(renamed "Drug War Chronicle" effective issue #300, August 2003)
Issue #187, 5/25/01
"Raising Awareness of the Consequences of Drug Prohibition"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
If you follow the news or read our newsletter closely, you've probably noticed just how much media coverage of the Higher Education Act Drug Provision -- the law delaying or denying federal financial aid for college to students or would-be students with drug convictions -- has burgeoned in the last few months. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, ABC are just a few of the venues discussing this new law which is being fully enforced for the first time in this coming school year's financial aid packages.
A funny thing happened when the spotlight began to shine on this issue: The law's sponsor, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), became very defensive. Almost immediately, Souder began to distance himself from the law in its current form, telling numerous media outlets that the law wasn't intended to apply to past convictions from before a student started school.
"The last thing I want to do is reach back and punish applicants with prior records. That's like saying, 'Once a criminal, always a criminal,'" Souder told the Wall Street Journal. "I feel bad about this situation. I'm an evangelical Christian and a big supporter of prison fellowship. One of the things I fundamentally believe is that people change," he said on ABC News. "As an evangelical Christian, why would I ever propose something that does not believe in redemption?," he told the New York Times.
A fine sentiment, if he means it. We don't think people's past crimes should be held over them forever, either. (We also don't think that most drug activity should be criminal, but that's a larger issue.) But did he really not mean it to apply to past convictions? Did his chief of staff really mean it when she blamed that on an overly harsh interpretation by the Clinton administration?
One can't help but be skeptical. First of all, the language of the law seems clearly to apply to any conviction irrespective of whether they happened before or after starting school. Certainly the law contains no language indicating that they shouldn't be. Souder has now had nearly three years in which to correct his "error", yet it is still on the books now for the second school year in a row. In Souder's defense, he did sponsor language a year ago in the Education and the Workforce Committee that would have limited the law's applicability to convictions after one is enrolled and receiving financial aid. But he didn't bother to shepherd it through the torturous legislative process, and the law was never modified.
There's another funny thing that happened. After Souder gave those quotes to the media, he went into hiding -- not returning calls to media, not making appointments for interviews on the issue, nothing. It's an old trick drug warriors use when they want to squash the media coverage: If they don't show up, there's a good chance the media will lose interest or won't run stories because they can't interview the leading representatives of both sides.
The strategy has had partial success. There are currently several major news outlets that have HEA stories in the works but have postponed them because Rep. Souder won't talk. One of them, CNN, finally decided to go with the story this week anyway, without him, 2 1/2 weeks after shooting the footage.
Now if one stops to think what Mr. Souder intended when introducing this law, hiding from the press doesn't make very much sense. Surely he sponsored the law because he believes the threat of losing financial aid will discourage young people from using drugs. We don't believe it will have that effect, but Mark Souder does, or says he does.
In that case, Souder should be doing everything he can to increase the publicity around the law, not reduce it. A law can only serve as a deterrent, even in theory, if people know about it. The more publicity, the more young people will know about the law -- and according to Mark Souder's way of reasoning, naive as it may be, fewer of them will use drugs. Conversely, the less publicity, the less awareness young people will have of the financial aid law, and the more they will use drugs -- again, according to Mark Souder's way of thinking, not ours.
Hence, if Souder is correct that the law deters drug use, then avoiding the press in order to reduce press coverage of the law should cause more young people to use drugs than if there were more press coverage -- a price Mark Souder is evidently willing to pay in order to avoid the discomfort of defending a law that public opinion has turned against.
As for narrowing the law to exempt convictions from an applicant's pre-college days, anything that will reduce the number of people denied educational opportunities is worth supporting. But no one should think that such a modification is good enough, as the law's supporters will doubtless argue. A bad law that applies to a smaller number of people is still a bad law. All the arguments against the HEA drug provision will still apply even if the law is narrowed:
The rapidly growing campaign to eliminate the anti-drug provision of the 1998 Higher Education Act (HEA) picked up new momentum this week as the nation's leading associations concerned with higher education joined the rising chorus of calls for its repeal. In a letter dated May 18th, the American Council on Education (http://www.acenet.edu) called on the administration to review the anti-drug provision of the HEA, under which students may be denied eligibility for federal financial aid for school if they admit to having a drug offense.
ACE represents more than 1,800 institutions of higher learning as well as serving as an umbrella coalition for the nation's leading higher education associations. The letter, which was addressed to DEA administrator nominee and US Congressman Asa Hutchinson, was endorsed by ACE, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the American Association of Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, the United Negro College Fund and the United States Student Association.
"We've been opposed to the anti-drug provision from the beginning," ACE director of public affairs Tim McDonough told DRCNet. "We are philosophically opposed to using federal student aid to dictate matters of social policy. The federal student aid form is designed to assess need, and we are opposed in principle to any questions that are not germane to the federal need formula," he added.
When asked why now, McDonough said, "When we see an opening, we jump on it. We saw a recent interview with Mr. Hutchinson where he indicated a willingness to think more about the issue, and we took the opportunity to respond."
Attacking what it called "a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, both conceptually and operationally," ACE noted that member colleges and organizations "are concerned that this provision will prove to be an insurmountable obstacle to far too many students, causing many of them to abandon their hope of a college education." Sent out over the signature of ACE president Stanley Ikenberry, the letter listed some of the problems with the law that caused the association to call for its review. Its list includes:
At a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) unveiled a bill designed to strip mandatory minimum drug sentences from the federal criminal code. It would also require US Attorneys to get written approval from the Attorney General before prosecuting certain federal drug offenses, and would restore the ability of federal judges to place drug offenders on probation or a suspended sentence.
