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Public Health: DEA Puts Fentanyl OD Death Toll at More Than a Thousand

Last year's wave of overdose deaths from heroin cut with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid pain reliever, killed more than a thousand people, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The deaths began early in the year in the Mid-Atlantic states before spreading to the Midwest, with significant clusters in Chicago and Detroit.

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/fentanyl-packet.jpg
fentanyl packet
Early official responses to the wave of deaths was slow and spotty, but concern spread as the death toll mounted. By December, more than 120 public health experts signed an open letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt calling for a more aggressive response. The deaths have continued, but not at the torrid pace of last fall and summer.

The DEA estimate of the death toll came in an interim rule regulating a fentanyl precursor chemical, N-phenethyl-4-piperidone (NPP), published in
Monday's federal register. "The recent distribution of illicitly manufactured fentanyl has caused an unprecedented outbreak of hundreds of suspected fentanyl-related overdoses, at least 972 confirmed fentanyl-related deaths, and 162 suspected fentanyl-related deaths occurring mostly in Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania," the agency reported.

Noting that fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, the DEA went on to warn of its dangers. "The legitimate medical use of fentanyl is for anesthesia and analgesia, but fentanyl's euphoric effects are highly sought after by narcotic addicts," the agency explained. "Fentanyl can serve as a direct pharmacological substitute for heroin in opioid dependent individuals. However, fentanyl is a very dangerous substitute for heroin because the amount that produces a euphoric effect also induces respiratory depression. Furthermore, due to fentanyl's increased potency over heroin, illicit drug dealers have trouble adjusting ("cutting") pure fentanyl into proper dosage concentrations. As a result, unsuspecting heroin users or heroin users who know the substance contains fentanyl have difficulty determining how much to take to get their "high" and mistakenly take a lethal quantity of the fentanyl. Unfortunately, only a slight excess in the amount of fentanyl taken can be, and is often, lethal because the resulting level of respiratory depression is sufficient to cause the user to stop breathing."

The death toll suggests the DEA is not exaggerating in this instance. Let's be careful out there, kids.

This is Not Your Parents' Cocaine

From The Baltimore Sun:
The United States and its Latin American allies are losing a major battle in the war on drugs, according to indicators showing that cocaine prices dipped for most of 2006 and American users were getting more bang for their buck.
We've already covered this story, but it's beginning to generate broader coverage. Of course, no amount of negative publicity will silence our brave drug warriors even momentarily. Here's Karen Tandy just yesterday:
"Plan Colombia is working. The amount of land used for the cultivation of coca is at an historic low in Colombia," the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Karen Tandy, told a drug law enforcement conference in Madrid. [AFP]

So why does Washington cover up increased cocaine potency, while aggressively trumpeting increased marijuana potency? The answer is simple, although if you asked the drug czar, he'd turn purple and pretend not to understand what you mean.

In the case of cocaine, the federal government has long identified reducing purity and increasing price as the primary goals of our ridiculously expensive and ongoing South American drug war investments. Increased cocaine potency in 2007 raises serious doubts about the efficacy of the brutal jungle wars we've been bankrolling for 10 years.

In the case of marijuana, however, the government's primary interest is in convincing an experienced public that this isn’t the same drug that has so consistently failed to hurt anyone. Jacob Sullum puts it best:

These warnings have to be understood mainly as a rationalization for the hypocrisy of parents (and politicians) who smoked pot in their youth and thought it was no big deal then but feel a need to explain why it is a big deal now.
Of course, while drug war demagogues are fond of comparing today's more potent marijuana to cocaine, there's really nothing to which they can compare today's stronger cocaine. I dunno, anthrax maybe? When I start hearing reports about weaponized nose-candy, I'm totally moving to Jupiter.

Location: 
United States

Afghan fighters processing opium to boost drug profits: US official

Location: 
Brussels
Belgium
Publication/Source: 
EUbusiness (UK)
URL: 
http://www.eubusiness.com/news_live/1178636419.5

U.S. will limit use of fentanyl ingredient

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
Detroit Free Press
URL: 
http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070508/NEWS05/705080338/1007

US drugs czar urges Europeans to use influence with Venezuela to help reduce cocaine flows

Location: 
Brussels
Belgium
Publication/Source: 
International Herald Tribune (France)
URL: 
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/05/08/europe/EU-GEN-EU-US-Drugs.php

One of the Worst Drug Warriors Makes It Back, Under Mysterious Circumstances

Jeralyn Merritt pointed out on TalkLeft tonight that Jay Apperson -- an infamous drug warrior who was fired from his job working for now-former hard-line Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) for an inappropriate intervention attempt in a federal drug case -- is back and that his name has come up in a Washington Post article as a hiree for whom DOJ officials bypassed the usual process. It's not clear whether the irregular hiring is part of the larger US Attorneys affair. Read more about this heartless, awful man and his dark works in our 2005 Chronicle report on the aforementioned Sensenbrenner incident.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

U.S., allies seen as losing drug war

Location: 
Mexico City, CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-cocaine5may05,0,4123403.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Book Offer: Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/drugwarstatisticsbook.jpg
Normally when we publish a book review in our Drug War Chronicle newsletter, it gets readers but is not among the top stories visited on the site. Recently we saw a big exception to that rule when nearly 3,000 of you read our review of the new book Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Much of this reading took place during a week that had other very popular articles as well, so clearly the topic of this book, which was authored by respected academics Matthew Robinson and Renee Scherlen, has struck a chord. As well it should.

