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The Week Online with DRCNet
(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)

Issue #118, 12/10/99

"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. INTERVIEW: Lynn Curtis, President, Eisenhower Foundation
  2. Republican Congressman, Senate Candidate Calls for Drug Maintenance Programs
  3. Protesters Take Over Office of NYC Secretary of Human Resources
  4. FDA-Approved Medical Marijuana Research Blocked Under New Federal Guidelines
  5. Study Finds Poverty More Harmful to Children than Pre-Natal Exposure to Cocaine
  6. Newsbriefs
  7. Rebroadcast of Snitch Next Week
  8. New Issue of Harm Reduction Communication Available Online
  9. Deadline Extended for Year 2000 Drug Policy Foundation Achievement Awards
  10. EDITORIAL: A Typical Week in the Drug War

(visit the last Week Online)


1. INTERVIEW: Lynn Curtis, President, Eisenhower Foundation

Lynn Curtis was a graduate student, working on his Ph.D. in criminal justice at the University of Pennsylvania, when he was chosen to work on the bipartisan President's National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in 1969, just months after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The report, the product of tens of thousands of hours of work by an esteemed panel of experts from a broad range of philosophical and professional disciplines, concluded that "The greatness and durability of most civilizations has been finally determined by how they have responded to challenges from within. Ours will be no exception."

Thirty years after that historic effort, Mr. Curtis is President of the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, the private sector offspring of that original commission. Last week, the foundation released "A Thirty Year Update of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence." The report, entitled, "To Establish Justice, To Insure Domestic Tranquility," reaches back three decades to the findings of the original report, especially to the warnings contained therein, and finds that in 1999, our public policies have, to a large degree, ignored the wisdom of the original findings.

Read about the report's findings in last week's issue at http://www.drcnet.org/wol/117.html#eisenhowerfoundation. The report can be obtained by calling (202) 429-0440, or writing to The Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation, 1660 L St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036.

This week, The Week Online spoke with Dr. Curtis:

WOL: What does the Eisenhower Foundation do?

LC: In the early 1980's, we were able to reconvene a good number of the commissioners and staff of the original Kerner Commission and the original Violence commission and we reconvened them in the private sector. The mission is to focus on the agenda of those commissions, to make grants to inner-city, non-profit organizations that do everything from crime and drug prevention to youth development to educational reform to economic development and jobs. We demonstrate new programs, we replicate success, we evaluate that. We also give technical assistance to enhance the capacity of inner-city groups, we do a lot of reports to communicate what works and to criticize policies that don't.

WOL: The Office of National Drug Control Policy keeps saying that we can't arrest our way out of the drug problem, and yet they oversee a budget that is heavily weighted toward law enforcement and a policy that is the primary engine in the growth of the prison-industrial complex.

LC: Our report quotes the drug czar saying that the drug war has failed. We don't try to take on the mission of ONDCP, or to engage any agency directly. We do address drugs by talking about the racial bias in drug sentencing and we talk about the fact that 70% of the drug war budget being enforcement and 30% being treatment and prevention. We point out that in many European countries those numbers are basically reversed, and that we might well benefit from a realignment of that balance.

WOL: The report talks about states spending more on prisons than on higher education. Can you tell us what has brought that on, is there political consensus behind that trend, and what will need to happen to turn that around?

LC: Well, it is a fact that the states collectively spend more on prisons than on higher education, and we relate that fact to a 25% child poverty rate and that we're the only superpower in the world and the fact that one in every three young African American men are under criminal justice supervision. This is the litany of inequality, and we are saying that these are not wise investments based on what we know to work, and that these need to be turned around. We give a number of examples in the report of prevention programs up-front that are simultaneously crime and drug prevention programs and also develop youth, keep them in school and better employ them.

At the back end, there are some models like the one in Arizona, where the citizens of that state voted twice for a diversion. We think that that represents good progress and illustrates the type of policy that can be beneficial in terms of reduced recidivism and also in terms of reduced costs to the taxpayer. The report also points to after school programs, Head Start, the Ford Foundation's Quantum Opportunity Program, YouthBuild USA, the San Francisco Delancey Street model for the reintegration of ex-offenders and others. These are successful programs that need to be replicated to the scale of the problems they address at a national level.

