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Chronicle AM: NYC Marijuana Busts Way, Way Down; New Federal Fentanyl Sentences in Effect, More... (11/9/18)

New York City marijuana possession arrests plummet (finally), Utah patients will have some legal protection beginning next month, federal fentanyl sentences just increased, and more.

a lethal dose of fentanyl (DEA.gov)
Marijuana Policy

Michigan US Attorneys Warn That Federal Prohibition Remains in Force. In a joint statement released Thursday, US Attorneys for Michigan Matthew Schneider and Andrew Birge warned that even though voters there legalized marijuana on Tuesday, "marijuana continues to be an illegal drug under federal law" and that they "will not unilaterally immunize anyone from prosecution for violating federal laws simply because of the passage of Proposal 1." That said, the federal prosecutors then conceded "our offices have never focused on the prosecution of marijuana users or low-level offenders" and that "as we weigh the interests in enforcing a law, we must also consider our ability to prosecute with our limited resources."

Arrests for Low-Level Marijuana Possession have Decreased 90 Percent Following New NYPD Marijuana Guidelines. Arrests for low-level marijuana possession have plummeted 90 percent since new NYPD marijuana enforcement guidelines took effect in September. There were 151 arrests for low-level marijuana in the entire city of New York in September 2018, less than 10 percent of the 1,500+ arrests last September and 3 percent of the 4,300+ arrests that took place in September 2010. However, racial disparities in enforcement still persist, with Blacks and Latino people comprising around 80 percent of the 1,000 summonses issued for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Utah Patients Will Have Legal Protections Beginning December 1. Although it could take months or years for the state to get a medical marijuana cultivation and distribution system up and running, medical marijuana patients will win some protections from arrest and prosecution beginning on December 1. That's because the Prop 2 initiative approved by voters includes an "affirmative defense" provision protecting them from a criminal conviction. It doesn't explicitly protect patients from arrest, but the hope is that with little likelihood of a successful prosecution, police will have little incentive to actually arrest patients.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Harsher Federal Penalties for Selling Fentanyl-Laced Drugs Are Now in Effect. New federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect November 1 significantly increase the possible prison sentence faced by people who sell heroin or cocaine laced with fentanyl. The new guidelines "create a four-level enhancement for a defendant who knowingly misrepresents or knowingly markets as another substance a mixture containing fentanyl or a fentanyl analog," which translates into sentences nearly twice as long as previously. While the guidelines only apply to someone who intentionally sought to deceive buyers, the realities of the federal criminal justice system -- where the vast majority of cases end with plea bargains -- mean that prosecutors will rarely have to prove the intent to deceive.

Chronicle AM: Weed on the Ballot in 4 States This Election Day, OH Sentencing Reform, Too, More... (11/6/18)

Marijuana policy initiatives are on the ballot in four states today, so is sentencing reform in Ohio, the FDA approves a powerful new opioid, El Chapo goes on trial in New York, and more.

Do your civic duty today. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marijuana Legalization, Medical Marijuana on the Midterm Ballot Today. It's not just about control of the Congress. Four states are seeing statewide marijuana policy initiatives: In Michigan and North Dakota, legalization is on the ballot; in Missouri and Utah, medical marijuana in on the ballot. Also, a number of Ohio localities are voting on decriminalization, and in Wisconsin, a number of localities will be voting on non-binding referenda on whether to legalize marijuana. Come back tomorrow for results.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

FDA Approves Opioid Pain Reliever 1,000 Times Stronger Than Morphine. The Food & Drug Administration has approved a new opioid pain reliever that is a thousand times stronger than morphine and ten times stronger than fentanyl. The new drug, Dsuvia, will be used as a fast-acting alternative to intravenously administered opioids in hospitals. Critics warned that the new drug could be abused, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that it will only be used with "very tight restrictions."

