Archive for drugs


Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2015 by drjgelb

I came across a discussion via comments online today, in which the participants were becoming increasingly hostile and aggressive with each other, as some denigrated people suffering from drug addiction as “scumbags” who “deserve everything they get” and others tried in vain to explain that addiction is a chronic brain disease. The scientific evidence has progressively mounted in favour of the chronic disease explanation and studies using the latest brain imaging technology, together with an increasingly sophisticated  understanding of molecular biology, has meant that the disease model has prevailed and solidified.

Social and governmental forces continue to be directed at opposing the disease model of addiction, in order to justify the continued labelling of addicts as criminals who require punishment for their bad behaviour and rotten choices. This allows the government to incarcerate addicts, rather than treat them as medically unwell citizens, deserving of medical treatment.

Countries like Portugal and Uruguay have ceased criminally prosecuting users because of the overwhelming scientific evidence that drug addiction is a public health problem and NOT a criminal justice problem. Let me spell it out: Countries like Australia, where harshly punitive criminal sanctions are preferred to drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation, deliberately ignore the recommendations of their own expert advisors, insisting in terribly misguided fashion that any chage in approach to the War on Drugs, “sends the wrong message to youth”. This ignorant and irrational viewpoint continues to be trotted out by politicians unaware that they are seriously damaging our nation’s youth with their retrograde policies.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine, arguably the peak world body in the Addiction Medicine field, has released its updated definition of addiction:

“August 15, 2011 – The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has released a new definition of addiction highlighting that addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioral problem involving too much alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.” The headline in their report was: “Addiction Is a Chronic Brain Disease, Not Just Bad Behaviors or Bad Choices”

“The new definition resulted from an intensive, four‐year process with more than 80 experts actively working on it, including top addiction authorities, addiction medicine clinicians and leading neuroscience researchers from across the country. The full governing board of ASAM and chapter presidents from many states took part, and there was extensive dialogue with research and policy colleagues in both the private and public sectors.”

“The new definition also describes addiction as a primary disease, meaning that it’s not the result of other causes such as emotional or psychiatric problems. Addiction is also recognized as a chronic disease, like cardiovascular disease or diabetes, so it must be treated, managed and monitored over a life‐time.”

“Research shows that the disease of addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward circuitry of the brain, leading to addictive behaviors that supplant healthy behaviors, while memories of previous experiences with food, sex, alcohol and other drugs trigger craving and renewal of addictive behaviors. Meanwhile, brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is also altered in this disease, resulting in the dysfunctional pursuit of rewards such as alcohol and other drugs. This area of the brain is still developing during teen‐age years, which may be why early exposure to alcohol and drugs is related to greater likelihood of addiction later in life.”

“the disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them. Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.”

Before the argument re how “bad” addicts are, please carefully read the science at the link above. Much better than all this hostility.





Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , , , on March 25, 2014 by drjgelb

A post on a listserv board by anti-drug prohibitionists today got my blood boiling! The post stated:

“Am interested in checking what people know and think about the use of “bitcoin” as a currency to purchase unregulated drugs via the internet.

Would regulation of this unofficial currency assist in reducing the ability
to purchase drugs internationally?

One of our members lost a son to adulterated cocaine purchased via bitcoins through a broker in Queensland”.

I had to reply and wrote:

“No sooner than one means of obtaining illicit drugs is stymied, another pops up to fill the void! Prohibition’s effect is to expose the public to ever more dangerous compounds and ever more ruthless criminal networks.

Silk Road, up again after temporary closure by the FBI, has spawned dozens of copycats, all using various forms of virtual money as the means of trade. Bitcoin is but one of numerous “currencies” used – it initially had a notional value on par with the US Dollar, Euro, etc.

Whilst “invented” by a Japanese mathematician and designed as much as an academic exercise as anything else, the Bitcoin world quickly spiralled out of control and was swept up in an acquisitive tsunami based on what the oft manipulated and highly cynical market notionally valued the now very sought after scrip to be worth.

After reaching Poseidon like heights, all too similarly unsustainable, the Bitcoin trade whirlwind blew itself out, collapsed and was regulated out of contention and then to really drive the point home, the U.S. indicated that it would be seeking to prosecute those it held responsible for trying to subvert the world’s monetary system!

