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Feature: Fireworks at Book Forum in Washington as "Lies, Damn Lies, and Drug War Statistics" Authors Confront ONDCP Official

(DRCNet continues to offer this book as a membership premium -- read more here.)

The libertarian Cato Institute was the scene of drug policy confrontation last Thursday, as a leading Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) official and two of ONDCP's harshest academic critics traded barbs and flung statistics over ONDCP's goals, whether it achieves them, and how it handles -- or mishandles -- the data.

Dr. David Murray, chief scientist for ONDCP, was on the hot seat as Appalachian State University professors Matthew Robinson (criminal justice) and Renee Scherlen (political science), the authors of "Lies, Damned, Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy," subjected his agency to a sustained attack over what they called the misuse and manipulation of data used to evaluate whether ONDCP is doing its job.

Explaining that he and Scherlen had analyzed consecutive annual National Drug Control Strategies, the document where ONDCP sets its goals and measures its success at attaining them, Robinson went immediately on the offensive. "Our analysis suggests that the drug strategy is not an honest document, but really little more than a political document that does little more than reinforce the dominant ideology of the drug war and maintain the status quo," he said.

He and Scherlen then spent the next 30 or 40 minutes showing just how ONDCP manipulated data, changed goals, conflated statistics, and otherwise jimmied the numbers on drug use, on the cost of the drug war, and on the success of US drug policy in Latin America. "ONDCP shifts targets in its budgets and national strategies, making it impossible to evaluate how well it is meeting its drug war goals," said Robinson. "It focuses on good news such as short term declines and ignores the bad news, it selectively presents statistics favorable to its case, and sometimes makes claims that are just plain false."

"When it comes to statistics, they cook the books," Scherlen summarized.

"This is not Cato's finest hour," retorted Murray, after sitting through the sustained attack. "We've seen an attack on the integrity of me, my boss, and ONDCP. Wow," he exclaimed. "This is a devastating indictment... if it were true, but it's not. Instead, it's a series of confusions, misunderstandings, and ignorance on the part of the researchers, which they project onto us as our perfidy and willful deception."

Murray attacked Robinson and Scherlen for including drug use data from the 1990s and suggested that ONDCP and its current chief, John Walters, should not be blamed for what he described as the failures of the Clinton administration. "It wasn't this administration setting goals and being accountable then. We have seen progress since Walters took over in 2001," he said, citing recent downward trends in youth drug use.

Murray also made the unusual claim that rising emergency room mentions and drug-related deaths are "not current measures of drug use going up or down," but instead reflect decisions years earlier to commence drug use.

He also attacked the notion that ending drug prohibition would reduce harm, saying the idea that drug laws, not drugs, were the problem was "a delusion that grows out of late night dorm room discussions in college." But again, he used some unusual arguments. "Look at Mexico, the death and destruction of the drug trade," he argued, "is it the laws that made this happen or that these substances are profoundly dangerous?" A few breaths later, Murray sneered, "Do you think people wouldn't beat up their wives when they're stoned?" if drugs were legal.

Rhetorical excess aside, Murray also made the strongest prohibitionist argument: "We're saving lives and reducing social pathologies; when we diminish substance abuse, we make a difference. We have to try to reduce supply and demand."

It was a good event, said Timothy Lynch, director of Cato's Criminal Justice Project, who hosted the discussion. "Normally, you get turned down by ONDCP, so we were pleased they decided to send a representative," said Lynch. "This was the first time I've seen this guy. He came in and his presentation started out strong, but as it went on he started turning people off and became condescending and patronizing. I don't think he was winning anyone over to his position."

Listening to the discussion should prove useful for others, too. "This will be a good resource for people preparing for drug czar Walters or Murray coming to their areas," said Lynch. "They can hear the arguments and prepare their rebuttals."

"The authors did a pretty good job outlining a number of problems with how data is presented by ONDCP," said Eric Sterling, head of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Murray's response was not really very direct, and he engaged in ad hominem attacks. Still, he's a very effective PR person, he has a great voice and good presence, and he sounds very authoritative."

One thing that struck Sterling, he said, was Murray's change of title. "He used to be a senior policy analyst, but now he has the title of chief scientist. That's sounds very credible and authoritative, but for someone who is essentially a spokesperson and propagandist to take that title is a PR move," Sterling said.

"I respect Dr. Murray a lot for coming to these events and putting himself in situation where he is totally outnumbered," said Tom Angell, government relations director for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. "Of course, I disagree with 99% of what he says, but it's good that he is coming out to talk."