Law Enforcement

El Chapo Goes on Trial in New York City. Longtime Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has gone on trial in New York City this week. El Chapo was extradited to the US in 2017 after escaping from a Mexican prison and being recaptured months later, and now faces a 17-count federal indictment for his role heading the cartel, including money laundering, firearms, and multiple murder charges. Although El Chapo has been out of circulation for more than a year, the Sinaloa Cartel remains arguably the most powerful of Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Sentencing

Ohio Votes on Whether to Defelonize Drug Possession Today. Voters in the Buckeye State will have a chance to approve the Issue 1 sentencing reform initiative. The initiative would move most drug possession charges from felonies to misdemeanors. It would also allow some nonviolent offenders to receive 25% sentence reductions and would also prohibit jail time as a sentence for using or possessing drugs until the third offense within 24 months. Come back tomorrow for results.

International

Israeli Finance Minister Criticizes Delay in Approving Medical Marijuana Exports. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon blamed the Public Security Ministry for foot-dragging on allowing exports of the herb, thus "harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," and called for the cabinet to act to approve exports and advance legislation. "For more than six months, the Public Security Ministry has been preventing the plan from being put on the cabinet's agenda, thereby harming Israel's economy, farmers and local industry," Kahlon wrote in a memo Monday to the cabinet secretary. "During these months a number of countries around the world, including Australia and Canada, began to export medical cannabis."

Chronicle AM: Brazil's New Leader is Bad News on Drug Policy, CO Legalization Faces RICO Suit, More... (10/30/18)

A lawsuit using federal RICO statutes to challenge Colorado marijuana legalization got underway today, North Dakota medical marijuana patients and caregivers can now apply to the registry, Brazil's president-elect is a giant step backward on drug policy, and more.

Brazilian President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro favors harshly repressive drug policies. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Colorado Lawsuit Challenging State's Marijuana Law Goes to Trial. A lawsuit filed by two landowners who claim that a nearby marijuana grow has reduced their property values -- in part because the smell allegedly makes horse riding less attractive -- got underway in federal court in Denver Tuesday. The case is based on federal racketeering laws, and an adverse decision could have significant disruptive effects on the state's marijuana industry. The lawsuit was filed by Safe Streets Alliance, a national anti-marijuana group.

New Jersey Lawmakers Aim for Marijuana Hearings Next Month. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3rd District) told reporters Monday he had been meeting with Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-22nd District) on advancing marijuana legalization legislation, and "I think we're real close." While Sweeney did not offer any firm timelines, Scutari said he has been looking at holding a hearing on November 26.

Medical Marijuana

More Than 200 Unlicensed Michigan Dispensaries Must Close Down By Wednesday. The state's Medical Marijuana Licensing Board has approved 14 more dispensary licenses, but some 215 pot businesses that have not obtained licenses, most of them in Detroit, received cease and desist letters Tuesday and must close their doors by Wednesday if they want any chance at getting a license in the future.

North Dakota Patients and Caregivers Can Now Register. The state Department of Health began accepting applications Monday for medical marijuana patients and caregivers, with registry cards to begin being mailed out in December. It costs $50 to apply. The move comes just under two years after voters there approved a medical marijuana initiative.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Massachusetts Governor Seeks $5 Million for Opioid Drug War. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) will file legislation seeking $5 million for a pilot program for a "regional, multi-agency approach to fentanyl interdiction and crime displacement," he said Monday. He said his proposal targets drug dealers who move from town to town to evade police crackdowns. "We want to give departments the resources to coordinate with each other across their districts, essentially flooding the zone against the drug dealers who are peddling addiction and death in their communities," Baker said. "We want to go after the dealers who too often evade authorities by moving to another nearby location in a different municipality." The $5 million would be used to "supplement surveillance work and overtime costs for units," he said.

International

Brazil's Presidential Election Winner is Bad News on Drug Policy. Jair Bolsonaro, the winner of Sunday's Brazilian presidential election and known as "the Trump of Brazil" for his right-wing populist views, is bad news for drug reform in Latin America's most populous country. He favors intensifying ongoing bloody crackdowns on people involved with drugs, he has said on repeated occasions that police should kill people suspected of drug trafficking, and he has openly praised Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war, saying "he did the right thing for his country." He opposes marijuana legalization, saying it would "benefit traffickers, rapists, and hostage takers." And Bolosonaro isn't just bad on drug policy; he gets downright weird. He has also claimed, in a bizarre homophobic rant, that smoking pot makes people gay.

