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Latin America: New Report Says Colombian Cocaine Production Seriously Underestimated

"For a long time, the statistics on eradication of illicit crops have been mistaken. It's incredible that nobody has realized that Colombia produces much more cocaine than the reports say," said Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos back in June.

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eradication: much pain, no gain
He was responding to the release of report on his country's cocaine production conducted by US, UN, and Colombian experts at the request of the Colombian government. Now, the Colombian newsweekly Cambio has published an article based on that report, and the rest of us get to understand what Santos was talking about.

According to the report, the UN, the US, and the Colombian National Police have all seriously underestimated total cocaine production in the country, currently the world's leading cocaine producer. The Colombian police estimate was 497 tons in 2005, while the US estimated 545 tons, and the UN estimated 640 tons. But the authors of this most recent report estimate that cocaine production last year was actually a staggering 776 tons, or nearly half again as much as the US or Colombian police estimates.

The Colombians undertook the new survey after noticing that despite massive seizures of tons of cocaine, the price of the drug stayed stable. Investigators visited 1,400 coca growers and ran tests at more than 400 plantations. They found that growers had improved their growing techniques and were now able to produce not four harvests per year, but six.

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cocaine bricks (source: US DEA)
According to Cambio, "That explained why the strategies designed to confront the phenomenon have not produced the expected results and the drug trade is flourishing as much or more than before."

The research results raised questions about the effectiveness of the much-criticized aerial fumigation program financed by the United States. Colombian and US officials had suggested the lack of results from spraying herbicides was because traffickers had large stocks of cocaine warehoused. "Without a doubt, that's a big mistake," Colombian anti-drug police subdirector Carlos Medina told Cambio. "The narcos don’t need to store cocaine because the market demands coca and more coca."

The US has about $5 billion invested in this farce so far. One can't help but wonder when the politicians in Washington will notice all those tax dollars going down the rat hole.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Another sheriff who couldn't resist temptation, another drug-dealing cop, and something smells mighty bad in a Mississippi anti-drug task force. Just another week in the drug war. Let's get to it:

In Adel, Iowa, the Dallas County sheriff was charged July 28 with stealing $120,000 in seized drug money. According to WHO-TV in nearby Des Moines, Sheriff Brian Gilbert is accused of pilfering one packet of cash in a $900,000 seizure. Gilbert took the cash from the scene and reportedly detoured to his home on the way to the station. When he got there, Deputy Scott Faiferlick noticed one of the packets was missing and told investigators. Sheriff Gilbert maintains his innocence, but now faces charges of first degree theft.

In Henrico, Virginia, a former city police officer is on the lam after police went public with two arrest warrants for him Monday. Former Officer Charles Harpster faces charges of obtaining drugs by fraud and marijuana distribution, Henrico police told WRIC-TV8 in Richmond. Police have released little other information, except to neither confirm nor deny allegations he took drugs from the police evidence room.

In Ellisville, Mississippi, prosecutors have dismissed at least three dozen drug cases because of an ongoing investigation into "questionable activities" by the Southeast Mississippi Drug Task force, according to a July 26 report by WDAM-TV7 in Hattiesburg. Jones County Assistant District Attorney Ronald Parrish told the station a number of other cases will not be presented to a grand jury. No specifics of the alleged police wrongdoing have been made public, but it must be pretty serious if prosecutors are already dismissing cases.

Harm Reduction: Drug Czar's Office Opposes Letting Heroin Users Have Easy Access to Overdose Antidote

When heroin users around Philadelphia started overdosing on junk laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate, a local harm reduction group began working with a sympathetic physician to provide addicts prescriptions to naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Office of National Drug Control Policy thinks that's a bad idea.

In many cities, paramedics carry Narcan with them, but by the time they arrive on the scene, it can be too late, explained Casey Cook, executive director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, the group that runs the city's needle exchange program. "If people have to rely on paramedics, more often than not, the overdose is going to be fatal, just because of the amount of time for people to get there," she told the Associated Press in an interview last Friday.

