staying out of trouble or off drugs," she said. Swern is running a program with deferring sentencing, with some flexibility she said. "The beauty of our program is it allows us to give people many chances. If they fail in treatment and want to try again, we do that," she said.

As the hearing drew to an end, Webb had one last question: "Justice Department statistics show that of all drug arrests in 2005, 42.6% were for marijuana offenses. What about the energy expended arresting people for marijuana?" he asked, implicitly begging for someone to respond, "It's a waste of resources."

But no one connected directly with the floating softball. "The vast majority of those arrests are for simple possession," said Reuter. "In Maryland, essentially no one is sentenced to jail for marijuana possession, although about a third spend time in jail pre-trial. It's not as bad as it looks," he said sanguinely.

"There's violence around marijuana trafficking in Brooklyn," responded prosecutor Swern.

WOLA's Walsh came closest to a strong answer. "Your question goes to setting priorities," he said. "We need to discriminate among types of illicit drugs. Which do the most harm and deserve the most emphasis? Also, given the sheer number of marijuana users, what kind of dent can you make even with many more arrests?"

And so ended the first joint congressional hearing to challenge the dogmas of the drug war. For reformers that attended, there were generally thumbs up for Webb and the committee, mixed with a bit of disappointment that the hearings only went so far.

"It was extraordinary," said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. "They didn't cover some of the things I hoped they would, but I have to give them props for addressing the issue at all."

"Webb was looking for someone to say what he wanted to say with the marijuana question, that perhaps we should deemphasize law enforcement on that," said Doug McVay, policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug Policy, who also attended the hearing. "I don't think our witnesses quite caught what he was aiming for, an answer that arresting all those people for marijuana takes away resources that could be used to fight real crime."

Sen. Webb came in for special praise from Tree. "Perhaps because he's a possible vice presidential candidate, he had to tone things down a bit, but he is clearly not afraid to talk about over-incarceration, and using the Joint Economic Committee instead of Judiciary or Foreign Affairs is a brilliant use of that committee, because this is, after all, a policy with enormous economic consequences," Tree said. "Webb is clearly motivated by doing something about the high levels of incarceration. He held a hearing on it last year, and got the obvious answer that much of it is related to drug policy. Having heard that kind of answer, most politicians would walk away fast, but not Webb, so I have to give him credit."

Reversing the drug war juggernaut will not be easy. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing Thursday was perhaps a small step toward that end, but it is a step in the right direction.

Feature: Vancouver's Safe Injection Site Fights for Its Life -- Again

The only officially-sanctioned safe injection site in North America, Vancouver's InSite will have to close its doors June 30 if the Canadian federal government does not extend its exemption from Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. But while the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made no secret of its distaste for the program, it has very strong community, local, provincial, and international support, and its supporters are now engaged in a strong campaign to ensure its continued existence.

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InSite (courtesy Vancouver Coastal Health)
Situated on Hastings Street in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, home to one of the hemisphere's largest concentrations of hard drug users, InSite has operated since 2003, when it was granted a three-year exemption by the then Liberal government. With the advent of Conservative government, with its ideological opposition to programs that "encourage" or "facilitate" drug use, InSite's continued existence has been shaky. Twice, the Conservatives have granted the program temporary 18-month exemptions, saying that more research on its efficacy was needed.

But now, after five years of monitoring and evaluation, the results are in: According to peer-reviewed scientific studies, InSite increased the use of addiction treatment services, increased the use of detox services, reduced needle sharing, led to improvement in neighborhood public order and quality of life, resulted in no increase in drug-related crime, prevented overdose deaths, and helped reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among drug injectors.

As if the nearly two-dozen studies of InSite were not enough, the Conservative government last year commissioned its own study, "Vancouver's INSITE service and other Supervised injection sites: What has been learned from research?," which was released in early April. According to Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd, who was hired by the government to advise the committee overseeing the study, the research shows that InSite has no apparent negative impacts, has resulted in "modest decreases" in drug use, and has not disturbed public order.