Meanwhile, thanks again to prohibition, the root cause of runaway demand is flushing out fresh criminal entrepreneurs and every minute of every day, old, new and adulterated drugs, guns of every description and human beings are sold, bartered and stolen in what has become an anarchic super-supermarket!!

And to answer your question about regulating virtual currencies, that’s the whole point! You can’t regulate them!! Bitcoin only became exposed to regulation when it went to bed with the stock marketeers. It entered the bull ring (bear pit) out of greed and paid the price!

Dismantle prohibition if u ever wish to control drugs!

See Portugal!”


Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , , , on October 6, 2013 by drjgelb

What can you do to encourage rational drug policy development?

Read the “Drug War Facts” book or Website so that you can take on discussion or debate on drug policy with confidence. Armed with the facts means emotive, hysterical and exaggerated arguments are totally unnecessary. The facts are so compelling as to shine a bright spotlight on the ideological, harmful and moronic drug policies known collectively worldwide as the “War on Drugs”. Here’s an idea to contemplate: A criminal named Richard M Nixon declared WAR ON DRUGS in 1970, without support from the vast majority of Medical experts. He possessed a vast knowledge and understanding of American History and was very familiar with the catastrophic impact of policies of Alcohol Prohibition imposed by the U.S. Government between 1920 and 1932. In those 12 short years, the American Mafia took control of every aspect of the Alcohol industry, from brewing, to transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sales, entertainment venues and bars and ensured public access to these venues by whatever means necessary……be it bribing law enforcement to look the other way, or constructing elaborate tunnels beneath city streets to link mob owned bars and clubs without putting patrons at risk of arrest and prosecution. And with such a monopoly, how much profit did the Mafia earn during “Prohibition”?

$2 Billion in 1920’s dollars!! Worth today an estimated $350,000,000,000!

This money bought the Mafia unprecedented Police co-operation and protection as well as political influence at the highest level, for the next 75yrs and supported a criminal enterprise that became, in New York at least, a rival underground government many times more deadly than that of the worst banana republic.

So here are the latest figures regarding the U.S. State & Federal war on its citizens:



The FBI recently released its Uniform Crime Report for 2012. They estimate that of the total 12,196,959 criminal arrests in the US that year, 1,552,432 were for drug violations. They further report that 82.2% of those, or 1,276,099 drug arrests, were for possession. To put these numbers in context, in 2012 US law enforcement also made an estimated 521,196 arrests for all violent crimes and 1,646,212 arrests for all property crimes.

In 2013, Professor Harry Levine of CUNY-Queens College estimated that on average, a marijuana possession arrest in New York City takes about 2.5 hours of police time. New York state essentially decriminalized simple marijuana possession in 1977.


If each drug possession arrest in the US took only 2.5 hours of police time, then it would mean 3,190,247.5 hours of police time were wasted in 2012 arresting drug users just for the crime of using drugs – not trafficking, not manufacture, just possession.

Next, consider this set of numbers. According to the FBI’s new UCR, quote: “In the nation in 2012, 46.8 percent of violent crimes and 19.0 percent of property crimes were cleared by arrest or exceptional means.” End quote. Those clearance rates are typical, in fact that’s the best property crime clearance rate in at least a decade and a half.


Marijuana arrests totaled 749,825 in 2012, down slightly from 2011’s total of 757,969. Marijuana possession accounted for 658,231 arrests – again slightly down from the 2011 total of 663,032. Looking at the year-to-year changes in arrest figures doesn’t reveal much, but examining data from several years can reveal trends. For example, in 2001, the U.S. had 1,586,902 criminal drug arrests out of a total 13,699,254 arrests. Of the drug arrests. 19.4 percent were for sale or manufacture, while the remaining 80.6% were for possession. In 2012, as I noted earlier, the 1,552,432 criminal drug arrests were 17.8 percent sale or manufacture and the remaining 82.2 percent were for possession. Back in 2001, 9.7 percent of all drug arrests were for sale or manufacturing of heroin,
cocaine, or their derivatives and 40.4 percent were for simple possession of marijuana. In 2012, only 6.1 percent of all drug arrests were for sale or manufacturing of heroin, cocaine, or their derivatives, and 42.4 percent were for simple possession of marijuana.