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." From Murray's presence and response to the critique, it appears we are now somewhere between stages two and three.

Watch or listen to the forum in the Cato web site archive, here.

(DRCNet continues to offer this book as a membership premium -- read more here.)

Feature: Canadian Mom Searching for Missing Daughter Denied Entry to US Over 21-Year-Old Drug Conviction

Glendene Grant, a 49-year-old resident of Kamloops, British Columbia, never had any interest in visiting the United States. That changed a little more than a year ago, when her daughter, then 21-year-old Jessie Foster went missing in Las Vegas in March 2006. Since then, she has made three trips to the US to talk with investigators and publicize her daughter's case on TV talk shows.

Jessie Foster traveled to Las Vegas in 2005, and became a prostitute working for an escort service -- a fact her mother did not know until she began investigating her disappearance. For more than a year, there has been no sign of her. Her case had been declared "cold" by the North Las Vegas Police Department, but on the suggestion of a US journalist, Grant contacted a new unit in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department dedicated to human trafficking cases, the ATLAS (Anti-Trafficking League Against Slavery). ATLAS agreed to take on the Foster case, saying it had the earmarks of a sex slavery case.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/jessiefoster.jpg
Jessie Foster
Grant was set to travel to Las Vegas again last week to meet with investigators and local media about the case, but this time she was turned back by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Vancouver airport. The reason? She had a 1986 conviction for marijuana and cocaine possession.

As Drug War Chronicle reported just two weeks ago, both the US and Canada bar people who admit past drug use or have drug convictions from entering the country. Glendene Grant found that out the hard way, and she can't believe her ancient conviction even matters.

"I was supposed to fly last Monday night, but when I got to the airport, they told me to come back the next day," Grant told Drug War Chronicle. "I went early and spent three hours talking to one of the agents, and he finally said I would be denied and that I would have to get a waiver -- the same form they had given me the night before. I asked to speak to CBP supervisor Patricia Lundy, but I could tell she was not going to listen to anything I had to say. She asked if my daughter had chosen to go to Las Vegas, and when I said yes, she said 'Then I guess she made her own choices, didn't she?' When I asked 'Are you telling me my daughter chose to be kidnapped?' she threw me out of the office and called the RCMP to escort me away. It was the most unprofessional behavior I've seen in my life."

"They tried to say I couldn't cross because of that old drug conviction," Grant said. "I have never hid it, I had a valid passport, then, for some reason, it became an issue."

It was always an issue, according to the CBP. "She is automatically inadmissible for life because of the drug conviction," said CBP spokeswoman Cherise Miles. "We let her in before because it was an extreme circumstance. If she was coming on vacation, she would have been denied admission," she told the Chronicle.

Grant's only recourse is to seek a waiver allowing her to enter the US, said Miles. "A waiver is not automatic, but perhaps her circumstances would help turn it in her favor." The waiver fee is a non-refundable $265. The process takes "perhaps four to six weeks, maybe longer," said Miles.

"I don't have $265," Grant protested. "We have to fundraise for everything we do. I can't work very much, we can't afford to keep going, but we do. But I don't have $265." [Ed: There is a donation form at the Jessie Foster web site linked to above.]

CBP's Miles said that Grant had been allowed in on a humanitarian "parole," but that she had been warned she would have to apply for a waiver. Grant said that the first she heard about a waiver was when CBP officers at the Vancouver airport refused her entry and handed her a waiver form.

Now, Grant is pondering her options. "I don't know what to do," she said. "I've contacted my Canadian representatives, but it doesn't look like there is any way around this. Maybe the provincial governor can give me a pardon."

In the meantime, Jessie Foster remains missing and a harsh and unyielding US immigration law is keeping her mother from trying to find her. "I just sit here and think about it," she said. "What happens if they do find Jessie or her body and I can't go get her?"

Feature: Congress Moves to End Ban on DC Needle Exchange Funding

A nine-year-old measure barring the District of Colombia from spending its own funds on needle exchange programs (NEPs) instituted by conservative Republican lawmakers was removed from the DC appropriations bill Tuesday. Led by House Subcommittee of Financial Services and General Government chair Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), the subcommittee voted to excise the language from the bill, a key step in allowing the District to enact the proven harm reduction measure in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne infectious diseases.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/preventionworksatwork.jpg
Ron Daniels at PreventionWorks! van, Washington (screen shot of recent nytimes.com ''slide show'')
Although it has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the country, with as much as a third of it linked to injection drug use, Washington, DC is the only city in the country expressly prohibited from spending money for NEPs. According to the North American Syringe Exchange Association, more than 200 NEPs are currently operating in 36 states.

