Harm Intensification

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Harm Reduction: Overdose Prevention Bill Introduced, Study Released

In response to a rapid increase in the number of drug overdose fatalities -- doubling from 11,000 in 1999 to 22,000 in 2005 -- US Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) Wednesday introduced the Drug Overdose Reduction Act, which would allocate $27 million a year to cities, states, tribal governments, and nonprofits to implement overdose reduction strategies. Accidental drug overdoses are now the second leading cause of accidental deaths, second only to auto accidents.

Edwards introduced the bill in conjunction with a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance, Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives: Strategies for Combating a National Crisis, which lays out a number of ways in which the overdose toll can be reduced:

  1. Enhance overdose prevention education.
  2. Improve monitoring, research, outreach and coordination to build awareness of the overdose crisis, its ramifications and public health approaches to reducing it.
  3. Remove barriers to naloxone (Narcan) access.
  4. Promote 911 Good Samaritan immunity law reform.
  5. Establish trial supervised injection facilities.

"We've got the science, we've got the technology and the medicine to do this," said Dr. Donald Kurth, head of the American Society of Addiction Medicine during a Wednesday conference call. Yet despite a national overdose death toll "like a jumbo jetliner crashing every three days," the US "as a nation hasn't had the political will to let physicians use what's already available."

Feature: Effort to Bring Safe Injection Facility to New York City Getting Underway

Last Friday, more than 150 people gathered at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City for a daylong conference on the science, politics, and law of safe injection facilities (SIFs) as part of a budding movement to bring the effective but controversial harm reduction measure to the Big Apple. Sponsored, among others, by the college, the Harm Reduction Coalition, and an amalgam of 17 different New York City needle exchange and harm reduction programs known as the Injection Drug User Health Alliance (IDUHA), the conference targeted not only harm reductionists but public health advocates and officials, law enforcement, service providers, and the general public.

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John Jay College, NYC (courtesy wikipedia.org)
The Safe Injection Facilities in New York conference aimed to create public awareness of SIFs, provide evidence that they are cost-effective, and start developing a plan for implementing SIFS in New York. As the conference program indicates, organizers relied heavily on experts from Vancouver, where the Downtown Eastside Insite SIF has been in operation -- and under evaluation -- since 2003, to provide the evidence base.

The first SIFs opened in Switzerland in the mid-1980s. Since then, they have spread slowly and there are now 65 SIFS operating in 27 cities in eight countries: Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Norway, Luxembourg, and Canada. Although advocates have been working for the past year-and-a-half to bring an SIF to San Francisco, that effort has yet to bear fruit.

SIFS are credited with saving lives through overdose prevention, reducing the spread of blood-borne disease, reducing public drug use and attendant drug litter, and creating entryways to treatment and other services for hard-core drug users not ready to abstain. The results reported by the Vancouver delegation on Insite were typical:

  • No fatal overdoses at the SIF.
  • No increase in local drug trafficking.
  • No substantial increase in the rate of relapse into injection drug use.
  • Reductions in public drug use, publicly discarded syringes and syringe sharing.
  • SIF users 1.7 times more likely to enter detox programs.
  • More than 2,000 referrals to counseling and other support services since opening.
  • Collaboration with police to meet public health and public order objectives.

But despite such research results, the United States remains without an operating SIF. The obstacles range from the legal, such as the federal crack house law and its counterparts in many states, to the political and the moral. But for harm reduction and public health advocates, it is the failure to embrace such proven life-saving measures that has the stench of the immoral.

"The reality is that we have people shooting up in unsafe injection facilities as we speak," said Joyce Rivera, executive director of St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction and chair of the conference. "The reality is they are not shooting up in a safe, hygienic environment with the possibility of a transition into a range of care. That's what's not happening. As public health advocates, we are saying let's recognize that reality and create those safe facilities. Let these people enter through the portal of public health into a safe environment and start to pace their own change," she said.

"We have to acknowledge the social fact that people are shooting up in unsafe venues," Rivera said. "It's not some esoteric or academic argument. The question is what do we do about it? Public health is supposed to protect the community, and SIFs are a necessary evolution in our public health policy."

"The big issue here is that we know we have about 200,000 injection drug users in the city, and the needle exchange programs only serve a few thousand of them," said Robert Childs of Positive Health Project, one of the members of the IDUAH. "Most of them are getting needles from unregulated needle exchanges, shooting galleries, from friends. That is a large part of why New York City has the most HIV and Hepatitis C cases in the US and one of the highest rates of infection in North America," he said.