Is it political? Sure. Politicians are emphasizing prison building and "zero tolerance," which the report states are clearly oversold as successful, at the expense of the consideration of other factors [for recently reduced violent crime rates] such as the booming economy. In the long run, though, we are still way, way out of line with the rest of the developed world in terms of violence, crime and imprisonment.

WOL: The report talks a lot about the fact that we know what works. How will it convince the public that we know what works and that the investment that the report advocates will be worthwhile?

LC: I look back to the 1992 riot in South Central Los Angeles after the first Rodney King verdict. There was a New York Times/CBS poll taken and they asked a national sample, "are you prepared to do more about the problems in the inner-city, especially when it comes to education and employment?" The majority said yes. The next question asked what the major obstacle to doing more, and the majority responded "lack of knowledge." So there's a real sense out there that we don't know what works.

Part of that has to do with the success of the constituency that believes in tax breaks for the rich and prison building for the poor in getting their message out. There is a level of sophistication there in terms of their financing and the elaborateness of their communications structure. Part of it has to do with the media, which, as you know, is controlled by eight large corporations, and they have their interests. But most people today get their information from the half-hour local newscasts, and there, there is a propensity to cover crime and violence, which is inexpensive and gets ratings. This tends to lead to a mindset among the public that nothing works.

WOL: So, having said that, is there hope?

LC: Again, I go back to what we found in the report, and that is, we do in fact know what works. And I think that there has been a realization, very recently, by progressive foundations, that the non-profit sector, which had lost a lot of its momentum during the eighties, is beginning to be rejuvenated. There does seem to be a stirring of people and institutions toward more organizing and advocacy on some of these issues. We are still, to a large degree, rolling the boulder up the hill. But yes, I am hopeful.


2. Republican Congressman, Senate Candidate Calls for Drug Maintenance Programs

U.S. Representative Tom Campbell (R-CA), the Republican frontrunner in the U.S. Senate race in California, made headlines this week when he told reporters from the Contra Costa Times that state and local governments should be allowed to set up programs to distribute drugs to addicts. "Why not take those people who are already addicted and give them the drug to which they are addicted at a government distribution center?" Campbell asked.

The story received top billing in the local papers, but Campbell's campaign spokesman, Suhail Khan, said the idea was not a new one for the Congressman. "Representative Campbell has been looking at what's happened in Europe for the past couple of years," Khan told The Week Online. "He feels like it's time to take a new look at drug policy at home, and that some of those programs could be tried here."

Campbell sees promise in programs like the Swiss heroin prescription experiment, which provided more than 1,000 long-term heroin addicts with inexpensive, pharmaceutical grade heroin in a clinical setting along with counseling and other services over a three year period. Studies of that program indicated significant decreases in crime, disease, homelessness and unemployment among participants.

Khan said Campbell thinks the results could be as successful here. "Drug treatment should be a priority," he said. "But for a small population who can't stop, drug maintenance may be a better option. It would reduce the spread of diseases like AIDS, as well as health problems associated with tainted street drugs. And it would reduce crime, because addicts wouldn't have to steal to get their drugs."

Just as importantly, Khan said, the distribution of drugs to addicts would disrupt the supply side of the black market, putting an end to violent turf battles. And lest anyone think Campbell is soft on crime, Khan added, he has been known to say he favors the death penalty for people who sell drugs to children.

Just a few years ago, any U.S. politician who dared to question the status quo on drug policy was risking political suicide, but Khan said he thinks the climate is beginning to change. "My gut reaction from the responses we've been getting from people and from recent press coverage on this is very positive," he said. "The bottom line, we're hearing, is that people know we need a change. They know 'just say no' isn't working."

And what has been the response within the Republican Party? "Mixed," Khan said. "There are some that have a more traditional conservative approach, but others are more willing to take a look. The recent needle exchange vote in Congress was the first vote we've seen in this regard, where more Republicans came down on the side of needle exchange."

Khan said he does not expect drug reform to be a major focus of Campbell's Senate campaign. "It won't be a particular focus, but overall, this is something that's important to him," he said. Campbell has cosponsored medical marijuana and civil forfeiture reform bills in Congress, and has been a staunch supporter of needle exchange.

