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Europe: Scottish Labor Politician Fights for Harm Reduction as Party Turns Hard-Line on Drugs

On the eve of a major conference on new approaches to Scottish drug and alcohol policy Monday, outgoing Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Susan Deacon, blasted her party's increasingly hard-line approach to drug policy, defended harm reduction approaches, and called drug prohibition "the product of a bygone age." The harsh critique of the Scottish Labor Party's disdain for methadone maintenance, push for abstention-based drug treatment, and enthusiasm for taking children from drug-using parents came in an opinion piece published in the Sunday Herald, "The Political Addiction to Tough Talking on Drugs Has Failed Us All."

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/susandeacon.jpg
Susan Deacon
Deacon, the MSP for Edinburgh East and Musselburgh, is a member of the Scottish Royal Academy's RSA UK Commission on Illegal Drugs, Public Policy and Communities, which will issue a report in March. She is also a former Labor health minister who will retire after the next elections. And she is increasingly at odds with her bench-mates on drug policy. The party's recent moves toward abstinence-based "contracts" for addicts and away from previous support for methadone maintenance prompted Deacon to respond with vigor.

"The fact is," she wrote, "it's time to get real. The demonization of drugs and drugs users may make for rabble-rousing speeches and sensationalist headlines but it does little to promote understanding of what is really going on in our society, to help those whose lives are affected. Here in Scotland, we have seen too many knee-jerk responses and blanket solutions. Policy and practice should not be framed by immediate reactions to the latest tragic incident or research report. We need a pragmatic approach to drugs policy -- not a moralistic one."

The notion that methadone maintenance had failed was "nonsense," Deacon wrote. "What about the people for whom methadone has helped them to move away from criminal activity, to hold down a job or to look after their children?" Deacon called proposed moves to restrict treatment options "utterly perverse" and said the idea of taking children from drug-using parents was "paternalistic and simplistic."

But while she explicitly defended harm reduction as a policy approach to drug problems, Deacon also attacked drug prohibition. "UK drugs control laws are more than 30 years old, a product of a bygone age," she wrote. "A growing number of voices, both at home and abroad, are raising questions about whether the current national and international legal framework is fit for purpose -- this discussion cannot be a no-go area."

Oddly enough, Deacon's intra-party foe on drug policy, MSP Duncan McNeil called her critique "conservative." McNeil, who first proposed the idea of "contracts" for drug users, said of Deacon: "The harm reduction policy was well meant and necessary, but things move on. Susan has her views on this subject but she has become very conservative.
"The Labor Party has gone through an extensive consultation on this, but Susan didn't take part in the debate on it at conference."

While her own Labor Party was one target of Deacon's opinion piece, she also aimed to inoculate Monday's Scottish parliament's Futures Forum from more reflexive drug fighter chest-beating. The forum brought together more than 250 senior police officers, academics, community leaders, and health professionals seeking a "fresh perspective" on Scotland's approach to drugs and alcohol.

According to one account of the forum, Deacon may have found a more receptive audience there than within her own party. That account found leading police official and drug policy experts talking bluntly about the need to get beyond "macho posturing" and how the Misuse of Drugs Act was "not fit for contemporary purpose."

With endemic heroin and alcohol abuse, and now, the newfound popularity of cocaine, Scotland is in need of new approaches to drug policy. With politicians like Deacon fighting regressive tendencies in her own party and ongoing efforts like the Futures Forum and the RSA UK Commission on Drugs underway, Scottish politicians will have the knowledge base to act. Whether they will have the political will to apply that knowledge remains to be seen.

Minister drops in at injection site

Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada
Publication/Source: 
The Vancouver Sun
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=24207915-c1ea-4e48-b69d-38866d2d39aa

Afghan Heroin's Surge Poses Danger in US; the World's Purest Form Can Kill More Addicts, As Seen in LA County

Location: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-heroin26dec26,0,7339972.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Feature: The Next Prohibition? Poll Finds Nearly Half of Americans Favor Banning Cigarettes

A Zogby survey of likely voters has found that 45% would support making cigarettes illegal within the next five to 10 years. Currently, cigarettes are not illegal anywhere in the United States (except some jails and prisons, where they are considered contraband), although moves to restrict smoking and tax tobacco products are winning broad acceptance.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/tobaccofield.jpg
tobacco field
According to the survey, which was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and conducted in July, banning cigarettes is supported by senior citizens (51%), conservatives (51%), born-again Christians (52%), and adults with less than high-school education (55%). But strikingly -- and a sign of looming trouble for anti-prohibitionists -- the age group that most strongly supports making cigarettes illegal is young people. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, support for cigarette prohibition stood at 57%.

