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Drug Czar Walters Testifying in Congress on 2008 Drug Control Strategy; DPA Statement

[Courtesy of Drug Policy Alliance] For Immediate Release: March 12, 2008 For More Info: Tony Newman (646) 335-5384 or Bill Piper (202) 669-6430 Drug Czar John Walters Testifying in Congress Today in Support of Bush’s 2008 National Drug Control Strategy Drug Policy Alliance: Walters is Covering Up a Record of Failure Fatal Overdoses on the Rise, Transmission of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C from Injection Drug Use Continues to Mount, 1 in 100 Americans Now Behind Bars Drug Czar John Walters will testify today at 2pm before the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee. He is expected to defend the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s 2008 Drug Strategy, which continues to fund failed supply-side strategies at the expense of more effective prevention and treatment. Below is a statement from Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. Every year the drug czar tries to put a good spin on the failure of the drug war, and this year is no exception. Americans should ask themselves, ‘Are drugs as available as ever?’ Answer: Yes. ‘Do our communities continue to be devastated by astronomical incarceration rates and death and disease related to drug abuse and drug prohibition?’ Again, yes. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerating millions of Americans, experts acknowledge that illicit drugs remain cheap, potent and widely available in every community. Meanwhile, the harms associated with drug abuse—addiction, overdose and the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis—continue to mount. Add to this record of failure the collateral damage of drug prohibition and the drug war—broken families, racial inequity, wasted tax dollars, and the erosion of civil liberties. The evidence is clear and it is foolish and irresponsible to claim success. What matters most is not whether drug use rates go up or down but whether we see any improvements in the death, disease, crime and suffering that are associated with both illegal drugs and drug prohibition. The current approach, with its “drug-free America” rhetoric, and over reliance on punitive, criminal justice policies costs taxpayers billions more each year, yet delivers less and less. It’s time for a new bottom line in drug policy, one that focuses on reducing the harms associated with both drug misuse and the collateral damage from the drug war.
Location: 
Washington, DC
United States

Press Release: White House Pushes Controversial Student Drug Testing Agenda at Summit

[Courtesy of DPA] FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 28, 2008 CONTACT: Jennifer Kern, DPA (415) 373-7694 or Zeina Salam, ACLU (904) 391-1884 White House Pushes Controversial Student Drug Testing Agenda at Summit in Jacksonville on January 29 Largest Study, Leading Associations Call Random, Suspicionless Drug Testing Harmful and Ineffective Concerned Citizens to Provide Educators with Missing Information; Experts Available for Interviews Jacksonville, FL — The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is conducting a series of regional summits designed to convince local educators to start drug testing students -- randomly and without cause. This policy is unsupported by the available science and opposed by leading experts in adolescent health. The third summit of 2008 takes place on Tuesday, January 29th in Jacksonville at the Jacksonville Marriott, 4670 Salisbury Road at 8:30 a.m. The Drug Policy Alliance and American Civil Liberties Union are providing attendees with copies of the booklet Making Sense of Student Drug Testing: Why Educators Are Saying No, which presents research showing that such testing is ineffective and provides resources for effective alternatives. Studies have found that suspicionless drug testing is ineffective in deterring student drug use. The first large-scale national study on student drug testing, which was published by researchers at the University of Michigan in 2003, found no difference in rates of student drug use between schools that have drug testing programs and those that do not. A two-year randomized experimental trial published last November in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded random drug testing targeting student athletes did not reliably reduce past month drug use and, in fact, produced attitudinal changes among students that indicate new risk factors for future substance use. “Drug testing breaks down relationships of trust,” said Jennifer Kern, Drug Testing Fails Our Youth Campaign Coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance. “All credible research on substance abuse prevention points to eliminating, rather than creating, sources of alienation and conflict between young people, their parents and schools.” A group of concerned citizens will also attend to provide educators with important information missing from the summit, such as the objections of the National Education Association, the Association of Addiction Professionals and the National Association of Social Workers to testing. These organizations believe random testing programs erect counter-productive obstacles to student participation in extracurricular activities, marginalize at-risk students and make open communication more difficult. A December 2007 policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Substance Abuse and Council of School Health reaffirmed their opposition to student drug testing, holding: “Physicians should not support drug testing in schools … [because] it has not yet been established that drug testing does not cause harm.” Schools in Florida have so far rejected the policy. In November 2006 the Citrus County School Board turned down a $317,000 federal drug testing grant, as board members were not convinced that testing would discourage drug use. Members felt subjecting students to drug testing was a misuse of authority and objected that the grant made them test subjects as part of a federal study of student drug testing. The following month the Hernando County School Board rejected a federal drug testing grant of at least $183,289. “Subjecting students to unsubstantiated searches makes a mockery of the values taught in our nation’s classrooms, undermining respect for the Constitution among its future caretakers,” said Zeina Salam, ACLU of Florida Northeast Regional Staff Attorney. “Random drug testing must not become a rite of passage for America’s youth.” Making Sense of Student Drug Testing: Why Educators are Saying No can be found online at www.safety1st.org. An excerpt from the booklet is included below: Comprehensive, rigorous and respected research shows there are many reasons why random student drug testing is not good policy: - Drug testing is not effective in deterring drug use among young people; - Drug testing is expensive, taking away scarce dollars from other, more effective programs that keep young people out of trouble with drugs; - Drug testing can be legally risky, exposing schools to potentially costly litigation; - Drug testing may drive students away from extracurricular activities, which are a proven means of helping students stay out of trouble with drugs; - Drug testing can undermine trust between students and teachers, and between parents and children; - Drug testing can result in false positives, leading to the punishment of innocent students; - Drug testing does not effectively identify students who have serious problems with drugs; and - Drug testing may lead to unintended consequences, such as students using drugs (like alcohol) that are more dangerous but less detectable by a drug test.
Location: 
Jacksonville, FL
United States