Campbell faces his Republican rivals in a primary in March and, if he is nominated, will go up against incumbent Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein in November, 2000.

The Lindesmith Center provides a collection of scholarly and popular articles about drug maintenance online at http://www.lindesmith.org/library/focal11.html.

Rep. Campbell's Senate campaign web site provides extensive information about the Congressman's views on a variety of topics, and includes a "Town Hall" forum for constituents to e-mail him with questions and comments. Visit the Campbell campaign online at http://www.campbell.org.


3. Protesters Take Over Office of NYC Secretary of Human Resources

Angrily denouncing a city policy that would drug test all welfare recipients and deny benefits to anyone who fails, protesters chained themselves to furniture in the office of NYC Human Resources Director Jason Turner this week. The protesters, members of the AIDS services and advocacy group Housing Works, Act Up of New York and the Urban Justice Center, arrived at the downtown office in groups of two and three, rode to the 25th floor and began their occupation.

The theme of the protest was "Stop Criminalizing Poverty and Addiction," and a list of ten demands was presented to Turner.

The protesters contend that the policy represents an unnecessary intrusion, especially for those recipients already in treatment. Studies indicate that relapse, even multiple times, is normal during the course of drug treatment. Stripping aid to those who are in the process of getting clean is likely to drive the individual back to problematic drug use, protesters said.

Keith Cylar, co-executive director of Housing Works, a New York-based AIDS services and harm reduction agency, told The Week Online that the proposed policy would prove harmful to those recipients attempting to put their lives back in order.

"The city of New York, under Mayor Giuliani, has pursued a policy of expansive criminalization of the poor and the vulnerable. This proposed policy flies in the face of everything that the medical community knows about addiction and recovery. Many people who are receiving assistance are either in treatment or are receiving harm-reduction services with an eye toward eliminating the problematic use of substances. But nowhere, under no program known to medicine, do people with substance abuse problems simply stop using, immediately and permanently.

"To tie people's health benefits, access to their treatment programs and food and shelter assistance to the results of random drug tests is not only unscientific, it's inhuman. This policy will undoubtedly mean more people put out on the street, more people reverting back to problematic substance abuse and, quite frankly, more people dying. We went to the Department of Human Resources this week to let them know that we are not going to stand idly by while they put our people at risk for political gain."

Among the protesters' demands are that the city of New York rescind the clinical practice guidelines and leave treatment decisions to treatment professionals, reopen the working group on substance abuse and workfare, recognize recovery as a process and stop punishing relapse with sanctions, stop forcing welfare recipients to waive their medical privacy rights, and recognize harm reduction as a viable and valid treatment modality.

Housing Works can be found on the world wide web at http://www.housingworks.org.


4. FDA-Approved Medical Marijuana Research Blocked Under New Federal Guidelines

On December 6, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prevented a privately funded, FDA-approved medical marijuana study from taking place by refusing to allow the researcher to purchase marijuana from a legal source.

HHS's rejection of Dr. Ethan Russo's request to purchase marijuana from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) came just five days after HHS implemented its new medical marijuana research guidelines amidst widespread criticism that the guidelines are still "too cumbersome."

Last week, a coalition of doctors, patients, medical groups, members of Congress, and other concerned citizens delivered a statement to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, arguing that "many of the new guidelines would still be too cumbersome to enable research to move forward as expeditiously as possible."

The statement was signed by Susan Sarandon, Richard Pryor, scientist Stephen Jay Gould, Ph.D., former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser, AIDS Action Council, New York State Nurses Association, National Black Police Association, Reagan administration official Lyn Nofziger, and hundreds of other patients, doctors, medical organizations, and concerned citizens. (The statement and a critique of HHS' guidelines are online at http://www.mpp.org/guidelines.

Secretary Shalala responded to the statement last Tuesday on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, vowing to "defend" the guidelines, claiming that they enable "the kind of rigorous research that everybody else is required to do on drugs... We need to do what we do for every drug."

Chuck Thomas, director of communications for the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, charged, "In fact, the new federal guidelines actually place a much greater burden on medical marijuana researchers than on drug companies that develop and study newly synthesized pharmaceuticals. HHS proved our point by rejecting Dr. Russo's request to purchase marijuana for a privately funded, FDA-approved study. A privately funded researcher wishing to study a newly synthesized pharmaceutical would have been allowed to begin the research as soon as FDA approved the study design."