Still, a slim majority (52%) opposes prohibiting cigarettes. Opposition to a ban is strongest among 50-to-64-year-olds, independent voters, liberals, moderates, college graduates, people with some college education, men, and residents of rural areas and the South. Among these subgroups, roughly 60% oppose a ban.

At a Thursday news conference in New York, DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann warned that criminalizing cigarettes would have disastrous consequences. "If cigarettes were illegal, we would risk the prohibition-style shootouts and violence that characterized the Al Capone era," Nadelmann said. "Millions of our fellow Americans -- our friends and families -- would be considered criminals. We already have too many people with addiction problems serving long prison sentences. The last thing we need is to ruin many more lives with another ineffective prohibition strategy."

Nadelmann was joined by Allen Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who called for a public health approach to tobacco. "I am surprised by the numbers of people supportive of making cigarettes illegal and am totally supportive of the statements of the Drug Policy Alliance," he said. "From a public health perspective the focus should be on prevention through expanded public education campaigns, such as the very effective campaigns run by the American Legacy Foundation, taxes on cigarettes, banning sales to teenagers and bans on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars. But making cigarettes illegal would be a huge mistake."

Also addressing the press conference -- via cell phone from the snowbound Denver airport -- was former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, now a prominent member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Outlaw cigarettes? Tobacco smokers run huge health risks, and the costs to taxpayers are substantial. But, as a non-smoker, and a 34-year veteran of law enforcement, I can't imagine a more dangerous, short-sighted law," said Stamper. "We've cut cigarette smoking in half, the result of education, taxation, and regulation -- without putting a single cigarette smoker in jail. We're on the right track, let's not get derailed."

Stamper warned that cigarette prohibition could lead to a repeat of the crime and violence associated with alcohol Prohibition and current drug prohibition. "We would see the creation of a criminal underclass with unprecedented levels of violence and innocent people caught in the crossfire, the same as we are experiencing with the drug war," he said. "We believe cigarette prohibition would escalate tensions in our society to almost unimaginable levels. Cigarette prohibition would lead to an increase in death, disease, crime, and addiction, just as with other prohibited drugs."

As a result of decades-long public education campaigns, cigarette smoking has been declining steadily in the United States and is now concentrated among the poorer, least educated, and minority populations, which, Rosenfield warned, may make it easier to impose a prohibition on smoking. "As with illicit drugs, it would be primarily low-income minority people in jail," he said. "We should forbid companies from marketing tobacco, the outlawing of sales to minors should continue, but the focus should be on education and regulation, not making smoking illegal."

When asked by Drug War Chronicle if trumpeting the fact that there is strong support for cigarette prohibition wasn't playing into the hands of prohibitionists, Nadelmann acknowledged such concerns, but said they were outweighed by the need to take preemptive action to nip any such moves in the bud. "We debated this question inside DPA before we went public," he said. "If we surface this, would it aid those who favor criminalization? We decided we are on a real slippery slope, and if we didn't do this now, in two or three years the numbers could be even higher, so we thought it was important to raise the alarm now, while the majority still oppose prohibiting cigarettes. We need to start making the case that the logical end of a public health campaign is not prohibition."

DPA is preparing to launch an educational campaign for politicians and the public about the unintended consequences that could result from a new prohibition on cigarettes, Nadelmann added. "Public health officials, law enforcement and treatment providers should speak out loudly and clearly against cigarette prohibition," he said. "We can't allow hysteria to overwhelm rational responses to the legitimate concerns about the harms of cigarettes. We can't afford to repeat the same mistakes we have made with other harmful substances."

Well, smokers, smoke 'em if you've got 'em, because if this poll is any indication, you may not have 'em for long -- unless you're willing to resort to the black market.