"The other big issue is that we're giving injectors the tools to inject, but not a safe space to do it," Childs pointed out. "Many shoot up in the public domain, in the bathrooms at Starbucks or McDonalds or White Castle, in libraries, parks, alleys, phone booths. They leave their syringes in locations that aren't evident to a non-injector, and that's a public health issue."

They also overdose. Drug overdose is the fourth leading cause of death in the city. While it is a tragedy for the victim, overdoses both lethal and non-lethal are also a burden to the city. "Taxpayers have to pay these costs," said Childs. "For an ambulance to respond to an overdose costs between $400 and $1,200, and that's going on many times a day every day."

It's not just ambulances. Failing to address injection drug use under prohibition conditions costs real dollars in other ways as well. Each new diagnosis of HIV in the city comes with a $648,000 price tag for life-long medications and medical care, and even that may be on a low end estimate. A case of hepatitis C often requires $280,000 to $380,000 for a liver transplant; for those cases that do not warrant a liver transplant, treatment costs anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000.

And it's not just taxpayers paying. According to Childs, local businesses, including service providers, spend thousands of dollars a year on plumbing repairs -- from needles disposed of in toilets for lack of biohazard containers.

Now, said advocates, it is time to move forward. The conference was but the opening shot in what will likely be a long and frustrating campaign.

"The conference went very well and it will be a bit of a lift," said John Jay Professor Richard Curtis, who addressed the topic of moving forward from here at the conference. "The evidence is piling up from Sydney and Vancouver and Europe, and that is helping us, too. But this isn't something the health departments and the politicians aren't quickly going to jump on the bandwagon for. We have to give them a push, and if we don't start working on it now, it'll never happen. We didn't get where we are today by behaving ourselves," he added, relating how his own needle exchange effort first faced official opposition before being accepted.

The audience included people from the city and state health departments, Curtis said. "The health officials are all very supportive... unofficially," he said. "They didn't want to be on the agenda, but they say they're supportive. But this is an election year, and that makes it hard for them."

There will be an organizing meeting in two weeks to map out strategy, Curtis said. "We'll see who is willing and able, whether there is an existing agency bold enough to forge ahead or whether we will have to create some alternative organizations. We want to put this issue on the table now."

"We're forming an action group to bring this into New Yorkers' consciousness," said Childs. "The people who do know about -- drug users -- are one of the most stigmatized populations in the city. We are going to a campaign similar to Vancouver about how these people are not bogeymen, but our sons and daughters. We're also trying to organize some media events around it. A group of lawyers will help by challenging some codes. And we'll be trying to work with our legislators and city councilors," he said.

But Curtis and others are not willing to wait forever. "I'm not hopeful that federal crack house laws will end any time soon," he said. "But we started needle exchanges by just doing it. If it has to come to that, we'll have to make them arrest us again. We need to back them into a corner at the very least."

Harm Reduction Coalition Western Coordinator Hilary McQuie has been involved in the ongoing SIF effort in San Francisco. Just because something isn't happening officially doesn't mean it isn't happening, she noted.

"I don't know much about shooting galleries in New York," she said, "but out here, it's no big secret that the bathrooms of service providers, drop-in centers, homeless shelters, soup kitchens are used for shooting up. What people are doing to try to make these current injection spaces safer is perhaps having safe injection instructions, syringe disposal devices, soap and water, things like that," she said. "Also, it's sort of semi-supervised. If someone's in the bathroom and doesn't come out, you can open the door and save them from an overdose. That happens every day in San Francisco."

Feature: Legislatures Take Up "Good Samaritan" Overdose Bills in Bid to Reduce Deaths

Last year, in suburban Washington, DC, 19-year-old Alicia Lannes overdosed on heroin. The girl was in her bedroom and text messaging her boyfriend and heroin supplier, Skylar Schnippel, when he realized something was wrong. But when he realized Lannes was in trouble, he didn't call 911 or her parents. Instead, he called some friends and asked them to check up on her. At 4:00am, they peered through her window, saw her unconscious, and called paramedics. Shortly after 5:00am, her father, Greg Lannes, was awakened by paramedics pounding on his front door.

"We found my daughter lying next to her bed," Lannes told the Washington Post. "She had passed away. She had gone through a lot in her little life."