The proposed legislation is the high point so far of a decade-long campaign to move away from mandatory minimum drug sentencing, a policy that accelerated dramatically with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 in the midst of the crack cocaine media and political frenzy. Among its most notorious legacies is the hundred-to-one disparity between the amounts of powder and crack cocaine triggering five and ten year mandatory sentences. This bill would eliminate that disparity by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for both forms of cocaine.
The Waters bill, titled the "Major Drug Trafficking Prosecution Act of 2001," is designed to eliminate mandatory minimums because "these laws do nothing to discourage drug-related crimes" and because they "disproportionately increase the number of women and minority first-time nonviolent drug offenders serving lengthy sentences intended for major drug offenders," Waters told the press conference.
"Simply put, mandatory minimum drug sentences, conspiracy laws and other misguided federal drug laws destroy lives and families," said Waters. "It is time for this nation to recommit itself to serving the public by providing services that offer hope and opportunity. We must restore integrity to the criminal justice system and find more constructive approaches to America's drug problem," the South Central Los Angeles lawmaker said.
Among those joining Rep. Waters at the press conference were Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (http://www.famm.org), Jenni Gainsborough of The Sentencing Project (http://www.sentencingproject.org), former drug war prisoner Derrick Curry, who was serving a 19-year sentence until President Clinton commuted it in January, and Karen Garrison, a Washington, DC resident whose twin sons, both Howard University law students, are serving 15- and 19-year mandatory minimum sentences for cocaine distribution. Both Curry and Garrison are also FAMM members.
Waters aide Candice Tolliver told DRCNet the congresswoman believed the bill had a real chance of success this year. "We already have cosponsors, including Republicans, in the House, and we think we can pass it." And, said Tolliver, with power in the Senate having shifted to the Democrats, things are looking better today than earlier in the week. "We had high hopes yesterday; they are even higher today," Tolliver said.
Monica Pratt of FAMM was a bit more guarded in her predictions of success. "Rep. Waters' bill opens a door that makes it possible to initiate discussions on drug reform, but I'm afraid victory is still pretty far away," she told DRCNet. "It does provide the opportunity to organize and to get the word out to members of Congress who say behind closed doors that mandatory minimums need to be reformed, but who don't do anything about it."
Still, Pratt told DRCNet that change seemed visible on the horizon. "The states are ahead of the feds on this issue. You see sentencing reform beginning to happen all over the country," Pratt said. "We have a situation where the states are beginning to have to grapple with the consequences of mandatory sentencing policies that have filled their prisons with nonviolent, low-level drug offenders. Members of Congress don't feel that economic pressure as much as state legislators do."
Building grassroots pressure is key, Pratt said. "Congress will eventually respond to pressure from the grassroots," she argued, "but we need to continue organizing, especially with communities that have not traditionally been involved with sentencing reform. We need to work with the churches and with large national organizations that have constituencies adversely impacted by mandatory minimums, such as La Raza in the Latino community."
Displaying much of the same confusion and political schizophrenia on drug policy that is beginning to afflict statehouses around the country, the Missouri legislature has passed and Governor Bob Holden has signed a bill designed to reign in police abuses of asset forfeiture laws. At the same time, the state is on the verge of enacting draconian new penalties for Ecstasy and other so-called club drugs.
While several states have passed citizen initiatives on asset forfeiture reform, Missouri now becomes the first to have taken the legislative route. The state came close to passing asset forfeiture reform last year, but the measure died on the last day of the General Assembly.
Under the Missouri constitution, cash or goods seized by state or local police officers in connection with drug or other offenses are supposed to go to a state education fund. Missouri law enforcement agencies, however, routinely flouted the state constitution by handing seizures over to federal authorities, typically the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Local cops who seized assets during drug busts would argue that they only "held" the assets for federal agents to "seize."
The federal agency would then take a 20% cut of the booty and return the rest to the arresting agency. Police coffers overflowed, while the education fund went hungry. US Attorney General John Ashcroft, a former Missouri AG and governor, was himself implicated in a little-noticed exposé published during his Senate confirmation process earlier this year (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/169.html#copsrobbers).
Under the new law, sponsored by State Senator Henry Wiggins (D-Kansas City), that loophole is closed. The bill modifies the state's Criminal Activities Forfeiture Act by clarifying that the first agency to exercise control over the cash or property is the seizing agency. It also requires permission from a circuit court judge for state and local authorities to transfer seized goods to federal agencies. And, under the revised law, local law enforcement agencies must file detailed annual reports of all seizures to either local prosecutors or the state attorney general and to the state auditor.
"This truly is a landmark day in Missouri," Gov. Holden said in a press release. "We are the first state to take this action. These new actions will hopefully restore the public's confidence in how the police handle seizures, particularly in the area of confiscated funds," Holden said.
Sen. Wiggins told the Southeast Missourian (Cape Girardeau) the passage of the law was the culmination of "a long, three-year struggle." House Speaker Jim Kreider (D-Nixa), another supporter of the bill, said that Missouri police who used the federal system to circumvent state law risked creating the appearance of impropriety that besmirched the image of the police. Kreider said his goal "has been to protect the reputation of Missouri's finest law enforcement" officers. This is a piece of model legislation that many other states are looking at," Kreider said. "This is a nationwide issue, and we are proud in Missouri to have addressed it."
