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Breaking: Congress Votes to Kill People

Earlier this week we alerted our email subscribers and web site readers that Republicans in Congress were pushing to reinstate the only recently repealed syringe exchange funding ban. Lifted two years ago as part of the FY 2010 budget bill, the ban had prevented states from making their own decisions as to whether to use federal AIDS grant funding to support needle exchange programs. As most if not all aspects of the drug issue demonstrate, when Republicans talk about state and local control, they don't sincerely mean it, at least not as a group. (The libertarian-minded Ron Paul initially supported the ban, but changed his view and helped repeal it years later.)

Not that the ban's reinstatement can be blamed solely on Republicans, certainly not in the Democratically-controlled Senate. It happened in part because Democrats did not make it a priority to keep it from happening.

Congress's action this week means misery and death for large numbers of people. As the eight federal reviews of the research on this issue demonstrate, needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV without increasing the use of drugs. According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, needle sharing by injection drug users accounts for 8,000 new cases of HIV and 15,000 new cases of Hepatitis C each year. Of course the diseases spread from them to other people on occasion, including people who have no involvement in illegal drug use. As HRC points out, New York City has seen a 75% reduction in new HIV cases as a result of instituting such programs, according to a 2005 study.

So let's be clear; the evidence is overwhelming. In fact, even the studies cited by opponents of needle exchange actually support needle exchange, if you take the time to read them. Reinstituting the federal ban will have the effect of defunding many programs, and the science is clear that this means more infections and more needless of life. It won't save the federal government any money, because it doesn't affect the total amount of funding in the Ryan White program. All it does is make the program less effective at accomplishing its goals. And of course, health care costs will only grow because expensive AIDS and Hepatitis treatments will be needed for more people. Sadly, expressing the drug war ideology through deadly legislating seems to be more important for certain members of Congress than any of that. On the bright side, at least they didn't reinstate the old ban on the District of Columbia spending its own funds on needle exchange programs.

Don't give up and don't think that it's over. The ban got repealed once, and it will get repealed again. In the meanwhile, here are a few of the statements about the event that have come to my attention since yesterday. (Feel free to link more in the comments section.)

Congress to Restore Federal Syringe Exchange Funding Ban as Part of 2012 Spending Package

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

For Immediate Release: December 16, 2011
Contact: Tony Newman or Bill Piper

Congress to Restore Federal Syringe Exchange Funding Ban as Part of 2012 Spending Package

Ban on Allowing States to Use HIV Prevention Money on Life-Saving Syringe Programs was Overturned in 2009 After 20-Year Struggle

Reinstatement of Ban will Lead to Thousands of New HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C Cases Annually

As part of the 2012 spending package being voted on today, Congress is restoring a ban on using federal funding for syringe exchange programs that reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. The ban, enacted in the 1980s and repealed in 2009, was largely responsible for hundreds of thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS directly or indirectly from the sharing of used syringes. Advocates warn that restoring the ban will result in thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C or other infectious diseases next year alone.

“The federal syringe funding ban was costly in both human and fiscal terms – it is outrageous that Congress is restoring it given how overwhelming and clear the science is in support of making sterile syringes widely available,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Make no mistake about it – members of Congress who supported this ban have put the lives of their constituents in jeopardy.”

House Republicans passed restrictive language in three separate appropriations bills, and succeeded in getting two of three bans in the current House-Senate compromise omnibus for Fiscal Year 2012 being voted on today. In addition to the overarching ban on domestic use of federal funds contained in the Labor-HHS spending bill, House republicans also succeeded in imposing a ban on use of State Department funds for syringe access in international programs. In large parts of the world the HIV/AIDS epidemic is being driven by injection drug use. The international syringe funding ban will mean the global HIV/AIDS epidemic will continue to grow.