From 2003 through 2007, the US saw a rapid escalation in drug arrests. In 2003, the number jumped to 1,678,192 from 1,538,813 in 2002, then to 1,746,570 in 2004. Drug arrests in 2005-2007 topped 1.8 million per year, peaking in 2006 at1,889,810 drug arrests. The decline started in 2008, when US law enforcement made only 1,702,537 drug arrests.


Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , , on October 5, 2013 by drjgelb

Today, comes news from “” that adds a further increment of hope to the mounting pile slowly accumulating on politicians’ doorsteps.

“Defelonization”–The Next Step in Winding Down the Drug War.

Defelonization (with an “s” in Australia!) of drug possession is starting to take hold across the country. California looks set to join the list of states easing up, and Washington state could be next. Thirteen states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have already passed laws making simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony, and the momentum appears to be growing. A bill in California to do something similar has passed the legislature and is currently sitting on the governor’s desk, and efforts are afoot to push a defelonization measure through the Washington legislature next year.

An overcrowded California prison (

Such measures are designed to ease prison overcrowding, ease pressures on budgets, and help drug users by avoiding saddling them with felony convictions. They also reflect increasing frustration with decades of drug prohibition efforts that have failed to stop drug use, but have resulted in all sorts of collateral costs. In California alone, even after Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) prison realignment scheme, more than 4,000 people remain in state prisons on simple drug possession charges. At $47,000 per inmate per year [8], that comes out to more than a $200 million annual bill to state taxpayers. Under current California law, people convicted of a drug possession felony can be sentenced to up to three years in prison. More than 10,000 people are charged with drug possession felonies each year, although many of them receive probation if convicted.

California state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) moved to redress that situation with Senate Bill 649 [9], which passed the legislature on the final day of the session. The bill is not a defelonization bill per se; instead, it makes drug possession a “wobbler,” meaning it provides prosecutors with the flexibility to charge drug possession as either a felony or a misdemeanor. “Our system is broken,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance [10], which supported the bill. “Felony sentences don’t reduce drug use and don’t persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release — three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities.”

Even Republicans got on board with the bill, helping to get it through the Assembly earlier this year.

California state Sen. Mark Leno (; “I am proud that we got bipartisan support in the Assembly,” Leno told the Chronicle. The bill currently awaits Gov. Brown’s signature, and although his signature is not required for it to become law, Leno said he believed the governor would act on it, and he urged supporters to let the governor know now that they want him to sign it. “Anyone can go to the governor’s web site [11] and offer support through an email communication,” Leno said. “I am always hopeful he will sign it.”

While Californians wait for the governor to act (or not), activists and legislators in Washington are gearing up to place a defelonization bill before the legislature there next year. Sensible Washington [12], the activist group behind the effort, says it has lined up legislative sponsors for the bill and will pre-file in December for next year’s legislative session. State Rep. Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) will be the primary sponsor of this proposal in the House. Reps. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien), Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver), Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), and Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater) have all signed on as official cosponsors, with more to be announced soon. Sensible Washington hopes to have a companion bill filed simultaneously in the Senate.

Under current Washington law, the possession of any controlled substance (or over 40 grams of cannabis) is an automatic felony. Under this new proposal, the possession of a controlled substance — when not intended for distribution — would be reduced from a felony charge, to a misdemeanor (carrying a maximum sentence of 90 days, rather than five years). Laws regarding minors would not be affected. “Removing felony charges for simple drug possession is a smart, pragmatic approach to reducing some of the harms associated with the war on drugs,” said Anthony Martinelli, Sensible Washington’s communications director. “The goal is to stop labeling people as felons, filling up our prisons and ruining their lives in the process, for possessing a small amount of an illegal substance.”

He elaborated in a Tuesday interview with the Chronicle.

“We support full decriminalization, like the Portuguese model, but defelonization is a big step forward, and we feel that the public and lawmakers are ready for it,” he said. “We have to find a way to deal with the dangers of the war on drugs. Another reason is the massive disparity in our cannabis law — an ounce is legal, but an ounce and a half is a felony. This would remove felonies for cannabis possession, but we don’t think anyone should be hit over the head with a felony for personal drug possession.”Martinelli said Sensible Washington and its allies would be spending the next few months preparing to push the bill through the legislature. “We will be building public and legislative support, continuing to work on garnering media attention, activating our base, and getting more lawmakers on board,” he said. “We’re really trying to form a bipartisan coalition and get other organizations involved as well.”