"My basic principle in this bill is that the federal government should not dictate to the city how to manage its own affairs or spend its own money," said Serrano in a Tuesday statement. "Therefore, you will find that we have removed or changed riders that have been in past bills that closely prescribed to the city what it should or should not do."

"This is a huge step in helping to reduce HIV and AIDS in Washington, DC," said Naomi Long, director of the Washington Metro office for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We are pleased that Congress decided to stop playing politics with the lives of intravenous drug users in DC."

"This is extremely important," said Channing Wickham, director of the Washington AIDS Partnership. "About a third of AIDS cases here in the District are related to injection drug use. This is not a pro-drug move; it's a public health move," he told Drug War Chronicle. "There are numerous studies that show not only that giving drug users access to clean needles reduces the spread of HIV infections, but also that people in such programs get access to drug treatment and medical care. It's a win-win situation," he said.

"If they actually lift the ban, that'll be great," said Ron Daniels of Prevention Works!, a privately-funded NEP that arose in response to the 1998 federal ban on funding. "If they don't, our hands are tied. The people we are serving now are only the tip of the iceberg," he told the Chronicle from the mobile van the group uses to take clean needles to drug users. "We're only seeing about a third of the people we know are injection drug users. They have got to do something to stop this epidemic."

Even with the limitations imposed by having to seek out private funding, Prevention Works! managed to distribute more than 236,000 needles and had regular contact with some 2,000 injection drug users last year.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/needle-exchange-logo-small.gif
popular needle exchange logo
While the DC appropriations bill is still in the early stages, the subcommittee vote this week was a critical step, said Bill Piper, director of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This was the key vote," said Piper. "Committee chairs pick their battles carefully, and the fact that Serrano went ahead and did this suggests he thinks he can take this all the way. In the full committee, the Democrats will generally get behind whatever the subcommittee decided, and on the floor, the presumption will be against amending bills against the wishes of the committee."

That doesn't mean ideologically driven opponents will give up without a fight. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KA), the man who inserted the ban in 1998, was still at it this week. Apparently ignorant of the mountain of scientific evidence establishing the effectiveness of NEPs in reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, Tiahrt claimed that "needle exchange programs have been proven in many studies to be ineffective and a threat to the surrounding community, especially the children."

That prompted a Wednesday visit to Tiahrt's office by the Drug Policy Alliance, which hand-delivered numerous studies proving the effectiveness of NEPs. "Rep. Tiahrt's claims that syringe exchange programs don't work is similar to claiming the world is flat," said Piper. "We want him to have the information so he doesn't continue to embarrass himself and, more importantly, sabotage this life-saving measure."

With the subcommittee vote, DC is now closer than ever to being able to finance NEPs, and the measure will pass, Piper predicted. "I think this is one we will win," he said. "Not without a fight, of course, but the stars are aligned, everyone in DC wants this, and in the end, the DC syringe ban will be repealed."

DPA Press Release: Congressman Continues to Make Ignorant Statements About Needle Exchanges Programs; Advocates to Bring Him Evidence so He Can Stop Embarrassing Himself