Chronicle AM: Coalition to Fight House "Drug War" Provision, Colombia Coca Crop at Record High, More... (9/20/18)

A provision in the House opioid bill that would let the attorney general set sentences for synthetic drug offenses generates opposition, Colombia's coca production was at record levels last year, the DEA has okayed the import of Canadian marijuana for research purposes, and more.

Colombia peasand farmer in his coca field. (DEA)
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Governor Calls for Sheriff's Resignation After Racist Weed Comments. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is calling for the resignation of Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino after a tape emerged of him making racist comments about black people around the topic of marijuana legalization. Although Saudino's remarks were made back in January just after Murphy's inauguration, a recording of them just went public on Wednesday. Here's what he said, referencing Murphy's inaugural address: "He talked about the whole thing, the marijuana, sanctuary state…better criminal justice reform. Christ almighty, in other words, let the blacks come in, do whatever the fuck they want, smoke their marijuana, do this do that, and don’t worry about it," Saudino said. "You know, we’ll tie the hands of cops."

Medical Marijuana

DEA Gives Green Light for Canadian Company to Import Research Marijuana to US. The DEA has granted permission to Canadian marijuana producer Tilray, Inc. to export medical marijuana to California for scientific research purposes. The Food and Drug Administration also signed off on the deal. The marijuana is headed for Dr. Fatta Nahab, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego medical school.

Drug Policy

Left-Right Coalition Builds to Block House Opioids Bill's "Drug War" Provision. As the House and Senate seek to reconcile their versions of bills to address the nation's opioid crisis, groups on the left and right are uniting behind an effort to undo an especially egregious provision in the House version of the bill. Organizations such as the ACLU and Human Rights Watch are joining forces with right-leaning groups like FreedomWorks and the American Conservative Union to remove language that would give the attorney general the power to create a special category for synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and set penalties for those who make or sell them. That would essentially put sentencing policy for those drugs in the hands of the attorney general. "We don’t want any attorney general to have this kind of power," said Jasmine Tyler, advocacy director for the Human Rights Watch US Program. "But I think specifically when we have an attorney general who is so out of touch with this century’s expert thinking on these issues, there should be red flags for that."

International

UNODC Says Colombian Coca Cultivation at All-Time High. The amount of acreage devoted to coca growing in Colombia increased 17% last year to hit a new record high, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said Wednesday. Some 423,000 acres were under cultivation last year, UNODC said, the largest figure since the UN began keeping records. That will produce more than 920 metric tons of cocaine, a US government report earlier this year said. The figures come as new conservative Colombian President Ivan Duque prepares to attack the drug trade, likely including aerial fumigation of crops with glyphosate. "Our goal in the next four years is to have concrete results," he said Wednesday. "So we can at least eradicate more than 70 percent of what we have today."

Chronicle AM: South Africa Legalizes Pot Possession, Senate Passes Opioid Bill, More... (9/18/18)

South Africa just became the first country on the continent to legalize marijuana possession, New Jersey wants to be the next state to legalize marijuana, the Senate passes a limited opioid bill, and more.

South Africans celebrate Constitutional Court ruling legalizing private pot possession and use Tuesday. (The Smokers Club)
Marijuana Policy

Maryland Poll Has Strong Support for Marijuana Legalization. A new Goucher Poll has support for marijuana legalization at 62%. Only 33% were opposed. The poll also had majority support for a $15 an hour minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, and single-payer health care, and 71% disapproving of President Trump. Expect the legislature to try again to pass legalization next year.

New Jersey Legalization Bill Almost Ready. A bill to tax and regulate legal marijuana commerce is "98% done," one of the state's leading marijuana advocates said Monday. Scott Rudder, head of the New Jersey CannaBusiness Association, said the remaining issue is whether to impose a 25% retail tax right away or to start with a lower tax rate that goes up over time. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) also expressed optimism about prospects for a bill. "I continue to believe it’s this year," Murphy said. "Doing it is important but doing it right is more important and that’s going to be key." Legislative leaders have vowed to get a bill to Murphy's desk by the end of the month, but the clock is ticking.