Please help DRCNet continue our own work of debunking drug war lies with a generous donation. If your donation is $32 or more, we'll send you a complimentary copy of Robinson and Scherlen's book to help you be able to debunk drug war lies too.

Over the coming weeks I will be blogging on our web site about things I've learned reading Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics. Stay tuned!

Your donation will help DRCNet as we advance what we think is an incredible two-year plan to substantially advance drug policy reform and the cause of ending prohibition globally and in the US. Please make a generous donation today to help the cause! I know you will feel the money was well spent after you see what DRCNet has in store. Our online donation form lets you donate by credit card, by PayPal, or to print out a form to send with your check or money order by mail. Please note that contributions to the Drug Reform Coordination Network, our lobbying entity, are not tax-deductible. Tax-deductible donations can be made to DRCNet Foundation, our educational wing. (Choosing a gift like Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics will reduce the portion of your donation that you can deduct by the retail cost of the item.) Both groups receive member mail at: DRCNet, P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036.

Thank you for your support, and hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,


David Borden
Executive Director

P.S. You can read Chronicle editor Phil Smith's review of the book here.

Narcing for Fun and Profit

According to the DEA, people absolutely love working for the DEA (links added for irony):

DEA significantly exceeded ratings of other Government agencies in many measures of “Performance Culture,” including:
• employees feel personally empowered;
creativity and innovation are rewarded along with providing high-quality products and services;
promotions are based on merit;
• performance appraisals are a fair reflection of performance;
• poor performers are dealt with; and
• complaints and grievances are fairly resolved.

Heck I might enjoy working there too if I weren't so knowledgeable about drug policy. But it comes as no surprise that these folks enjoy waging war on their fellow citizens with no performance measures or accountability. In 34 years DEA has exhausted untold sums at our expense while failing to make a dent in America's drug problem.

…But at least they're having a really great time.

Location: 
United States

Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Last Thursday, two Atlanta narcotics officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of an elderly woman during a botched drug raid, but that is just the beginning in what looks to be an ever-expanding investigation into misconduct in the Atlanta narcotics squad. A federal investigation is already underway, and yesterday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch a thorough investigation of issues raised by the case, including police misconduct, the use of confidential informants, arrest quotas, and the credibility of police officials.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/kathrynjohnston.jpg
Kathryn Johnston
Things began to unravel for the Atlanta Police Department's 16-man street narcotics team on November 21, when three Atlanta narcs broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston using a "no-knock" warrant that claimed drug sales had taken place there. The elderly Johnston responded to the intruders dressed in plain clothes by firing one shot from an old pistol, which missed the officers. The narcs responded with a barrage of bullets, firing 39 shots, five or six of which hit Johnston, who died shortly afterward.

Since then, investigators have found that in the Johnston case:

  • The narcotics officers planted drugs to arrest a suspected drug dealer, who in turn pointed them toward Johnston's residence.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying that a confidential informant had bought drugs at that address when that did not happen.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying the house was occupied by a large man who employed surveillance cameras.
  • The narcotics officers planted marijuana in Johnston's basement after they shot her in order to bolster their case and impugn her reputation.
  • The narcotics officers asked another confidential informant to lie for them after the fact and say he had bought drugs at Johnston's residence.

But that confidential informant, Alexis White, instead went to the feds with his story (and this week, he went to Washington, DC, to talk to congressional leaders about snitching), and the fabric of lies woven by the Atlanta narcs rapidly unraveled. Last Wednesday, three of them, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were indicted on numerous state charges, including murder, as well as federal civil rights charges. The following day, Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to a state charge of manslaughter, with sentencing to be postponed until after the federal investigation is complete. They face up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and up to life in prison on the federal civil rights charge.

But the problems in the Atlanta narcotics squad run deeper than one incident of misconduct. According to federal investigators, what the Atlanta narcs did during the botched Johnston raid was business as usual.

"Junnier and other officers falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD's performance targets," according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. "They believed that these ends justified their illegal 'Fluffing' or falsifying of search warrants. Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers."

Cutting corners, though, can have serious consequences. As prosecutors noted, once the narcs had received a tip there were drugs at Johnston's residence, Officer Junnier said they could get a confidential informant to make a buy there to ensure there actually were drugs at that location. "Or not," Smith allegedly responded.

At a news conference last Thursday, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Greg Jones called the officers' conduct "deplorable." In an ominous addendum, Jones added that the agency will pursue "additional allegations of corruption that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct."

US Attorney David Nahmias said Johnston's death was "almost inevitable" because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information. "It's a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends," Nahmias said. "We'll dig until we can find whatever we can."

And now, House Judiciary Committee head Rep. Conyers wants to ensure that the feds dig deep. In a letter released yesterday, Conyers told Attorney General Gonzales:

"There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005."

Former New Jersey narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Jack Cole shares Conyers' concerns. "I think this kind of thing is going on across the country," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If anyone really dug into this, you would find similar things in a lot of departments. It's about using a war on drugs metaphor. When you have a war, you need an enemy, someone despicable, so you can do whatever you want to them," he said. "We train our police to feel like they have to win at any cost because it's a war."

Maybe, just maybe, the federal investigation into the Atlanta narcs will morph into the kind of hearings on drug war policing that are long, long overdue. If not, at least Kathryn Johnston has won a measure of justice.

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