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Latin America: Peruvian President Lauds Coca Leaf in Salad, Blasts Guerrillas

Peruvian President Alan Garcia had coca on his mind this week. In response to an attack Saturday by presumed Shining Path guerrillas working with drug traffickers that killed five police officers and two government coca control workers, Garcia called for the imposition of the death penalty. Just a day later, perhaps to indicate he is not anti-coca, he told a foreign press news gathering that coca would be wonderful consumed in salads.

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coca seedlings
Peru is the world's second largest coca producer, after Colombia, and indigenous Peruvians have been growing the leafy bush for thousands of years for its sacramental, nutritional and mild stimulative properties. The plant is grown legally in some parts of the country under arrangement with ENACO, the National Coca Company, which holds a monopoly on legal sales and purchases.

But Peru is also the world's second largest producer of cocaine, which is derived from coca either grown legally and diverted from ENACO or grown illegally. For years, the country has embraced a policy of eradication of illicit crops, which has pleased Washington but left Peru's coca growers angry and frustrated. President Garcia in October pledged during a Washington meeting with President Bush to continue the policy of eradication.

Some coca growing areas have been under a state of emergency for the past two months, and the Garcia government announced this week that it would be continued for another two months after the killings, which took place in Ayacucho province. The attack, described as a carefully-planned ambush, took place during a police crackdown on unsanctioned coca growing in the region. More than 20 police have been killed in similar attacks in the past year.

Two days after the attack, Garcia told lawmakers they should allow the death penalty for such crimes. Currently, the death penalty in Peru is allowed only in cases of treason during war-time. Congress should "give the necessary tools to the judges and to the executive branch to definitely eliminate these leftover [Shining Path rebels]." They should be dealt with using "the most energetic and harshest sanction that the law... permits," Garcia said.

But the next day, Garcia defended the coca leaf and his drug policy to foreign reporters. Coca leaf is great in salads, Garcia said. "I insist that it can be consumed directly and elegantly in salad. It has good nutritional value." Garcia added that one of the country's best-known chefs, Gaston Acurio, had recently served several coca-based dishes at the Government Palace. "He offered us some tamales and pies made with coca flour. He offered us a coca liqueur cocktail," Garcia said. "Could eating coca leaf be harmful? No, absolutely not."

Such talk aligns Garcia with Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Those two leaders are touting the industrial uses of coca and collaborating on a production plant in Bolivia.

Garcia told reporters that Peru's anti-drug policy is based "fundamentally" on controlling the sale of precursor chemicals used for cocaine production, but that Peruvian police must also do a better job of combating the cocaine traffic. As much as 90% of Peruvian coca goes to the cocaine trade, not the coca industry.

Harm Reduction: Experts Call for Urgent Action as Fentanyl-Related Overdose Death Toll Climbs

More than 120 medical experts, public health departments, and drug user health advocates have called on the federal government to take more aggressive steps to deal with a wave of overdose deaths caused by heroin cut with fentanyl, an opioid pain medication 50 to 80 times stronger than heroin. The call came in an open letter to US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt drawn up by the Harm Reduction Coalition, a national health and human rights advocacy group working to reduce drug-related harm.

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fentanyl
The ongoing epidemic -- Drug War Chronicle reported on it in June -- has killed more than 750 injection drug users this year from Chicago to the East Coast. Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia all have around 200 fatalities.

The actual number of deaths may be far higher because many jurisdictions near these large cities may lack the resources and expertise to monitor overdose trends. "This wave of overdose deaths poses an acute public health emergency and immediate threat to the lives of opiate users, while highlighting persistent weaknesses in health officials' response to the increasing epidemic of both legal and illegal opiate overdose," said Dr. Sharon Stancliff, medical director for the Harm Reduction Coalition.

The letter makes five recommendations, calling on Secretary Leavitt to ensure that:

  1. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) create surveillance systems to monitor overdose trends and threats.
  2. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) provide emergency funds for research projects to answer urgent questions that will allow jurisdictions to immediately and effectively address the overdose epidemic.
  3. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) rapidly replicate existing overdose prevention programs, and fully fund them.
  4. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) inform CDC of levels of purity and presence of fentanyl and other hazardous contaminants in local drug supplies so CDC can notify the public.
  5. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) prepare an emergency report of the current overdose epidemic for Congress. This report should make emergency recommendations for prevention measures including: Supporting community-based responses to overdose, including the use of naloxone, a legal medication that reverses opioid overdoses, by users and their loved ones; improving police and emergency medical services responses to overdoses; and enhancing the availability of substance abuse treatment.

"A client told us she watched her friend die in front of her and there was nothing she could do," said Corey Davis, legal services coordinator at Prevention Point Philadelphia. "If she had naloxone and was trained to use it, she could have saved her friend's life. We've lost a lot of our people due to fentanyl. This has to stop."