DrugSense FOCUS Alert: John Walters Caught Lying - Again

[Courtesy of DrugSense] One of the U.S. government's most persistently dishonest appointed officials - John Walters, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) - has been caught in yet another outright lie to the North American media. His office's first major press release of 2008 made a disturbing announcement. According to Drug Czar Walters, there is a "dangerous new drug threat coming from Canada." The drug? - so called "Extreme Ecstasy." In a news release distributed in the U.S. and Canada, Walters warned that the use of ecstasy is being fueled by Canadian producers smuggling the illegal designer drug -- which is increasingly laced with crystal meth -- into the U.S. "Historic progress against ecstasy availability and use is in jeopardy of being rolled back by Canadian criminal organizations," Walters said in the release. Scott Burns, the primary spokesperson for Walters' ONDCP office, echoed the alarming cry with "They are remarketing and packaging it and trying to glamorize it." Certainly gives the guise of being important information for Americans - especially parents of teenagers, right? Unfortunately, it seems that John Walters and the ONDCP created "extreme ecstasy" out of their own imaginations. The U.S. Drug Czar has been caught lying - again. And this time, the direct rebuttal of his lies comes from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Less than two weeks after the January 4th ONDCP press release, the head of the RCMP's national drug branch sternly rebuked the ONDCP claims. Supt. Paul Nadeau said he doesn't know why Walters would make such fictional statements without checking facts with Canadian officials. He added that he himself has never heard of "extreme Ecstasy.... it would appear that it's a term that somebody came up with in a boardroom in Washington, D.C." Please write a letter to newspapers that carry coverage of the false claims. Let your local and state or provincial media know that the United States Drug Czar is a very unreliable and frankly dishonest source of accurate information. ********************************************************************** Wire services sent versions of the RCMP rebuttals of the ONDCP claims to Canadian and United States media this past Monday, January 21st. The Canadian Press wire service version: VANCOUVER (CP) - The head of the RCMP's national drug branch is debunking claims by the U.S. drug czar, who claims organized crime rings in Canada are dumping dangerous, methamphetamine-laced "extreme ecstasy" into his country. Supt. Paul Nadeau said he doesn't know why John Walters, of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, would make such statements in a widely distributed news release without checking facts with Canadian officials. "I shook my head when I read the release that they put out," said Nadeau, who's never heard of extreme ecstasy. "That term is unknown to us, certainly in Canada, and I can tell you that I've spoken to law enforcement people in the U.S. and they've never heard of it either so it would appear that it's a term that somebody came up with in a boardroom in Washington, D.C." The release has generated huge media buzz in the U.S., with some news outlets using names such as "turbo-charged ecstasy," which is supposedly flowing across the border from Canada. In the release, Walters warns public health and safety leaders that more than 55 per cent of ecstasy samples seized in the U.S. last year contained meth, a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. "This extreme ecstasy is a disturbing development in what has been one of the most significant international achievements against the illicit drug trade," Walters said. "Cutting their product with less expensive methamphetamine boosts profits for Canadian ecstasy producers, likely increases the addictive potential of their product and effectively gives a dangerous 'facelift' to a designer drug that had fallen out of fashion with young American drug users." Nadeau said there's nothing new about ecstasy - the so-called love drug that gained popularity during the 1990s rave scene - being laced with methamphetamine or other stimulants and that it's been happening for the last decade. ********************************************************************** The following links find news clippings about ecstasy and the Drug Czar: http://www.mapinc.org/mdma.htm http://www.mapinc.org/walters.htm ********************************************************************** Prepared by: The MAP Media Activism Team www.mapinc.org/resource === . DrugSense provides many services at no charge, but they are not free to produce. Your contributions make DrugSense and its Media Awareness Project (MAP) happen. Please donate today. Our secure Web server at http://www.drugsense.org/donate.htm accepts credit cards. Or, mail your check or money order to: . DrugSense 14252 Culver Drive #328 Irvine, CA 92604-0326. (800) 266 5759 . DrugSense is a 501c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the expensive, ineffective, and destructive "War on Drugs." Donations are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
Location: 
United States

Latin America: US Accuses Venezuela of "Colluding" with Cocaine Trade

Drug control policy was the arena where the often acrimonious relations between the US and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez played out this week, with Washington accusing Venezuela of colluding with cocaine traffickers, and Caracas vehemently denying that was the case. Chávez, meanwhile, this week added to the mix by announcing that he chewed coca every day.