For Immediate Release: June 6, 2007 For More Info: Bill Piper (202) 669-6430 or Naomi Long (202) 669-6071 Rep. Tiahrt (R-Kan.) Continues to Make Uninformed Statements That Discount the Proven Effectiveness of Needle Exchange Programs Advocates to Deliver Mountain of Evidence to Tiahrt’s Office Today So the Kansas Congressman Can Stop Embarrassing Himself Despite Washington, D.C. having one of the worst HIV infection rates in the country, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) continues to ignore the mountain of scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs at reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, hepatits C and other infectious disease. Tiahrt’s assertion that there are no proven studies that show the efficacy syringe exchange programs is a direct effort to sabotage a recent Congressional effort to remove the ban on funding syringe exchange programs in Washington, D.C. In a strong editorial in today’s Washington Post calling for D.C. to be allowed to fund needle exchange programs, Tiahrt is quoted claiming “…needle exchange programs have been proven in many studies to be ineffective and a threat to the surrounding community, especially the children.” In response, the Drug Policy Alliance will hand deliver numerous studies proving the effectiveness of needle exchange programs to Tiahrt’s office today. “Rep. Tiahrt’s claims that syringe exchange programs don’t work is similar to claiming the world is flat,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We want him to have the information so he doesn’t continue to embarrass himself and, more importantly, sabotage this life-saving measure.” Every established medical, scientific, and legal body to study the issue concurs in the efficacy of improved access to sterile syringes to reduce the spread of infectious diseases: including the National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and President George H.W. Bush's and President Clinton's AIDS Advisory Commissions. Eight government reports concur that access to sterile syringes deceases the transmission of infectious diseases without increasing drug use. No reports contradict these findings. On Tuesday, June 5, Congress moved one step closer to lifting the funding ban on syringe exchange programs in Washington, D.C. The House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government removed the ban from an appropriations bill that includes the city’s spending plan. In 1998, Tiahrt and the Republican-led Congress barred the D.C. government from spending its own local funds on syringe exchange programs. The ban was reauthorized in the appropriations bill every year since. But with Democrats now in power, the push to lift the ban gained traction. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the committee, spearheaded the effort to lift the ban. It has been long established by the scientific community that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst people who inject drugs without increasing drug use. In Washington, D.C., injecting drugs is the second-most common means of contracting HIV among men—and the most common form among women. Approximately one-third of new AIDS cases annually are the result of intravenous drug use. DC’s syringe exchange program is crucial to getting people with substance abuse problems into drug treatment. The program estimates it refers about 50 people a month to treatment. Needle exchange programs help public health professionals assess the medical needs of clients, gain trust in the community by meeting clients in their own surroundings, and provide educational materials and referrals.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: Clean Syringe Funding Ban for DC Lifted!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 5, 2007 CONTACT: Naomi Long, (202) 669-6071 or Bill Piper, (202) 669-6430 Clean Syringe Funding Ban for District of Colombia Lifted Rep. Serrano Removes Provision Prohibiting Tax Payer Money Going to D.C. Syringe Exchange Programs Today Congress moved to lift the funding ban on syringe exchange programs in Washington, DC. The House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government removed the ban from an appropriations bill that includes the city’s spending plan. In 1998, the Republican-led Congress barred the District Government from spending its own local funds on syringe exchange programs. The ban has been reauthorized in the appropriations bill every year since. But with Democrats now in power, the push to lift the ban gained traction. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), who chairs the committee, spearheaded the effort to lift the ban. “This is a huge step in helping to reduce HIV and AIDS in Washington, DC,” said Naomi Long, director of the Washington Metro office for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We are pleased that Congress decided to stop playing politics with the lives of intravenous drug users in D.C.” It has been long established by the scientific community that needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst people who inject drugs without increasing drug use. In Washington, DC, injecting drugs is the second-most common means of contracting HIV among men - and the most common form among women. Approximately one-third of new AIDS cases annually are the result of intravenous drug use. Supporters of needle exchange include the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, Centers for Disease Control and three former U.S. Surgeons General. A number of faith communities officially support needle exchange including The Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

DrugSense FOCUS Alert #347: Let Public Health Officials Save Lives

On Monday, the editorial board of the New York Times sternly denounced the U.S. Congress because of a law that does not allow Washington, D.C. to use city funds to support needle exchange programs. The objections raised are the same tired and indefensible hooey that runs counter to esteemed medical and public health advice worldwide. Please consider writing and sending a Letter to the Editor to the New York Times commending them for their stand. You may personalize your letter to share testimony about yourself, someone you know or perhaps the community where you live and why you endorse increased public health and safety. Perhaps a fact from this webpage could be the core of your letter http://www.drugwarfacts.org/syringee.htm Letters to the New York Times must be 150 words or less for publication. They must also be exclusive to the Times. So please don't send a copy of a letter which has been printed elsewhere. Please also contact your members of Congress about this issue. To find out how to contact them go to http://congress.org/stickers/?dir=congressorg&officials=1 Thanks for your effort and support. It's not what others do it's what YOU do. ********************************************************************** Additional suggestions for writing LTEs are at our Media Activism Center: http://www.mapinc.org/resource/#guides Or contact MAP Media Activism Facilitator Steve Heath for personal tips on how to write LTEs that get printed. heath@mapinc.org ********************************************************************** Contact: letters@nytimes.com Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jun 2007 Source: New York Times (NY) Copyright: 2007 The New York Times Company CONGRESS HOBBLES THE AIDS FIGHT Washington, D.C., is one of America's AIDS hot spots. A significant proportion of infections can be traced back to intravenous drug users who shared contaminated needles and then passed on the infection to spouses, lovers or unborn children. This public health disaster is partly the fault of Congress. It has wrongly and disastrously used its power over the District of Columbia's budget to bar the city from spending even locally raised tax dollars on programs that have slowed the spread of disease by giving drug addicts access to clean needles. Every state in the union allows some system for providing addicts with clean needles. But nearly a decade ago, ideologues in Congress who were unable to derail needle programs in their own states chose to grandstand on the issue when it came time to pass the District's appropriation bill. Barred from spending local tax dollars on these medically necessary programs, the city has limped along with a privately financed operation that turns away more people than it serves. Critics offer the same know-nothing arguments. They say that handing out needles legitimizes drug use -- even though studies here and abroad showed long ago that the programs cut the infection rate without increasing addiction. They say that addicts should be offered treatment instead of clean needles -- even though addicts who want treatment must sometimes wait for months or even years to get in. While they wait, they continue to use drugs and become infected. Congress's ban on even locally financed needle exchange programs in the District of Columbia is an insult to the city's voters and a clear hazard to public health. Ideologues, in the House in particular, need to get out of the way and let public health officials save lives. ********************************************************************** PLEASE SEND US A COPY OF YOUR LETTER Please post a copy of your letter or report your action to the sent letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by e-mailing a copy directly to heath@mapinc.org if you are not subscribed. Your letter will then be forwarded to the list so others can learn from your efforts. Subscribing to the Sent LTE list ( sentlte@mapinc.org ) will help you to review other sent LTEs and perhaps come up with new ideas or approaches as well as keeping others aware of your important writing efforts. To subscribe to the Sent LTE mailing list see http://www.mapinc.org/lists/index.htm#form.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