Much of the credit for public interest in asset forfeiture reform, however, must go to Kansas City Star investigative reporter Karen Dillon. Her series of articles on asset forfeiture abuses in Missouri and nationwide, "To Protect and Collect" (http://www.kcstar.com/projects/drugforfeit/) made it impossible for state lawmakers to ignore widespread asset forfeiture abuses in Missouri.
After Dillon's first report in January 1999, State Auditor Claire McCaskill in 1999 released a report showing that 85 percent of all forfeitures in the state went through the federal process. State and local cops seized $47 million from defendants that year, but only $7 million was turned over to the education fund, as required by the state constitution. If the federal 20% share ratio stayed constant, that means that Missouri police took $32 million from the state's schoolchildren that year.
While some enlightened law enforcement officials, seeing the writing on the wall, welcomed the reforms, others took extraordinary, if ultimately unsuccessful steps to ward them off. An example of the former was Colonel Weldon Wilhoit, the superintendent of the State Highway Patrol. He told the Southeast Missourian that the law clarifies the power of police and won't hamper drug interdiction and other crime-fighting efforts.
Platte County (north suburban Kansas City) Sheriff Dick Anderson, however, was so concerned at the prospect of reform that he used county funds to hire high-priced lobbyists to push an amendment he wanted. The amendment would have exempted drug enforcement efforts at the state's two major airports, Kansas City International and St. Louis' Lambert Field.
Anderson told the Kansas City Star the reforms would "hamper" detectives working with federal task forces at the airports. Anderson denied that loss of seized funds for his agency was a motive for his opposition, but then added he would not voluntarily turn over money to the education fund. He would obey the state constitution "only if the Missouri legislature said I had to do it," Anderson said. Anderson's Platte County Sheriff's Office has raked in more than $100,000 per year in funds turned over to the feds and then returned to the department, the Star reported.
Under Anderson's proposed amendment, Missouri law enforcement agencies would only have had to declare themselves part of a federal task force to evade the state law. "It is just opening a crack," Sen. Larry Rohrbach (R-California) told the Star. "But, you know, stuff runs out of cracks."
Anderson's expensive lobbying campaign also came under scrutiny. The Star reported that Anderson was paying Kansas City attorney law firm Lathrop & Gage attorney fees ranging from $130 to $195 per hour to influence lawmakers, but that neither Anderson nor the law firm could say how much county money had been expended in the futile effort. Platte County officials, who theoretically oversee the sheriff, uniformly refused to comment. Platte County Auditor Sandra Thomas told the Star she would not comment because of the "political nature" of the situation. State auditors were more forthright. "This is troubling," state auditor's office spokesman Glenn Campbell told the Star. "These are public monies. It is the kind of thing that if it was occurring in any of the counties we audit, we would have a serious problem... and ask that the practice be discontinued."
While Missouri legislators took a progressive stance on asset forfeiture, they have also voted for regressive, draconian new penalties for possessing or selling Ecstasy and other "club drugs." In fact, the same senator, Henry Wiggins, introduced both the asset forfeiture and the Ecstasy bills. "This is an issue that is so important to Missouri," said Wiggins.
In an op-ed in the Kansas City Star the weekend before the state senate vote, Rep. Cathy Jolly (D-Kansas City) argued that the legislation was necessary because five young St. Louis men who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a car had Ecstasy in their bloodstreams.
The office of Gov. Bob Holden had not returned DRCNet calls asking whether the governor will sign the legislation. He has until July 14 to sign or veto the bill. If the governor fails to sign, the bill is dead.
Oxycontin, a highly effective opioid pain reliever (active ingredient oxycodone) manufactured by Purdue Pharma in Connecticut, has since its introduction in 1996 been a boon to cancer patients and others suffering intractable pain. It has also been a remarkable success for Purdue, accounting for 80% of the company's total sales, and was rung up to the tune of six million prescriptions last year alone. Oxycontin grossed Purdue a billion dollars in 2000, making it a more profitable drug than Viagra.
But in the last year, isolated incidences of overdoses, diversion and pharmacy robberies began to appear, first in Maine and then in pockets up and down the Appalachians. Then, in February, police in Kentucky launched the highly-publicized Operation Oxyfest, pulling in more than 200 Bluegrass State oxycontin users and dealers. With the help of some law enforcement officials who knew how to turn a phrase and a national mass media always eager for a sensation, a new drug panic was born.
"They'll kick a bag of cocaine out of the way to get to 'Oxy,'" Harlan County (Kentucky) sheriff's department detective Roger Hall, who knows a good sound bite when he mouths one, told the Associated Press in a story which ran in newspapers around the country.
"It's becoming the prescription drug of choice from greater Cincinnati to rural Ohio," the Cincinnati pill squad's Sgt. Kerry Rowland told an eager New York Times. "It's become rampant because it offers such a pure high with less risk of arrest or overdose, and many times health care is picking up the cost."
Crusading politicians also jumped on the bandwagon. Oxycontin abuse "was well beyond anything I imagined," said Joseph Famularo, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, who announced the Oxyfest busts. "It truly was an epidemic like some sort of locust plague rolling through southeastern Kentucky. I personally counted 59 deaths since January of last year that local police attributed to addicts using the drug, and I suspect that's pretty conservative," Famularo told the New York Times.