Medical Marijuana

Louisiana Lifts Limits on Number of Patients for Whom Each Doctor Can Recommend Medical Marijuana. The state Board of Medical Examiners on Monday got rid of a rule that limited the number of patients to whom doctors can recommend medical marijuana. The board also agreed to remove a restriction that would have required patients to see their doctor every 90 days in order to renew their order for medical cannabis.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Passes Opioid Bill. The Senate on Monday approved legislation aimed at addressing the opioid crisis. The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 (S.2680) The bill includes provisions increasing scrutiny of incoming international mail, eases the way for the National Institutes of Health to speed research on non-addictive pain relievers, allows the Food and Drug Administration to require pharmaceutical companies to package smaller quantities of opioids, and creates new federal grants for treatment, training emergency workers, and research on prevention. Funding for the anticipated spending will have to be provided in separate spending bills. The House passed its own opioid bill earlier this year. Now, congressional leaders will have to hammer out a compromise in conference committee.

Drug Policy Expert Says Senate Bill is Not Enough. While the opioid bill referenced above authorizes $500 million a year in grants states will have to compete over, the amount is well below the massive outlay of funds used to combat the AIDS crisis in the 1990s, and the Congressional Budget Office found that the bill would be revenue-neutral. That irked Stanford psychiatry professor and former Obama drug policy advisor Keith Humphreys. "How much money was Congress willing to spend on the worst opioid epidemic in US history? None," he said. "Given that there was no consensus in Congress in favor of a really big investment such as we employed for AIDS, the two sides did the next best thing, which was agree on many second-tier policies that were smaller bore," Humphreys said. "There are good things in the bill that will save lives, but it will not be transformational."

International

South Africa High Court Legalizes Marijuana Possession. In a case brought by three marijuana users who argued marijuana prohibition "intrudes unjustifiably into their private spheres," the country's Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled that the private possession, cultivation, and consumption of marijuana is legal. >"It will not be a criminal offense for an adult person to use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption," Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his ruling. It will, however, remain illegal to use cannabis in public and to sell and supply it. The ruling did not set allowable quantities, with the court saying parliament had two years to come up with a new law that reflected the ruling. Thousands of predominantly poor and black South Africans are arrested for marijuana offenses each year.

Chronicle AM: No MedMJ for Vets This Year, Senate Takes Up Opioid Package, More.... (9/11/18)

A congressional conference committee has killed medical marijuana for veterans, the Senate is set to take up a package of opioid bills, the West African Commission on Drugs releases a model law for drug decriminalization, and more.

West African Commission on Drugs founder Kofi Annan. He may be gone, but his work lives on. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

California Governor Vetoes Mandatory Minimum Penalties for Pot Shops That Sell to Minors. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Monday vetoed a bill that set mandatory minimum penalties for marijuana shops caught selling weed to minors. The bill would have imposed mandatory 15-day license suspensions for a first offense, 25-day suspensions for a second, and revocation for a third offense. But "this bill is not necessary," Brown said. "The bureau already has the authority to revoke, suspend, and assess fines if a licensee sells to a minor."

Medical Marijuana

Congress Removes Military Veteran Medical Marijuana Provision from Funding Bill. A conference committee working on final details for the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill has decided not to include a provision allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana to veterans. The Senate bill included the provision, but the House version did not. Two years ago, both houses passed VA spending bills that included versions of the provision, but that, too, was excised in conference committee.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Senate Expected to Vote on Opioid Legislation This Week. Senate leaders announced late last week they had reached an agreement to bring a package of bills aimed at the opioid crisis to a Senate floor vote this week. The Senate will consider a substitute amendment to the opioids package that passed the House in June. Progress had stalled over Democratic concerns that a grant program would benefit only one addiction advocacy group. That has now changed. There remains a divergence between the House and Senate packages regarding requirements for Medicaid to cover treatment at more inpatient facilities and loosening privacy protections for medical records for substance abuse patients.

Sentencing Policy

Ohio Governor Candidates Clash Over Drug Possession Defelonization Initiative. Buckeye State voters will have a chance to vote to defelonize drug possession in November with the Issue 1 constitutional amendment initiative. The amendment would also bar any jail time for a first or second offense within 24 months. Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, opposes it, saying it "takes vital tools away from judges." Democratic candidate for governor Richard Cordray, however, supports it, saying its passage would "set the way toward a policy of being smart on crime in the future, smart on how we use taxpayers' dollars, smart on how we build people's potential to be productive citizens in our society."