The controversy got rolling Sunday in Bogota, when, after finishing a meeting with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, American drug czar John Walters came out swinging at Venezuela. Chávez, he said, had failed to get rid of corrupt officials or deny traffickers the use of Venezuelan territory.

"It goes beyond 'I can't do it' to 'I won't do it'. And 'I won't do it' means that 'I am colluding,'" Walters said in remarks reported by the BBC. "I think it is about time to face up to the fact that President Chávez is becoming a major facilitator of the transit of cocaine to Europe and other parts of this hemisphere."

Just to make sure his point was getting across, Walters repeated it in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Where are the big seizures, where are the big arrests of individuals who are at least logistical coordinators? When it's being launched from controlled airports and seaports, where are the arrests of corrupt officials? At some point here, this is tantamount to collusion," Walters said.

The charge comes after the US government last fall named Venezuela as one of two governments world-wide that had failed to live up to US drug policy objectives and more than two years after Chávez ordered a halt to all cooperation with the DEA in Venezuela, charging that the agency was violating Venezuelan sovereignty.

Venezuela was quick to respond to Walters. At a Caracas press conference Tuesday, Néstor Reverol, head of the National Anti-Drug Office, said that Venezuela had been very busy fighting the cocaine trade, having seized more than 50 tons of drugs last year, busted 11 cocaine labs, identified 186 airstrips, and arrested more than 4,000 people.

Reverol said Washington should "stop using the fight against drugs as a political weapon" and added that his government would sue the US a the Organization of American States (OAS) over its "belligerence" and "baseless charges" about Venezuela's drug-fighting efforts.

On Wednesday, Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS Jorge Valero followed-up with a speech to the OAS Permanent Council charging that US drug policy is "immoral and interventionist."

The DEA, he said, had monitored drug runs inside Venezuela without notifying Venezuelan authorities, a violation of national sovereignty. "The DEA encourages the interference of the US government in other countries' domestic affairs by hiding behind the excuse of anti-drug cooperation," Valero charged. "Venezuela is not going back to be a colony of any empire. Venezuela is a free sovereign country and claims the right to develop its own anti-drug policies. It should be known that Venezuela is doing it successfully."

Meanwhile, the Miami Herald breathlessly reported Sunday that Chávez had said in a recent speech that he used coca every day and that Bolivian President Evo Morales sent it to him. ''I chew coca every day in the morning... and look how I am,'' he is seen saying on a video of the speech, as he shows his biceps to the audience. Just as Fidel Castro ''sends me Coppelia ice cream and a lot of other things that regularly reach me from Havana,'' Bolivian President Morales "sends me coca paste... I recommend it to you."

While Chávez said "coca paste," which is typically smoked, it seems clear that he was referring to coca leaf, which is chewed.

The Herald and several experts it consulted worried that Chávez had admitted committing an illegal act and even violating the UN 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which bans coca. One expert even worried that Chávez had named Morales as a "narco trafficker." But neither Chávez nor Morales seem as worried as the Herald and its experts.

Journalism 101: Everything the Drug Czar Says is Wrong

Josh Burnett at NPR has a strong article debunking the absurd cocaine shortage rumor started by the Drug Czar's office. Burnett explains that increased cocaine prices are temporary and that the Drug Czar's claims of "unprecedented" progress are just false.

Burnett reached these conclusions through an increasingly rare journalism technique known as "research." Rather than mindlessly regurgitating the government's claims of drug war success, he called police chiefs in cities with supposed cocaine shortages and asked them if anything had changed. He also spoke with ONDCP veteran John Carnevale, who, despite his extensive drug warrior credentials, conceded that the real trend in cocaine prices is a downward spiral.

Of course, the inevitable consequence of researching the Drug Czar's ridiculous claims is that the Drug Czar will accuse you of bad research:
When asked about the conflicting information found by NPR, Drug Czar John Walters dismissed it. He said his information is drawn from nationwide data collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is based on undercover buys, wiretaps, informants, and local police reports.

"Now we can do it that way or we can do it where you call somebody somewhere and they say something else," Walters said. "That's not data. That's a guy."
It's cute how pissed he gets when someone starts fact-checking his outrageous statements. And it's just priceless to hear the master of argument-by-anecdote accuse someone else of missing the big picture.

The results of Burnett's investigation are inevitable anytime a reporter deliberately researches claims from the Drug Czar's office. The information disseminated by that organization is always false, usually to a dramatic extent, so subjecting them to even minimal scrutiny will reveal that they are wrong 100% of the time.

