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1/3 of People Admitted to Marijuana Treatment Hadn't Been Smoking Marijuana!

Advocates for harsh marijuana laws can be counted on to infuse their rhetoric with incessant declarations that marijuana is highly addictive. Rarely, if ever, could one expose oneself to such discussion without being told something like this:
Decriminalizing marijuana – the drug which sends the most of America's youth into substance abuse treatment and recovery – is a dangerous first step towards complete drug legalization. In fact, marijuana sends the highest percentage of New Hampshire residents into drug treatment than any other illicit drug.

I strongly urge responsible leaders in New Hampshire to stop any effort to decriminalize or legalize the highly addictive drug marijuana."
These words belong to the Deputy Drug Czar and they are less than a week old, thus they represent what his office currently believes to be the strongest and most important argument for marijuana prohibition: that the drug is highly addictive.

As Paul Armentano at NORML points out, however, the government's own data on marijuana dependency shows that a plurality of people entering treatment for marijuana hadn't smoked it in a month or more. Isn't that just amazing? I mean, wow. 36% of people entering treatment for pot addiction had already kicked the habit on their own. Highly-addictive my ash.

But how could this be? The answer can be found on this page, which shows that 58% of people entering marijuana treatment were referred by the criminal justice system. They didn't ask for help, rather they were found in possession of marijuana, which led a judge to issue a diagnosis of "marijuana addiction" and order them to get help for that.

When more than half the sample consists of people who were forced into treatment, it should come as no surprise that so many of them haven't actually been smoking marijuana. Some may never have been marijuana users to begin with and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. More commonly, I suspect, a large number of marijuana arrestees simply quit after getting busted, either voluntarily or because their lawyers recommended it, pretrial drug screenings, etc. Since marijuana isn't actually very addictive to begin with, this is easy to do.

And yet we continue to waste limited government resources investigating, arresting, adjudicating, and treating these people for an addiction they never actually had. In sum, the Drug Czar's best evidence of marijuana addiction comes from the fact that the government categorizes people as marijuana addicts if they're found sitting near a bag of marijuana. The instant we stop calculating it that way, the evidence ceases to exist and the drug warriors' favorite and best argument against marijuana reform is, well…cashed.
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Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide to Managing Drugs and Alcohol," by Patt Denning, Jeanne Little, and Adina Glickman (2004, Guilford Press, 328 pp., $16.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor
We usually reserve this space for books hot off the press, but in the case of "Over the Influence," we make an exception. This book is special enough for us to make it a premium for our contributors, and given that we are publishing a story this week about the rapidly rising toll from drug overdoses, we think its importance is self-evident.

Like most people interested in drug law reform, I believe that substance use is a constant in human affairs, and that -- as US history over the past few decades demonstrates -- nothing short of totalitarianism can stomp it out, and then, most likely, only temporarily. I also believe that substance use does not automatically equate to substance abuse or addiction.

Nor am I especially comfortable with the "disease model" of addiction championed by the mad scientists of NIDA, as well as too many well-meaning drug reformers and, perhaps, self-interested drug treatment providers. The concomitant to the disease model, which seeks to replace human agency with biopsychopharmacological determinism, is the Alcoholics Anonymous-based drug treatment dogma that people with problematic drug habits are addicts, the victims of a progressive, incurable disease whose only cure is lifelong abstinence.

As the authors of "Over the Influence" note, philosophical objections aside, a major, major problem with abstinence-based drug treatment is that it just doesn't work. Although abstinence-based programs account for more than nine out of ten programs in the US, that appears to be more because of inertia than results: Such programs, which define "success" as abstinence from all drugs, work only between 5% and 39% of the time, and that's for the small minority of users who actually complete them.

Instead of relying on programs and models that rely on the disease model and the insistence that the only success is staying completely straight, the authors of "Over the Influence" suggest that we apply the principles of harm reduction to drug use in our personal lives. While the notion of harm reduction in this context is controversial, it shouldn't be -- because it's only common sense.