By April, Oxycontin became the object of a full-blown media frenzy. Newsweek ran a cover story on the threat, joining coverage from other media bigfoots such as the New York Times, Time, US News & World Report and CBS News' 60 Minutes. The reporting typically featured scary anecdotes followed by unvarnished assertions as to the scope and rapid rise in Oyxcontin abuse, leavened with uncritical acceptance of the various Oxycontin death figures offered up by police and prosecutors.
Local and regional newspapers, cued by the national media, promptly hopped on board, with sometimes ludicrous results. Pennsylvania's Daily Courier informed its gentle readers that Oxycontin was now "number one to drug addicts above crack cocaine and marijuana." The Indianapolis Star called it the "thrill pill," while the Cincinnati Enquirer called it "the heroin of the midwest." But the Port St. Lucie News wins the prize for idiotic reporting (so far), with a headline that called Oxycontin the "New Crack" with a "Heroin-Like High."
The problem is that the numbers do not support the hype. In an investigative article in the Cleveland alternative weekly the Free Times, Sandeep Kaushik put the numbers under intense scrutiny, and they failed to hold up. The 59 dead in Eastern Kentucky to which US Attorney Famularo referred? Here is what Kaushik found.
David W. Jones, executive director of the Kentucky State Medical Examiner's office told Kaushik that "as far as deaths go, I've heard different numbers in different places at different times; I have no idea where these people are getting their facts and figures." He told the Free Times his office was aware of 27 oxycodone-related deaths in the entire state last year. But wait. Of those 27 deaths, two had both oxycodone and alcohol in their bodies and 23 others were veritable human pharmacies, with a variety of drugs in their systems, including powerful opioid painkillers such as Dilaudid and Fentanyl. Kentucky's widely ballyhooed 59 Oxy deaths turn out to include just two persons who died from oxycodone alone. But wait. Even those two deaths cannot conclusively be tied to Oxycontin, because oxycodone is the active ingredient in a number of prescription painkillers, including Percocet and Tylox.
Next Kaushik looked at Virginia, where the state's medical examiner had proclaimed an "epidemic" in his state, variously citing 32 or 39 Oxycontin deaths. Examiner Massello, so eager to be quoted earlier, stonewalled the Free Times, admitting only that a "significant number" of the victims had multiple drugs in their systems.
Kaushik also parsed the numbers of drug deaths in Altoona, Pennsylvania. In Altoona, which reported seven oyxcodone-related deaths in the past five years, six of those deaths were of people using multiple drugs, often street heroin, and the seventh was a suicide.
Under careful scrutiny, the Oxycontin menace suddenly seems not so menacing. Clearly, some of the drug is being diverted for non-medical uses -- with six million prescriptions last year alone, that can only be expected -- and a few people are dying from it, but both the extent of the "epidemic" and the number of deaths appear to be wildly overstated.
But that hasn't stopped politicians and law enforcement officials from going to war against the drug. The Virginia Attorney General convened a confab to fight the menace, and the US Attorney in Maine has been another leading crusader. The DEA has also gotten into the act, pressuring Purdue Pharma to restrict the drug. In fact, Purdue has bowed to the pressure, altering its marketing plans, engaging in a program of doctor education, and recently announcing that it is removing the most powerful Oxycontin formulation from the market.
Lost in the frenzy have been the patients. Dr. Dennis Doherty, an Alabama pain specialist, told the Mobile Register that law enforcement concern about Oxycontin was causing some doctors and pharmacists to shy away from the drug. "It would truly be a tragedy if public sentiment is allowed to run wild on this," Doherty said. Doherty also told the newspaper that a local police officer urged doctors not to prescribe Oxycontin because of its abuse potential.
Other pain specialists contacted by the Register emphasized the drug's efficacy in pain relief. "I see patients of all ages who are disabled by pain, who are now able to live the life they want because of this," said Dr. John Rothrock, a neurologist and professor at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, who has done extensive research on pain relief.
Dr. Michael Meshad, a Mobile cancer specialist, told the newspaper that if police asked him to stop writing Oxycontin prescriptions, "I just wouldn't do it. I would continue to use it, because if it's not this one that's being abused, it's another drug. If a patient has a terminal disease, it's our job to prevent suffering, and this drug is very good at that."
Dr. Phil Fisher of the Appalachian Pain Foundation, which was created to inform doctors about Oxycontin, told the Free Times any rise in Oxycontin abuse was predictable given the rapid rise in the number of prescriptions issued. Fisher told the Free Times Vicodin was a more serious prescription drug problem, because it is being abused at a much higher percentage of its total sales. "That's the real problem," he claims. "Compared to it, Oxy only accounts for 10 percent of the cases but gets 90 percent of the attention."
Recipe for a panic: Start with one aggressively marketed, highly effective opioid painkiller. Add predictable non-medical use. Stir in media-hungry drug warriors. Baste with half-baked press coverage. Let stew. Serves: the interests of law enforcement and sales-happy media. The pain patients for which the drug was created are not included in this recipe.
In "Youth, Drugs, and Resilience Education," a study published in the Spring 2001 issue of the Journal of Drug Education, Berkeley researcher Dr. Joel Brown concludes that the nation's school drug education programs are ineffective, but that programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and Life Skills Training (LST) continue to garner funding because powerful special interest groups shape and distort the drug education agenda. Brown, director of the Center for Educational Research (http://www.cerd.org) in Berkeley, conducted the pioneering three-year study, the first to examine the social and institutional infrastructure of drug education in the United States.