Harm Reduction: New Jersey Governor Signs Needle Exchange Bill

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine Tuesday signed into law the Bloodborne Disease Harm Reduction Act, which will allow up to six municipalities to establish needle exchange programs in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The measure passed both houses of the legislature last week, 13 years after attempts to pass such legislation got underway.

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Gov. Jon Corzine
Now, newspaper reporters will no longer have to use the boilerplate "New Jersey is the only state with neither needle exchange programs or access to needles without a prescription" when writing about AIDS in the Garden State. In addition to the needle exchange bill, the legislature this session also moved on a non-prescription needle sales bill, which passed the Assembly, but didn't get to a vote in the Senate. Proponents expect it to be on the agenda when the legislature gets back to work next year.

Corzine had previously supported the needle exchange bill and his signature was not in doubt. Under the new law, cities interested in starting needle exchange programs must pass an ordinance, and participants must be given referrals for HIV counseling and testing, drug treatment programs, and health and social services. Two cities, Atlantic City and Camden, have already passed such ordinances, and several others have expressed interest.

"Quite simply, this bill will save lives," said Governor Corzine in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. "The science is clear: Needle exchange programs have been proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV and hepatitis C and serve as gateways to treatment."

"Today ends New Jersey's dubious reign as our nation's only hold-out on progressive and common-sense policies that will save lives," said Speaker Joseph J. Roberts, Jr. (D-Camden). "Now we can begin to reverse our state's near-epidemic rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. The needle exchange programs and enhanced access to addiction treatment we authorize today are a glimmer of hope to many who may otherwise have known only death and despair."

"Today we have taken responsibility to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in this state by making access to clean needles part of our comprehensive strategy to combat this public health epidemic," said Senator Nia Gill, (D-Essex), a Senate sponsor of this legislation.

New Jersey has the highest rate of cumulative HIV/AIDS cases among women, the third highest rate of pediatric HIV/AIDS cases, the fifth highest rate of adult HIV/AIDS cases and a rate of injection-related HIV infection that is nearly twice the national average.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Virginia drug-fighter gets caught selling drugs, so does a retired NYPD officer, and yet another jail guard goes down. Also this week, an interesting update on Operation Lively Green, the FBI sting that nailed dozens of military and Arizona law enforcement personnel for protecting the drug trade. Let's get to it:

In Portsmouth, Virginia, a Portsmouth police lieutenant was arrested Tuesday on cocaine distribution charges. Lt. Brian Keith Muhammed Abdul Ali, a 21-year veteran of the force who heads the department's drug-fighting unit, was arrested along with his nephew, a civilian. Both face charges of felony conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Ali was in jail with no bond set as of Wednesday.

In New York City, a retired NYPD officer was one of nine men arrested on charges they peddled drugs at a city-owned Manhattan marina. The arrests last week at the Dyckman Street Marina were the culmination of a six-month investigation in which undercover officers purchased heroin, crack, ecstasy, and marijuana on at least 48 occasions. Jeremy O'Rourke, 42, who quit the department in the late 1980s, is accused of brokering deals between large-scale dealers and the buyers who turned out to be narcs. He faces multiple counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance and conspiracy. His bail is set at $500,000.

In Albany, New York, two Montgomery County Jail guards have been arrested for selling marijuana to inmates. Luis Morales Jr., 26, was arrested last week, while Alvin Hoyt Jr., 20, was arrested earlier this year. Hoyt's arrest during the summer for promoting contraband led to an investigation that has now also netted Morales. Morales was arraigned December 13 on federal charges of marijuana possession with intent to distribute, but the charges against Hoyt were reduced and the judge has sealed his case. I wonder which one cut a deal to testify?

In Tucson, the Arizona Daily Star dug into the Operation Lively Green corruption scandal and found that a dozen US military recruiters were allowed to stay on the job, sometimes for years, after the FBI knew they were involved in drug-running. Operation Lively Green was the two-year FBI sting that has so far netted guilty pleas or verdicts from 60 members of the military and Arizona law enforcement agencies who took bribes from undercover agents to traffic cocaine. The ten recruiters who so far have pleaded guilty netted $180,000 between them.

Bad Science: Congress Passes Measure Okaying Mycoherbicide Testing, But Limits It to US Labs

As part of last Friday's passage of the reauthorization bill for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Congress authorized the testing of mycoherbicides -- toxic, fungal plant killers -- for use against illicit drug crops in Latin America. But in what the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) called a "significant reform," the legislation was modified to restrict testing to laboratories in the United States.