Harm reduction accepts that people may do things that pose potential risks or harms to them and -- duh -- seeks to reduce those harms. Some people like to race automobiles. Abstinence says they should never race; harm reduction says they should wear helmets and protective clothing. Some people (like those darned teenagers) like to have sex without waiting for marriage. Abstinence says they should remain virgins until the holy day arrives; harm reduction says provide them with birth control and protection from disease if they're going to be sexually active.

When it comes to substance use, the advocates of abstinence are even more insistent: The only way to cure the disease is to never use any psychoactive substance (except for cigarettes and coffee, as any AA veteran knows). But Denning, Little, and Glickman, all three of whom have long experience in harm reduction and therapy under their belts, dare to suggest what has heretofore been anathema in the treatment community: There are other choices besides quitting. In fact, they take as their mantra a slogan popularized by the Chicago Recovery Alliance: Any Positive Change.

What does that mean? Say you think your cocaine use is getting out of hand. You had been snorting only on weekends, but now you find yourself doing it every day. Can you at least skip Tuesday and Thursdays? If you manage to do that, you have not only reduced the potential harm of chronic cocaine use, you have also proven to yourself that you can control your relationship with your drug of choice, that you are not a helpless victim doomed to a downward spiral of addiction and misery.

Or maybe you like to drink, but you find that your nightly bottle of wine is making you so sluggish the next day that you are not getting your work done and your job could be in jeopardy. Can you make it a half-bottle? If so, once again, you have reduced the harm of your substance use and you have demonstrated your control over your own life. And you have not given up the fruit of the vine, only moderated your use of it.

Of course, not everyone is just going to wake up one day, decide to change their substance use habits, and be successful at it. But even if one does not succeed on the first try, the very act of trying to assess and regulate one's drug use is a step in the direction of harm reduction. One of the elements that makes "Over the Influence" so useful for drug users (and those concerned about them) is that it shows readers how to think critically about their drug use, its benefits, and its potential harms. A little introspection never hurt anybody, and when it comes to potentially lethal substances like alcohol or hard drugs, a little introspection can save lives.

"Over the Influence" is absolutely essential for anyone seeking to come to grips with his or her substance use, and even more so for those friends or family members of people who are having problems with their drug use. Unlike AA-based abstinence programs, which seem to work for only a small percentage of people, applying the principles of harm reduction to substance use is likely to make a difference in the larger world of still-drug-using people.

It seems so sensible. How can this be controversial?

Bush Drug Treatment, Prevention, and Recovery Budget Cuts Raise Chorus of Criticism

The Bush administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2009 spending for drug treatment, prevention, and recovery includes significant funding cuts for some programs, and that has critics ranging from former federal drug warriors to the treatment and recovery community crying foul. While economic pressures may necessitate a lean budget, say the critics, cutting drug treatment, prevention, and recovery is not the way to do it.
Bush administration drug strategy report and budget
Overall, substance abuse treatment and prevention funding within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the main conduit for such funds, will decrease from $2.35 billion this year to $2.27 billion next year. (See details of the SAMHSA budget here.) Other highlights and lowlights of the treatment, prevention, and recovery budgets include:

  • Funding for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program would see a small increase to $1.779 billion, but that increase would be earmarked for the most effective existing grant recipients.
  • The Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) would receive $336.7 million, a decrease of $63 million from FY 2008, and a number of programs would be zeroed out, including the Recovery Community Support Program. Other losers include the Treatment Systems for the Homeless program (cut from $42.5 million to $32.6 million) and the Opioid Treatment Program/Regulatory Activities (cut from $8.9 million to $6 million). But funding for the Access to Recovery grant program would remain unchanged at $99.7 million, and drug court funding would increase from $15 million to $37 million.
  • The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP) would receive $158 million, a decrease of $36 million from FY 2008.
  • Funding for the Center for Mental Health Services would be cut by $126 million.
  • The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities (SDFSC) State Grants program, which supports community-based prevention programming through the Department of Education, would receive $100 million, a decrease of $194.8 million.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) would receive $1.002 billion, a nearly $1 million increase over FY 2008.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) would receive $436.68 million, a $0.4 million increase over last year's funding.