"The special HHS review panel told me, via telephone, that they 'didn't like' my study, but they have yet to put their concerns in writing," said Dr. Russo, a neurologist in Missoula, Montana. "The FDA and a local Institutional Review Board had already approved my study design. That's good enough for pharmaceutical companies, so it should be good enough in my case. The Clinton administration has no business micromanaging my study after FDA approved it as is. It is to be privately funded, and I am willing to purchase the marijuana from the federal government, so there is no financial justification for requiring extra reviews. They apparently do not want to risk that clinical research will allow the FDA to approve natural marijuana as a prescription medicine."


5. Study Finds Poverty More Harmful to Children than Pre-Natal Exposure to Cocaine

A report in the December issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics concludes that the negative effects of poverty far outweigh the effects of fetal exposure to cocaine in terms of childhood development. The report follows a study of more than two hundred children from birth through four-and-a-half years, half of whose mothers had been frequent users of cocaine during pregnancy, and all of whom came from low-income families.

"The findings are overwhelming and persistent -- there may be a drug effect, but it's totally overshadowed by poverty," Dr. Hallam Hurt, the chairman of the division of neonatology at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia and the study's lead author, told a Reuters reporter.

The study found that all of the children tested below the norm, based on studies of mixed-income children, but that the cocaine-exposed children's scores were not significantly different from those of the others.

"A decade ago, the cocaine-exposed child was stereotyped as being neurologically crippled -- trembling in a corner and irreparably damaged. But this is unequivocally not the case. And furthermore, the inner-city child who has had no drug exposure at all is doing no better than the child labeled a 'crack-baby,'" Hurt said.

This is not news to many who have worked on the front lines in poverty-stricken communities, according to Lynn Paltrow, the program director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women and an attorney who has defended women against "crack mother" laws that seek to imprison pregnant women and mothers who test positive for drugs. "For ten years, this is exactly what I've been hearing from drug treatment programs, like Operation PAR in Florida," she told The Week Online. "It's no coincidence that the alleged epidemic of crack babies occurred after eight years of Reagan-era budget cuts," she added.

Nevertheless, the myth of the "crack baby" has been a persistent one. And for that reason, Paltrow said, studies like Hurt's are crucial. "It's extraordinarily important to have careful, well-constructed research to support what many of us who are opposed to the War on Drugs -- and Women and Children -- have long suspected," she said.

Phillip Coffin, a research associate at the Lindesmith Center, agrees. "This is exactly the sort of research that should have been done years ago," he said. "If we took the time to compare the effects of poverty, and hunger, and spousal abuse, and discrimination, and lack of good medical care to the effects of prenatal drug exposure, we'd find the former would almost always greatly outweigh the latter. Hurt has done an extraordinary, high-quality study."

You can read Phil Coffin's research brief on "Cocaine and Pregnancy," as well as writing by Lynn Paltrow and others on the subject of women and drugs, on the Lindesmith Center web site at http://www.lindesmith.org.


6. Newsbriefs

Mass Graves Reveal Two FBI Informants

In a none-too-surprising twist, the bodies of two Mexicans who worked as informants for the FBI were found among the first eight bodies exhumed from mass graves in Juarez, Mexico. Informants, many of who are peripheral players forced into service by law enforcement under threat of long prison sentences, are at serious risk of discovery and death. Experts have long criticized U.S. drug enforcement for its over-reliance on informants. In January (1999) the 10th circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, en banc, overturned an earlier ruling which would have prohibited the federal government from exchanging money, leniency or freedom for information (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/074.html#singleton).

Teen's Death Spurs Inquiry of Abuse at State-Run "Boot Camp"

The death of a 14 year-old girl has prompted an FBI inquiry into the practices of state-run "boot camps" for juvenile offenders. The girl, who weighed over 200 pounds, was dragged, shackled, on a nearly 3-mile run last July 21, then left lying in the sun, untreated for more than three hours, by staff at the South Dakota State Training School. The probe has given rise to a debate over the widespread practice of sending teens, some adjudicated and some because their parents simply turned them over to the state, to institutions where, many say, they are physically and emotionally abused. South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow, a former U.S. Marine, defended boot camps, saying, "we're getting the booze and drugs out of their mind."