One of those groups is the ACLU of Washington [13]. Sensible Washington and the ACLU of Washington were bitter foes in the fight over the state’s successful I-502 marijuana legalization initiative — Sensible Washington opposed it as a half-measure that endangered medical marijuana, a claim that ACLU and other advocates contested — but appear to be on the same page when it comes to this sentencing reform. “We support the decriminalization of drug use”, said Alison Holcomb, criminal justice project director for the ACLU of Washington. “We’re looking forward to working in collaboration with Sensible and its allies to achieve that goal.” Martinelli said he could now announce that the proposed bill has picked up its first Senate sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D), to add to its growing list of House sponsors.

Missing from that list of House sponsors is one of the most prominent drug reformers in the House, Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), the chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, but that’s not because he opposes the idea, Goodman told the Chronicle Tuesday. “As chair of the committee, it’s important for me to be an honest broker to get legislation through,” Goodman explained. “My position as chair is weakened if there is a potentially controversial issue and I’m seen as being on one side of it. It’s not that I oppose it, and I certainly will hold a hearing on it and move it, but my role is more to facilitate negotiations on provisions of the bill without being an interested party,” he said. “It is an idea that is certainly worth pursuing”, he said. “We need to reprioritize. The tough penalties we impose on people for merely possessing drugs is so arbitrary compared to the penalties for other offenses where there is direct physical harm perpetrated against others,” Goodman said. “And by now, we all acknowledge that drug possession is not merely an indiscretion, but might be linked to behavioral health issues. Our approach should be to facilitate therapeutic interventions. We have deferred prosecution programs already, but only for alcohol. Those arrested for drug possession are not eligible because it’s a felony. If we could make deferred prosecution available for drug cases, we could make much more headway on the problem,” he said. “And doing so would only codify what is already often existing practices”,he said. “Many or most courts and prosecutors are already pleading down felony drug cases to misdemeanors because of budget constraints and space limitations in the jails,” Goodman noted. “We can change the law to conform with that practice without an additional threat to public safety. Beyond that, we could remove the prejudicial effect of a felony conviction when it is so evident they hinder people from reintegrating into the community.”

While Sensible Washington and its allies are moving full steam ahead, passing the bill could be a multi-year effort, Goodman warned. “I anticipate prosecutors saying that if we set a certain possession threshold, drug dealers will make sure they possess no more than that amount and will play the system,” he said. “We have to figure out a way to find a threshold or divide possession cases into degrees. I hear the concern, but I’m not sure what the solution is. But this is a next important phase of drug policy reform: cranking down the drug war yet one more notch and doing what’s rational and fiscally responsible.” “There is lots of work to be done. We’ll see how this plays out in the legislature. It’s probably going to need more lobbying and more background discussion among more legislators,” he predicted. “So far, it’s not a real prominent topic, so it might end up being a work in progress. But who knows? It might catch on fire, and we’ll get a quick consensus.”

Defelonization News Feature State & Local Executive Branches State & Local Legislatures Washington Initiative 502 • P.O. Box 18402 • Washington DC 20036
Phone (202) 293-8340 • Fax (202) 293-8344 • Email • Privacy Policy
Source URL:


Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , , , on September 2, 2013 by drjgelb

Victoria Sutherland is a 34-year-old mother of one and a former manager of a McDonalds in Sacramento. She has a drug conviction on her record from an incident in Portland, Oregon 13 years ago, when she lied to police and said her friend’s drugs actually belonged to her. Though she has served her sentence, because of her drug conviction, Sutherland is now banned from accessing food stamps for the rest of her life.

“I’m now living with my five-month-old son in a homeless shelter,” Sutherland told AlterNet.

As a result of welfare reform, enacted 17 years ago this month, Sutherland and other poor Americans in 12 states are banned from accessing food stamps because they have made mistakes with drugs at some point in their past. While Sutherland’s son does qualify for food stamps and welfare, the total comes to $500 per month in assistance, which barely pays for his food and diapers.