The existing federal syringe exchange policy, signed into law by President Obama in December of 2009, allows states and local public health officials to use federal funds for syringe access, in consultation and with the consent of  local law enforcement. The policy change is widely credited with having prevented thousands of new cases of HIV and Hepatitis C, thereby saving many lives and improving public health and safety.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, American Public Health Association, and numerous other scientific bodies have found that syringe exchange programs are highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Increasing the availability of sterile syringes through exchange programs, pharmacies and other outlets also helps injection drug users obtain drug education and treatment. Eight federal reports have found that increasing access to sterile syringes saves lives without increasing drug use.

“We may have lost this battle, but we have just begun to fight,” said Piper. “The Republicans who insisted on restoring the ban, and the Democrats who didn’t fight hard enough to oppose it, will be responsible for thousands of Americans contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C. We will make sure Americans know which members of Congress care about their health and well-being and which do not.”

###

ALERT: Don't Let Congress Backslide on Needle Exchange

Dear drug policy reformer:

One of the most important actions taken by Congress in recent years was the lifting of a ban on the use of federal AIDS grants to support needle exchange programs. We have just learned that as part of the end-of-year Congressional spending package, Republicans are pushing hard to reinstate the ban. If they succeed, it won't reduce federal spending -- this is entirely about the choices state and local officials get to make with the funds that they have -- but it will kill people by promoting syringe sharing by injection drug users and the resulting spread of deadly diseases like Hepatitis and HIV, in turn driving up health care costs related to those diseases.

Please call the White House to urge President Obama to stand firm on this issue and not allow the needle exchange funding ban to be reinstated. The White House comment line number is (202) 456-1414. Here is a sample script for your phone call: "My name is _______. I live in <CITY, STATE>. Thank you for your past support of syringe exchange. I support maintaining current language that allows local officials to make their own decisions to use federal and local Washington DC funds for Syringe Exchange. Please do not allow the Senate or House to change the current law in the Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations negotiations. Thank you."

Please also make the following calls to Congress:

  1. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): (202) 224-3542
  2. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-IL): (202) 224-2152
  3. Charles Schumer, chair of Senate Democratic Policy Committee (D-NY): (202) 224-6542
  4. Your Own Two Senators: (202) 224-3121 for the Congressional Switchboard or look up your Senator's numbers at senate.gov

    Sample script for phone calls to the Senate: "My name is _______. I live in <CITY, STATE>. I support maintaining current language that allows local officials to make their own decisions to use federal and local Washington DC funds for Syringe Exchange. Please do not change the current law in the Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations negotiations. Thank you."
  5. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): (202) 225-4965

    "Thank you for your past support of syringe exchange. "My name is _______. I live in <CITY, STATE>. I support maintaining current language that allows local officials to make their own decisions to use federal and local Washington DC funds for Syringe Exchange. Please do not change the current law in the Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations negotiations. Thank you."

Please email us to let us know what phone calls you've made -- especially if the staffers who take your phone calls offer any indication as to what their bosses' intentions are. Thank you for your taking action.

New Canadian Drug Reform Coalition Emerges [FEATURE]

Even as Canada's Conservative federal government attempts to drag the country back into the last century with its drug and crime policies, a new drug reform umbrella group has emerged to fight for smart, sensible, evidence-based alternatives. The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) unveiled itself and its new web site late last month.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/cdpc-logo.jpg
Enlisting many of Canada's leading experts in drug policy, the coalition is headed by Donald Macpherson, the former head of Vancouver's ground-breaking Four Pillars approach to the drug problem. It also includes researchers, public health officials, front-line harm reduction and treatment providers, people who use drugs, HIV/AIDS service organizations, youth organizations, parents, and community members, all of whom are concerned with the health and safety outcomes of Canadian drug strategies. Its emergence couldn't be more timely. (See a complete list of member organizations here.)

Tuesday, the House of Commons approved a draconian omnibus anti-crime bill, C-10, that would, among other things, create mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six marijuana plants and for manufacturing small amounts of hashish or hash oil. The Tories were able to shove the bill through despite broad opposition from across Canada after winning an outright parliamentary majority in the last elections.