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fusarium-ravaged grain demonstrates the danger
The brainchild of drug warriors Reps. Mark Souder (R-IN) and Dan Burton (R-IN), the measure passed the House in July 2005. Thanks to the efforts of Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Joe Biden (D-DE), it was attached to the ONDCP bill and passed last week.

As DRCNet reported earlier this year, government agencies are not jumping on the mycoherbicide bandwagon. Agencies including the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the State Department, the CIA and even the DEA, have rejected the idea as dangerous for health and the environment as well as likely to meet with resistant strains of poppy and coca against which it would be ineffective.

DPA began organizing against the measure this spring, and when it got fast-tracked this month, drug reform groups including DRCNet, DPA and others raised the alarm. "This a huge victory because it means the people and environment of Latin America will be protected," a DPA bulletin noted. "We have you to thank for this reform because so many of you called Congress asking for the provision to be changed."

Medical Marijuana: Eddy Lepp Wins a Battle

Eddy Lepp and his Medicinal Gardens and Multi-Denominational Ministry of Cannabis and Rastafari won a victory in federal district court in California Tuesday when a judge suppressed the evidence agents gathered in a 2004 raid where they seized 32,524 plants.

In the 2004 raid, DEA agents, local law enforcement, the California Highway Patrol, and an elite National Guard unit spent two days destroying the crop. The DEA at the time described it as the largest cultivation bust in history. It was destined, Lepp says, for medical marijuana patients in the state.

In a Tuesday ruling, US District Court Judge Marilyn Patel threw out the fruits of that raid. According to a press release from Lepp supporters, the evidence was suppressed due to illegal service of warrants.

Lepp, who is a leading advocate of the sacramental use of marijuana, still faces decades in federal prison over a 2005 raid. Judge Patel has set a January 9 hearing at the Federal Court Building in San Francisco on whether to throw out the search warrant in that case as well. Lepp and his defenders will argue that it, too, was illegally obtained.

Addiction Treatment: Congress Allows Certified Physicians to Take On More Buprenorphine Patients

On December 8, Congress moved for the second time to increase the number of patients to whom a doctor can prescribe buprenorphine, an opiate agonist used to treat heroin dependence. Under an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act, certified physicians will be able to prescribe for up to 100 patients.

When Congress passed the Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 allowing for the first time medical office-based opiate addiction treatment, it limited the number of patients who could be treated in any one practice to 30. Last year, Congress changed the cap to 30 patients per physician. To qualify for the new, 100-patient prescribing limit, doctors must have been certified to prescribe buprenorphine for at least one year.

"Of the estimated six million people in the United States who are dependent on opioids, many of them have been forced to wait for the medical treatment they so desperately need simply because of a mandated 30-patient 'cap' on how many people a doctor may treat," said Edwin A. Salsitz, MD, of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Enactment of the legislation will begin to address this inequity."

Salsitz was quoted in a press release from Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals, the company that manufactures Suboxone and Subutex, the formulations of buprenorphine approved for opiate dependency treatment by the Food and Drug Administration.

"This is the best-kept secret in opioid addiction and it shouldn't be," said Timothy Lepak, president of the Connecticut-based National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment. "I'm puzzled that there's any limit whatsoever."

The amendment passed as part of the bill reauthorizing the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the drug czar's office.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a week heavy with crooked guards peddling dope to prisoners, but we also have missing drug evidence in Boston, a cop marketing meth in Mississippi, and a Border Patrol agent headed for prison. Let's get to it:

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tempting evidence
In Boston, all 10 Boston Police officers working in the department's central drug warehouse have been transferred because anticorruption investigators think someone is stealing evidence. The department has been aware of the missing dope, much of it Oxycontin, for several weeks, but only confirmed last week that it thinks the drugs have been stolen. It is seeking help from the State Police. The drug warehouse holds evidence from 190,000 cases, some going back 20 years. Police said it appeared many of the missing drugs were from cases that had been dismissed. The Boston Police said this week that "findings suggest that evidence tampering is not solely historical, but also current."

In Moss Point, Mississippi, a Moss Point Police officer was arrested December 7 on federal drug distribution charges. Officer Wendy Peyregne was on duty, in uniform, and holding six grams of methamphetamine when she was arrested in Pascagoula and charged with meth distribution. The arrest was the result of a joint investigation by the Moss Point Police Department, the FBI Safe Streets Task Force and the Narcotics Task Force of Jackson County, and came after at least two snitches bought speed off Peyregne. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a $2 million fine.

In Houston, a former US Border Patrol agent was sentenced December 7 to 14 years in prison for taking bribes to help drug and immigrant smugglers and selling immigration documents. David Duque, 36, pleaded guilty to bribery and document counts in September. Prosecutors showed that he had accepted $5,000 to let a vehicle carrying 11 pounds of cocaine to go through the Falfurrias, Texas, highway checkpoint in June. FBI agents said Duque had been doing it for years, as well as selling passports, birth certificates, and other identification documents.