"We're very concerned about these cuts and looking forward to working with Congress to restore the funding," said Pat Taylor, executive director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, a national organization advocating for those affected by substance abuse problems. "We're especially concerned about the elimination of the Recovery Community Services Program -- it's the only program that funds community recovery services," she said.

Even though the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report that accompanied the Bush budget claimed such programs are ineffective, thus justifying their being cut, Taylor said that report was wrong. "We know from the government's own data that these programs are highly effective at a relatively low cost," she said. "Funding has gone to organizations that have leveraged tens of thousands of volunteer hours in communities around the country."

"There's not a lot of money for treatment and prevention as it is," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Bush is also cutting law enforcement," Piper said, referring to proposed cuts in the Byrne Justice Action Grants program, "but we know which one Congress is more likely to restore."

"I've argued for years that it's a gross distortion of resources to deny as much funding as necessary for drug treatment, prevention, and education. That is how we stop the link between drugs and crime," said Robert Weiner, who as public affairs director under drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey frequently earned reformers' ire (on other issues). Weiner added that two-thirds of arrestees test positive for illegal drugs. "If we prevent it on the front side before forcing them into prison, we save literally billions of dollars and make productive citizens out of these people. The federal drug budget needs to be refigured to change its priorities," he said.

Weiner also had harsh words for the current drug czar, John Walters, for failing to protect his bureaucratic fiefdom. Under Walters, the drug budget under the control of ONDCP has declined from $19 billion to $13 billion.

"That's outrageous," Weiner complained. "Walters has his head in the sand and has been ceding authority. The point of his office was to create an overseer to ride herd on drug policy, but instead, Walters has just been a lackey to this politics of fear and terror and homeland security and has given away the store. It's not just individual programs, but an overall ceding of authority, and that's a shame."

Weiner isn't the only former federal drug warrior taking pot-shots at the Bush administration's drug policy spending priorities. John Carnevale, who served under four different drug czars and helped set federal drug budgets and strategies, ripped into the Bush administration earlier this month with a policy brief charging that it had consistently emphasized the least effective aspects of drug control policy.

According to Carnevale, supply reduction (law enforcement, interdiction, eradication) spending has grown 57% during the Bush years, while demand reduction (treatment, prevention, recovery) spending has increased by only 3%. The ratio between supply reduction and demand reduction spending is about 2:1, near where it has been historically despite repeated claims by federal drug fighters that they are shifting to a more balanced approach.

As Carnevale notes, "Research suggests that treatment and prevention programs are very effective in reducing drug demand, saving lives, and lessening health and crime consequences. It has demonstrated that attacking drugs at their source by focusing on eradication is expensive and not very effective. It has demonstrated that interdiction has little effect on drug traffickers' ability to bring drugs into the United States and on to our street corners where they are sold."

Perversely, however, interdiction funding increased the most during the Bush years, doubling from $1.9 billion in 2002 to $3.8 billion in 2009, while source country funding increased by 50%, law enforcement by 31%, and treatment by only 22%. Spending for drug prevention, on the other hand, actually declined by 25%.

"If research were our guide," wrote Carnevale, "then one would expect the opposite ordering of increases in budgetary resources for drug control. The failure to incorporate research into the budgetary process is a lost opportunity to produce results. The only positive news in this decade is the reduction in youth drug use, a trend which started in the previous decade. Today's discussion of drug policy performance overlooks the fact that adult drug use and rates of addiction remain unchanged in this decade."

The chorus of critics is not just complaining. Led by the treatment and recovery community, moves are afoot in Congress to seek a better mix when it comes to drug policy funding. Look for battles to come in committee hearing rooms and floor votes as advocates seek to restore funding to useful and effective programs.

"These cuts are very shortsighted and I don't think they will stand," said Taylor. "We are working with many allied organizations to support a different budget proposal that we will be distributing on Capitol Hill next week. There is a lot of interest there in moving forward instead of back."

