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A Question for Dr. Volkow

Drug warriors don’t answer phone calls or emails from the likes of us, so the only way to ask them questions is to show up when they’re speaking publicly and hope to get called on during Q&A. Sitting in the moderator’s line of sight helps, as does not looking like a balls-to-the-wall hippie drug-legalizer (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

And so this past Friday I attended the “African American Brain Trust on Eliminating Racial Disparities in Substance Abuse Policies” sponsored by the National African American Drug Policy Coalition, for the dual purposes of developing contacts for an unrelated project, and hopefully to get some answers from NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow who would be presenting. NAADPC assembled an impressive list of speakers, and though the event was neutral in tone, it’s probably safe to say that if NAADPC replaced ONDCP, there'd be less to blog about. The audience consisted primarily of criminal justice and medical professionals, but the full anti-prohibitionist viewpoint was represented by ubiquitous reformers Kymone Freeman and Howard Wooldridge of LEAP. True to form, both asked about legalization, which prompted squirmy but less-than-dismissive responses from panels of distinguished judges, prosecutors, and law-enforcement professionals.

A neutral, non-politicized discussion of the drug problem inevitably favors the compassionate activist over the status quo, but the final word of the day from Dr. Nora Volkow provided a startling reality check. Dr. Volkow’s power-point presentation titled “Using Science and Medicine to Effectively Treat Drug Addiction” conjured a distopian future in which “addicts” are administered government drugs by force in order to prevent them from enjoying the drugs they take voluntarily. But she didn’t phrase it that way.

Dr. Volkow argues that prolonged drug use alters the brain in ways that reduce the user’s control over drug-taking itself, thereby necessitating compulsory treatment in order to help the user regain the ability to make his/her own decisions. Addiction is a disease, yes, but drugs themselves cause the disease over time, according to Dr. Volkow. By this logic, intervention appears justified at any stage.

With time running short, I was fortunate to be one of three people chosen to ask questions. Mine came out something like this:

I hope that by looking at drug addiction as a disease, society will become less inclined to stigmatize people with drug problems. But there’s a flipside in that most people who use drugs are doing just fine. I know that most people in treatment for marijuana were coerced into it by the criminal justice system, for example. As your research progresses, will you still acknowledge that most drug users don’t fit into the addiction model you just described?

Dr. Volkow was answering before I was done asking, and her answer was clever. She admitted that many drug users don’t experience negative consequences. “We’ve always acknowledged that” she said, as if I was kind of stupid for asking. “But it’s important to realize,” she went on, “that even experimentation with drugs can have dire consequences.”

It’s pathetic that after a forty-five minute presentation on addiction science, she would resort to such an unscientific generalization. Yes, experimentation can have consequences, but as Jack Herer once said, “nobody’s ever died from marijuana that wasn’t shot by a cop.” Too often, the consequences of drug use take the form of government persecution justified by junk science from prohibitionists masquerading as public health experts.

Dr. Nora Volkow says we shouldn’t stigmatize drug-users, but then she goes around diagnosing them with a brain-rotting disease that most of them don’t actually have.

Localização: 
United States

Drug Users Go to Court to Keep Safe Injection Site Open

Press Release – For Immediate Release, August 31, 2006 Drug Users go to Court to keep Safe Injection Site Open Vancouver – The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) will seek an injunction in BC Supreme Court to prevent the federal government from closing Insite, North America’s first safe injection site. Scientific research in the world’s leading medical journals has established Insite as a success in reducing the harms associated with injection drug use in Canada’s poorest neighbourhood. Despite widespread support however, the Conservative government has refused to confirm that they will renew the permit for the site, due to expire September 12, 2006. A press conference providing details of the lawsuit and injunction application will be held: Friday, September 1, 2006 1pm to 2pm Carnegie Centre Auditorium 410 Main Street, Vancouver VANDU is represented by John Conroy, Q.C., a director of Pivot Legal Society and a well-known senior member of the Bar. ------------------------------------------------------- About Pivot Legal Society Pivot’s mandate is to take a strategic approach to social change, using the law to address the root causes that undermine the quality of life of those most on the margins. We believe that everyone, regardless of income, benefits from a healthy and inclusive community where values such opportunity, respect and equality are strongly rooted in the law.
Localização: 
Vancouver, BC
Canada