Reporters need to learn this. It must be understood that press releases from the Office of National Drug Control Policy are a true or false quiz and the correct answer is always "F." If you simply cut and paste their claims into a story you fail the test.
Location: 
United States

Feature: Latest Teen Drug Use Numbers Out -- White House Claims Success, Critics Say Not So Fast

The latest annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use was released Tuesday. It showed a continuing gradual decline in overall teen drug use, thanks largely to reduced marijuana and methamphetamine use rates, but a rebound in ecstasy use and increasing popularity of prescription pain relievers. While the White House and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) lauded the findings as validating their anti-drug strategy, that position had plenty of critics.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/bush-walters-volkow.jpg
George Bush with drug czar Walters and NIDA chief Nora Volkow
The MTF survey, now in its 33rd year, is conducted by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. It surveys 50,000 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders nationwide.

According to the survey, the proportion of 8th graders using any illicit drug at least once in the past year was 13.2%, down from 14.8% in 2006. Tenth- and 12th-graders reported annual prevalence rates of 28.1% and 35.9%, respectively, both down less than one percentage point from the previous year. Only the reported decrease among 8th-graders was statistically significant.

Among the drugs whose use decreased in the past year were marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, Ritalin, and what MTF referred to as "crystal methamphetamine," or smokable meth, or ice. Pot remains the most popular of all illicit drugs, used within the past year by 10% of 8th-graders, 25% of 10th-graders, and 32% of 12th-graders, but its use among 8th-graders declined a statistically significant 1.4% compared to 2006. Tenth-graders showed a tiny decline, while use remained steady among 12th-graders.

According to MTF, amphetamine use peaked in the mid-1990s and has declined steadily ever since, while crystal meth reached its lowest use levels since 1992 this year. Eight percent of seniors reported using amphetamines in 2007, while 1.6% reported using crystal. Ritalin, a prescription amphetamine used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, has seen its use decline gradually since first being measured in 2001. This year, between 2% and 4% of students surveyed reported using it outside medical supervision. Methamphetamine use also continues a slow decline, dropping by about two-thirds in all grades since it was first measured in 1999. Less than 2% of students reported using meth in the past year.

"Because this drug has such great potential for abuse and dependence, we are encouraged to see its popularity wane among teenagers," Johnston said.

But while pot and amphetamine use were down, a number of other drugs held steady, including cocaine, crack cocaine, LSD, other hallucinogens, heroin, other narcotics, Oxycontin specifically, Vicodin specifically, sedatives, and tranquilizers. Fewer than 5% of seniors reported using cocaine or psychedelics, fewer than 2% reported using crack or LSD, and fewer than 1% reported using heroin.

Some 6% of seniors reported using sedatives, and the same number reported using tranquilizers, while 9% reported using narcotics other than heroin. Five percent used Oxycontin, a slight, but statistically insignificant increase since it was first measured in 2002, and 10% of seniors reported using Vicodin. For most of these drugs, use levels are hovering at or near recent peaks.

The one drug showing an increase in use is ecstasy, with 4.5% of seniors reporting using it this year, up from 4.1% last year. But that is still only half the use level reported in 2001, the highest year since reporting started on the drug in 1995.

"These prevalence rates are not very high yet but there is evidence here of this drug beginning to make a comeback," Johnston said. "Young people are coming to see its use as less dangerous than did their predecessors as recently as 2004, and that is a warning signal that the increase in use may continue."

MTF and the Bush administration repeatedly compared this year's figures to those in 1996, when teen drug use was at a recent peak. That made for some impressive claims, such as MTF's that annual prevalence among 8th-graders "was 24% in 1996 but has fallen to 13% by 2007, a drop of nearly half." But the figures are much less impressive when compared to 1991, the first year listed in the MTF survey tables. For all three grades, drug use levels were higher this year than then.

Still, MTF, the president, and his drug czar all saw the glass half full. "The cumulative declines since recent peak levels of drug involvement in the mid-1990s are quite substantial, especially among the youngest students," said University of Michigan Distinguished Research Scientist Lloyd Johnston, the principal investigator of the MTF study.

"The most encouraging statistic relates to the use of methamphetamine, which has plummeted by an impressive 64 percent since 2001," President Bush said. "One exception to this trend is a rise in the abuse of certain prescription painkillers," he added. "This is troubling, and we're going to continue to confront the challenge, and the overall direction is hopeful."

Walters and ONDCP also put the best face possible on the numbers. The agency's web site now boasts a web page touting the findings as vindicating the anti-drug strategy and featuring a series of charts showing drug use declines.

But there were plenty of skeptics. "While it is certainly good news that teen use of illegal drugs appears to be falling, almost this entire decline is because fewer teens are using marijuana," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Teen use of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin has remained steady, and illegal use of many prescription drugs is increasing. The Bush Administration needs to look at the whole picture of students' behaviors and advance pragmatic strategies that hold the health, safety and well being of young people as the bottom line."