"We now have very substantial evidence suggesting that the effectiveness of programs and the well-being of children are directly impacted by the interest group politics involved in drug education," Brown told DRCNet.
"What became clear relatively quickly is that there exist a wide variety of interest groups, including but not limited to the tobacco industry, the US government acting as an interest group, and researchers who sit on panels which evaluate their own programs, which influence drug education," he said. "When we saw the clear linkage between this interest group politics and the real world programs and policies, we became really concerned about the well-being of the kids."
The federal government is a major player in drug education, spending $2 billion annually for research and program support, with total annual spending nationwide nearing $5 billion, Brown found. And it is a player with an ax to grind: Under the 1994 Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which turned "zero tolerance" into officially mandated abstinence-based or "no-use" drug education policy, alternative approaches were shut out and flaws in favorite programs such as DARE downplayed. (The act also mandated "that by the year 2000, all schools in America will be free of drugs and violence," but that's another story.)
Not only does the federal government have an ax to grind, it brings it to bear against science when the facts refuse to fit its ideologically driven version of reality. A brazen example uncovered by Brown came from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, which in 1998 published a "talking points" article in its Prevention Pipeline magazine, "Winning the numbers game: How to say prevention works when the numbers say something else." In this instance, the federal government becomes an advocate for drug education programs it knows do not work.
The federal government isn't the only actor with vested interests, Brown found. The field of drug education is filled with exaggerated claims of effectiveness based on flawed research, as scientists who make those claims vie to develop potentially profitable programs. And, in the incestuous world of drug education research, the same small clique of researchers often sit on panels evaluating their own and their colleagues' work.
Brown pointed to the LST program, now touted as a more effective alternative to DARE and being used in some 3,000 schools and taught so far to 800,000 students. (D.A.R.E., the big daddy of drug education despite its proven ineffectiveness -- see http://www.drcnet.org/wol/034.html#illinois and http://www.drcnet.org/wol/008.html#drug-ed and http://www.drcnet.org/DARE/ for a partial list of references -- has been inflicted on 36 million students and is still being taught in 80% of the nation's school districts, the group's web site reports.) LST's developer and leading proponent, Dr. Gilbert Botvin, published research claiming that LST could reduce tobacco, marijuana and alcohol use among young people by as much as 75%. If only it were so.
Brown examined Botvin's data and methodology and found that, contrary to Botvin's claims of high efficacy, students who did not complete the entire curriculum had higher drug use rates than those who never encountered the program. Brown is not alone in challenging Botvin. In a Rolling Stone article on problems in drug education, Tulane University associate professor of public health Stephanie Tortu, former project manager for one of Botvin's first major studies of LST, told the authors that Botvin left out crucial data showing that LST students had higher rates of alcohol use than non-participants. Botvin shortly thereafter informed Tortu that there was no more money to keep her employed on the project, she said.
"Some people have a vested interest in saying that our current drug prevention strategies work," Richard Clayton, director of the Center for Prevention Research at the University of Kentucky told Rolling Stone. "They're looking for a poster child for prevention to take attention away from DARE, and they've chosen LST. But that doesn't mean it works."
"This has incredibly serious implications when you consider the billions spent on these programs," Brown told DRCNet, "and there are alternatives which have a much stronger scientific basis, but they are not applied because of the politics, policies, researchers and programs."
One key to creating successful drug education programs, Brown suggested, was actually involving educators. "We need to find an educational theory or practice, because there isn't any related to drug education. There is virtually no educational participation in program development and no credible educational theory behind these programs," said Brown. "For the past century, drug education has been dominated by the medical, public health and criminological communities. Educators are not involved in the process and there is thus little likelihood that drug education will be effective or that teachers will use it."
Brown also calls for "resilience education," the title of his recently published book. Resiliency, says Brown, focuses on young people's ability to adapt to and thrive in the educational environment. Resilience education emphasizes a positive approach to health and safety issues rather than concentrating on kids' incapacity to make wise decisions. "Resilience blends in with what we know about effective education; it's learning to work more effectively when we educate our kids about drugs," said Brown.
"The public wants this kind of change, there is a strong scientific basis for it, all the signals say it is a potentially successful option," Brown said. "We're at a critical crossroads in drug education. Will we begin to honestly and openly discuss these issues, or will we continue to operate as if these flawed programs were unequivocally effective? If we spent this kind of money on any other program and got these results, you'd say it was a serious problem."
Syringe exchange programs (SEPs) grew rapidly across the country in the mid-1990s, according to a survey published last week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The survey, funded by the American Foundation for AIDS Research (http://www.amfar.org) also found that SEPs are an effective component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce AIDS infection rates.
The number of programs, in which injection drug users trade used needles for sterile new ones, nearly doubled in the five-year period, increasing from 68 in 1994 to 131 in 1998, while the number of needles exchanged rose from 8 million in 1994 to 19.4 million in 1998. The SEPS acted as more than mere needle-swaps, however, according to the Beth Israel Medical Center (New York) researchers who authored the study. One out of four SEPs also offered hepatitis testing, two of out three provided HIV testing and referrals, and 95% made referrals to drug treatment centers.
