(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #19, 11/15/97
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
The past two issues of The Week Online (issues 18 & 19) have been written from Strudel Internet Bar in Jerusalem, (where I have been on "vacation"). These issues would not have been possible without the generosity and kindness of proprietors Phil and Miranda Kaiser. If you find yourself in Jerusalem, make a point of stopping in to read your current issue of The Week Online at Strudel. You'll find great food & drink and a welcoming crowd -- tell them DRCNet sent you. Finally, thanks too to Debbie, Avi, Fyonna, Joey the King of Jerusalem (behind the bar) -- and everyone else at Strudel for making us feel at home in the City of Peace. In the meantime, take an online stroll to Strudel at http://www.drcnet.org/strudel.html.
Table of Contents
Late last summer, DRCNet reported that Diana McCague and Thomas Scozzare of the Chai Project needle exchange program in New Brunswick, New Jersey had been convicted of violating state law by providing a sterile syringe to an undercover police officer, and asked our members to respond in the media (http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1997/8-13-1.html).
On Friday, November 7, McCague and Scozzare went before the Honorable Joyce Munkasci in State Superior Court, Middlesex County. According to McCague, Judge Munkasci claimed to come to the case with an open mind, but then refused to grant an extension when their attorneys asked for more time to prepare briefs, stated that they had not proven that needle exchange is effective (despite testimony from well known scientists Don Des Jarlais and Ernest Drucker), openly questioned McCague's veracity and indicated that the medical necessity defense did not apply since the undercover officer who requested syringes did not present as someone who was in imminent danger country. McCague commented, "I believe that I am being punished for my audacity -- not because I caused anyone any harm."
Judge Munkasci also refused to stay the penalties while the case in appeal -- $1,446 in fines, and a six month driver's license suspension. McCague makes a living driving a taxi, hence a license suspension would be a severe hardship. The appellate court granted an emergency stay on the license suspension, pending appeal, leaving the $1,446.
Grassroots support for the Chai Project in the way of donations to cover the fine would help the Chai Project continue, and would also make good PR. If you would like to help the Chai Project, call Diana McCague at (732) 247-7014 or e-mail [email protected].
Last year, DRCNet reported on the saga of Dr. William Hurwitz, a Virginia physician who bucked the system by simply doing his duty in prescribing adequate quantities of narcotics to patients who needed them for pain. (See http://www.drcnet.org/guide10-96/pain.html, http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1996/6-5-1.html and http://www.drcnet.org/rapid/1996/12-9-1.html.) In the aftermath of Hurwitz's license suspension, two of his patients committed suicide due to severe, untreated pain. One of them, retired police officer David Covillion, filmed a dramatic videotape the day before ending his life, describing in no uncertain terms the extremity of his pain and the insanity of the system -- state regulatory agencies and the DEA, and pervasive misconceptions about pain treatment within the medical profession itself -- that left him with no relief in site. An excerpt from Covillion's videotape was included in a Sixty Minutes report last year.
At long last, Dr. Hurwitz's approach to pain control has been officially vindicated by the state of Virginia. The Virginia Board of Medicine reinstated both his license to practice medicine and to prescribe controlled substances, and members of the board expressed their agreement with the fundamentals of his pain control methodology. The one remaining obstacle to Hurwitz's practice is the DEA.
In a significant turn of events, the Virginia Medical Society has issued guidelines to physicians calling for aggressive treatment of pain, stating that physicians can and should make use of narcotics (also known as opioids) when called for in treating pain, and should prescribe them in sufficient quantities to provide meaningful relief. The statement succinctly summed up the problem as follows:
"Inadequate understanding about issues such as addiction, tolerance, physical dependence, and abuse has led to unfounded stigma against proper opioid prescription. Fears of legal and regulatory sanctions or discipline from local, state, and federal authorities often result in inappropriate and inadequate treatment of chronic pain patients. Undertreatment or avoidance of appropriate opioid therapy increasingly has been reported by physicians, patients, and other health care team members."
Importantly, the document acknowledges the tolerance effect -- greater quantities of opioids are often needed over time to achieve the same level of relief -- and states that tolerance does not imply addiction.