The ban on Sutherland’s food stamps as well as her welfare benefits impacts her much more deeply than just accessing food on a daily basis. “Since I don’t qualify for benefits, I do not qualify for welfare to work, which would offer childcare services,” Sutherland said. “So I’m also not able to work at all right now because I have nobody to care for my kid.”

Well before the current, direct attack on federal funding of food stamps—also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—there have been systemic, state-imposed barriers to accessing food stamps that have been in place for nearly two decades. Several states require fingerprinting of recipients and reams of paperwork, or are stalled by outdated technology. The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the onerous barriers food stamp recipients face in California.

But the ban barring drug convicts from accessing food stamps is one of the most problematic state-imposed barriers faced by poor people like Sutherland. Twelve states still ban convicted drug offenders from accessing SNAP benefits. A relic of welfare reform, the food stamp ban is an example of the political interplay between the drug war and the movement to reform welfare which in reality became a double indictment of the poor: People of financial means who made mistakes with drugs would not be rendered vulnerable to hunger for the rest of their lives.

“This penalty on food stamps stretches beyond period of your criminal sentence, beyond probation or parole,” said Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty in Sacramento. “It applies even when a person has turned his life around and is now just trying to prevent his family from going hungry.”

California now has a bill under consideration, SB 283, that would repeal the food stamp ban for any convicted drug offender who is now complying with the conditions of his or her parole.

“This bill is different than what has gone before any governor in the states,” Bartholow said. “In years past, we tried to just repeal the ban completely but past governors have opposed this idea. So we worked hard to identify a compromise that would work for everyone.”

During debates over welfare reform in 1996, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-FL) introduced legislation banning convicted drug felons from accessing food stamps. Sen. Gramm argued “if we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not give people welfare benefits who are violating the nation’s drug laws.”

Gramm’s policy required that any person who is convicted of drug use, possession or sales be banned from accessing food stamps for life; the ban was then added during Senate floor consideration of the bill and was the subject of only limited debate.

Though the food stamp ban is written into federal law, states may opt to waive or modify the requirement. As a Congressional Research Service report published in July explained, “Both TANF and SNAP are subject to the statutory ‘drug felon ban,’ which bars states from providing assistance to persons convicted of a drug-related felony, but also gives states the ability to opt-out of or modify the ban, which most states have done.”

Twenty one states have completely done away with the lifetime ban and an additional 30 have modified it. In California for example, the food stamp ban has been modified only to include people convicted of selling drugs, not those convicted of use or possession.

But the original food stamp ban is still in effect in 12 states, making life that much harder for poor people well after they’ve completed drug-related sentencing. According to the ACLU there are an estimated 575,000 people behind bars in the United States for drug-related offenses. The food stamp ban is even more problematic given how tough drug sentences tend to be. The socioeconomic and racial disparities of drug sentencing are clear as well: the ACLU also tells us that African Americans are incarcerated on drug charges at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites.

The lifetime ban on food stamps affects many other people besides the felon, particularly children, like Victoria Sutherland’s son. As the Western Center on Law and Poverty has pointed out in its advocacy for SB 283, “Many households impacted by the ban have other household members who are eligible for benefits but will receive a lower-total household benefit as a result of the lifetime ban on benefits for one of the household members. As a result, the ban results in higher rates of hunger and food insecurity for the entire family, not just those who have been convicted of a crime.”

The ban also makes food access harder for elders and those with health problems. Vaughn Cotton, age 51, began using cocaine in the early 1980s. He started selling cocaine to pay for his addiction. Now out of jail, he has completed programs with the Salvation Army and has been off drugs for two years. Cotton also struggles with diabetes and high blood pressure.

“I’ve been in and out of jail, but I’ve cleaned up my act,” Cotton told AlterNet. “I’ve been clean for two years now, but the food stamp office said I couldn’t have benefits—and they wanted me to pay back the little bit of money they did give me in the past.”

Aside from its impact on the poor, the food stamp ban does not make economic sense. Every dollar spent on SNAP benefits generates $1.72 in the economy. And a study released in June shows that SNAP recipients helped keep grocery stores afloat during the economic crisis. Thus cutting the spending ability of thousands of drug offenders has implications for the economy as well. (Former Sen. Phil Gramm, the architect of the food stamp ban, has been named by CNN as number seven in its list of the 10 individuals most responsible for the 2008 economic crisis.)