"Super Poppy" Developed in Australia

Scientists who work in Australia's legal opiate industry have genetically designed a "super poppy" capable of producing double the amount of opiate of normal poppies. This report follows similar reports of "super coca" plants, reportedly being used in Colombia by farmers.


7. Rebroadcast of Snitch Next Week

The PBS FRONTLINE documentary "Snitch" is scheduled to be rebroadcast on public television on Tuesday, December 14 on most public TV stations, from 10:00-11:30pm in many markets. (Local times can vary. Visit http://www.pbs.org/whatson/ to look up your local PBS station and schedule.) For further information, including excerpts and other background on the issue, visit the Snitch web site online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/snitch/.

Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, a featured interviewee in Snitch, authored an editorial in the Los Angeles Times this week on the mass graves in Mexico and the need for legalization.


8. New Issue of Harm Reduction Communication Available Online

The latest edition of the Harm Reduction Coalition's newsletter, Harm Reduction Communication, is now available on the web at http://www.harmreduction.org. The issue features articles on the realities of opiate overdose, how it happens, vital interventions, and controversial options like Naloxone (Narcan). It also has information on New Jersey's needle exchange struggle, articles on housing and alternative healing, and information for active users.


9. Deadline Extended for Year 2000 Drug Policy Foundation Achievement Awards

The extended deadline for nominations for the 2000 Drug Policy Foundation Achievement Awards is Wednesday, January 5, 2000. The Achievement Awards have been handed out during DPF conferences since 1988, recognizing those individuals who have significantly contributed to reform both overall and in the fields of citizen action, enforcement, journalism, law, scholarship, and treatment. Nominations can be submitted by e-mail to [email protected] or mailed to the DPF office at 4455 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite B-500, Washington, DC 20036.


10. EDITORIAL: A Typical Week in the Drug War

David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]

A young person in boot camp dies of abuse. Two murder victims at the U.S.-Mexico border are found to have been killed for their work as informants. An important study of marijuana as medicine is forbidden from being performed. It's a typical week in the drug war.

New York City welfare recipients suffering from addiction fall victim to typical ignorance of the realities of treatment and recovery. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of pain patients, are left without adequate medication, because of typical ignorance about the proper use of narcotics for pain control and typical fear of the medical boards and the DEA.

Thousands of injection drug users, and many others indirectly, including newborn children, contract HIV or hepatitis through needle sharing. Opponents of needle exchange express typical disregard for the loss of life -- in Judge Judy's case, a little more callously than is typical -- and, typically, ignore the overwhelming scientific and public health case for needle exchange and lifting the laws that prevent users from obtaining sterile syringes.

Tens of thousands of young people are arrested on drug charges. The week is not very typical -- for them -- but is a typical week. Hundreds of thousands of drug offenders languish behind bars. For most of them the week is tragically typical, and it's a typical year in the late 20th century United States. Nevertheless, drugs continue to pour over our borders, into our cities and our prisons, oblivious to the mass arrests and incarcerations --unstoppable, and therefore typical.

A mainstream foundation blasts U.S. drug and crime policies as wrongheaded -- not so typical -- and a government mouthpiece defends the national drug strategy by dissembling and misrepresenting facts -- very, very typical. A U.S. Congressman and Senatorial candidate of the Republican Party calls for addicts to legally receive drugs, to reduce crime and misery. The resulting attacks on him by political opponents are typical -- in fact, predictable. But the act of speaking out for drug policy reform and against the failed drug war by a mainstream politician is an atypical showing of courage and candor.

Atypical, but gradually becoming less unusual; for in this atypical year, he joins two governors in questioning drug war dogma. And it is gradually becoming harder for the drug warriors to use their typical tactics of demonization and marginalization to dismiss calls for drug policy reform.

It's a typical week of suffering and death and wasted resources in the failing U.S. drug war. But it's an atypical time, a time of awakening and of hope for a better future: a time when the forces of ignorance and repression will give way to reason, justice and compassion; a time when war will give way to peace.


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