In fact, said Boyd at a press conference announcing his findings, InSite should not only be continued, but the program should be expanded to other locations. "I think our data suggests... the building of additional facilities of a similar kind in neighborhoods where they are needed would yield benefits much in excess of the costs required for such projects," he said.

That's unlikely under the Harper government, which is ideologically opposed to such harm reduction practices and in fact removed funding for them from its anti-drug budget. As Harper put it last October: "Because if you remain an addict, I don't care how much harm you reduce, you're going to have a short and miserable life."

Harper has also scoffed at empirical evidence when it conflicts with his agenda. In a January speech to party faithful, he mocked opponents who cited falling crime statistics in challenging his emphasis on law and order. "They try to pacify Canadians with statistics," said the prime minister. "Your personal experiences and impressions are wrong, they say; crime is really not a problem."

More recently, Health Minister Tony Clement and his underlings have sounded similar themes. Science would not be the only factor in determining whether to continue InSite's exemption, Clement's undersecretary, Winnipeg MP Steven Fletcher told The Canadian Press earlier this month. While the government would make a "rational and thoughtful decision based on science," it must also take into account "the realities of the situation," Fletcher explained. "There's multiple sides to this and they all have to be taken into consideration," said Fletcher.

When pressed in parliament by Vancouver East MP Libby Davies, a staunch InSite supporter, Clement vowed to make a decision before June 30 and responded to her criticism about rejecting the science supporting the program: "We are the government that actually wants more research, that actually commissioned more research because we want to make sure this decision is the right decision for Canada, for addicts and for the community in Vancouver," he said. "That is the decision we have made, more research and more consideration. That is because we are open-minded and we want to make the best decision for Canada and Canadians."

Now, as the June 30 deadline looms, InSite's supporters have mobilized. Already this month, the International Journal of Drug Policy published articles by scientists from around the world condemning the federal government for interfering politically with the site's research, Boyd held his Ottawa press conference, advocates held a rally in a Downtown Eastside park featuring 1,000 white crosses to symbolize the people who didn't die from drug overdoses while injecting at InSite, Vancouver street nurses picketed the office of the Vancouver Police Union, whose president is a leading critic of the site, BC Nurses Association president Debra MacPherson held a press conference to tout the health benefits of InSite, and all three BC civic parties have signaled their joint support of the program.

"We're fully behind the effort to keep InSite open," said David Hurford, director of communications for Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan. "It is part of the solution, not part of the problem, and it is a bottom-up solution from the grassroots. The federal government has said it supports grassroots decision-making, so why should bureaucrats from 3,000 miles away be making decisions for us here?" he asked.

The mayor's office is "working with local stakeholders to help communicate the benefits of InSite," said Hurford. "We wrote to the health minister last week asking him to keep the site open, and at a minimum, to extend the permits until all pending legal issues are heard."

Hurford is referring to a lawsuit pending in the BC courts that challenges Health Canada's jurisdiction over InSite. That suit argues that since under Canadian law, health care is the domain of the provinces, the federal government should not have control over InSite. But that lawsuit will not be settled by the end of next month.

Opposition politicians have also joined the fight. "This government chooses to view harm reduction as nothing more than dirty words, at the expense of protecting the safety and health of Canadians," said Liberal Party public health spokesperson Dr. Carolyn Bennett.

"The results from the InSite project show measurable evidence that it saves lives," said Liberal MP Dr. Hedy Fry, who played a key role in bringing the agreement that allowed InSite to open. "This has won it widespread support not only from experts in Canada but from the international scientific community, from the Vancouver police and from residents of the Downtown Eastside," said Dr. Fry. "It is simply irresponsible to ignore scientifically-based proof of the efficacy of harm reduction programs like this, and base public policy on ideology alone because real people suffer the consequences."