If California’s SB 283 passes this year, it will be an important step in alleviating the poverty-prison trap for drug offenders which the Obama administration has also begun slowly to address, at least from the bully pulpit. Bartholow feels confident Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) will sign SB 283 into law.

“The governor is a good man, he understands fairness,” she said. “Because of this lifetime ban, people are being denied crucial support to meet their basic needs.”

Sheila Bapat is an attorney and writer covering economic and gender justice. Her work has appeared in Salon, Reuters, Slate, AlterNet, Truthout, and many other publications.

Everything Americans Think They Know About Drugs Is Wrong: A Scientist Explodes the Myths

Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , on June 22, 2013 by drjgelb

Today I just had to reblog the opinion pieces below that bring a new perspective to the entire issue of the War on Drugs.

Everything Americans Think They Know About Drugs Is Wrong: A Scientist Explodes the Myths

What many Americans, including many scientists, think they know about drugs is turning out to be totally wrong. For decades, drug war propaganda has brainwashed Americans into blaming drugs for problems ranging from crime to economic deprivation. In his new book High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society, Dr. Carl Hart blows apart the most common myths about drugs and their impact on society, drawing in part on his personal experience growing up in an impoverished Miami neighborhood. Dr. Hart has used marijuana and cocaine, carried guns, sold drugs, and participated in other petty crime, like shoplifting. A combination of what he calls choice and chance brought him to the Air Force and college, and finally made him the first black, tenured professor of sciences at Columbia University.

Intertwined with his story about the struggles of families and communities stressed by lack of capital and power over their surroundings is striking new research on substance use. Dr. Hart uses his life and work to reveal that drugs are not nearly as harmful as many think. For example, most people who use the most “addicting” drugs do not develop a problem. Rather, Dr. Hart says, drugs are scapegoated for problems related to poverty. The policies that result from this misconception are catastrophically misguided. AlterNet spoke with Dr. Hart about his life and research.

Kristen Gynne: What are some of the false conclusions about drugs you are challenging?

Carl Hart: There are multiple false conclusions. There is a belief, for example, that crack cocaine is so addictive it only took one hit to get hooked, and that it is impossible to use heroin without becoming addicted. There was another belief that methamphetamine users are cognitively impaired. All of these are myths that have have been perpetuated primarily by law enforcement, and law enforcement deals with a limited, select group of people—people who are, in many cases, behaving badly. But to generalize that to all drug users is not only shortsighted and naive, it’s also irresponsible. The impact of that irresponsible behavior has been borne primarily by black communities. Nobody really cares about black communities, and that’s why this irresponsible behavior has been allowed to continue.

It’s also true that we’ve missed critical opportunities to challenge our basic assumptions about drugs. If drugs really were as damaging as we are led to believe, a respectable society should do something to address that problem. But the thing is, the very assumptions driving our drug policy are wrong, and must be questioned.

KG: How does the lack of people of color in academia or research affect our understanding of drugs?

CH: I’d just like to be clear, I don’t say people of color, I say black people, because people of color can mean a number of other [races]. I’m talking about black people who, like me, when we go back to our communities and we ask about people who we grew up with, the response is, “Well, they got caught up with a drug charge, they’re upstate. They’re doing some time” or, “Oh, he’s doing better now that he got out of jail. He can’t really find a good job, but he’s doing his best.”

It would be nice if we had black scientists, more black people in science, to incorporate these kinds of experiences as they think about the questions they investigate. The problem is it’s so homogenous that critical questions about our community are ignored because they’re not seen as being important.

KG: And the result is that they don’t comprehend environment, or the other variables that are affecting someone’s decisions or behavior, and miss the mark?

CH: That’s exactly right. It’s that if you don’t contextualize what is happening with drugs in the country you might get the impression that drugs are so bad they’re causing all these people to go to jail: “Let’s find out how drugs are exerting these awful effects.” Now, you have just completely disregarded context in which all of these things occur, and that is what has happened in science. If you don’t fully appreciate the context, and you think that drug users are awful, then you don’t think about how a person takes care of their kid, takes care of their family, goes to work, but they also use drugs. If you don’t think about all of those contextual factors, you limit the picture and that’s what we’ve done.