No Honor for Last Holdout State Against Needle Exchange

A few weeks we reported in Drug War Chronicle that New Jersey had become the only state in the nation not allowing needle exchange programs in some form or at least syringe purchase without a prescription -- the second to last state, Delaware, passed a needle exchange law last month. The Times of New Jersey opined on the matter this morning in an opinion piece titled, "The Last One Standing." The Times writes:
After 13 years of debate without action, New Jersey is now the only state without a needle-exchange program -- a title the state should be embarrassed to hold, especially since its accompanying titles include fifth highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS cases in the nation and double the national percentage of cases caused by injection.
Having observed the issue in New Jersey for most of those years -- I well remember the days when Diana McCague and New Brunswick's The Chai Project mounted their open challenge to New Jersey's needle exchange prohibition -- and being originally from New Jersey myself, I am glad to see a major paper speak up again. According to the editorial there are "only a few loud legislators who are fundamentally opposed" to two state senate bills that would legalize needle exchange and permit prescriptionless syringe sales. In my view, those "loud legislators" have committed a monstrous crime against humanity -- really -- and so did the attorney general who squelched the newer programs opened by city emergency order through the courts. Former governor Whitman was maybe the worst villain in this. Large numbers of New Jerseyans are contracting AIDS and Hepatitis C through needle sharing, are dying from those diseases and spreading them to others. The scientific evidence supporting needle exchange programs is absolutely overwhelming. Talk about moral confusion! There should be new Chai Projects, in all the cities around the state, law or now law. Then let the legislators catch up and the opponents fall behind into history's dustbin where they belong.
Localização: 
NJ
United States

Mayor Seeks Drug Maintenance for Drug Addicts

Localização: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Vancouver Sun
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=bf184ac0-01c2-4251-8c46-24cbb64be30f

Drug Laws Drive Addicted to Prostitution in West Virginia (and Everywhere Else)

Steubenville, West Virginia, has an interlocking problem of drugs and prostitution, The Intelligencer in nearby Wheeling reported this morning. The article was prompted by an anti-prostitution sting operation that rounded up six men and five women Wednesday night.
"The prostitution and the drugs go hand-in-hand," [police chief William] McCafferty said. "Most of the (prostitutes) are drug users, and that's how they support their habit. None of the men who are coming here to purchase the product the women are selling are from Steubenville, and we don’t need them in our city. "They know the girls are here and have a drug problem to support," he added. "It makes our drug trade better than what it actually is. The 'johns' support the prostitutes who then support the drugs."
But why do some drug addicts need to resort to prostitution to be able to afford some chemical mixtures that could literally be produced for pennies? It's because prohibition of drugs drives up the price by putting it into the criminal underground -- economics call this the "risk premium." Cigarettes are just as addictive as any street drug, but you don't see people walking the streets (or for that matter breaking into cars) to afford them, at least not very much, and the same goes for alcohol. Legalization of drugs would therefore reduce prostitution and help some of the addicted avoid being in that often degrading and dangerous circumstance. In the meanwhile, carting them off to jail probably isn't going to be the thing that helps them stop using drugs once they get out.
Localização: 
Steubenville, WV
United States

Vancouver MP Libby Davies Urges Campaign to Save Safe Injection Site

INSITE, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside safe injection site, is in danger of being shut down after September 12 if the new conservative health minister doesn't reapprove it. Here's the email MP Libby Davies sent out today: Dear friends, I am writing you today regarding the fate of INSITE, North America’s first supervised safe injection facility. As you may know, this program started as a three-year study in September of 2003, and the results have been incredibly impressive. INSITE has reduced public injections, reduced the transmission of blood-borne infections like HIV and Hepatitis C, and reduced the number of injection-related infections. Most significantly, however, is that of 453 overdoses at INSITE, not one has resulted in a fatality. This is strong evidence of the success that this project has had in reducing the harm to drug-users. However, despite its successes, INSITE is at risk of closing down. The facility exists because of an exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. If Health Minister Tony Clement does not renew this exemption, this facility will close down as of September 12th of this year. Therefore, I am urging you to take action. If you believe that INSITE should continue, then please let Tony Clement know! His email address is: [email protected] Please send me a copy of your email to the Health Minister if you decide to write, and also send a copy to [email protected]. I have included some recent letters that I have written to Prime Minister Harper and Health Minister Clement below for reference. You can also get additional information about the facility at “Insite for Community Safety” (www.communityinsite.ca). If we can speak with one voice, we can let this government know how people really feel about this important program. I thank you for your continued support! Yours sincerely, Libby Davies MP, Vancouver East
Localização: 
United States

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