Pregnancy: Arizona Bill to Force Meth-Using Mothers-To-Be Into Treatment Passes Committee

The Arizona Senate Judiciary Committee Monday approved a bill that would allow the state to detain pregnant women who use methamphetamine and hold them involuntarily in drug treatment programs. The bill also creates the crime of child abuse against a fetus. With a 4-3 "do pass" vote in the committee, the measure now heads for the Senate floor.

The bill, SB1500, is sponsored by Sen. Pamela Gorman (R-Anthem). In committee, Gorman said she is not normally a proponent of government interference in the private lives of citizens. "But I do think that the state has some very specific roles," she said. "And one of them is to protect people from harm from other people."

Under the bill, if state Child Protective Service workers know or have reasonable grounds to believe a pregnant woman is using meth and is not voluntarily seeking treatment, they must seek a court order requiring her to cooperate in a treatment program. If the woman refuses to cooperate, the bill would allow CPS to ask a judge to have sheriff's deputies pick up the woman and take her to a treatment facility. As the bill itself puts it:

"Allows a CPS worker to petition the court for an emergency custody order directing a sheriff or law enforcement officer to take the expectant mother into custody and transport the expectant mother to an institution or facility specified in the order, if either of the following applies:

a) the expectant mother refuses to comply with an issued order to cooperate.

b) the CPS worker reasonably believes that the expectant mother has previously failed or refused to comply with an appropriate prescribed course of treatment or monitoring and believes that emergency custody is necessary to protect the unborn child."

Such an unprecedented intervention is necessary given the "highly addictive" nature of meth, Gorman said. Even women highly motivated to stay clean could backslide, she warned. "I would propose that a child can't wait for a year for backsliding off good intentions to be released from being forced-fed methamphetamines by the mother," Gorman said.

Meth-using pregnant women had no advocates at the committee hearing. The three committee members who voted against the measure did so not out of concern for the well-being of those women, but out of fear that Gorman's measure could be a stalking horse for cracking down on abortion in the state. The portion of the bill that creates the crime of child abuse against a fetus could be used to halt abortions, they warned.

Stop Filling Prisons, California -- Advocates to Take Sentencing Reform Case to Voters

California's prison system is in crisis. With some 172,000 inmates, the state's prison system is second only to the federal system in size, and its budget has ballooned by 79% in the last five years to nearly $8 billion annually. Still, the system is vastly overcrowded and faces two federal class-action suits seeking to cap inmate populations because overcrowding is resulting in the state not delivering constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care.
overcrowding at Mule Creek State Prison (from
In December, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he was considering a plan to release some 22,000 nonviolent inmates early in response to the festering crisis. But that one-shot approach would not deal with the systemic problems and policies that created the prison crisis in the first place.

Now, after years of inaction in Sacramento in the face of the crisis, a well-funded initiative campaign that would result in a seismic shift in California sentencing and prison policies, especially when it comes to drug offenders and those whose offenses are related to their problematic drug use, has gotten underway. Dubbed the Non-Violent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA), the initiative would dramatically expand the treatment and diversion options made available under a previous reform initiative, Proposition 36, as well as reform parole and probation programs, and make simple marijuana possession an infraction instead of a misdemeanor.

About 35,000 California inmates, or about 20% of the prison population, are doing time for drug offenses. An unknown number, certainly in the thousands and possibly in the tens of thousands, are doing time for offenses related to their drug use. It is these offenders and their future brethren at whom the NORA initiative is aimed.

Sponsored by the Drug Policy Alliance Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Santa Monica-based Campaign for New Drug Policies, the people who engineered the successful Prop. 36 campaign, the NORA initiative would:

  • Create a multi-track diversion program for adult offenders. Track I provides for treatment for nonviolent drug possession offenders with a plea held in abeyance during treatment. For those who wash out of Track I, Track II provides Prop 36-style treatment after conviction, with graduated sanctions for probation violations, including eventual jail time. Track III is an expansion of existing drug court programs, with stronger sanctions than the other tracks. Judges would have the discretion to use Track III not only for drug offenders, but for any non-violent offenders whose crimes are linked to their drug use. Track III would be mandatory for those identified as "high-cost offenders" (five arrests in the past 30 months). The initiative would fund the diversion and treatment program at $385 million per year.
  • Create drug treatment programs for youth. NORA would invest about $65 million a year to build a prevention and treatment program for young people where none currently exists.
  • Require California prisons to provide rehabilitation programs to all exiting inmates at least 90 days before release and for up to a year after release at state expense.
  • Allow nonviolent prisoners to earn sentence reductions with good behavior and by participating in rehabilitation programs.
  • Cut parole periods for qualifying nonviolent offenders to between six and 12 months, instead of the current up to three years. Early discharge from parole could be gained with completion of a rehabilitation program.
  • Make simple marijuana possession an infraction (ticketing offense) instead of a misdemeanor.