This document will soon be available on the web site of the American Society for Action on Pain (ASAP), http://www.actiononpain.org, and many other documents related to pain control are on the site already. You can help educate doctors in your area by printing out these documents and distributing them.
In 1993, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and James Bakalar, associate editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter, came out with their landmark book, Marihuana The Forbidden Medicine. Grinspoon and Bakalar provided an overview of the medical uses of marijuana, with convincing case studies and interviews of patients who had used it for treatment of a wide variety of conditions.
The revised and expanded edition of Marihuana The Forbidden Medicine is now available. The list of conditions is more expansive, encompassing the common conditions for which marijuana is used, as well as the less common. Overall, the book reflects a new level of knowledge that has become possible during the last four years as more and more patients have come forward. It's hard to read Grinspoon and Bakalar's book and still swallow the government line that marijuana's medical value is undetermined.
Marihuana The Forbidden Medicine is published by Yale University Press, ISBN #0-30007085-3. Order a copy at your local bookstore, or even better, ask them to put it on display! You can also order this and other books by Grinspoon and Bakalar online at http://www.amazon.com.
(The following letter writing request was submitted by Kevin Zeese, President of Common Sense for Drug Policy. For a full copy of the original article, e-mail your fax number to [email protected].)
Terence Hallinan, the District Attorney of San Francisco, has had a hatchet job of an article published about him in San Francisco magazine. ("Crime, No Punishment," November 1997, cover story.) Terence was the only DA in California to support Proposition 215 and when the DEA raided Flower Therapy and threatened doctors he stood up against them. It is time for activists to stand up for him by writing the magazine at [email protected]
Some of the areas where Terence was criticized were:
Every letter should not focus on all of these issues. A short letter of two to three paragraphs should focus on one or two issues. Pick the issues near and dear to your heart and write about them.
DRCNet's Reformer's Calendar has been updated and is available at http://www.drcnet.org/calendar.html. Exciting events are coming up over the next few weeks in New York, Washington, Rochester, Honolulu, Baltimore, Minneapolis and more. Of particular interest are public forums in Honolulu on 11/18, titled "Women and Prison: The Drug Connection" and Minneapolis on 11/25, on drug policy reform in the Connecticut state legislature. If you don't have web access, and would like to get the calendar via e- mail, please send us a note at [email protected] with the subject line "SEND CALENDAR".
We fell behind in updating our calendar last month, and unfortunately a number of you had sent us event listings that we did not publicize in time. We are still unpacking from our big move and are in the midst of other transitions, but are hoping to keep the event listings more up to date from now on. So please don't be discouraged, and keep sending us the info!
Colin Dunlap, a junior high school student in West Virginia, was suspended from school for three days last week when he was busted for giving a lozenge to a classmate. School policy requires a parental note for the possession of any over the counter medications.
"That's why they have warning labels" said school nurse Brenda Isaac. "Cough drops appear harmless, but none of them are." Jennifer Dunlap, the student's mother, had a different take on her son's punishment. "A cough drop? I think that's the most asinine thing I've ever heard."
Marsha Rosenbaum, Director of The Lindesmith Center West, commented, "It seems a bad idea to suspend kids for violating school policy. If they are inclined toward deviant behavior, a leave of absence from school only encourages further deviance. As a parent I would prefer more rather than less time at school, and the option of punishing my child as I see fit."
[Source: Associated Press, 11/7, and private communication.]
Retired four-star general and current Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey last week publicly threatened the Pentagon that he would not "certify" their 1999 budget unless $141 million was re-directed from other operations to fight the Drug War. McCaffrey has statutory authority to carry out this threat, but his ultimatum was not met with enthusiasm by officials at his former agency.
Specifically, McCaffrey demanded the following:
Kenneth Bacon, chief Pentagon spokesman called the amounts "excessive" and disputed either the necessity or the wisdom of each of them, noting that in some cases, the proposed increases would be greater than the military could productively employ. Of particular interest is the $12 million that McCaffrey wants to see go to the program in the Caribbean, currently under the purview of Customs and the Coast Guard, where Bacon says there is "no clear defense role."
