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Drug OD Deaths Decline for First Time in Five Years, DEA Cases Continue to Fall, More... (5/15/24)

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1212)
Consequences of Prohibition

Opium production is seeing a resurgence in conflict-riddled Myanmar, Nebraska medical marijuana petitioners reach a preliminary milestone, and more.

The CDC says drug overdose deaths are now declining, but there were still more than 107,000 fatal ODs last year. (Creative Commons)
Medical Marijuana

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Petitioners Reach Preliminary Signature Threshold. Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the two-initiative drive to legalize medical marijuana in the state, said Tuesday that they had reached a critical milestone in their signature-gathering effort to put the measures on the November ballot. They announced that they had collected valid signatures from at least five percent of registered voters in 38 of the state’s 93 counties—one of the main requirements to qualify the cannabis measures for ballot placement.

 This is the third election cycle the group has tried to get on the ballot. In one previous campaign, the state Supreme Court invalidated the effort; in another, fundraising for signature-gathering fell short and the group failed to qualify for the ballot. 

 "We are NOT DONE!" said the group's campaign manager, Crista Eggers. "We still have a big hill to climb to ensure that we have a buffer of signatures so that we are 100% certain we’re on the November ballot. We know from our two previous petition drives that we can’t just settle with the lowest possible number of signatures prior to turning in our petitions to the Nebraska Secretary of State," Eggers said. "So we’re taking advantage of every opportunity to keep qualifying counties!"

The campaign has until July 5 to come up with 85,181 valid voter signatures to qualify. It did not provide any information on the number of signatures it already has. 

Drug Policy

Drug Overdose Deaths Still at Horrid High but Now Declining. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that an estimated 107,543 people died of drug overdoses in the US in 2023. But for the first time in five years, the number of people dying of overdoses declined, falling by 3 percent from 2022. 

The synthetic opioid fentanyl and its derivatives were implicated in more than 74,000 deaths, with methamphetamine implicated in more than 36,000 deaths. Many times, fatal drug overdoses involve more than one drug. 

 With last year's toll, more than one million people have now died of drug overdoses in the US since 2001. 

"We are encouraged to see the preliminary data that shows a decrease in the overdose death rate for the first time in five years, especially following the period of rapid double-digit increases from 2019-2021," said the White House Drug Control Policy director (aka the drug czar), Dr Rahul Gupta.

There were regional differences, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington all seeing more than 27 percent jumps in overdose deaths. While foes of drug decriminalization in Oregon blamed it for overdose deaths, neither Alaska nor Washington has decriminalized drugs and both saw equally large increases in overdoses. The high rate of increase in the Pacific Northwest overdose rates most likely reflects the relatively late arrival of fentanyl to the region. 

Some Midwestern states, including Kansas, Indiana, and Nebraska, as well as the state of Maine, all saw declines in overdose deaths of more than 15 percent. 

DEA Enforcement Continues to Decline in FY 2024. According to data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), federal drug prosecutions for cases referred by the DEA are on track to decline by about 6 percent this fiscal year, continuing a pattern that has now existed for a number of years. 

During the first six months of Fiscal Year 2024, there were 4,356 new prosecutions derived from DEA cases. If that trend continues for the rest of the fiscal year, there will be 8,712 prosecutions, down from 9,271 in Fiscal Year 2023. 

Twenty years ago, there were 18,132 cases filed, but by Fiscal Year 2019 that figure had dropped to 13,104. FY 2024 prosecutions are on a path that would put them on a 33 percent decline from just five years ago. 

Longitudinal TRAC data shows that DEA referrals, prosecutions, and convictions all peaked in the early years of this century and have been declining since around 2004 and 2005.

International 

UN Says Myanmar Opium Production at Highest Level in Years. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported Wednesday that opium production in Myanmar has reached a ten-year high, increasing 26 percent over last year. 

The report found that Myanmar produced 870 tons of opium in 2023, the largest harvest since UNODC began monitoring in 2002. 

Myanmar's increased production comes as production plummets in Afghanistan, which had long been the world's leading opium producer until the Taliban enacted a ban in 2022. Much of the production is coming from poor farmers in the country's borderlands, which have slipped out of control of the military junta that governs the country amidst a bloody insurgency,

"Opium farmers are not bad people, they are poor people," said Jason Eligh, UNODC Myanmar country manager. "Villagers threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable economic alternatives or they will continue, out of desperation, to grow opium as a cash crop."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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