Regulating Heroin Trade Suggested

Location: 
Bridgeport, CT
United States
Publication/Source: 
Connecticut Post
URL: 
http://www.connpost.com/news/ci_4463922

A Question for Dr. Volkow

Drug warriors don’t answer phone calls or emails from the likes of us, so the only way to ask them questions is to show up when they’re speaking publicly and hope to get called on during Q&A. Sitting in the moderator’s line of sight helps, as does not looking like a balls-to-the-wall hippie drug-legalizer (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

And so this past Friday I attended the “African American Brain Trust on Eliminating Racial Disparities in Substance Abuse Policies” sponsored by the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, for the dual purposes of developing contacts for an unrelated project, and hopefully to get some answers from NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow who would be presenting. NAADPC assembled an impressive list of speakers, and though the event was neutral in tone, it’s probably safe to say that if NAADPC replaced ONDCP, there'd be less to blog about. The audience consisted primarily of criminal justice and medical professionals, but the full anti-prohibitionist viewpoint was represented by ubiquitous reformers Kymone Freeman and Howard Wooldridge of LEAP. True to form, both asked about legalization, which prompted squirmy but less-than-dismissive responses from panels of distinguished judges, prosecutors, and law-enforcement professionals.

A neutral, non-politicized discussion of the drug problem inevitably favors the compassionate activist over the status quo, but the final word of the day from Dr. Nora Volkow provided a startling reality check. Dr. Volkow’s power-point presentation titled “Using Science and Medicine to Effectively Treat Drug Addiction” conjured a distopian future in which “addicts” are administered government drugs by force in order to prevent them from enjoying the drugs they take voluntarily. But she didn’t phrase it that way.

Dr. Volkow argues that prolonged drug use alters the brain in ways that reduce the user’s control over drug-taking itself, thereby necessitating compulsory treatment in order to help the user regain the ability to make his/her own decisions. Addiction is a disease, yes, but drugs themselves cause the disease over time, according to Dr. Volkow. By this logic, intervention appears justified at any stage.

With time running short, I was fortunate to be one of three people chosen to ask questions. Mine came out something like this:

I hope that by looking at drug addiction as a disease, society will become less inclined to stigmatize people with drug problems. But there’s a flipside in that most people who use drugs are doing just fine. I know that most people in treatment for marijuana were coerced into it by the criminal justice system, for example. As your research progresses, will you still acknowledge that most drug users don’t fit into the addiction model you just described?

Dr. Volkow was answering before I was done asking, and her answer was clever. She admitted that many drug users don’t experience negative consequences. “We’ve always acknowledged that” she said, as if I was kind of stupid for asking. “But it’s important to realize,” she went on, “that even experimentation with drugs can have dire consequences.”

It’s pathetic that after a forty-five minute presentation on addiction science, she would resort to such an unscientific generalization. Yes, experimentation can have consequences, but as Jack Herer once said, “nobody’s ever died from marijuana that wasn’t shot by a cop.” Too often, the consequences of drug use take the form of government persecution justified by junk science from prohibitionists masquerading as public health experts.

Dr. Nora Volkow says we shouldn’t stigmatize drug-users, but then she goes around diagnosing them with a brain-rotting disease that most of them don’t actually have.

Location: 
United States

Health Board Okays Needle Exchange

Location: 
Pittsburgh, PA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
URL: 
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06250/719683-114.stm

Canadian Federal Government Demands More Research on Safe Injection Site, But Won't Pay For It

The Canadian federal government -- relatively hostile to harm reduction measures like safe injection sites since the Conservative Party took power in the last elections -- will not fund further research for Vancouver's InSite safe injection site, Health Ministry spokesman Eric Waddell told the Drug War Chronicle this afternoon. That was news to the site's operator, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, whose spokesperson Viviana Zonacco said she had not been informed of that aspect of the ministry's decision.

The Health Ministry had funded research on the injection site's efficacy for the past three years to the tune of $500,000 a year. The ministry extended the site's exemption from the country's drug laws for only year instead of three years last Friday—the dead news day before the three-day weekend in Canada—saying that it required further research on how well it worked. But after demanding more research, the Health Ministry doesn't want to pay for it. Go figger.

I learned about this as I was researching an article I will write about the decision for this week's Chronicle. Check it out on Friday.

Location: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada

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