While drug use can be problematic, said Piper, responding to it with arrests is not the answer. "Drug abuse and the problems associated with drug addiction can be difficult to recover from but students may never recover from arrest and imprisonment for drug law violations, which generally mean the permanent loss of eligibility for federal student financial aid and serious impediments to employment. The number of people who use illegal drugs fluctuates from year to year, regardless of what the government does. What doesn't change is many Americans' lack of access to effective drug treatment."

The latest numbers reveal "disturbing trends," said the Marijuana Policy Project."This new survey documents the complete, utter failure of current government policies on marijuana," said Aaron Houston, the group's director of government relations, citing higher use levels for most drugs compared to 15 years ago.

Perhaps most disturbing, Houston noted, are misunderstandings regarding the dangers of drugs shown in this survey, particularly among the youngest teens surveyed. For example, 50.2% of 8th-graders saw "great risk" in smoking marijuana occasionally -- more than saw great risk in trying crack or powder cocaine, trying LSD, or in drinking nearly every day. Twelfth graders were more likely to disapprove of occasional marijuana use than of binge drinking (having five or more drinks at one sitting) once or twice every weekend.

"Drug czar John Walters touts minor, short-term improvements, but deliberately ignores the big picture," Houston said. "Over the long haul, teen drug use is up, not down. As a parent, I don't want any kids smoking marijuana. It's truly scary that the White House has convinced millions of teens that drugs that can literally kill them are safer than marijuana. We're pursuing policies whose costs will be paid in lives."

Appalachian State University criminal justice and criminology professor Matthew Robinson, coauthor of "Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics," a work highly critical of ONDCP's manipulation of data, also had some choice words for the drug czar. "The recent claims by ONDCP with regard to the 2007 MTF study are misleading and do not tell the whole story about youth drug use in America," he said.

"First, ONDCP's online summary of the MTF features a very short-term focus from 2001 to 2007," Robinson noted. "As in its annual strategy reports, ONDCP downplays long-term drug use trends. In fact, the ONDCP website depicts only four figures, all showing declines. ONDCP does acknowledge increases in some drugs (e.g. Oxycontin), but it does not depict these increases in figures. Instead, as in its Strategy reports, ONDCP highlights drugs like meth and steroids," he said.

"Second, some of ONDCP's claims are misleading. For example, it says Ecstasy use is down 54% since 2001, when in reality it is essentially unchanged since 1996. Since Ecstasy use increased from 1998 to 2001, the long term trend is unchanged."

Even ONDCP's own materials show it is failing to accomplish its mission, Robinson noted. "ONDCP offers a slideshow on its website which summarizes some of the main findings from MTF. The slideshow proves that the drug war has not been effective at reducing drug use among young people over the long term. This is important because ONDCP's Performance Measures of Effectiveness demonstrate that ONDCP intends to consistently reduce drug use, something it has simply not done," he pointed out.

And while some drugs, such as LSD and marijuana showed decreases, Robinson said, more potentially harmful drug use is increasing. "The use of prescription drugs is consistently up among 12th-graders since 1991. While other drugs are down (e.g., LSD), this raises the possibility that young people have not stopped using drugs but rather have just switched to drugs that are lying around in their parents' homes. Ironically, these prescription drugs are more addictive and potentially dangerous to young people. "

Robinson also scolded ONDCP for taking credit even for reductions in alcohol and tobacco use, noting that the office claims its fight against illicit drugs causes such decreases. "Of course, ONDCP offers no evidence that reductions in alcohol use and tobacco use among young people have anything to do with the drug war, and that is because they don't have any," Robinson said. "In fact, the most consistent declines in drug use of all drugs depicted in the slideshow are for tobacco, a drug against which we are not waging a war; instead we are using honest educational campaigns combined with efforts to restrict legitimate businesses from selling tobacco products to kids. It is dishonest and wrong for ONDCP to take credit for these declines. "

The bottom line, said Robinson, is that after forty years of modern drug war, illicit drug use trends are virtually unchanged. "Drugs are just as available now as they were in 1992, in spite of increasing spending every year on the supply side portion of the drug war. In other words, this is just further proof that ONDCP is failing to meet its drug war goals of reducing use and availability of drugs," Robinson charged. "The president of the United States says the war on drugs is fought against an 'unrelenting evil that ruins families, endangers neighborhoods, and stalks our children.' If this is true, ONDCP's drug war is failing to keep this evil at bay. In spite of the spin, its own data prove it."

Come back the same time next year for the next episode of "Spinning MTF."

Feature: In Strategy Shift, US Troops to Join Battle Against Opium in Afghanistan

The United States military is melding counterinsurgency with counternarcotics missions in Afghanistan in what officials called "a basic strategy shift" in its Afghan campaign. Up until now, the US military has shied away from anti-drug operations in Afghanistan, leaving them to the DEA, the British, and Afghan authorities in a bid to avoid alienating Afghan peasant populations dependent on the poppy crop for an income.