Reformers say they will be unable to stop the bill's passage, although they will likely challenge it in the courts, which have proven friendlier to innovative drug policy reforms. The Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year blocked the federal government from shutting down Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site. It is in this contested terrain of federal drug policy, as well at the provincial level, that the coalition seeks to intervene.

"We're letting the world know we're here and we're a coalition that wants to grow," said Macpherson. "We’re working toward trying to change the paradigm and the direction of the federal government and introducing a public health and human rights perspective on drug policy in Canada."

The coalition went public last week, marking its coming out with a press conference in Vancouver, a Macpherson op-ed in the Vancouver Sun, and joining with the British Columbia Health Officers' Council (HOC) in releasing an HOC report, Public Health Perspectives for Regulating Psychoactive Substances, which describes how public health oriented regulation of alcohol, tobacco, prescription and illegal substances can better reduce the harms that result both from substance use and substance regulation than current approaches.

"This paper highlights the large number of needless and preventable deaths, hospitalizations and human suffering consequent to our current approaches," said Dr. Richard Mathias of the HOC. "The Health Officers’ Council is inviting feedback on its ideas and requesting that organizations and individuals join with us in a call for immediate changes to put the public’s health first."

"The story about the emperor's new clothes is replayed time and again by governments unwilling to own up to realities," said Robert Holmes, head of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, as he saluted the report. "Public health professionals in B.C. are right to point out that our current chaotic and contradictory drug laws and policies need to be reviewed against scientific evidence of what works to reduce consumption, social harms, and costs," he said.

"People routinely get put in jail for conduct related to active drug addictions, but the criminal justice system is hardly a surrogate for medical care. It is plain that we have inadequate treatment and detox available for people with addictions to help them cope, recover or quit," noted Holmes. "By making cannabis taboo, our society both prohibits and makes more alluring its use. It is, of course, widely used. But instead of recognizing that and taxing it like tobacco and liquor products, with the tax revenue going to the cost of education and care, we leave the massive profits of this industry to organized crime and leave taxpayers with the bill for police efforts to contain it."

"This report is important because it's not about which drugs are legal and which are not," Macpherson said. "We need to look at all drugs through a public health lens. We're trying to get beyond 'good drug, bad drug' and move toward finding a regulatory system that minimizes the harm and maximizes the benefits of these substances."

The provincial health officers' report is also noteworthy because it actually addresses the benefits of drug use, Macpherson said.

"It takes courageous public health doctors to dare to talk about the benefits of drug use," he said. "We all know that drugs can be beneficial from our use of alcohol to relax or become more social or our use of pharmaceuticals to kill pain, but you're not allowed to talk about that in the drug policy arena. It's all about reducing harm, but we need to acknowledge that drug use has its benefits."

More broadly, the CDPC is working toward:

  • A health, social and human rights approach to substance use;
  • The important role harm reduction approaches play;
  • Removing the stigma of criminalization for people who use drugs;
  • Moving beyond the current approach to drug prohibition;
  • A national dialogue on drug policy for Canada.

"We'll advocate for a comprehensive public health and human rights approach," said Macpherson. "It's not just about health, but also looks at social and human rights issues. And it's not just about ending the drug war, but to start talking about alternatives to the failed war on drugs."

The CDPC sees itself as facilitating the dialog, Macpherson said. "A lot of change in drug policy requires political leadership, but politicians also need support in taking those courageous steps, so that when you bring people together to talk reasonably in an informed way and bring the evidence to bear, you can then move forward. They can see that despite their fears about safe injection sites or cannabis regulation, those are actually sound ways to go that make their communities safer in the long run than the way we're going now," he said. "We're trying to position ourselves as the organization than can help find the answers through our expertise and by looking at what's worked and what hasn't in other jurisdictions, and by convening people who care about these issues to look for solutions that actually work instead of the same old same old."