Not only would NORA mean freedom for thousands of nonviolent drug and drug-related offenders, it would also save California billions of dollars. Prop. 36 is estimated to have saved at least $1.3 billion in five years by diverting offenders to treatment, and the California Legislative Analyst's Office projects that NORA could generate a billion dollars a year in savings for the prison system, as well as obviating the need for a one-time prison-building outlay of $2.5 billion.

Paid canvassers for NORA are already hitting the streets in California. They have until April 21 to gather some 435,000 valid signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. NORA will make that goal, organizers vowed.

"We've just announced this to our members and started gathering signatures," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli of the Southern California office of the Drug Policy Alliance Network. "We're very excited. It looks like the largest sentencing and prison reform in American history will be on the November ballot."

"This is Prop 36 on steroids," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "If it passes, this will lead to a comprehensive rewrite of all of California's laws regarding sentencing, probation, and parole for nonviolent, drug-related offenses. And this is a professional campaign. The measure will be on the ballot in November," he flatly predicted.

"Prop. 36 has been such a success, it has been extensively studied and proven, but the biggest problem is that it isn't big enough," said Dooley-Sammuli. "Combined with the difficulty of getting any prison reform through and of even obtaining adequate funding for existing reforms because of the impasse in Sacramento -- we've seen so many prison reforms die there -- we thought we really needed to put this on the ballot for stable funding, more treatment, and more diversion," she said.

"But NORA is not just about expanding Prop. 36," Dooley-Sammuli was quick to point out. "This is primarily a prison and sentencing reform effort. It brings common sense solutions to the problem of over-incarceration in California, especially the over-incarceration of nonviolent offenders in this state."

"The state has been incredibly reluctant and negligent in addressing the whole problem of nonviolent prisoners," said Gieringer. "Every effort to extricate drug offenders from the prison system has been seen as a political hot potato and has gone nowhere. Sentencing reform is political poison in Sacramento, yet we have this simmering prison crisis here in California."

If the politicians refuse to act, said Gieringer, it is time to take the issue directly to the voters. "This initiative is very justified because of the negligence of California's political class in not dealing with these issues," he said. "In fact, it is overdue, and now we the people have to try to come to grips with the failure of our political leaders to act. And I think we have the public on our side. The polling on this has been very favorable. Most people think nonviolent drug offenses should be handled with treatment, not prison."

"We have federal judges considering whether to take over the entire state prison system," said Dooley-Sammuli. "We don't have solutions coming out of Sacramento. We have very real budget problems that mean we can't afford to keep spending what we are on incarceration. NORA reallocates state spending from incarceration to treatment and rehabilitation, so we will end up with substantial savings over time," she predicted.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's move to release some prisoners early is necessary, but not sufficient, said Dooley-Sammuli. What is needed is not one-shot fixes, but systemic reforms, she said. "NORA is not a one-time opening of the jailhouse gates," said Dooley-Sammuli, "This is about systemic change in our sentencing and parole practices. This is not radical; it's common sense. This is not soft on crime; this is smart on crime. NORA will allow us to get past the politicking and get some solutions."

At this point early in the campaign season, there is no organized opposition, but that is almost certain to change. Too many powerful groups, from prosecutors to prison guards, benefit from the status quo, and fear-mongering on crime issues is a perennial favorite among politicians.

"The question is whether there will be any well-funded political opposition," said Gieringer. "Then there might be a real fight. But we haven't seen an opposition committee form yet. That's the real question mark."