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Dr. Reardon and son Danny
Six years earlier, Washington dentist Daniel Reardon went through something similar. His son, Danny, 19, a freshman at the University of Maryland, passed out after a night of drinking. Fraternity members laid him on a sofa, took his pulse, and took turns watching him. But young Reardon quit breathing at some point during the night, and by the time fraternity members called an ambulance at 3:30am, Reardon was brain dead. He died six days later without gaining consciousness.

In both cases, people who might have saved the lives of the victims with fast action hesitated to call for help, largely out of fear of legal repercussions. Whether it was using heroin or underage consumption of alcohol, friends as well as the victims themselves faced the possibility of prosecution for drinking or drug use.

Yesterday, Daniel Reardon testified before a Maryland General Assembly committee to urge members to pass a bill that might have saved his son's life. The House Judiciary Committee was holding hearings on HB 1273, a Good Samaritan overdose bill, which would protect overdose victims and the people seeking help for them from facing criminal prosecution.

Although New Mexico is the only state to have passed such legislation, numerous college and universities have instituted similar policies. "There are about 90 schools across the country that have these medical emergency amnesties," said Stacia Cosner, a University of Maryland senior and member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), which has endorsed the Maryland legislation. "About one third are public; the rest are private, usually small colleges."

Unfortunately, the University of Maryland isn't one of them -- yet. "We have been working on this here for a couple of years, and there has been some progress, but there is nothing formally adopted yet," said Cosner.

It is working at George Washington University in Washington, said Cosner, citing ongoing research there. "Since they instituted the program, 911 medical emergency calls have gone way up," she said.

The movement is spreading beyond the college campus now. This year, besides Maryland, legislatures in at least seven other states -- Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington -- are considering Good Samaritan overdose laws. (The Washington state effort died earlier this month after failing to move out of committee.)

There is good reason for such laws. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 22,000 people died of drug overdoses (both licit and illicit) nationwide in 2005, the last year for which statistics are available, making ODs second only to traffic accidents as a cause of death for young people. Only about 15% of fatal overdoses result in immediate death, meaning quick action could save lives.

"It should never be a crime to call 911", said Naomi Long, director of the Drug Policy Alliance DC and Maryland Project, which is leading the charge for the bill in Annapolis. "This bill is about saving lives without compromising public safety. In these hard economic times, Maryland should focus resources on saving lives not arresting Good Samaritans."

The Good Samaritan bill "is about giving countless Marylanders a second chance at life," said Del. Kris Valderrama, the bill's sponsor. "We should pass laws that send the message that saving lives is our first priority."

"We need these laws to protect lives and to help people in confusing situations make the right decision to call for help if necessary," said Amber Langston, SSDP eastern regional outreach director. "People may hesitate to call 911 or not call at all out of fear of punishment, and even a few moments of hesitation can cost someone's life. If the goals of our drug policies are to save lives, then enacting Good Samaritan laws is good drug policy."

As a student organization, SSDP is particularly concerned about young people, said Langston. "This is an issue that particularly affects young people, who are generally less experienced and more fearful of retribution," she argued.

"We know that people are dying of overdoses, and these are preventable, unnecessary deaths," said DPA's Long. "We need to be creating the kind of situation where people immediately call for help. The bills in Maryland and elsewhere are an attempt to remove the perceived threat of prosecution from people who want to do the right thing, but are in a difficult situation."

Whether the Maryland bill passes this year remains to be seen, but the hearings have been an opportunity to open lawmakers' eyes to the problem, said Long. "We have been able to educate lawmakers about how the fear of arrest and punishment makes people hesitate to call 911, we have some really powerful stories, but the bottom line is that the bill still faces an uphill fight," she said.

"I think it's great that some state legislatures are trying to catch up with a good harm reduction program," said Hilary McQuie, western director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. "People frequently cite the fear of retribution as the main reason they didn't seek help. If these laws can get passed and accepted so they change people's behavior around what happens with an overdose situation, this could really make a difference in people's lives. It could save their lives."

But passing a Good Samaritan bill is just the beginning, said McQuie. "There is a lag between changes in the law and changes in 911 calls," she said. "It takes a little time for people to build trust in the system. You also have to educate police and the people around drug users that the law exists, and there is no funding for that. These efforts are wonderful, but they need more resources to be effectively implemented."

Drug War Allies: Russia, Cuba, Pakistan… USA?

Tell our United Nations delegation to stop opposing harm reduction.

http://ssdp.org/unitednations/act

Friend,

President Obama recently announced that his administration would no longer allow ideology to trump science in policy-making decision. Yet, the very same week, the Obama administration publicly supported worn out Drug War ideology over harm reduction practices that have been proven to save and improve the lives of drug users.