"The Conservative government must stop its unconscionable interference in scientific research on Vancouver's safe injection site," added New Democratic Party MP Libby Davies, who represents the Downtown Eastside. "Medical researchers from the University of British Columbia have revealed that Harper and his team have been suppressing evidence and denying funding to scientists who are looking objectively at the merits of Insite," she said.

"More than 20 medical and academic studies have been published showing the health and social benefits of InSite. We now have both scientific fact and evidence from users in our community that this facility is helping, not hurting the people of our city. The research record shows that Insite saves lives and increases public safety," Davies continued. "Harper doesn't understand that you can't just hide the facts whenever they don't suit your political agenda. We need a change in direction. It's time for this government to make decisions based on evidence instead of ideology -- InSite needs to be kept open."

"What we want is a 3 ½ year renewal of the exemption from the Controlled Substances Act," said Nathan Allen of InSite for Community Safety. "The fact that the Harper government has not granted this renewal shows they are very reluctant to support the community."

While the Harper government has previously said it needed more research to evaluate InSite's efficacy, that dog won't hunt anymore, said Allen. "They've already spent more than $1.5 million studying InSite, they've produced two dozen academic papers, and they've concluded that it has all kinds of positive impacts. We're wondering what questions the government has left to ask," he scoffed. "InSite has undergone the most thorough and well-funded scrutiny of any health clinic in the country."

In the event the government refuses to grant another exemption, Allen said he hoped it would respect provincial authority and local autonomy. "This has been a regional response to a local crisis here in Vancouver. We need to let the people here on the ground do what they need to do. If not, people will die," he predicted bluntly.

The clock is ticking for InSite, but the pressure is mounting on the Harper government. The next few weeks will determine if that pressure is sufficient to overcome the government's ideological opposition to the safe injection site.

Drug Treatment: Idaho Senate Overrides Governor's Funding Increase Veto, Battle Continues

The Idaho Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override a gubernatorial veto of a bill that would have increased funding for drug treatment and prevention programs. Now, the House must vote to override by a similar "supermajority" to complete the restoration of funding against the wishes of Republican Gov. Butch Otter.

Last week, Otter vetoed line items in two bills that would have provided $16.8 million for Idaho substance abuse programs. The Senate override vote on SB 1458 restores $2.4 million in supplemental funding. But Otter also vetoed $14.4 million in treatment funding for the coming year in HB 608.

The twin vetoes would cut in half the funding for drug courts and treatment for probationers and parolees, as well as some community-based treatment programs. The tussle at the statehouse is the latest round in fighting over how best to continue a three-year, $21 million dollar anti-drug effort originally funded by a federal grant. The federal money ran out last year, and lawmakers replaced it with state funds. Otter complained that the programs were unproven and had been expanded beyond their original scope.

But the state Senate seemed determined to do something other than just pay for more prison cells, and for several senators, Idaho's drug war has hit close to home. "I don't believe there is a family represented in this body who has not been affected by drugs or alcohol or mental health problems at some point," said Sen. Chuck Coiner (R-Twin Falls) in remarks reported by The New West magazine.

Sen. Brent Hill (R-Rexburg), also speaking in support of the override, told of a family member "almost ruined" by methamphetamine. "Her teeth rotted right out of her head," he told his colleagues.

Sen. Lee Heinrich (R-Cascade) said his son had spent two and a half years in prison on drug-related charges. "He could have benefited from this program... I know what these drug-related things can do to families," he added, but then said he would vote against the override because he wasn't sure "we've looked at all the alternatives."

But it was Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) who was perhaps most perceptive, speaking of a "paradigm shift" among his conservative colleagues. "Doesn't it seem smart to get on the front end of these decisions? Doesn't it seem smart to try to affect them before they become incarcerated, so they don't offend in the first place?" he asked. "Cells alone are not the answer."

At mid-week, the governor was signaling he still sought compromise. "The governor has consistently indicated that he was willing to discuss this issue and reach a compromise as he has on other important issues," he said in a Wednesday statement. But the size of the increase in treatment spending "could not be justified in a year when we are asking so many others agencies, not to mention state workers, to do with less."