NORA organizers have done their best to blunt opposition at the early stages by bringing potential opponents into the process, said Dooley-Sammuli. "We made many, many efforts to make this a collaborative process by reaching out to a wide variety of stakeholders. This has been a broad effort to bring in as many perspectives and sets of expertise as possible, and we've tried to make friends instead of foes," she said.

Coerced drug treatment is not the best of all possible worlds. But it's difficult to argue that drug law violators are better off in prison than in treatment. The NORA initiative will give California voters a chance to take a giant step in sentencing and prison reform and a small step toward true justice for drug users.

Sentencing: Faced With Swollen Prisons, Idaho Ponders Reforms

With nearly 7,500 people behind bars in Idaho -- more than half of them for drug offenses -- the Idaho legislature is finally beginning to move away from the "tough on crime" posturing and infliction of mandatory minimum drug dealing sentences that helped create the current crisis. A bill with bipartisan support that would give Idaho judges the option to send people convicted of drug distribution offenses to treatment instead of mandatory prison terms if they are found to be addicts is on the move in Boise.

House Bill 516, sponsored by three Republicans and one Democrat, is in line for a full hearing at the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee this session. The bill would mark a departure for Idaho, which for years has responded to illegal drug use and sales by ratcheting up penalties.

But even the bill's sponsors are still playing to the punishment choir, if the Associated Press got it right. Rep. Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise), a cosponsor of the bill, told the committee Monday most people convicted of drug distribution offenses deserved harsh sentences. But, she said, those involved in small-time dealing because of their addictions should get a chance at treatment instead. "For these rare instances, this will allow for an alternative sentence by judges," she said. "If treatment is provided, that provides the best chance of recovering."

Under current Idaho law, most drug dealing convictions require mandatory minimum sentences of three to five years. Some methamphetamine and meth precursor offenses carry 10-year mandatory minimums, though.

The bill "ain't a bad idea," Rep. Dick Harwood (R-St. Maries) told the AP. "Our prisons are pumped full. It would be nice to give judges discretion about whether to send somebody to prison or to some other treatment program. In reality, they're the ones that are sitting on the front lines, not the legislators who are making the laws."

There is also a another bill aimed at sentencing reform in Idaho. Rep. Jim Clark (R-Hayden) has introduced a bill that would expand misdemeanor drug courts. It is aimed at stopping minor offenders from developing full-blown substance abuse problems. If these bills are truly harbingers of a new approach in the Gem State, it's about time.

Civil Rights: Pennsylvania Bill Would Allow Involuntary Commitment of "Drug Dependent" People

A bill introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature would allow judges to order "drug dependent" people into involuntary drug treatment, including inpatient treatment, upon petition by that person's family members. Introduced by Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D-Delaware), HB 1594 would allow for repeated 90-day commitment orders -- apparently without end.

The bill would allow the courts to order a drug and alcohol assessment by a psychiatrist, a psychologist specializing in drug and alcohol assessments and treatment, or a certified addiction counselor. If the assessors deem the respondent in need of treatment, the court could impose a 90-day treatment order. Before that period is up, another hearing would be held and another 90-day treatment order could be issued. According to the bill, "The court may continue the respondent in treatment for successive ninety-day periods pursuant to determinations that the person will benefit from services for an additional ninety days. The court may also order appropriate follow-up treatment. If the court finds, after hearing, that the respondent willfully failed to comply with an order, the court may declare the person in civil contempt of court and in its discretion make an appropriate order, including commitment of the respondent to prison for a period not to exceed six months."

In other words, if a court deems you a drug dependent person in need of treatment, you can theoretically be detained indefinitely in treatment or even be sent to prison if the court is not satisfied with your progress.

What makes the bill especially frightening is the broadness of the standard definition of "drug dependence," the most widely used of which is that in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV). Under its criteria countless marijuana smokers -- and even coffee drinkers -- could be considered "drug dependent." According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2000, some 14.5 million Americans fit the definition.

According to Keystone State observers, the bill is unlikely to go anywhere. It has been sitting in committee for months. But given that it represents such a frightening example of the drug war's totalitarian impulse, it is worth noting.