International

Expert Group Publish Blueprint for West Africa Drug Decriminalization. The West Africa Commission on Drugs has published a "model law" for decriminalizing drug possession and reducing related harms in West Africa. The commission is currently chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who said on Tuesday: "West Africa faces three dangers from drugs: organized crime, corruption, and harms to people who use drugs. Our current laws increase those harms rather than help,"

This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's 501(c)(4) lobbying nonprofit, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this website. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Chronicle AM: NYC Overdose Action March, US Sentencing Commission Sets Priorities, More... (8/31/18)

The police chief in Oklahoma City wants pot busts downgraded, the US Sentencing Commission sets policy priorities for the next 18 months, marchers demand New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo take action on the state's overdose crisis, and more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in the crosshairs Thursday as marchers demanded action on the state overdose crisis. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wants to Quit Arresting Pot Possessors. Police Chief Bill Citty is calling for adjusting city ordinances so that police officers will not have to jail people caught with small amounts of marijuana. He is backing a move to reduce the penalty for possession from a $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to just a $400 fine. "Right now, we're taking all possessions of marijuana, and it would be a Class B offense and it would actually, they would be arrested," said Citty. "We've been arresting every single one of them. This would stop that practice. By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we're able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don't have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use." The proposed ordinance will be up for discussion on September 11 and again on September 28.

Utah Governor Calls for Federal Rescheduling of Marijuana. As voters in the state prepare to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to a medical marijuana initiative in November, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) is calling on Congress to reschedule it. "I'd like to see the federal government get out of the way," he said on Thursday during his monthly news conference. "We ought to call upon our congressional delegation (to) take it off the Schedule I list. Let's do the studies, let's do the clinical trials. Are they not paying attention in Washington? Evidently not," he said.

Wisconsin Voters Will Have a Chance to Weigh in on Legalizing Marijuana. Voters in 16 counties and two cities will have a chance to vote on non-binding advisory referenda for or against legalizing marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. The referenda are on local ballots scattered across the state, from Milwaukee and Dane to LaCrosse and Langlade counties, as well as the cities of Racine and Waukesha.

Harm Reduction

New York Activists March from City Morgue to Governor's Office to Call for Action on Overdose Crisis. Activists and family members who have lost loved ones to overdose marched through Manhattan on International Overdose Awareness Day to demand Gov. Cuomo (D) take action on the overdose crisis. Amid the seventh straight year of increased overdose deaths in NYC -- 2017 being the deadliest year on record -- the community brought pictures and stories of their loved ones to Governor Cuomo's Manhattan office and demanded he takes action with evidence-based public health interventions to end the crisis.

Sentencing

Sentencing Commission Finalizes 2018-2019 Priorities. In a notice printed in the Federal Register Thursday, the US Sentencing Commission laid out is policy priorities for the remainder of 2018 and into 2019. The priorities include reexamining sentencing guidelines in the wake of the Booker decision, implementing its 2016 recommendations on sentencing enhancements to focus on actual violent offenders, and continuing its efforts to implement reforms in mandatory minimum sentencing, among others.

Study: Charging People With Murder for Drug Overdose Deaths "Bad Criminal Justice Policy" [FEATURE]

As the nation grapples with the deadliest drug crisis in its history -- more than 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- prosecutors across the country have rushed to embrace the use of "drug-induced homicide" charges as a means of combating the problem. That means charging the people who sold the fatal dose -- or sometimes just the people who shared it -- with murder or manslaughter and sending them away to prison for lengthy terms.

Drug-induced homicide charges are a regression to the lock 'em up policies of last century's drug war. (ussc.gov)
Faced with a public clamor to "do something," prosecutors are resorting to this facile, politically popular tactic in order to "send a message" of toughness to dealers in a bid to break the back of the epidemic. But a new study, "America's Favorite Antidote: Drug-Induced Homicide in the Age of the Overdose Crisis" concludes that the practice is worse than ineffective -- it's actually counterproductive.

