(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #98, 7/9/99
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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From all of us here at DRCNet, thanks for being part of the solution.
Taylor West, [email protected]
A study recently released by the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health sheds light on the epidemic of the liver disease Hepatitis C that has quietly torn through the nation's injection drug-using populations. The study found that in Baltimore, a city known both for its serious drug problems and its progressive approach to solving them, over 90% of intravenous drug users are infected with the Hepatitis C virus, or HCV.
HCV is a disease that attacks the liver, and currently it is the number one reason for liver transplants in the United States. The virus may reside in the body for long periods of time without any noticeable effects, and in fact may never lead to liver disease in many of those it infects. However, those that it attacks may suffer liver failure or cancer of the liver 10 or 15 years down the road. Furthermore, the attack of HCV is highly exacerbated if the infected person also has HIV, and activities that strain the liver, such as alcohol consumption, can greatly increase its negative effects.
HCV, like HIV, is transmitted from person to person by the contact of bodily fluids, accounting for its prevalence among injection drug users who share needles and other equipment. However, HCV is much more easily transmitted due to the high density of its particles in infected blood.
Joey Tranchina, Executive Director of the AIDS/Hepatitis Prevention ACTION Network, illustrated the importance of this phenomenon with a simple mental image. Imagine an eyedropper of blood placing a single drop in the palm of your hand, he explained. If that blood is HIV positive, there are perhaps five particles of HIV present in that drop. "If that same drop is infected with HCV," he said, "the Hep C particle count is at least 100,000."
The ease with which HCV can be transmitted, combined with the relatively small amount of attention the disease has garnered to date, has created an explosion of the virus among injection drug users, many of whom were not even aware they were at risk. Among young users in Baltimore, aged 15 to 30, 58% are HCV positive. In New York, that figure is around 50%, with Chicago at 33%, New Orleans at 28%, and Los Angeles at 23%. Those high numbers for relatively short-time users indicate the rapid pace at which HCV is spreading.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, Commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department, says it is vital that programs already in place for HIV prevention be expanded and adjusted to account for the HCV epidemic. Baltimore currently has one of the largest publicly run needle exchange programs in the country, and has seen the HIV infection rate of its participating injection drug users drop by 70%. Beilenson said that the continued expansion and evolution of that program and the drug treatment programs to which it is connected are "absolutely necessary" in the face of widespread HCV infection. "There needs to be a lot more outreach to [intravenous drug users]," he told The Week Online. "With the triple cocktail [AIDS treatment drugs], people are getting a little more lax about HIV. We've got to be pushing safer sex, education about HCV and other diseases as well as HIV, and opportunities for drug treatment."
Tranchina, a leading advocate for HCV prevention, stressed a need for greater awareness about the virus among both the infected and the uninfected. "People need to realize that this is about harm reduction," he said. "Syringe exchange can be a good basis for prevention, but it can also help educate those people who already have Hep C." Because the epidemic is occurring largely within the drug-using population, resources for both prevention and education are often scarce or non-existent. That's no surprise, Tranchina says. "After all, the public health has long been a casualty of the drug war."
(The Third Annual HCV Conference will take place this August 21-23 in Oakland, California. See http://www.hcvglobal.org for information, or contact Krebs Convention Management Services, (415) 920-7000 fax (415) 920-7001, Ronald Duffy @ HCV Global Foundation, (707) 425-8862, fax to (707) 425-8862, or Joey Tranchina @ APAN, (650) 369-0330, fax (650) 369-0331.
In the wake of a call by New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for a reevaluation of the nation's drug policies (see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/096.html#governorspeaks and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/097.html#johnsonemail), a number of that state's organizations have come together to facilitate the discussion. The New Mexico Alliance for Drug Policy Reform is a loose-knit coalition who, according to coordinator Steve Bunch of the Drug Policy Forum of New Mexico, hold a range of viewpoints on the ultimate form of drug policy reform, but who "all recognize that the drug war is causing more problems than it is solving."
"It is a growing alliance," Bunch told The Week Online, "and we expect that it will grow to include a broad cross-section of New Mexico's citizens."
Bunch said that one of the first goals of any public education effort on the issue is to overcome the stigma that has been attached to reform efforts by drug war advocates, including many politicians.