And despite Conservative domination at the federal level, there is still plenty that can be done, both in Ottawa and in the provinces, Macpherson said. "There is a lot that can be done around health and harm reduction because most of the health approaches emanate from provincial health ministries," he said. "Harm reduction can also be done locally by municipalities, for example, by making the criminalization of drug users a low priority for police."

While any decision to end Canada's drug war will have to come from Ottawa, Macpherson said, the provinces can still move forward themselves. "We can expand the number of safe injection sites and other harm reduction programs, and we can move toward a more comprehensive public health approach. They're doing that in some provinces," he said.

Given the obstinacy and recalcitrance of the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, the CDPC certainly has its work cut out for it, but there couldn't be a group more suited for the task.

Vancouver, BC
Canada

New Jersey Pharmacy Needle Sales Bill Passes

A bill that would allow for the sale of syringes in pharmacies without a prescription has cleared the New Jersey legislature with bipartisan support and awaits the governor's signature. The bill, Assembly Bill 1088, passed the Assembly Monday on a 54-24 vote; a companion measure passed the state Senate in February on a 28-12 vote.

The bill would allow for the purchase of 10 syringes without a prescription. (image via wikimedia.org)
An ever-growing body of evidence supports increased access to sterile syringes to reduce the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. While New Jersey passed a law allowing for needle exchanges in 2006, the law capped their number at six.

The bill would allow for the purchase of up to 10 syringes without a prescription. It also decriminalizes the possession of needles bought from a pharmacy without a prescription.

New Jersey is one of only two states that still bans over-the-counter syringe sales. The other is neighboring Delaware.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Joan Voss (D-Bergen), Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex), Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Bergen and Hudson) and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Essex and Passaic).

"This is a historic moment," said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.  "This is the first time the New Jersey legislature has voted to join the overwhelming majority of other states in allowing limited sales of syringes without a prescription. This legislation has overwhelming support from the medical and public health community. Governor Christie now has the opportunity to sign this legislation that will help end AIDS and save lives."

Trenton, NJ
United States

New Drug Policy Videos from HCLU

In "The State of Harm Reduction in Europe," the film crew of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union interviewed activists and professionals attending the first meeting of the European Harm Reduction Network (EuroHRN) in Marseilles, France, to provide an overview of the progress, the backward trends, and the current state of affairs of harm reduction across the European continent.

 
One of the most powerful speeches at the recent International Drug Policy Reform Conference was Marilyn Howell's recounting of how MDMA helped her daughter gain dignity and quality of life in her final days. Watch her presentation courtesy HCLU below or read more information here.
 
 
Three videos from the "Drug, Set and Setting -- Today" panel at the conference bring us speeches by Julie Holland, Gabor Maté and Carl Hart.
 
Explore HCLU's video collection through the links above or click through to their YouTube page for more footage from the conference.
Location: 

San Francisco Marks 600th Overdose Death Prevented

For the past eight years, the San Francisco Department of Public Health has been handing out the opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) in a bid to reduce heroin overdose deaths. This week, the city marked what it said was the 600th life saved by using the overdose-reversal drug.

This drug stops heroin overdoses -- 600 so far in San Francisco (wikimedia.org)
The city distributes naloxone through needle-exchange sites, nonprofit organizations, and community organizations that deal with injection drug users. The department also prescribes the drug to people in residential hotels and the friends and families of heroin users, and conducts training sessions in the county jail.

Not only have hundreds of overdose deaths been averted, but the department also reported that heroin-related visits to the city's emergency rooms had declined by half between 2004 and 2009.

The lifesaving measure is funded by a department expenditure of $73,000 a year, which goes to the Oakland-based Drug Overdose and Prevention Education Project (DOPE Project). DOPE uses the money to buy and distribute the drug and train people on how to use it.