But with Afghan opium production at an all-time high last year and predicted to go even higher this year -- Afghanistan accounted for 92% of the global opium supply in 2006 and will account for close to 100% this year--despite nearly a billion dollars in US anti-drug aid, officials in Washington have decided after long discussion that the Afghan drug war must be ratcheted up.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium_poppy1986_2006.jpg
(source: state.gov/p/inl/rls/rpt/90561.htm)
US officials are increasingly concerned about links between drug traffickers, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda militants, especially in southeastern Afghanistan, where both the insurgency and poppy production are most deeply rooted. Some 70 US soldiers, 69 NATO soldiers, and hundreds of Afghan police and soldiers, Taliban fighters, and Afghan civilians have been killed in fighting so far this year, the third year of the Taliban resurgence.

The new policy was announced in a new report US Counternarcotics Strategy for Afghanistan released last week and rolled out at an August 9 State Department briefing by Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP--the drug czar's office) head John Walters and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Thomas Schweich.

"We know that opium, maybe second only to terror, is a huge threat to the future of Afghanistan," said Walters. "The efforts by the Afghan people to build institutions of justice and rule of law are threatened not only by the terror, but the drug forces that are both economic, addictive and, of course, support in some cases terror, not only through money, but through influence and moving people away from the structures of government toward the structures of drug mafias and violence," he said.

The new strategy is a combination of carrots and sticks, heavily weighted toward the sticks. Out of the $700 million budgeted for anti-drug activities this year, only about $120 million to $150 million will go to alternative development, with the remainder dedicated to eradication, interdiction, building up the Afghan criminal justice system, and going after high-level traffickers.

Some $30 million will go to farming communities that agree to give up poppy production, but this is a pittance compared to the $3.1 billion the trade is estimated to be worth, or even the roughly $700 million estimated to end up in the hands of peasant farmers. While most of the incentive money will go to the north, where production is down, the more Taliban-friendly east and southeast will get forced eradication and increased efforts to go after high-level traffickers. Ambassador Schweicher qualified the tougher approach as "substantially harsher discincentives" for those areas. And the US military will be involved.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/opium-smaller.jpg
the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
"There is a clear and direct link between the illicit opium trade and insurgent groups in Afghanistan," the State Department report said. The Pentagon "will work with DEA" and other agencies "to develop options for a coordinated strategy that integrates and synchronizes counternarcotics operations, particularly interdiction, into the comprehensive security strategy."

What exactly that means remains unclear. At the August 9 briefing, Walters dodged repeated questions about the exact nature of US military involvement. "We expect a more permissive environment for these operations, given the plans and commitments here," Walters said. "Again, what -- your question was what counter-narcotics operations is the military going to do. That's not what this is doing, is saying the military is going to become the eradication force or the interdiction force. What we're going to do is create -- we've now created, we believe, the structures to allow counter-narcotics operations, whether they're arrests of people by Afghans, whether they're interdiction, whether they're eradication to be integrated into the security effort that's going on."

It might work, but there are gigantic obstacles in the way, said Raheem Yaseer of the Center for Afghan Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Improving the security situation is critical, said Yaseer.

"The bombers and the Talibans are crossing the border from Pakistan with all these weapons and getting across the checkpoints and getting in among the villagers, where they shoot at the allied forces. Then the allies bomb the villages, and that creates a lot of resentment, and the people won't listen to the allies," he said. "The US can track a bullet crossing the border, but they can't find the Talibans," he said, a note of frustration in his voice.

Alternative development could attract peasant farmers if the security situation were stabilized, he said. "It's the bigger warlords and drug lords who are the problem," Yaseer argued. "And yes, there are some high government officials, big shots, involved in drug trafficking, too. All of them have been nourished by this money for years and don't want to see it go away. But ordinary people would be satisfied with a little money because they know growing poppies is condemned by their tradition and religion."

Endemic corruption is another problem. Even anti-drug aid and alternative development assistance is likely to be siphoned off, said Yaseer. "The corruption is very deep, and a lot of money will vanish into people's pockets. You have to watch the people at the top, too, or it won't be effective," he said. "You'll only be spending money uselessly."

Congressional leaders called the new strategy a "welcome recognition" that new initiatives had to be hatched to address the Afghan opium problem, but worried that it wasn't enough. "What the plan lacks is the recognition that Afghanistan is approaching a crisis point, and that immediate action is required to eliminate the threat of drug kingpins and cartels allied with terrorists so we can reverse the country's steady slide into a potential failed narco-state," said House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) and ranking minority member Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in a statement responding to the new strategy.

Lantos and Ros-Lehtinen aren't the only members of Congress concerned. Others have called for an entirely different approach. Following the lead of the French defense and drug policy think tank the Senlis Council, which has been calling since 2005 for licensing the poppy crop, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO) has suggested licensing Afghan farmers to grow the crop for legal pain medications, similar to the way the international community diminished the drug trafficking problem in India and Turkey. Senator John Sununu (R-NH) has suggested the US buy opium crops from the farmers and destroy them. Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) has suggested switching the focus away from poor farmers and toward disrupting the cartels that are moving the drugs.