Press Release: New Study Documents Increased Use of Ibogaine for Detoxification from Opiates such as OxyContin and Heroin

For Immediate Release: February 8, 2008 Contact: Kenneth Alper, M.D.: (212) 263-8854 New Study Documents Increased Use of Ibogaine for Detoxification from Opiates such as OxyContin and Heroin Thousands Participate in the “Vast Uncontrolled Experiment” with the Use of Ibogaine A Naturally Occurring Compound Derived from an African Shrub, Ibogaine may be a Prototype for the Development of New Drugs to Treat Addiction. In what has been termed “a vast uncontrolled experiment” taking place in North America and Europe in the setting of homes, hotel rooms and private clinics, increasing numbers of individuals are taking ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive plant alkaloid, to treat drug addiction. A new study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology provides the first systematic ethnographic description and quantitative estimate of the extent of this remarkable medical subculture. The new study documents that the majority of individuals in the US and Europe that have used ibogaine were severely physically dependent on opiates and took ibogaine for acute detoxification. The study reports that the use of ibogaine increased four-fold between 2001-2006, with as many as nearly 5,000 individuals having taken it. The expansion of the ibogaine subculture parallels the upsurge of opiate addiction in the US, where deaths due to opiates such as heroin and OxyContin have doubled in the first half of this decade. According to the lead author of the study, Kenneth Alper, M.D., an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, “An important finding of the study is that the most frequent purpose for which ibogaine is used is detoxification from opiates, because this suggests a significant, objective, pharmacologically mediated effect. The syndrome of acute opiate withdrawal tends to severe in its clinical expression, especially with the high levels of physical dependence that are typical of individuals who seek treatment with ibogaine. Treatment providers are generally experienced and can make valid observations of the presence or absence of opiate withdrawal signs, even in the nonmedical settings in which ibogaine is presently used. The clinical literature confirms that there is no significant placebo effect in opioid detoxification, indicating that valid observations of an effect can be made without placebo control group. The focus on opioid detoxification distinguishes ibogaine from other compounds designated as “psychedelics”, such as LSD, mescaline or psilocybin, for which there is no preclinical or clinical evidence that suggests a significant effect in acute opiate withdrawal.” Ibogaine has been used as a psychopharmacological religious sacrament in Africa for centuries. In the US in the early 1960s, the unexpected absence of withdrawal symptoms was noted in heroin-dependent individuals who had taken ibogaine. Further case reports, as well as preclinical evidence eventually persuaded the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support research on ibogaine, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a clinical study. NIDA ultimately ended its effort to develop ibogaine because the project exceeded its budgetary resources. However, ibogaine, although never popular as a recreational drug regardless of its legal status, has continued to be used outside of conventional medical settings. The expansion of the subculture reflects a demand for new treatment that is sought despite legal prohibition in some cases, and the medical risks, including fatalities that are associated with the lack of clinical and pharmaceutical controls the settings in which ibogaine is used. Alper sees a prospect for innovation in ibogaine, “Researchers are increasingly focused on the development of drugs to treat addiction that extend beyond the present repertoire of pharmacological mechanisms of action. Ibogaine’s mechanism of action is unknown, which makes it potentially informative as a paradigm for studying the neurobiology of addiction and developing new treatment.”
United States