But the drug czar's office is worried that providing addicts with the means to survive an overdose would prove "disinhibiting," much the same way social conservatives argue that providing teenagers with condoms to prevent pregnancy and disease "disinhibits" them from remaining abstinent. ONDCP doesn't want to appear to condone drug use. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," said Jennifer DeVallance, an ONDCP spokesperson told the AP.

There were some 16,000 drug-related deaths reported in 2002, the vast majority of them involving either heroin or prescription opiates, and at least 400 people have died in the wave of fentanyl-related heroin ODs in the past few months. Better they should die than people think heroin is safe, huh?

In Memoriam: Methadone Pioneer Vincent P. Dole

(This memorial piece for a great pioneer in addiction treatment was written and distributed by his friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Newman.)

Dr. Vincent Dole (an internist) and his late wife, Marie Nyswander, MD (a psychiatrist), began their collaborative research with methadone with a handful of long-term heroin-dependent individuals in 1964. They did so in the face of overt threats of harsh criminal and civil action by federal narcotics agents. Their courageous, pioneering work demonstrated that methadone maintenance is a medical treatment of unparalleled effectiveness -- a superlative description that is as applicable today as it was four decades ago. As a result, well over three-quarters of a million people throughout the world are able to lead healthy, productive, self-fulfilling lives - over 200,000 in the United States, an estimated 530,000 in Western Europe, and many tens of thousands more in Eastern Europe, Middle East, Central Asia, Far East, Australia and New Zealand.

After the remarkable transformation they observed in their first few patients, Dr. Dole and Dr. Nyswander went on to provide direct supervision of the first methadone maintenance treatment program at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. In so doing they demonstrated that it was possible to replicate on a large scale the therapeutic success they achieved in the small, controlled, research environment of the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University). Dr. Dole was also responsible in the early 1970s for convincing the New York City Department of Corrections (at the time headed by Commissioner Ben Malcolm) that detoxification of heroin-dependent inmates in the city's main detention facility at Rikers Island was imperative to save lives and lessen suffering (there had been a wave of suicides at the time that had been attributed to severe opiate withdrawal). The detoxification program continues to this day, and has become a model for enlightened corrections officials in other countries.

Dr. Dole and Dr. Nyswander's contributions, however, transcend the life-saving clinical impact on patients and the enormous associated benefits to the community as a whole. They had prescience to hypothesize, years before the discovery of the morphine-like endorphine system in the human body, that addiction is a metabolic disorder, a disease, and one that can and must be treated like any other chronic illness. What was at the time brilliant insight on their part is today almost universally accepted by scientists and clinicians alike, and remains the foundation upon which all rational policies and practices in the field rest.

In his mid-80s Dr. Dole traveled to Hamburg to be present at the naming ceremony of the Marie Nyswander Street; in less than ten years Germany moved from methadone being illegal to having over 60,000 patients in treatment! His efforts during recent years were devoted to fighting the stigma that, tragically, remains so widespread against the illness of addiction, the patients and the treatment.

Medical Marijuana: In New York Democratic Gubernatorial Race, Spitzer Says No, Suozzi Says Yes

Running an uphill race for the Democratic Party gubernatorial nomination against state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi hoped to use a televised debate to heighten his profile and open some space between himself and Spitzer on the issues. He managed to do that on a number of issuing, including medical marijuana.

When asked by debate moderator Dominick Carter whether medical marijuana should be legalized in the Empire State, Spitzer answered "no," which generated booing from the audience, while Suozzi answered "yes."

The next question was whether the candidates had ever used marijuana. Both said "yes," but Spitzer's affirmative was followed by laughter, then clapping from the audience. Neither candidate elaborated on their monosyllabic responses.

While Spitzer opposes medical marijuana, he has been a staunch supporter of Rockefeller drug law reform. Neither candidate, however, mentions Rockefeller drug law reform as a major issue on their campaign web sites.

(Audio of the debate can be accessed on the WNYC web site -- the marijuana exchange is 57:47 deep into the file.)

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