Such prosecutions are "bad law and bad criminal justice policy" that have only worsened the opioid crisis that has taken tens of thousands of American lives, writes Leo Beletsky, associate professor of law and health sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law.

Beletsky notes that while the strategy dates back to 1986, in an atmosphere of moral panic set off by the death of NBA player Len Bias of an overdose from cocaine given to him by a friend, it has really taken off in recent years as the country lives through what he calls the "worst drug crisis in US history." Now, more than half the states have some form of drug-induced homicide law, while others are considering amending them to include fentanyl.

But the prosecutions amount to little more than "policy theater" rooted in the punitive approach long favored in the country's war on drugs, Beletsky argues. That is an unsuccessful approach that has largely failed to reduce drug use or stem the flow of drugs into the country, he notes.

Beletsky's study looked at data from 263 drug-induced homicide prosecutions between 2000 and 2016. One of the most striking findings was that, while such prosecutions are supposedly aimed at drug dealers, at least half of those charged were family members or partners.

"In many jurisdictions, it is enough to have simply shared a small amount of your drugs with the deceased to be prosecuted for homicide," he notes.

Another striking -- yet completely unsurprising -- finding is that when he applied his data to what he called "existing racially disparate patterns of drug law enforcement," he found evidence of racial differences in the application of drug-induced homicide laws as well. Such selective enforcement resulted in "gaping disparities between whites and people of color."

But the most bitter irony can be found in the impact of such laws on actual overdose deaths. Even though opioid overdose reversal drugs such as naloxone are now in wide use, many friends, fellow users, and family members are reluctant to call for emergency help because they fear the legal repercussions, even if they didn't provide the lethal drugs.

"Police involvement at overdose scenes may result in arrests on drug, parole violation, weapons, and other charges," wrote Beletsky. "It may also lead to loss of child custody, violation of community supervision conditions, and other legal consequences rooted in the pervasive stigmatization of substance use, but not directly linked to criminal law. Research suggests that fear of police contact and legal detriment is actually the single most important reason why people who witnessed overdoses do not seek timely emergency medical help," he concludes. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events."

Rather than "tougher" policy responses to drug use such as the resort to drug-induced homicide charges, policymakers should be subjecting failed punishment-oriented policies to rigorous scrutiny while instead developing a "population-based" health policy emphasizing treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system, he suggested.

"A system that relies on the instrument of punishment to regulate the behavior of people affected by severe SUD (Substance Use Disorder) fundamentally misconstrues the nature of addiction," Beletsky writes. "The established scientific consensus predicts that individuals affected by addiction will substantially discount -- or totally disregard -- legal risks and threats of punishment as a matter of course. This scientific construct has yet to be translated into US jurisprudence, however."

"Drug-induced homicide prosecutions and other similar punitive approaches to the opioid crisis, such as curbing prescriptions and subjecting patients to drug testing regimes, have crowded out public health strategies that have been proven to work in limiting the deleterious impacts of widespread opioid use," he writes.

"The bottom line," Beletsky writes, "is that, when it comes to policies that hold the most empirical promise for addressing the overdose crisis, we know what to do; we just are not doing it."

The Opioid Crisis Could Cost a Half Million Lives in the Next Decade

The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released in mid-August, showed a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths last year, with 49,000 related to heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids. According to the authors of a study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health, that could be the new normal.

The study, by Stanford researchers Allison Pitt, Keith Humphreys, and Margaret Brandeau, attempts to assess the number of opioid-related deaths we could expect to see over the next decade, as well as the impact of different policy responses on reducing the death toll.

The researchers said there are steps that can be taken to reduce the death toll, but also that some seemingly simple solutions, such as cracking down on opioid prescribing for chronic pain, could actually increase the toll. And even those policies that could cut the opioid death rate are likely to do so only marginally.

Using a mathematical model, the researchers estimate that some 510,000 people will die over the next decade because of opioid use. The number includes not only drug overdoses but also other opioid-related deaths, such as HIV infections caused by shared needles.

Even including the non-overdose deaths, the number is staggering. Last year was the worst year ever for opioid-related overdose deaths, but this research suggests we are going to see year after year of similar numbers.