This survey is the latest in a growing list of research results that find SEPs reduce HIV/AIDS and do not stimulate illicit drug use. The US Surgeon General last year reported that as many as half of all HIV infections are related to sharing infected needles among drug users. That report concluded that SEPs "are an effective public health intervention that reduces transmission of HIV and does not encourage the illegal use of drugs." The use of SEPS as an AIDS prevention measure has been endorsed by the US Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and the National Institutes of Health, yet they continue to be resisted by critics who view them as encouraging drug use.
"There is a history of controversy, but they are becoming much more accepted," project director Mytri Singh of Beth Israel told Reuters. "They don't just provide syringes; they provide a wide variety of services."
All of this may be so, but among those results-resistant critics is the US Congress, which has barred federal funds from being used for needle exchange programs. "The largest stumbling block is that the federal government doesn't recognize the scientific evidence and support the programs," said amfAR vice president for public policy Jane Silver. "There has been, however, a significant amount of state, county, and local funding for them."
Dave Purchase, head of the North American Syringe Exchange Network (http://www.nasen.org), which worked with Beth Israel to locate active SEPS, only growled when asked about the federal role. "What makes anyone think the federal government has yet learned a thing, at least at the political level?" he asked DRCNet. "All of the progress in SEPs in the United States has been done without one single federal dollar, and we'll keep on keepin' on. By the way," Purchase added, "that study only goes to 1998, and we're doing even better now. Currently we're up to 171 exchange programs in the US."
It is a good thing some states and localities have been more enlightened. Public funding accounted for approximately two-thirds of all SEP budgets, the survey found. But it also noted that of the 131 SEPs surveyed in 1998, 80 of them received no taxpayer support.
That does not sit well with amfAR board chair Dr. Mathilde Krim. "Public health initiatives that increase access to sterile syringes are needed to decrease the incidence of HIV infections not only among injection drug users, but also their sexual partners and children," she said in a press statement reacting to the research results.
Visit http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5019a4.htm to view the study in its entirety online.
The United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is once again going after Australia for its experiment with a safe injection room for heroin users in Sydney. The injection room, operated by the Uniting Church in the Kings Cross neighborhood, opened for business on May 6th (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/185.html#australia). Ten days later, INCB Herbert Schaepe criticized the heroin injecting facility, claiming it "sends the wrong message."
Speaking from Vienna, the organization's home, Schaepe told reporters, "What it is saying is that we condone the establishment of premises where people can get together to use illegal drugs." The INCB is "closely monitoring" the injection rooms in Sydney, Schaepe added. He also noted that the INCB will "discuss" the injection room's start-up when it meets in Vienna this week.
Schaepe's comments are only the latest in a series of salvos fired against the harm reduction measure by the INCB, which is charged with monitoring countries' compliance with international anti-drug treaties. The INCB's intervention helped postpone the injection room when first proposed. The UN drug agency has for several years provided ammunition for Prime Minister John Howard, an opponent of safe injection rooms, in his struggles with reformers and strong-headed state governments. The Sydney site operates with the approval of the New South Wales state government over the opposition of Prime Minister Howard.
In 1999, the INCB made its opposition formal. In a letter sent to the Australian parliament in November of that year, the board wrote: "The board maintains its position that permission or tacit consent given by any national, state or local authority for the establishment and operation of injection rooms or shooting galleries is contrary to the international drug control conventions.
"It is noted that the Government of NSW wishes to permit the establishment of a medically-supervised injection room for heroin addicts as a 'clinical' trial, limited in duration for a period of 18 months at one location. The board is unable to agree with this justification [of] the State's sanctioning of a facility where drugs may be abused 'safely.'
"The United Nations Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988, requires parties, subject to their constitutional principles and basic concept of their legal system, to establish possession and purchase of drugs for personal use (non-medical) consumption as a criminal offence. By permitting injection rooms, the Government could be considered to be facilitating in the commission of possession and use crimes, as well as other criminal offences including drug trafficking.
"Last, but not least, the board is concerned at the message that would be sent by the countenancing of these injection rooms could send the wrong message that Australia is a place where illicit substances can be abused with impunity."
That the New South Wales injection room has remained an irritant to the INCB, which seeks to hold back a rising tide of harm reduction and drug law reform efforts, is evident in the agency's 2000 annual report, released in February (http://www.incb.org/e/ind_ar.htm). The report notes with some concern that "harm reduction continues to be a major element of the strategy on drug abuse in Australia and New Zealand" and warns that "harm reduction should not become a goal in itself."
The board also found itself dismayed that "the social acceptance of illicit drugs in Australia remained high, with many people being vocally in favor of the legalization of drugs, in particular cannabis." And while the INCB acknowledged the rising death toll among heroin users, it emphasized its consternation that some states "choose to support policies that run counter to the treaty obligation limiting the use of drugs to medical and scientific purposes only by establishing heroin injection room where illicitly obtained drugs can be injected under supervision."
The INCB normally receives little attention from drug reformers since its role is fundamentally that of a nagging auntie, but with the removal of the baleful US presence on the board and upheavals afoot at the UN's Office of Drug Control Policy, the time could be approaching to make the drug agency's mandate and mission contested terrain.
The British Columbia Marijuana Party (BCMP), the insurgent provincial electoral force greased with $150,000US of cannabis entrepreneur Marc Emery's profits and represented by a colorful cast of campaigners (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/180.html#bcparty), fell short of pre-election predictions, but managed to garner some 52,000 votes and score five third-place finishes in the province's 79 legislative assembly districts. Party leaders told DRCNet last month they hoped to pick up some second-place finishes.