An unidentified staff member at the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) of which McCaffrey is director, told the Los Angeles Times, "We're doing this to make a point: that the director is serious about his job."
[Source: LA Times, 11/7]
Former Reagan administration Secretary of State George Shultz and Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman each reaffirmed, in passionate terms, their views on the inescapable failure of America's "War on Drugs" last week. The speeches, delivered to a gathering of California law enforcement officials at the Hoover Institute, were part of a two-day program designed to examine more pragmatic approaches to substance abuse.
Friedman listed the wide variety of ways that the drug war is immoral, including massive increases in incarceration, the near-destruction of inner-city neighborhoods and the extensive use of informants as some of the ills brought upon by this failed policy. "We have done things in the name of prohibiting drugs that we never would do for prohibiting robbery, for example," Friedman said.
Shultz noted "If you create a system where profits are immense, you're going to set up an independent Industry," he said. "And boy have we set up an industry... It's vast and it's ruthless."
The conference, which took place at Stanford's prestigious Hoover Institution, was organized by Dr. Joseph McNamara, former chief of police in San Jose and Kansas City. Information about the first such conference in 1995 and its surprising results, as well as some of Dr. McNamara's speeches and editorials, can be found online at http://www.drcnet.org/cops/cops.html and http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/debate/mcn/mcntoc.htm.
[Source: Oakland Tribune, 11/7, and private communications]
A federal undercover agent working on a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force" in Queens, NY, shot a local high school student when he mistook a candy bar in the youth's hand for a gun. 17 year-old Andre Burgess, captain of the Hillcrest High School soccer team, was walking down 138th street in Laurelton, Queens, when the carload of Federal agents rolled by and one officer, identified by the New York Daily News as William Cannon, jumped out.
Cannon apparently identified himself, but, according to Burgess, gave the teen no time to react. "I turned to see what was up, and boom, I'm hit, and I fell to the ground." Burgess also described the callousness with which the incident was handled even after it was discovered that he had been unarmed and apparently wholly uninvolved in any criminal activity.
"I'm laying there, bleeding, waiting to go the hospital, and he's shaking hands with the other cops, or agents, or whatever they were," he said. "He asked one of them, 'Don't I know you from some other case?' And I'm still lying there."
DRCNet Executive Director David Borden commented, "The incident is reminiscent of the Esequiel Hernandez killing in Redford, Texas, by U.S. Marines. In neither case did the aggressors provide appropriate medical assistance to their victims. Fortunately, Burgess was not fatally wounded. But then, this is only the one incident out of many that happened to get some press."
[Source: New York Times, 11/8]
A study released this week by an alcohol research team at the University of California at Berkeley shows that heavy drinking has declined precipitously over the past 12 years. The study broke the findings down along racial lines, with the number of white, male heavy drinkers showing the most dramatic decline. The study also indicated that total abstinence is the rule, rather than the exception, among African-American and Latino women, and that the numbers of abstinent males in these groups has risen significantly as well.
In 1984, 20% of white males consumed at least five drinks in a sitting at least once per week. In 1995, that number had declined to 12%. Within this group, the percentage of heavy drinkers among those 50-59 years of age dropped from 19% to 3%, and in the 18-29 age group, heavy drinkers constituted 16% of the sample, down from 32%.
Among African-Americans, 55% of women were totally abstinent, while male abstinence rose from 36% from 29%. Among Latinos, 57% of women do not drink, and 35% of men, up from 22% in 1984, are abstinent. The longitudinal study used a sample of 6,000, and its results were announced on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. The study's authors speculate that greater awareness of the harms associated with heavy drinking is a major reason for the change in behavior.
[Source: Oakland Tribune, 11/12]
A science experiment in a 5th grade class in Ohio in which at least 18 children drew their own blood with the same syringe underscores the need for harm reduction education, both for students and for teachers.
The experiment was designed to allow the children to view their own blood under a microscope, but instead, it taught everyone involved a lesson on the dangers inherent in sharing syringes. According to the Associated Press, the teacher wiped the needle with alcohol between each use. But as any harm-reductionist will tell you, this is an insufficient method to eliminate the risk of transmission of the AIDS virus, hepatitis, and other blood-borne pathogens.