Now, the ball is in the House's court.

Internet Users Take a Swing at Anti-drug PSAs

EDITOR'S NOTE: Amanda Brooke Shaffer is an intern at StoptheDrugWar.org. Her bio is in our "staff" section at http://stopthedrugwar.org/about/staff Is the American public getting tired of government lies and exaggerations about drugs? If the ballooning number of anti-drug parodies on the Internet is any measure, it sure seems so. The emergence of YouTube.com and other popular video websites has enabled and emboldened Internet users to express their opinions about the often criticized, government-sponsored anti-drug PSAs through video clips and commentary. The public is busy at work making innovative and bold statements. I attempted to view as many anti-drug parody ads as possible; however, I didn’t expect the search engine on YouTube.com to turn up such a high volume of videos. It soon became quite obvious that the trend of the parody ads is to expose the ridiculousness of the claims made in the anti-drug PSAs. The clip that follows is an anti-drug PSA sponsored by the government. The second is the parody of it produced by an Internet user. http://youtube.com/watch?v=jgJdVEoVbgg, http://youtube.com/watch?v=m6FL0pmJeaE&feature=related Clearly the second clip flat out mocks the first one by completely contradicting the message the government is portraying. Below each video clip is space for viewers to comment. One of the numerous remarks about these two ads resembled something like this, “If I smoke then my dog will talk to me??? Puff, Puff, Pass!” This was just the tip of the iceberg of what users had to say. A study was done on a variety of ads including the above mentioned “dog” ad to determine the effects on the youth of America. Guess what? The results showed an increase of marijuana use in girls aged 12-13 through making drug use by peers appear to be more familiar and acceptable. See: http://newrecovery.blogspot.com/2007/02/12-billion-later-national-youth-... and http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06818.pdf and http://www.nida.nih.gov/DESPR/Westat/Westat502/ExecSummary502.html Why are we spending our dwindling tax resources on commercials that send the wrong message to their target audience? The anti-drug media campaign creates artistic and abstract ads that are unrealistic, when all Americans really need, and want to see, are commercials that tell them the truth. Another approach the campaign employs is using upbeat and positive messages to attempt to deter youths from using drugs. It is known as “What’s Your Anti-Drug?” This parody clip (http://youtube.com/watch?v=eDXxA0hMo1I) twists the government’s message to expose the fallacy of the marijuana as a “gateway” to harder drugs myth through the line, “Weed is my anti-drug.” It seems that no matter how hard the government works to embed the gateway myth into the public consciousness, those pesky studies that disprove a causal link to using harder drugs keep informing the public of the truth. Many clips I viewed expressed the notion that weed prevented them from using other drugs by satisfying their desires and curiosities. I felt one parody rose above the rest. Not only was it the most viewed parody anti-drug ad I came across, but it had me and all my friends rolling on the floor with laughter. It is an ad featuring our Commander in Chief, President Bush. Bush, known for his binge drinking and cocaine use by a large majority of Americans, is an ideal person to exemplify the long-term consequences of drug abuse. This ad has the right stuff -- a notable figure and a realistic message that is powerful and clear to the viewer. Check it out: http://youtube.com/watch?v=eGgTLMC9GXg. I think it is quite obvious why Americans are taking precious time out of their daily lives to speak out. Simply put, the extremely expensive anti-drug media campaign employed by the government over the last two decades is laughable, and government-funded research continues to conclude that these ads are ineffective at preventing and reducing drug use among youths. Yet, despite the increasing mounds of evidence proving the campaign’s ineffectiveness, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) disputes the critical conclusions of these studies and has the audacity to ask the government for even more money. The good thing is that the ease of accessing these reports, thanks to the Internet, is making it progressively harder for ONDCP to ignore the facts and hide them from the American people. You see, the D.A.R.E. generation has had enough of the lies and distortions, and it’s fighting back with truth and sense.

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