Making the overdose reversal drug naloxone more widely available could cut opioid-related deaths by 21,200 over the next decade, allowing greater access to medication-assisted therapies with drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone would save another 12,500 lives, and reducing opioid prescribing for acute pain would prevent another 8,000 deaths, the researchers said. But those three policy moves combined would shave less than 10 percent off the overall death toll.

"No single policy is likely to substantially reduce deaths over 5 to 10 years," the researchers wrote.

While harm reduction interventions such as those above would save lives, some aspects of tightening opioid prescribing would actually increase opioid-related deaths by as much as the tens of thousands -- because they increase heroin deaths more than they cut painkiller deaths. Moves such as reducing prescribing for chronic pain, up-scheduling pain relievers to further restrict their prescribing, and prescription drug monitoring programs all tend to push existing prescription opioid users into the illicit heroin and fentanyl markers all end up contributing to net increases in opioid deaths over the 10-year period, the researchers found.

On the other hand, other interventions on the prescribing front, such as reducing acute prescribing for acute pain (pain that may be signficant but is short-term), reducing prescribing for transitional pain, reformulating drugs to make them less susceptible to misuse, and opioid disposal programs, appear to prevent more deaths than they cause.

Ultimately, reducing the opioid death toll includes reducing the size of the opioid-using population, the researchers say. That implies making addiction treatment more available for those currently using and preventing the initiation of a new generation of opioid users. Restrictions on prescribing, while possibly driving some current users to dangerous illicit markets, can have a long-term impact by reducing the number of people who develop a dependence on opioids.

Whether that's a tolerable tradeoff for those pain patients who don't get the relief they need from other medications -- or for patients and others who end up dying from street heroin but might have lived despite their prescription opioid use -- is a different question.

By all appearances, when it comes to the loss of life around opioids, it looks like a pretty sad decade ahead of us.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Chronicle AM: Murder Charges for Dealers in ODs "Bad Justice Policy," Study Finds, More... (8/21/18)

Prosecuting opioid dealers for overdose deaths is counterproductive "policy theater," concludes a new study; a key New Jersey politician says the votes are there to pass a legalization bill, and more.

Prosecuting drug dealers for murder in opioid overdose deaths is counterproductive and "bad justice policy," a new study finds.
Marijuana Policy

New Jersey Senate President Says He Has Votes to Pass Legalization Bill. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) now says he has the votes needed to pass a marijuana legalization bill, probably next month. He told POLITICO that he will tie together efforts to legalize marijuana and expand medical marijuana so people who support medical will have to vote for recreational. "Don't be surprised when people who say they were against it vote for it," Sweeney said, predicting Republicans who support expanding medical marijuana will support legalization, too.

Oklahoma Legalization Initiative Officially Fails to Make Ballot. Green the Vote organizers admitted earlier this month that they had failed to gather enough signatures to qualify the State Question 797 legalization initiative for the November ballot, and now Secretary of State James Williamson has made it official. He announced Tuesday that initiative supporters had gathered only 102,814 raw signatures. They needed 123,725 valid voter signatures to qualify.

Pennsylvania State Senator Starts Petition Drive to Boost Legalization Bill. State Sen. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny County) announced Tuesday that he has launched an online petition in support of a marijuana legalization bill, House Bill 2600. "There are tremendous benefits to legalizing marijuana and few downsides," said Wheatley. "It's estimated that legalization would generate more than $580 million in annual tax revenue for Pennsylvania. That's money to balance our budget, strengthen our economy, bolster our workforce and improve our schools."

Sentencing

Prosecuting Dealers for Opioid Deaths "Bad Justice Policy," Study Concludes. A new study says prosecuting drug dealers for opioid overdose deaths is not only "bad law and bad criminal justice policy," but also exacerbates a public health crisis that has taken tens of thousands of lives. Such prosecutions are little more than "policy theater," said study author Leo Beletsky, Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences of the Northeastern University School of Law. "Aside from crowding out evidence-based interventions and investments, these prosecutions run at complete cross-purposes to efforts that encourage witnesses to summon lifesaving help during overdose events," Beletsky wrote.

Drug War Issues

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