The BCMP's ability to run candidates in all 79 districts put it in the record books as the first modern British Columbia party to run a full slate of candidates in its first electoral go-round. In last week's elections, only the national Liberal and New Democratic parties managed to do as well, while the other minor parties, the BC Greens and the Unity Party, were unable to run candidates for many districts. (By the way, the Liberals trounced the reigning New Democrats to take control of the provincial government.)
The party's best showing was in Peace River North, where candidate Paul Renaud took 9.4% of the vote. Other BCMP strongholds were Port Moody Westwood, where Graeme Smecher polled 6.36% of the vote, and Skeena, where Bob Erb grabbed 6.15%. Party leader Brian Taylor, who got 785 votes in the West Kootenay Boundary district, was upstaged by his 25-year-old daughter Teresa, who captured the party's highest popular vote total with 1,136 and polled 5.6% in the conservative Okanagan-Westside district.
Taylor, the former mayor of Grand Forks and currently owner of the Cannabis Research Institute, told DRCNet the party had nonetheless made valuable strides. "We had a major impact on the debate, the press loved us -- or at least to write about us -- and the party has become a significant new voice in BC's political spectrum," he said.
"I think we have a mandate, although not from those who we thought would vote for us," Taylor laughed ruefully. "We didn't get the pot grower vote or we would have had 25-30%. Instead we got the votes of grandmothers, of frustrated teachers, the conscience vote of young people, and of people who like our larger platform. We found a hole in the political landscape." But, he added, "We hoped to do a little better. Still, we understand change takes time," he told DRCNet. "Our approach is to go about this in an effective manner, through the vote, through lobbying, through education -- that was a big part of the campaign -- and to inch forward incrementally."
Marc Emery, the party's combination eminence grise and sugar daddy, also looked to the future. "We want to build a political infrastructure, so all of those 79 candidates are going to go back and build a local organization now, to build up credibility over the next four years," he told the Westender (Vancouver) newspaper. "This is all about working for the next election. Now our plan is to open constituency offices across the province," said Emery. "These locations should act as retail stores, selling books, pipes and hemp products, as well as becoming headquarters for compassion clubs and other activist projects."
But building the party may have to compete with defining the party. With this campaign, the party began a metamorphosis from a single-issue "legalize marijuana" party to a generally small-L libertarian party advocating an ideology of personal freedom and limited government. But it's not a done deal, said Taylor.
"This is an ongoing debate within the party," he told DRCNet. "Now the party will have to grapple with the issue of being only a marijuana party or going on to forge a broader platform. There is heated debate over changing the name, but what we're really fighting about is whether we're going to take on a broader political role or whether we're going to continue simply as marijuana fighters," said Taylor.
"I believe we have to have a solid, rounded platform for people to vote for us. It's essential that we have more than the marijuana issue. There is a heated debate about whether we should change the name. Marc Emery argued that we need to keep the marijuana issue in people's faces, and on one level he is correct. Having marijuana in our name allowed us to get 79 candidates," Taylor averred. "We couldn't have done that as the Freedom Party. We knew we would get beaten up over the name -- people would get so angry they would stutter just trying to say the word. It inspires a violent visceral reaction from some voters."
But, said Taylor, perhaps it is now time to move beyond a single-issue party with marijuana in its name. "Now that we've woken up the electorate, maybe we can create a broader political structure for this phenomenon," he told DRCNet. "We see a constituency of guys just trying to make a living, and I think a broader Freedom Party will have a broader appeal. "What we need and what we will have is a party convention. So far the party has been shaped by the candidates, Marc Emery, and myself. I'd love to lead a party, but I need to know what that party is and what we stand for," Taylor sighed.
Join hundreds of people from around the country for the annual International Conference on Drug Policy Reform, the first since the merging of The Lindesmith Center and the Drug Policy Foundation. "Drug Policies for the New Millenium" will convene on Wednesday evening, May 30th through Saturday, June 2nd, at the Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Topics will include AIDS prevention, prison overcrowding, ecstasy, marijuana legalization, Plan Colombia, European drug policies, activist training and more. New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson will be among the featured speakers.
Click on the links below for information on these issues and web forms to help you contact Congress:
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TomPaine.com this week features a line-up of drug war articles and editorials, even going so far as to run an advertisement in the Wednesday New York Times to draw attention to both their site and the issue. Feature authors include TLC-DPF's Ethan Nadelmann, columnist Arianna Huffington, William Cope Moyers of the Johnson Institute Foundation, DRCNet Executive Director David Borden and TomPaine's own Shannon Hall. TomPaine proffered a Drug Warrior's Pledge: "I Pledge Allegiance to the Drug War of the United States of America, And to the Hypocrisy for Which It Stands, One Notion, Under Czar, Indefensible, With Incarceration and Injustice for All." Visit http://www.tompaine.com or http://www.tompaine.com/related/index.php3/185 to check it out.
CNN's "cover story" Tuesday night was a report on the Higher Education Act Drug Provision. The report featured interviews with Marisa Garcia and Kris Sperry, both students affected by the anti-drug law, as well as SSDP National Director Shawn Heller. It was filmed at the HEA Drug Provision conference organized last May 4th by the Hampshire College SSDP chapter.