In Onslow County, North Carolina, a New Hanover County jail guard was arrested December 7 when he was caught with two pounds of cocaine. Thurston Miles, 33, went down after a two-month investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation, the Onslow County Sheriff's Office and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office. He now faces cocaine distribution charges, and was last reported sitting in jail under a $500,000 secured bond.

In Oklahoma City, an Oklahoma County jail guard has been arrested for smuggling marijuana and other contraband into the jail. County detention officer Eddie Daniels was busted with a quarter-ounce of pot and 3 ½ pounds of tobacco when he reported for work at the jail. Jail officials also turned up a half-pound of pot in the jail they said was linked to Daniels' arrest. Investigators said they believed Daniels had made $5,000 working with an inmate to bring contraband into the jail. The inmate also faces drug and contraband charges. No word yet on the formal charges Daniels faces.

In Linton, Indiana, a Wabash Valley Correctional Facility officer was arrested December 8 and charged with financing the delivery of methamphetamine. Dustine LeDune, 24, was being held without bond. LeDune was arrested after making a deal to sell an eightball (3.5 grams) of meth in a Wal-Mart parking lot, but Linton Police said they had been investigating him for several months. Correctional facility officials said LeDune has been suspended pending the outcome of his trial.

In Hutchinson, Kansas, a prison contract worker was sentenced to 15 months behind bars for selling meth to prisoners. Joseph Delancy, who worked for Aramark Services at the Hutchinson Correctional Facility had pleaded guilty to trafficking in contraband in a correctional facility, possession of methamphetamine with intent to sell and unlawfully arranging a drug sale by a commercial device. He could have received almost 5 years in prison, but Judge Tim Chambers was apparently moved by his contention that he fell into drug use after the death of his 4-year-old son.

In East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office deputy was arrested Sunday night for allegedly peddling drugs in the Parish Prison. Deputy Kendrick Jamond Lockett, 24, was arrested after an investigation by the sheriff's office, the Baton Rouge Police Department the Louisiana Office of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and a snitch. Lockett is charged with attempting to enter contraband into a penal facility, malfeasance in office, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute Ecstasy, attempt to distribute marijuana and attempt to distribute Ecstasy. He was fired Monday morning as he sat in jail.

East Asia: Reefer Madness Snares Taiwan Celebrities

Seven Taiwanese entertainers have been questioned by police about whether they smoked marijuana, and while they all initially denied using the weed, at least two came forth this week to tearfully admit they had indeed puffed. They face two months in drug treatment if their urine tests come back positive.

Tuo Chung-kang and Chu Chung-heng, the hosts of a popular TV program, made the ritual confession and self-flagellation at a Sunday press conference where they apologized to the public for earlier trying to hide their misdeeds. "I was abroad and so I thought I could relax and have some fun," Tuo said, adding that he had only smoked when he was in Thailand and the Philippines earlier this year. "I was too naive and I feel bad about it."

Chu, an actor and variety show host, told a separate news conference that he had lied because he was afraid of the ramifications . "I feared that I might lose all that I've strived for if I confessed," Chu tearfully told reporters. Chu said he decided to tell the truth "so that I could face my daughter and family... and not live under the shadow for the rest of my life."

At least five other singers and TV personalities have been questioned by police in a case that began when they discovered marijuana growing in the yard of a wealthy residence owned by Cheng Po-geng. Police accused Cheng of selling marijuana to the entertainers through a night club owner, Chen Chiu-mu, whom police said sold marijuana "to over 10 entertainers."

Although marijuana is an illegal drug in Taiwan, the National Bureau of Controlled Drugs reported last week that some 60,000 Taiwanese smoke pot. Bureau Director-General Chien Chun-sheng is concerned. He said abusing marijuana causes distorted perceptions, difficulties in thinking, and makes the user "a lazybones."

Methamphetamine: DEA to Create National Lab Site Registry

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced in a press release last week that it will post the locations of known clandestine meth labs or dump sites across the country. The free public service will help people be aware of possible meth-contaminated sites in their communities, the agency said.

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meth lab
While a handful of states have adopted meth registries, the move by the DEA marks the first national listing of former meth lab sites. The web site will contain addresses reported by state and local law enforcement where chemicals or other items related to meth production were found or dumped. The DEA warns that the list "may not be comprehensive."

"In a cruel twist of fate, people who have never used or manufactured meth have become some of its hardest hit victims after unknowingly buying property contaminated by chemicals and waste generated from a meth lab," said DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. "This registry gives home owners a new tool to help them ensure that their dream house is not a hidden nightmare."

[Ed: It's not a "cruel twist of fate," it's a cruel but predictable consequence of drug prohibition."]

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