Parents of the students were notified of the potential exposures and will have to decide on their own whether or not to have their children tested for disease.
[Source: Associated Press, 11/11]
A poll released this week finds that a slight majority of Canadians favor the decriminalization of the personal possession and use of marijuana. Of 1,515 adults polled, 51% were in favor of decriminalization for personal use, and 83% favored legalization for medicinal use.
The only age category opposed to decrim were those over 55, with only 41% in favor. Level of education was also a factor, with 55% of college-educated adults favoring decrim as opposed to 49% of those with less than a high school education.
This story was reported on the front page of the Globe and Mail, Canada's only national newspaper, on November 4. The Globe and Mail accepts e-mail letters to the editors at [email protected], and their web site can be found at http://www.globeandmail.ca/.
Just eight months after adding both Syria and Lebanon to the U.S. government's annual list of "major drug trafficking" nations, President Clinton has removed them both and placed them on the list of nations "to watch." Interestingly, the move comes in the midst of two impending crises in the region, namely Iraq's intransigence in allowing U.N. inspectors to tour its weapons sites and the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process, for which the Clinton Administration is actively courting wide Arab support.
Iowa republican senator Charles Grassley denounced the removal of Syria, saying, "From all accounts, Syria remains a major drug trafficker." President Clinton defended the move on the basis of a new, joint eradication program in which the two nations have agreed to destroy 8,400 acres of opium poppies.
DRCNet Executive Director David Borden notes that "based on decades of evidence and a tall stack of government and private reports, we can be pretty sure that the eradication program will yield no long-term reduction in drug use and little if any short-term reduction." (See http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/GOVPUBS/gao/gaomen1.htm for a sample of the evidence.) "Those 8,400 acres will be replaced by new acreage in Syria or elsewhere before they've even finished."
[Source: Reuters, 11/10]
14. Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferer Gets 9-Month Suspended Sentence in England -- Plans to Take Case to European Court of Human Rights
Eric Mann is a fifty-four year-old former oil refinery supervisor forced into early retirement by the pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis. He is also a grandfather... and a medical marijuana user. Mr. Mann had never before been in any trouble with the law, but last week, the Swansea Crown Court sentenced him to nine months imprisonment for the 141 cannabis plants found growing in his attic. Due to his medical condition, and to Mr. Mann's otherwise good character, the court suspended the sentence.
Despite this, Mr. Mann says he plans to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights, and he plans to continue to use cannabis to relieve his pain.
Week Online readers will note that Will Foster, currently serving 93 years in the state of Oklahoma, was growing less than half the number of plants that Mr. Mann was convicted of... also for relief of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
[Source: The Independent on Sunday, 11/9]
In his 1998-99 proposal to the state legislature's Joint Budget Committee on Monday, Colorado governor Roy Romer called for bipartisan support in reducing sentences for non- violent crimes, including low-level drug offenses. "The corrections operating budget will require 12 to 15 percent increases each year for the foreseeable future," he told the committee. This makes corrections the fastest growing section of the budget, he noted, and urged the legislature to work with him to consider parole, community corrections, and other alternatives to incarceration. "We've got to see where we're spending our money and see whether or not we've got (drug offenders) on the right kind of program," he said.
Romer would prefer to see the money saved on prison construction spent on youth initiatives. "I feel very strongly about education and the impact of those early years on children and their development," he said. "We have to get at these problems... earlier." His own budget proposal calls for a 3% overall increase in school spending, with $25 million reserved for new children's initiatives.
Romer applauded Colorado's Drug Court system, which offers mandatory treatment and probation as an alternative to prison for some drug offenders. Eric Ennis, Executive Director of Addiction Research and Treatment Services at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center agrees. "It does seem like our prisons are full of many people who aren't violent and aren't a tremendous risk to society," he told the Denver Post last week, "...on the other hand, sometimes people make their way to treatment because of the threat of going to prison."
Romer's proposal was greeted with skepticism by Joint Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tony Grampsas (R-Evergreen). "If we don't keep building prisons," Grampsas asked, "what do you want us to do? Keep them all out of state?"