"People who have a vested interest in the status quo would like the public to believe that anyone who questions current policy is somehow 'pro-drug.' That's just not the case. The fact is that here in New Mexico, as in the nation as a whole, we are spending an inordinate amount of taxpayers' money on enforcement and corrections in the name of protecting our children. The reality though is that under the current system, kids in this state have easy access to prohibited substances. There is no licensing scheme, no one checks ID's. If our goal is really the protection of children then I would have to agree with Governor Johnson when he called the drug war 'a miserable failure.'"
Bunch hopes that the coalition will be able to provide factual information to the people and the political leaders of the state, and to participate in an open debate on the pros and cons of the current system and possible alternatives.
"It's time," he says, "to begin a discussion that has been put off for far too long due to the uneasiness of many politicians to confront it. It has been far easier to simply talk 'tough,' and when the results weren't there, to talk 'tougher.' But I think that we've seen the limits of that type of simplistic approach. Now, around the country, courageous leaders like Governor Johnson are calling forth a principled debate. The alliance has formed to make it easier for that debate to happen."
(If you'd like to make a donation or provide other support to the Alliance, contact Steve Bunch, president of the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation, at (505) 344-1932. Also, if you haven't done so, please email Governor Johnson to show your support for his politically courageous stand against the drug war. He needs to know that thinking Americans applaud his efforts. You can reach Governor Johnson on the web at http://18.104.22.168/opinion/Opinion.htm, or call (505) 827-3000.
Peder Nelson, [email protected]
The Berkeley, California City Council is trying to update a 20-year old city ordinance that makes marijuana offenses the lowest priority for police. If they are successful, "The Kinder and Safer Streets Act of 1999" would restructure law enforcement priorities to focus mainly on violent offenses while establishing a new guidelines for responding to marijuana use, possession, and sales in the community.
"We're trying to balance public health and safety issues with the values of the community," said Don Duncan of the Berkeley Cannabis Action Network, who helped write the proposed ordinance.
In 1979, the Berkeley Cannabis Initiative was enacted, which made marijuana the lowest priority for the police. But for the last twenty years, the police have interpreted the law as non-binding. Council member Kriss Worthington told the Week Online, "Despite the overwhelming community support for the Berkeley Cannabis Initiative and 1996's Proposition 215, in which 81% of Berkeley voters supported the use of medical marijuana for the seriously ill, in the last 2 years marijuana arrests have nearly doubled and felony marijuana arrests have nearly tripled."
As a way to stem the rise in marijuana arrests, council members Worthington and Linda Maio, in conjunction with local organizations, helped to write the new ordinance, which further protects medical marijuana patients from criminal charges and creates three enforcement "priority levels" for non-medical users which they say reflects the "collateral harm" to the community.
For example, selling marijuana to a child or driving while impaired by marijuana would not be tolerated. Selling or intending to sell marijuana on public property would be considered "moderate priority" and the offender would be cited or arrested on misdemeanor charges. The police would be directed to ignore the "lowest priority" offenses, such as personal use of the drug in a private residence.
Despite statistics showing increases in marijuana arrests, Berkeley Police Captain Bobby Miller said he doesn't think the proposed ordinance is necessary. "It talks about assuring that marijuana enforcement be one of the lowest priorities, but that's no change from what has always been done. In terms of the great scheme of things and all the things we have to do as police officers, it's not high on the list to go out and enforce marijuana laws." As of June 30, there had been 139 marijuana arrests this year, police said.
The proposal awaits review by the City Manager and the Chief of Police while the council is on summer recess.
(Council member Worthington has urged people to send e-mail in support of the ordinance and, if you live in the City of Berkeley, to mail a letter of support to the city council. Write to: Councilmember Kriss Worthington, [email protected], Councilmember Linda Maio, [email protected], or Office of the City Clerk, 1900 Addison St., Berkeley, CA 94704. Visit the City of Berkeley website at http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us.)
Jane Tseng, [email protected]
Last Friday, the Drug Enforcement Administration eased restrictions on the prescription drug Marinol. Marinol, which is a synthetic form of THC in a sesame oil mixture, was previously classified as a "Schedule 2" drug along with morphine, cocaine, and other drugs deemed by the DEA to have medical use but a high potential for abuse. Doctors who wanted to prescribe it had to keep detailed records of the prescriptions and file copies of all prescriptions with the DEA. Marinol will henceforth be classified as a Schedule 3 drug, which puts it in the same category as codeine. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, the DEA designation for drugs with no medical value and high abuse potential.
Released on the market in 1985, Marinol has been used to treat anorexia and weight loss in AIDS patients and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy given to cancer patients. Supporters of Marinol maintain that doctors and patients have more control of dosage and quality with Marinol than with smoked marijuana.