"San Francisco has always been a heroin town," Alice Gleghorn, DPH's head of Community Behavioral Health Services told the SF Weekly. "At one time, San Francisco had an overdose death every day, and that rate has really gone down. I hope our naloxone programs have contributed to that drop. But we don't have the money to do the research."

Eliza Wheeler, director of the DOPE Project, compared naloxone to insulin and said its use posed few problems for injection drug users. "The folks we see are pretty adept with administering drugs, so they'll be okay. People are very capable and willing to save their friends' lives... my experience is that people are really proud of themselves," Wheeler said.

Harm reduction is saving lives in San Francisco. Perhaps other cities and counties should take heed.

San Francisco, CA
United States

Seattle Pilot Program Offers Treatment Not Arrest [FEATURE]

The Belltown neighborhood near downtown Seattle is a charming, vibrant urban locale, located just south of the city's landmark Space Needle. Filled with bars and cafes and desirable condos, it is a nighttime hot spot, but it is also a neighborhood where a relatively small number of problematic drug users have reduced the quality of life for residents and businesses alike. According to a recent study by the Seattle Police Department, some 50 people in Belltown were responsible for a whopping 2700 arrests.

4th Ave. & Wall St., Belltown neighborhood (Chas Redmond via wikimedia.org)
Now, instead of cycling those people through more endless -- and expensive -- rounds of arrest, prosecution, incarceration, and supervision, local officials and the Seattle Defender Association have embarked on an innovative pilot program in which beat officers will offer to take low-level, nonviolent drug offenders to drug treatment instead of arresting them, booking them into jail, and prosecuting them.

The pioneering program will allow officers the discretion to offer treatment to people charged with crimes such as public intoxication or drug possession, but not people with records of violence or those accused of dealing drugs. Offenders can decline the offer of treatment and instead be arrested and go through the criminal justice system.

Known as LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), the pilot program is designed to improve public safety and order and reduce the criminal behavior of program participants. It is based on successful "arrest referral" programs that have been operating in the United Kingdom for the past several years. The program has strong support from local elected and law enforcement officials.

"We are looking for effective public safety solutions,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. "If drug dealing and crime could be solved by arrests alone, we would have solved this problem a couple thousand arrests ago. LEAD offers a promising alternative to traditional responses to street-level drug dealing, and we look forward to tracking its results in Belltown."

"We know that the issue of chemical dependency in our society cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. It is a complex social problem that requires a comprehensive social solution,” said Seattle Chief of Police John Diaz. "LEAD provides our front line police officers with the discretion necessary to ensure that treatment diversion is utilized as a viable alternative to incarceration."

"Sheriff Sue Rahr and her staff support the concepts that act as the basis for the LEAD program, and we look forward to our participation," said King County Sheriff Major James Graddon. "Respect, open communication and common goals among some historically adversarial groups have created a positive environment to move this program forward. Using the formal criminal justice system for all offenses is costly and has proven to not necessarily be the most effective way to impact future offender behavior."

Graddon was referring to strained relations dating back to the last decade between the Seattle Police and the Defender Association, a nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to indigent defendants. In a bid to reduce tensions and work together on the common goal of reducing the number of repeat offenders cycling through the system, the Defender Association and law enforcement began discussing possible responses to the continuing problem of drug-user generated low-level crime with back in 2008. The LEAD program, which rolled out in Belltown a month ago now and which will also be tried in the Skyway neighborhood of unincorporated King County, is the fruit of those discussions.

Mayor McGinn at LEAD program press conference (mayormcginn.seattle.gov)
Defender Association Deputy Director Lisa Daugaard has been a prime mover in getting the program going. Given that the state of Washington faces a $2 billion budget deficit and looming social service cuts, Daugaard managed to obtain $4 million in grants from private foundations, including the Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation, to pay for four years worth of LEAD services, including not only drug treatment, but also job training, housing assistance, and educational opportunities.