But Department of Corrections director Ari Zavaras was less dismissive of Romer's suggestions. "Certainly the Governor believes as I do that someone dealing in drugs and creating havoc on the street should be confined," he said. "But sometimes you need to do things as effectively as possible. We'd be negligent if we didn't see if we can keep the level of public safety where it needs to be and do that through less expensive sanctions."
[Source: Denver Post, 11/11]
Send an approving note to the Governor at: Governor Roy Romer, 136 State Capitol, Denver, CO 80203, or e-mail to [email protected].
Last week's editorial focused on the failure of the present U.S. drug policy in reducing the incidence of drug use by kids. This week's news, however, highlights the ways in which young people are victimized by the drug war's excesses. In West Virginia, a boy is suspended from junior high school for three days for giving a cough drop to a classmate. And in Queens, New York, a 17 year-old student is shot and wounded by a federal agent on a special drug detail who mistook a candy bar wrapper in the teen's hand for a gun.
The student in West Virginia is just the latest casualty of a "zero tolerance" school policy taken to its logical extreme. Earlier this year, a high school sophomore was suspended for 30 days for giving a Midol tablet to a friend with cramps. In another incident, a straight A high school student was suspended for four months for possessing a novelty pen filled with sterile hemp seeds (http://www.dpf.org/dpletter/30/). And, as The Week Online reported recently, an elementary school student was suspended for giving a pill-shaped Certs mint to a classmate with the advice that it would make him "jump higher."
In the present case involving the cough drop, there is certainly nothing wrong with a policy (like the one in force in the West Virginia junior high school in question) forbidding the possession of over the counter medications without parental permission; it is the punishment which raises questions. Assuming that the student intended no harm in passing on the cough drop, what principle, exactly, is served by sending the boy home -- and depriving him of three days of school -- in response to this "crime"? Does anyone really believe that this child will see his penance as just? Or will the punishment serve only as a lesson on the irrationality of adults, especially as concerns "substances"?
The boy's mother responded that the punishment was "asinine." Her reaction seems to confirm that the school's action will not be reinforced at home, thus further lessening any intended impact. Is it possible that there was another, less severe sanction which could have conveyed the message intended by the school? Or are we so anxious to punish that we have lost sight of the fact that the goal of punishment should be to reinforce an understanding and respect for civilized behavior? Given the reasonable assumption that the student was not intending to "drug" or otherwise harm his classmate, could a lecture on the potential dangers of over the counter medications, attended by both child and parent, have done the trick? Is it possible that such a course would have seemed more reasonable to the boy's mother, thereby insuring a consistent message and a lesson learned? Or was this even a consideration?
The incident in Queens, New York, raises far more troubling questions. A seventeen year-old student, captain of his high school soccer team, walking down the street with a candy bar in his hand, was confronted by an undercover federal agent on assignment with a "High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force." The officer leaped out of an unmarked car, identified himself as an agent, demanded that the teen "drop the gun" (which he wasn't holding) and, according to the injured student, nearly simultaneously shot the young man in the leg.
It is not surprising that this federal officer was on such special duty in Laurelton, Queens. Laurelton is a primarily African-American neighborhood, which means, under the rules of engagement of this war, that most of the constitution does not apply there. Any and all citizens of Laurelton are "suspects," and as such, it is they who feed our insatiable hunger for new incarcerates. It is therefore also not surprising that this officer, who is white, mistook the student for a potential troublemaker. The student, after all, fit the "profile" which has been so assiduously developed in our nation's proud war on drugs... he is young and black, and, in the world of that federal drug warrior, he was as likely carrying a gun as a candy bar.
Time after time, it seems, we hear from our government about kids and drugs: they are taking them, they are dealing them, they are under assault by dark forces trying to lure them into the underworld of rebellion and abuse. But our government, by its policies, by its rhetoric, by its example, has made enemies of our children. They have put them at risk. At risk of being unjustly and severely punished, at risk of being shot by agents of the State, and, perhaps most insidiously of all, at risk of being pushed away into an assumed class of undesirables from whence all of our influence, and all of our good intentions, will be lost to the scorn and the disgust in which our children will hold us. And rightly so. Because this war, predicated upon the protection of our children, is quickly making them the victims of our own worst impulses.
Adam J. Smith
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