But the drug czar and the State Department explicitly rejected licensing as an impractical "silver bullet" that would not work and have similarly rejected proposals to buy up the crop. And they will definitely be going after poor farmers as well as high-level traffickers.

But more of the same isn't going to do the trick, said the Drug Policy Alliance. "The so-called 'carrot and stick' approach has failed in every country it has been tried in, including our own," said Bill Piper, the group's director of national affairs. "As long as there is a demand for drugs, there will be a supply to meet it. Drug prohibition makes plants more valuable than gold."

More of the same may even make matters worse, Piper argued. "The US is dangerously close to turning Afghanistan into the next Iraq," said Piper. "Forced eradication of opium crops is driving poor Afghans into the hands of our enemies, strengthening the Taliban, and feeding the insurgency there. The war on drugs is undermining the war on terror and pushing Afghanistan to the brink of civil war."

The Bush administration has belatedly figured out it has a very serious problem in Afghanistan. The question now is whether this vigorous new strategy will calm the situation or only inflame it.

What's a gram of cocaine go for where you live?

Drug czar John Walters is making noise this week about how a decline in cocaine availability is causing price increases. Walters always jumps on these price blips to tout the success of US eradication and interdiction policies...then the prices go down again. We will see what happens this time. In the meantime, I wonder what cocaine prices are in your neighborhood. I lived in Austin in the 1980s, and a gram of cocaine (usually obtained from a Nicaraguan college student...go figure) went for between $120 and $150. Just last night I was on the phone with folks in Austin, and they report that a gram can now be had for $40. Gee, maybe it's up from $35 last month; I don't know. But the long-term trend is undeniable: Down in price by about two-thirds since the '80s. What are cocaine prices like in your neighborhood? Historically and currently. Let's get us a little unscientific survey going.
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Feature: In Spreading Scandal Over White House Political Operations, House Panel Head Accuses Drug Czar's Office of Electioneering

The ever-broadening scandal over White House political operatives' involvement in what are supposed to be non-partisan activities within the federal government engulfed the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP, the drug czar's office) this week. On Tuesday, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the powerful chair of the House Operations and Government Reform Committee, accused ONDCP of electioneering on behalf of vulnerable Republican senators and congressmen in the run-up to last November's elections. Waxman is calling for a former high White House staffer to provide a deposition to the committee next week and to be prepared to appear before the committee as early as July 30.

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John Walters -- BUSTED
According to documents made available in a report on the committee web site, former White House Director of Political Affairs Sara Taylor asked drug czar John Walters and his deputies to attend 31 pre-election events at taxpayer expense where ONDCP's drug-fighting mission commingled with the Republican Party's efforts to retain its hold on Congress. In many cases, the trips were combined with grant announcements or other actions designed to benefit the districts of Republican incumbents. In a post-election memo from Taylor to former ONDCP White House liaison Doug Simon, Taylor recounted how ONDCP had managed to make 20 of the "suggested participation" events on the list.

An email from Doug Simon responding to Taylor's post-election memo only added more ammunition for Waxman and other critics of the White House's politicization of federal agencies and activities. In it, Simon summarized a meeting he had with White House political guru Karl Rove.

"I just wanted to give you all a summary of a post November 7th update I received the other night. Presidential personnel pulled together a meeting of all of the Administration's White House Liaisons and the WH Political Affairs office," Simon wrote. "Karl Rove opened the meeting with a thank you for all of the work that went into the surrogate appearances by Cabinet members and for the 72 Hour deployment. He specifically thanked, for going above and beyond the call of duty, the Dept. of Commerce, Transportation, Agriculture, AND the WH Drug Policy Office. This recognition is not something we hear everyday and we should feel confident that our hard work is noticed. All of this is due to our efforts preparing the Director and the Deputies for their trips and events. Director Walters and the Deputies covered thousands of miles to attend numerous official events all across the country. The Director and the Deputies deserve the most recognition because they actually had to give up time with their families for the god awful places we sent them."

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Henry Waxman
In a Tuesday letter to Taylor asking her to voluntarily appear to be deposed on the politicization of what are supposed to be nonpartisan government agencies, Waxman noted that the ONDCP travel schedule hardly appeared to be nonpartisan.

"The list of Republican officials named in your memo reads like a roster of the most vulnerable Republican members of Congress seeking reelection in 2006," Waxman wrote. "Your memo identifies 29 events with 26 Republican office-holders. Assessments by political analyst Charlie Cook in October and November 2006 considered the re-election races of 23 of the 26 candidates identified in your memo as 'competitive;' 15 of the races were listed as 'toss-ups.' Your list included eleven Republican candidates who lost, ten who won their races with less than 53% of the vote, and two who won by fewer than 1100 votes. You included no Democrats or Independents in your memo of suggested travel by the ONDCP Director."

ONDCP has traditionally been a nonpartisan office. A 1994 law bars agency officials from engaging in political activities even on their own time, and certainly on the taxpayers' dime.