"Now, because of the dismantling of the social safety net, these LEAD resources may be the only way that some people will be able to get treatment, housing, and other services," said Daugaard.

LEAD supporters hope that the by the end of the four-year pilot period, the program will be able to demonstrate that it can generate cost savings worthy of being picked up by state and local government. They aren't the only ones watching with interest. Stateline, a media outlet covering state government issues across the land, reported last week that Baltimore, New Orleans, Oakland, and the state of New Mexico have already expressed interest in the program.

As a pilot program, LEAD will undergo a rigorous evaluation to determine whether it has been a success. It that proves to be the case, it could be expanded in other Seattle and King County locales, officials said.

"The LEAD pilot has the potential to help people struggling with addiction and save public dollars at the same time," said King County Executive Dow Constantine. "We can work in partnership to replace a downward spiral toward jail with support and resources. Our families and neighborhoods are better off when those headed for the criminal justice system are instead given the opportunity to lead a fulfilling and productive life."

It won't take four years to see what kind of impact LEAD has on Belltown and Skyway. Within a matter of weeks or months, we should be able to see whether this experiment in smart policing is working and produces a model that can be adopted elsewhere.

Seattle, WA
United States

The 9th National Harm Reduction Conference: "From Public Health to Social Justice"

 

Dear Guest,

 

You're cordially invited to the

 9th National Harm Reduction Conference: "From Public Health to Social Justice"

The 9th National Harm Reduction Conference: From Public Health to Social Justice is the only multidisciplinary conference focused on improving the health of drug users. Over a thousand people from around the country will meet to address the many critical issues affecting the drug user community including overdose, HIV, hepatitis, incarceration, stigma. Physicians, medical professionals, policy makers, researchers, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis service agencies, organizations providing services for youth, and the homeless as well as community based and advocacy organizations will be well represented at this much anticipated event.

WHEN
Thursday, November 15, 2012 10:00 AM  -  Sunday, November 18, 2012 2:00 PM

WHERE
Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront Hotel
1401 SW Naito Parkway, Portland, OR 97201 USA

View Event Fees

View Event Summary

View Event Agenda

 

Location: 
1401 SW Naito Parkway
Portland, OR 97201
United States

Bay Area Pols Slam Feds' Medical Marijuana Crackdown

A pair of Northern California elected officials last week urged the federal government to back off on its "senseless assault" on medical marijuana dispensaries. At the same time, they said they want to meet with federal officials to see what's behind the crackdown.

Stalwart supporters of medical marijuana state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) took to the microphones at a news conference at the State Building in San Francisco.

"I urge the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries," Leno said in remarks reported by KTVU-TV. "California voters intended that patients should have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana," he said.

Leno and Ammiano said they are pondering new state legislation to regulate dispensaries, but added that such laws would be workable only if California legislators hear from the Justice Department that such regulations would have an impact on federal enforcement efforts. They said they hoped to speak with Justice Department officials in the next few days.

"To be successful legislatively, we would need some indication from the federal government that (the state legislation) would impact" the Justice Department offensive, Ammiano said. 

"Call the dogs off and let's sit down," Leno said.

The news conference came in response to the October 7 announcement by California's four US Attorneys that they are ramping up federal persecution of medical marijuana providers in the state. Even though California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, the federal government refuses to recognize such laws.

While the Justice Department has said it is not targeting patients, it is clearly targeting dispensaries and medical marijuana grow operations, with DEA raids ongoing and threatening letters being sent to dispensary landlords in a bid to force them to evict their medical marijuana tenants.

At the press conference, Ammiano conceded that California has little recourse when it comes to federal interference in its medical marijuana program. "In the end, they'll probably do whatever they want," he said.

Now, the federal government needs to be convinced that raiding medical marijuana providers operating in compliance with state laws is not what it wants. President Obama had a chance to get that message when he visited California on a fundraising swing this week. He was met by organized protestors when he came to San Francisco Tuesday.

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