I was back in Vienna, Austria last week to witness the United Nations' final deliberation over a new political declaration and action plan that will guide global drug policy for the next ten years.

Unfortunately, despite recommendations made by 300 Non-Governmental Organizations form around the world, including SSDP, the declaration included no mention of harm reduction.

(Harm reduction is like contraceptives, but for drugs. It's a scientifically proven set of policies and practices that keep drug users alive and healthy, without relying on abstinence-only messaging.)

After final approval of the declaration, 26 nations including Great Britain, Germany, and Australia, courageously spoke up to register their support for harm reduction in the official UN record, setting off a firestorm of debate on the floor of the United Nations.

While most countries chose to remain silent on the issue, a handful chose to speak up and denounce support for harm reduction.  These included Russia, Cuba, Pakistan… and the United States!

We must send a message to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that the American people will no longer stand idly by as they allow 20th century Drug War ideology to trump science and evidence!

Please visit this action page to send a message to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, read the final approved U.N. declaration, and watch video of SSDP participating in a protest and press conference outside the United Nations.

Thank you for your support of SSDP's efforts to bring science and reason to national and global drug policies.

Sincerely,

Kris Krane
Executive Director
Students for Sensible Drug Policy

P.S. Like the work SSDP is doing to influence President Obama and the United Nations to change drug policy? If so, please let us know by making a donation today. http://www.ssdp.org/donate

Location: 
Vienna
Austria

Harm Reduction: Washington State Good Samaritan Bill Would Protect Those Bringing Overdosed Friends to Medical Care

More than 700 people died of drug overdoses in Washington state in 2006, up from a little over 400 in 1999. In an effort to blunt that trend, state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) has introduced HB 1796, which would provide limited immunity from prosecution for drug possession for people seeking assistance for friends or relatives suffering from a drug overdose. At present, New Mexico is the only state to have passed such a "Good Samaritan" law.

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Roger Goodman
Many overdose deaths occur because friends of the victim delay or completely avoid seeking medical treatment for fear they will end up being arrested themselves. That fear is one of the most significant barriers to getting help for OD victims.

The bill would prevent Good Samaritans from being prosecuted for drug possession, but not drug manufacture or distribution offenses. The bill also provides the same immunities for drug overdose victims. A second section of the bill legalizes the use of the opioid antagonist naloxone to treat overdoses.

Before becoming an elected official, Goodman earned an impressive reputation in the drug law reform community and the legal community as head of the King County Bar Association Drug Policy Project. Now, he has moved from advocating change to legislating change.

The bill was introduced January 29 and passed the House Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on February 18 in amended version. On Thursday, it was returned to the Rules Committee for a second reading.

Update: HB 1796, and its companion bill sponsored by Sen. Rosa Franklin, SB 5516, did not come up for a vote before Thursday's cutoff.

Pain Relief: FDA Panel Urges Ban on Darvon, Related Drugs

Acting on a petition from the public interest group Public Citizen, a Food & Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel last Friday voted narrowly to recommend that a widely used opioid pain medication be removed from the market. The drug is prophoxyphene, which has been in the pharmacopeia for more than a half century, and is most widely prescribed under the brand names Darvon and Darvocet.

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65 mg Darvon pills (usdoj.gov)
Prescribed for the relief of mild to moderate pain, prophoxyphene is used in dozens of generic pain medications, too. According to a briefing paper prepared by Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of Darvon and Darvocet, some 26 million prescriptions for the pain-fighting pair were written in 2005.

The FDA approved new Darvon formulations as recently as 2003 and a generic phophoxyphen pain medication in 2005. The drug has also passed a number of FDA reviews in the past half-century, including one occasioned by another Public Citizen petition in 1978. The FDA can ban a drug if it is proven unsafe or ineffective when taken as directed.

The agency collected reports of more than 1,400 deaths in people who had taken the drug since 1957, though experts stressed the figure does not prove the drug was the cause of death in all cases. Nor does it seem an exceptionally large figure for an opioid drug prescribed millions of times a year for more than 50 years.

The panel also relied on a Florida Medical Examiner Commission report on 2007 drug-related deaths that showed 87 deaths linked to prophoxyphene.

"If that's not a risk, I don't know what is," said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head doctor for Public Citizen.