In 2003, thanks to a challenge to the drug czar's campaigning against a Nevada ballot initiative by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the US Office of Special Counsel held that the drug czar is subject to the strictures of the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan politicking by federal government employees. The ruling did little immediate good for MPP -- the special counsel held the ban did not apply to non-partisan initiatives -- but would appear to be applicable in the present instance.

Critics of the politicization of the drug czar's office were shocked, shocked, they tell you. "This is shocking evidence that the Drug Czar, John Walters, and President Bush were scratching each other's backs," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). "Walters used taxpayer money to campaign for Republicans, while President Bush ignored the agency's failures and increased funding for programs his own analysts determined were ineffective."

The recently released memos and e-mails are only the latest evidence that ONDCP uses taxpayer money to influence voters. During a 2000 federal lawsuit, evidence surfaced showing that ONDCP created its billion dollar anti-marijuana TV ad campaign to influence voters to reject state medical marijuana ballot measures. The drug czar and his staff are also routinely accused of using taxpayer money to travel to states in order to convince voters and legislators to reject drug policy reform.

"How long will the drug czar use taxpayer money to influence voters before Congress takes action?," asked Piper.

"ONDCP is charged with developing effective strategies to reduce drug abuse and the problems associated with it," said Kris Krane, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "Instead, under the leadership of political appointee John P. Walters, ONDCP has illegally wasted time and resources pursuing ideological agendas and partisan politics."

In light of the latest evidence of ONDCP misconduct, SSDP is calling for Walters's resignation. The group has created a sign-on letter to be sent to Walters and his congressional overseers where people who agree that Walters should resign can get their message out.

The Marijuana Policy Project has long complained about ONDCP's interference in state initiative campaigns, and was little surprised by the latest revelations. "These 2006 campaign trips were nothing new," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "Walters and his deputies have been using tax dollars to interfere in state election campaigns since at least 2002, which is why we filed a Hatch Act complaint that December."

And so there's lots more to find on the ONDCP front, according to Houston, if investigators care to look for it. "John Walters is a serial lawbreaker," he said. "The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is now investigating some particularly blatant violations, but the only reason Walters has been getting away with it for so long is that until now the White House investigated itself."

What a difference a congressional election makes. With Democrats in charge and more than willing to probe the Bush administration's dealings, ONDCP is now squarely in the sights of congressional investigators.

Drug Use: One in 12 US Workers Uses Drugs, SAMHSA Says

One out of every 12 full-time workers in the United States used an illegal drug in the past month, according to survey data released Monday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The survey indicated that 8.2% of full-time workers -- or 9.4 million people, including 7.3 million marijuana smokers -- were past-month illegal drug users.

The survey also found that about 10.1 million full-time workers were heavy alcohol users, defined as downing five drinks at a time at least five times a month. Although SAMSHA's inclusion of past-month drug users with heavy alcohol drinkers suggests an equivalence between the two groups, that is not borne out by its estimates of dependence or abuse among the two. Of the 9.4 million illegal drug users, less than a third met SAMSHA's dependency or abuse criteria -- which undoubtedly overstate the number of problem substance users -- while the number dependent on alcohol or who abused alcohol was 10.5 million -- more than the number identified as heavy drinkers.

The report found the highest rates of current illicit drug use were among food service workers (17.4%) and construction workers (15.1%). Highest rates of current heavy alcohol use were found among construction, mining, excavation and drilling workers (17.8%), and installation, maintenance, and repair workers (14.7%). Public security workers, librarians, and health workers had the lowest rates of illegal drug use.

Other, unsurprising, findings: Young people were more likely to be illegal drug users or heavy drinkers, and drug users were less likely to work for employers who had drug testing programs.

Government anti-drug officials used the survey data release to raise alarms about workplace drug use and call for expanded drug testing. "Substance abuse is a serious problem for the health, wellbeing and productivity of everyone in the workplace," said SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline.

"Employees who use drugs miss work more often, are less healthy, and are more prone to harming themselves and others in the workplace," said drug czar John Walters. "We hope that employers will take note of this report and consider implementing workplace drug testing policies that can help prevent drug use before it starts, help identify drug-using employees who need drug treatment services and also reduce employers' liability from drug-related workplace accidents."

"The high rates of drug and alcohol use in hazardous industries is cause for concern," said Elena Carr, drug policy coordinator at the US Department of Labor (DOL). "Clearly businesses can ill-afford the risk of having workers operating meat slicers, backhoes, or other dangerous equipment while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which is one reason why DOL helps employers and employees work together to proactively prevent such safety hazards."

Of course, admitting to past month drug use or heavy drinking does not necessarily equate to "operating… dangerous equipment under the influence of alcohol or drugs." While the people paid to send out anti-drug messages see only danger, an alternative reading of the data could suggest that millions of American workers manage to hold down jobs despite smoking a joint on the weekend or perhaps drinking too much.

The report is Worker Substance Use and Workplace Policies and Programs.

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