But medical marijuana advocates contend that the increased accessibility of Marinol does not lessen the need for medical marijuana. "It's a much different compound," Dr. John P. Morgan, professor of pharmacology at City University of New York Medical School and co-author of "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence" told The Week Online. "Delivering THC by swallowing it is less effective and less efficient than by smoking crude marijuana." High dosages of Marinol can also produce severe, unpredictable psychoactive effects in some patients. Finally, many patients complain that Marinol, which must be swallowed, is an inappropriate treatment for nausea and vomiting.
Morgan said the success of medical marijuana initiatives in six states may have been behind Marinol's rescheduling. "The fact that it has been available is often cited as a reason we don't need medical marijuana. Removing some restrictions is clearly designed by the government, at least at some level, to diminish the political force of the medical marijuana movement," he said. It is widely believed that Marinol was developed and rushed onto the market fourteen years ago precisely in order to stave off political pressure to make marijuana available to patients.
John Gettman, a Virginia activist who is petitioning the federal government to have marijuana itself rescheduled, said the debate over the relative merits of marijuana versus Marinol obscures the profit motive of another key player -- the pharmaceutical industry. "The rescheduling of Marinol is an effort to increase the profits of its manufacturer by making its product more widely available and by renewing the government's justification of criminalizing access to marijuana, the less expensive alternative source of cannabinoid drugs," he said.
Marinol is produced by Unimed Pharmaceuticals. They gave it its own web site, at http://www.marinol.com.
"Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" (1997) is available in bookstores, and also has its own web site, at http://www.marijuanafacts.org.
The text of Jon Gettman's petition is available online at http://www.norml.org/legal/petition.shtml.
Those in the Washington, DC area may be interested in the Institute for Policy Studies' brown bag lunch drug policy video and speaker events. The next event, this Thursday, 7/15, will feature the Australian video "An Unholy Alliance," examining the relationship between the drug trade and war, detailing the involvement of the CIA with opium traffickers in the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars. Robert Parry, Editor and Publisher of I.F. Magazine, will speak on "Covert Operations and the Drug Trade." Please see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/096.html#videoseries for the full summer listing. Taking place at the Institute for Policy Studies, 733 15th St. NW, Suite 1020, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 234-9382, contact Sanho Tree for more information.
Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
Temperatures across the northeast this week rose into the triple digits, sending millions scurrying for relief. In New York, the demand for electricity, for air conditioners in particular, caused a partial blackout. Welcome to summer in an age of global warming.
But while summers have apparently
gotten hotter as the
Summer in the suburbs is a quieter time. Kids are away at summer camp, or summer homes, or spending their days at beach clubs, or working. But while the streets of the suburbs are relatively deserted during the long, hot days, the streets of poor communities, especially urban communities, are teeming with kids who have nothing but time on their hands.
Unemployment, down under 5% in much of the nation, still plagues urban youth. With few jobs, few recreational opportunities and few prospects, the summer is a time of danger for kids. Drugs, as both reliever of boredom and, even more appealing, business opportunity, are a terrific lure.
"How'd you like to make yourself a hundred dollars, kid?" That question -- sure to perk the ears of even the most upstanding young teen, and especially teens possessed of those most American of traits, entrepreneurship and nerve -- is asked not by legitimate employers but by drug dealers, older teens who represent the most economically successful sector of many communities. Stand on the corner and watch for the cops, they're told, and so another piece of our future falls to the Prohibition economy, proving his worth to those above him in the entry-level position of lookout.
The kid, fourteen, perhaps younger, is making a business decision, plain and simple. He can sit around on a hot stoop, penniless and without stature on the street, or else he can have money, prestige and something to do. Consequences? Hey, the kid's fourteen. How many of us didn't make foolish decisions at fourteen, unable to fully comprehend the potential long-term consequences of our actions? Remember too that the kid in question is probably non-white, and is unlikely to have a strong belief in his likelihood of success in the legitimate economy.
Yes, summer's here and the
drug war, with its attendant unregulated black market, has insured that
another year's supply of bed-filler for the prison industry and slave labor
for numerous other American corporations will get an opportunity to end
up as human chattel. No, not the white, middle class kids who might
sneak a toke between jet-ski period and mess hall at some mountainside
sleep away camp, just the poor kids for whom summertime stands stretched
out before them like one long asphalt-melting, unproductive sauna.
They are the ones who'll fall prey. They are the ones who'll be burned
by the season of the sun in an age of Prohibition.
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