There may be a risk, but it's relative. That same report listed 476 deaths caused by alcohol poisoning, 743 from tranquilizer overdoses, and 843 from cocaine. Among opiate-caused deaths, methadone led with 785, then Oxycontin with 705, hydrocodone with 264, morphine with 255, Fentanyl with 117, and heroin with 93 -- all greater than the number of deaths attributed to Darvon and its generic equivalents. Even the tranquilizer Meprobamate killed more people with 88 deaths listed. (Cannabis was listed as the cause of death in zero deaths.)

Still, despite weak evidence to justify removing Darvon and its brothers from the pharmacopeia, the FDA advisory panel voted to recommend that 14-12 last Friday. A final decision will come in a few weeks.

"It's not a very clear-cut picture," Sharon Hertz, MD, deputy director of the agency's analgesia drugs division, said at a press briefing after the decision. "It's not straightforward that it should or shouldn't come off the market."

Some panel members saw little benefit in keeping Darvon on the market. "I would say, little 'b', big 'r' for this drug. That's little benefit and lots of risk. And that's unsettling," said Ruth Day, PhD, who voted to remove the drug.

It "looks like it offers placebo benefits with opioid risks," saids Sean Hennessey, PhD, a panel member and epidemiologist from the University of Pennsylvania.

But other panel members warned that banning prophoxyphene could leave pain patients in the lurch. It could also drive them to other pain, more potent pain medications, like Oxycontin, they warned.

"Every drug you're talking about that's going to deal with pain has difficulty," said Mary Tinetti, MD, a professor of medicine at Yale University. "There is the possibility that the drugs that would take its place would cause at least as much harm in some people."

Xanodyne hopes it can keep the drug on the market. "I'm hoping to do everything we can to keep this product available to the 22 million people who need it," the company's vice president for clinical development and medical affairs, James Jones, told WebMD.

Tainted Cocaine is a Consequence of Drug Prohibition

I don’t particularly mind the drug czar pointing out that cocaine can kill you. While far from the deadliest thing on earth, the stuff ain’t good for you, especially given the way some folks get carried away with it. I agree that a sensible drug policy includes telling people that cocaine pretty much sucks.

But here we have the drug czar highlighting reports of tainted cocaine in Canada and proposing drug treatment as the solution to that. Isn’t it ironic that, after tirelessly advocating policies which drive drug distribution underground, the drug czar then cites a poisoned drug supply as an argument for abstinence?

Random Drug Testing Won’t Save the Children From Heroin

Here’s drug czar John Walters shamelessly using a young woman’s death as an opportunity to plug student drug testing:

Heroin killed 19-year-old Alicia Lannes, and her parents say she got the drug from a boyfriend.  Experts say that's how most young kids get introduced to drugs: by friends or relatives.

While teen drug use is declining, Walters says a Fairfax County heroin ring busted in connection with Lannes' death proves it's still a problem.  He supports a federal program used in more than 4,000 schools to randomly drug test students.

"There's no question in my mind had this young woman been in a school, middle school or high school with random testing," said Walters, "She would not be dead today." [FOX DC]

Walters sounds supremely confident, as usual, yet the reality is that random drug testing is often impotent when it comes to discovering heroin use. Student drug testing programs typically rely on urine tests, which can only detect heroin for 3-4 days after use. Only marijuana -- which stays in your system for up to a month – can be effectively detected this way. Thus, random testing actually incentivizes students to experiment with more dangerous drugs like heroin that increase your chances of passing a drug test.


And thanks to the complete failure of the drug war, heroin is stronger today than ever before:

The drug enforcement agency says the purity of heroin found in Virginia is typically higher than usual—making it more deadly.

"They tend not to know how to gauge the strength and they usually take more than they need to," said Patrick McConnel, who oversees Treatment for Youth Services Administration Alcohol and Drug Services.

There are no easy answers here, to be sure, and I don’t claim any monopoly on the solutions to youth drug abuse. But I guarantee you that the problem isn’t our failure to collect more urine from young people. As long as the most dangerous substances continue to be manufactured, distributed, and controlled by criminals, the face of our drug problem will remain the same.

Australia: Drug Researcher Says Ecstasy Safer Than Binge Drinking, Causes Flap

Responding to recent data suggesting that young Queenslanders are switching to ecstasy in the wake of a steep increase in the state government's tax on popular "alcopops," a leading drug researcher said the young people would be better off taking small amounts of ecstasy than going on drinking binges. Unsurprisingly, the comments have attracted criticism from some quarters.