Read the Philadelphia Inquirer's HEA article,
Monday's front page, available online at:
New Republic Senior Editor Andrew Sullivan
opines on marinol vs. marijuana based on personal experience.
Joel Miller at the online World Net Daily
exposes "Lies, damned lies and drug statistics" and "Bill Bennett's fuzzy
math." If you thought the 80's drug war was a success, look again:
(Please submit listings of events related to drug policy and related areas to [email protected].)
May 25-28, Vandalia, MI, "Hemp Aid 2001." Call 616-476-2808 or visit http://www.rainbowfarmcampground.com for information.
May 30-31, Honolulu, HI, "Marijuana in 2001: Medical and Social Issues," sponsored by the University of Hawaii School of Medicine. At the Ala Moana hotel, $225 for physicians, $125 for non-physicians. For further information, contact Anne Taylor at (808) 586-2904.
May 30-June 2, Albuquerque, NM, "Drug Policies for the New Millennium." First annual conference of The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, following in the footsteps of the 13 years of the International Conference on Drug Policy Reform. For further information, call (202) 537-5005 or visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/conference/ on the web.
May 31, 12:30-2:00pm, Washington, DC, "The Fujimori Government's 'War Against Drugs': The Facts, the Fantasies, and the Lessons." Forum sponsored by The George Washington University Seminar on Andean Culture and Politics and the Washington Office on Latin America, featuring General Alberto Arciniega Huby and Latin America/international development consultant Dr. Jim Jones. At GWU's Marvin Center, 800 21st St. NW, room 308, admission free. For further information, contact Jamie Foster at [email protected] or Peter Clark at [email protected] or (202) 797-2171.
June 5, 4:00-6:30pm, Berkeley, CA, "Decriminalizing Drug Addiction: Will California's Experiment Work?" UC Berkeley Extension community service program, at the UC Berkeley Extension International Center, 2222 Harold Way, admission free. Visit http://www.unex.berkeley.edu or call (510) 642-4111 to register.
June 9, New York, NY, Organizers' Training to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Session sponsored by the Interfaith Partnership for Criminal Justice in New York City, for individuals interested in organizing in Harlem against the Rockefeller Drug Laws, to be held at Harlem' St. Aloysius Church. For further information, contact Jessica Dias at (718) 499-6704 or [email protected].
June 15-17, Charlotte, NC, Families Against Mandatory Minimums Southeastern Conference on Sentencing Reform. At St. Luke's Lutheran Church, 3200 Park Rd. For further information, contact Elaine Lynch at (704) 947-9728.
June 16, 2:00pm, Los Angeles, CA, Drug War Victim Vigil in honor of Peter McWilliams. Sponsored by the November Coalition and the Libertarian Party of California. Meet at 2:00pm on the front lawn of the West Los Angeles Federal Building on Wilshire Blvd., vigil until 4:00pm, march 1/3 mile to Westwood Memorial Gardens, 1218 Glendon. For further information, contact Hal Chiprin at [email protected].
June 30, New York, NY, Rally in Harlem to Repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Sponsored by the Interfaith Partnership for Criminal Justice in New York City. For further information, contact Jessica Dias at (718) 499-6704 or [email protected].
July 4, Washington, DC, "32nd Annual Rally, Parade, Concert and Picnic to End Marijuana Prohibition." Rally at Lafayette Park noon-3:00pm, march to Lincoln Memorial Grounds, concerts at the Ellipse until the Fireworks, benefit party 10:00pm after fireworks at the Velvet Lounge, 930 U St. For information, visit http://www.fourthofjuly.org or e-mail
July 21-22, Bethesda, MD, "Saving Our Children from Drug Treatment Abuse," a conference presented by the Trebach Institute in Association with the Survivors of Harmful Treatment Programs. At the Marriott Residence Inn, 7335 Wisconsin Ave., admission $100 or free if you don't have it. For further information, visit http://www.trebach.org, e-mail [email protected] or fax (301) 986-7815.
July 27-29, Clarkburg, WV, "Neer Freedom Festival." Benefit for West Virginia NORML and upcoming medical marijuana campaign. For further information, contact Tom Thacker at [email protected].
September 15, noon-6:00pm, Boston, MA, "Twelfth Annual Fall Freedom Rally." At the Boston Common, sponsored by the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition. For further information call (781) 944-2266, visit http://www.masscann.org or e-mail [email protected].
November 14-16, Barcelona, Spain, First Latin Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. For further information, e-mail [email protected], visit http://www.igia.org/clat/ or call Enric Granados at 00 34 93 415 25 99.
December 1-4, 2002, Seattle, WA, Fourth National Harm Reduction Conference. Featuring keynote speaker Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General, at the Sheraton Seattle. For further information, visit http://www.harmreduction.org or call (212) 213-6376.
New York Harm Reduction Educators, New York City's largest harm reduction/syringe exchange program, seeks dynamic, detail oriented self-starter for the position of Deputy Director to run day-to-day operations, supervise staff (8 senior staff and 28 line staff), quality assurance, staff performance assessments, report writing, program development and community relations. Must be comfortable working with active drug users and staff with a history of drug use. Masters Degree, experience working in harm reduction environment, bilingual preferred. People of color encouraged to apply. Reply in confidence to: Terry Ruefli, PhD, Executive Director, NYHRE, 903 Dawson, Bronx, NY 10459.
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