House Dems push for big shift in Colombia aid

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
San Francisco Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/06/07/MNGURQACP01.DTL&type=politics

ONDCP: We Don't Care What You Dorks on YouTube Think

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer story about political messages on YouTube.com contains this delightful quote from ONDCP:
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said it expects its YouTube messages to be ridiculed, laughed at, remade and spoofed. And they are.

The irony here is that, predictable as it may have been, ONDCP had no clue that this was going to happen. They deliberately generated media coverage of their YouTube page, only to find their videos marred by harsh comments and dismal viewer ratings. ONDCP quickly disabled these options, but the damage was done.

If they had genuinely anticipated this level of hostility from viewers, they would have optimized their page before sending out press releases about it. Because they did not, most ONDCP videos are now permanently stamped with the lowest-possible rating of one star.

This is to say nothing of the countless parodies that are now drowning out ONDCP’s unpopular propaganda. Since YouTube automatically recommends similar videos anytime you watch something, viewers of ONDCP’s materials are unavoidably connected to these abundant counter-messages. It is almost certainly for this reason that ONDCP has not uploaded a single new video since the page was first launched back in September 2006.

In a case like this, the mature decision would be to ignore them. But I find it amusing that even something as perfectly logical as expecting ridicule on YouTube turns out to be a lie when it comes from ONDCP.

Location: 
United States

More Border Blues--Canadian Mom Searching for Missing Daughter Denied Entry

Just two weeks ago, in an article titled Border Blues, we wrote about how both the Canadian and the US governments can and do deny entry to people who admit to past drug use or have a drug conviction. Last week, a particularly egregious example of the abuse of this provision occurred. In a sad tale first picked up by the Vancouver daily the Province, "Mother's Hunt for Missing Daughter Blocked at Border", Kamloops, BC, mother Glendene Grant related how she was turned away from the US as she headed for Las Vegas to search for her young adult daughter, Jessie Foster, who went missing a little more than a year ago. Although Grant had made several previous trips to Las Vegas in an effort to find her daughter and even though she was scheduled to meet local law enforcement and appear at a Crimestoppers event about Jessie's disappearance, she was turned away a week ago today. Why? The 49-year-old mother was arrested in 1986 on marijuana and cocaine possession charges. We are looking into this. Right now, I have emailed Ms. Grant to set up an interview, and I have calls in to US Customs and Border Protection and an anti-human trafficking unit in the Las Vegas Police Department. There is apparently some suspicion that Jessie Foster was the victim of sex slavers. But who cares about that, right? Customs and Border Protection appears more interested in protecting us from a harmless woman who got busted on penny ante drug possession charges more than two decades ago than helping her spur an investigation with possible international implications. My understanding that the decision to deny entry to people with old drug convictions is not mandatory (I'll be checking with CBP on this) but discretionary. In the case of Glendene Grant, the denial of entry looks to be an abuse of discretion, not to mention just downright mean, inhumane, and cold-hearted. Is there more to the story? Stay tuned.
Location: 
United States

Needle Funding Ban May Soon End

Location: 
Washington, DC
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Washington Post
URL: 
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/04/AR2007060401552.html?hpid=topnews

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