Justice Policy Institute Press Release: Data Shows Substance Abuse Treatment Reduces Crime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, January 22, 2008 Contact: LaWanda Johnson (202) 558-7974 x308 WASHINGTON - Community-based substance abuse treatment reduces crime rates and helps states reduce corrections costs, according to a new policy brief released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). The Substance Abuse Treatment and Public Safety brief found that the sooner substance abuse is treated, the bigger the long-term cost savings and increases in public safety. At a time when some have raised concerns about the release of people convicted of drug offenses from federal prison due to U.S. Sentencing Commission reforms, the research shows that substance abuse treatment helps individuals transition successfully from the criminal justice system to the community. "This new report confirms that investing in drug and alcohol treatment is both socially responsible and fiscally prudent and should be a top public policy priority," said Maryland Delegate Bill Bronrott, chair of the House Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. "The report documents the tangible results of treatment, such as cutting crime, reclaiming lives, and making healthier families and safer communities. More investments in these lifesaving and cost-effective services are needed now to expand the benefits of treatment that this report so clearly demonstrates." The policy brief--the last in a series that examines the impact of positive social investments on public safety--found that: Increases in admissions to substance abuse treatment are associated with reductions in crime rates. Admissions to drug treatment increased 37.4 percent and federal spending on drug treatment increased 14.6 percent from 1995 to 2005. During the same period, violent crime fell 31.5 percent. In California, where Proposition 36 diverted thousands of people from prison and jail to treatment, violent crime fell at a rate that exceeded the national average. In Maryland, where policymakers have been working to implement various approaches to diverting prison-bound people to treatment, the counties that relied on drug treatment were more likely to achieve significant crime rate reductions than those that relied on drug imprisonment. Increased admissions to drug treatment are associated with reduced incarceration rates. States with a higher drug treatment admission rate than the national average send, on average, 100 fewer people to prison per 100,000 in the population than states that have lower than average drug treatment admissions. California, in particular, experienced decreases in incarceration rates when jurisdictions increased the number of people sent to drug treatment. Substance abuse treatment prior to contact with the justice system yields public safety benefits early on. Research has shown that drug treatment programs improve life outcomes for individuals and decreases the likelihood that a drug-involved person will be involved in the criminal justice system. Substance abuse treatment helps individuals transition successfully from the criminal justice system to the community. Community-based drug treatment programs reduce the chance that a person will become involved in the criminal justice system after release from prison. Substance abuse treatment is more cost-effective than prison or other punitive measures. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) found that community-based drug treatment is extremely beneficial in terms of cost, especially compared to prison. Every dollar spent on drug treatment in the community is estimated to return $18.52 in benefits to society in terms of reduced incarceration rates and associated crime costs to taxpayers. "If lawmakers invest in community-based substance abuse treatment--instead of prison beds--for people living with addiction, our communities will reap tremendous benefits," says JPI Executive Director Sheila Bedi. "Crime rates will decrease, families will remain intact and since treatment is less expensive than incarceration, state budget dollars can be redeployed to meet education, housing, infrastructure and other pressing needs. " For more information on this or other research, contact LaWanda Johnson at 202-558-7974 ext. 308.
Washington, DC
United States

Asia: China Set to Adopt Anti-Drug Law

China's National People's Congress is set to pass that country's first anti-drug law to curb drug use and trafficking. Currently, drug offenses are handled under China's general criminal law.
Chinese anti-drug poster
The Congress this week is studying a third draft of the law after its Law Committee announced Sunday the law was "ready for adoption." If passed in its current form, the drug law would mark a step forward for China's estimated 1.16 million registered drug users. Current regulations require drug users to be confined in rehabilitation centers, but under the new law, many would be able to undergo treatment in their communities.

The law would also exclude minors under 16 and pregnant or breastfeeding women from compulsory isolated drug rehabilitation, although this provision was controversial. Some lawmakers argued that youthful drug offenders could receive treatment designed especially for them in an isolated environment.

"If some parents are unable to help their addicted children rehabilitate, and community corrections have proved ineffective as well, then young addicts should receive isolated compulsive drug-rehab," they argued.

Among the drugs banned in the new drug law are opium, heroin, morphine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and cocaine. The law also sets strict rules on the clinical use of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals and medicines that could be used to make illegal narcotics, such as methadone and ephedrine.

China's opium trade was virtually wiped out after the Communist Party took power in 1949 -- an historically unique event -- after the party combated it using the same draconian repression with which it attacked Chinese society as a whole. Like prostitution and other perceived Western vices, however, opium has staged a comeback in China in the wake of economic reforms over the past three decades. The Chinese government reports that the number of registered drug users had increased by a whopping 35% between 2000 and 2005.

It is unclear what criminal sanctions the new law contains. Under current Chinese law, drug trafficking can merit sentences as severe as death. Some 50,000 people were arrested on drug trafficking charges last year.

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