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ecstasy pills
Professor Jake Najman, director of Queensland's Alcohol and Drug Research Center, said ecstasy was "a lesser evil" than binge drinking, long a popular Australian pastime. Ecstasy is "relatively benign if taken in small quantities," he said. "When young people switch from a substantial amount of alcohol to a small amount of ecstasy... I don't think that's a bad trade at all. It is not likely that one pill on a Saturday night poses the same dangers as frequent binge drinking."

Illegal drugs kill about a thousand Australians a year, but alcohol kills around 20,000. According to a 2004 government study, 19% of 18-to-24-year-old men and 11% of women in the same age group had engaged in binge drinking -- defined as seven drinks or more at a sitting -- at least once a week over the past year.

Ecstasy is "cheaper and safer" than excessive alcohol consumption, Najman said. "Even drug-related problems, including psychotic episodes and violent behaviour are not seen with ecstasy, as they are with amphetamines and alcohol," he said.

University of Adelaide PhD student Emily Jaehne attacked Najman's statement on two counts. She said ecstasy was often adulterated, but that is an artifact of prohibition, not a property of the drug itself. Her second count, that ecstasy causes potentially serious increases in body temperature, was stronger. "When taken at hot nightclubs or rave parties the heightened effects could lead to severe brain damage or death," Ms. Jaehne said.

But while the risk of death from using ecstasy is real, it is also infinitesimal. According to a 2004 study of national death statistics, 12 people died of ecstasy-related causes in Australia between 2001 and 2004.

Still, that didn't stop Jo Baxter, director of Drug Free Australia, from calling Najman's comments "irresponsible" and dangerous. "There is no guarantee that if young people hear a message of so-called 'safe use' from people in authority, that they will use only small quantities. Taking ecstasy is like Russian roulette. No one individual knows exactly what it will do to their body chemistry," she said.

"A person in Professor Najman's position and with his qualifications is showing an extraordinary lack of responsibility, if his views have been reported accurately," Baxter continued. "The other aspect is that we seriously have to question why our young people are feeling the need to take drugs in order to 'have a good time.' We need to be giving our young people reasons not to have to rely on drugs for their social events. If we can reduce the demand, the huge volumes of ecstasy now coming into Australia would have no market."

Good luck with that, Mrs. Baxter.

Marijuana: SAFER Takes on the NFL, Cites "Hypocrisy" of Player's Huge Fine for Marijuana Possession

New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk was suspended for one week and fined two weekly paychecks, or about $300,000, by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this week after pleading guilty in July to misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. That has the marijuana reform group SAFER (Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation) crying foul.

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SAFER Ricky Williams billboard, 2007 (saferchoice.org)
SAFER, whose primary argument is that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should not be treated more harshly, announced Thursday that it would deliver an online petition and letter calling for changes to the NFL's marijuana policy to Goodell today in New York City. For SAFER, the huge fine assessed against Faulk is rank hypocrisy from a sporting organization that accepts hundreds of millions of dollars in alcohol advertising.

The petition reads as follows:

"Players with the National Football League who use marijuana instead of alcohol to relax and recreate are making a rational choice to use a less harmful substance.

"Suspending these players and taking away hundreds of thousands (or sometimes millions) of dollars for using marijuana is driving them to use alcohol, a drug that -- unlike marijuana -- contributes to violent and aggressive behavior. Unless the NFL plans to suspend every player who receives a speeding ticket -- which is considered an offense on par with marijuana possession in some states -- it has absolutely no reason to suspend players for the simple use and possession of marijuana. Doing so is not only irrational, but given the NFL's acceptance and blatant promotion of alcohol, it is exceptionally hypocritical.

"Marijuana is safer than alcohol and the National Football League's substance abuse policy should be changed immediately to reflect that fact."

"The NFL has no problem with players using alcohol and it accepts hundreds of millions of dollars to promote booze to football fans of all ages," said SAFER executive director Mason Tvert. "Yet the league punishes those players who make the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol to relax and recreate. The NFL is driving its players to drink. Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far less harmful than alcohol both to those who use it and to others around them," Tvert said. "It is a mystery why Commissioner Goodell and the NFL would want to steer the biggest, toughest guys in the country away from using marijuana and toward using alcohol, which contributes to aggressive behavior and countless violent crimes."

This isn't the first time SAFER has gone after the NFL's marijuana policy. Last October, the group erected a billboard across the street from Invesco Field in Denver that featured an image of NFL superstar Ricky Williams in a Denver Broncos jersey, urging the recently reinstated player to "Come to Denver: Where the people support your SAFER choice."

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