It’s not that science lies. Science doesn’t lie. But when you look at your research with a limited view, you may erroneously draw conclusions about drugs, when in fact other variables you might not understand are what’s really at play.

KG: You talk about how people are always blaming problems on drugs, when those issues really spring from the stress of poverty. What are some examples?

CH: I think crack cocaine is the easiest example In the 1980s, as I was coming of age in my teens and my early 20s, people—black people, white folks, a number of people in the country—said crack was so awful it was causing women to give up their babies and neglect their children such that grandmothers had to raise another generation of children.

Now, if you look at the history in poor communities—my community, my family—long before crack ever hit the scene, that sort of thing happened in my house. We were raised by my grandmother. My mother went away because she and my father split up. She went away in search of better jobs and left the state, but it wasn’t just her. This sort of thing, this pathology that is attributed to drugs, happened to immigrant communities like the Eastern European Jews when they came to the Lower East SIde, but people simply blamed crack in the 1980s and the 1990s.

Another example is that, since the crack era, multiple studies have found that the effects of crack cocaine use during pregnancy do not create an epidemic of doomed black “crack babies.” Instead, crack-exposed children are growing up to lead normal lives, and studies have repeatedly found that the diferences between them and babies who were not exposed cannot be isolated from the health effects of growing up poor, without a stable, safe environment or access to healthcare.

KG: What about the idea that drugs can turn people into criminals?

CH: The pharmalogical effects of drugs rarely lead to crime, but the public conflates these issues regardless. If we were going to look at how pharmalogical drugs influence crime, we should probably look at alcohol. We know sometimes people get unruly when they drink, but the vast majority of people don’t. Certainly, we have given thousands of doses of crack cocaine and methamphetamine to people in our lab, and never had any problems with violence or anything like that. That tells you it’s not the pharmacology of the drug, but some interaction with the environment or environmental conditions, that would probably happen without the drug. Sure, new markets of illegal activity are often or sometimes associated with increased violence, or some other illegal activity, but it is not specific to drugs like people try to make it out to be.

Other than crime, you have myths that drugs cause cognitive impairment, make people unable to be productive members of society, or tear families apart. If the vast majority of people are using these drugs without problems—and a smaller proportion of users do have problems—what that tells you if you’re thinking critically is it can’t be only the drug, or mainly the drug. It tells you it is something about the individual situations, environmental conditions, a wide range of factors.

There are many accepted “facts” that turn out to have been erroneous assumptions, even some produced by science, for it takes humility, self-doubt and constant vigilance for the effects of conflicts of interest, to remain objective.

All too frequently, those with the loudest, most dogmatic and least objective views hold sway (The Dunning-Kruger Effect), derailing progress and wasting scarce resources.

The article above may give you reason to pause and consider the author’s comments in light of the dismal failure that is current drug policy. If politicians fail to suspend assumption and false beliefs in lieu of an unbiased & objective examination of the evidence, necessary findings & conclusions that must underpin decisions re drug policy, will be missed and the consequences of taking dead-end detours in this arena will serve only to perpetuate the current disaster for future generations.


Posted in WAR ON DRUGS with tags , , , on June 19, 2013 by drjgelb

Round and round and round we go! Where we’ll stop, nobody knows!!

And that’s Australia’s reactive, unscientific, vote pandering response to the issue of substance use, misuse and addiction.

Every time I see the familiar bust or raid on TV, I am struck by the complacent looks on the victims’ faces – they’ve done it all before and will do so again, the bored looks of futility on the faces of law enforcement, who know they’ll also be doing it all again and the drug policy chieftains announcing breathlessly that this bust will be the one that puts the squeeze on the Mr Bigs! It never does and it simply never will.

So when I saw the latest drug figures, up again, and the prohibitionists calling for more law enforcement, I get very angry!!!

This is what I felt compelled to write:

Dear Sir or Madam,

A commentary on the latest ACC report on illicit drugs in Australia recently stated, “In the latest Illicit Drug Data Report, the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) reported over 76,000 illicit drug seizures and more than 93,000 illicit drug related arrests in the past year, the most this century,” Dr Jiggens said. “Over 23 tonnes of illicit drugs were seized. Australia’s streets have never been more awash with drugs. The ACC CEO John Lawler justified our war on drugs policy by calling this success. If this is success, what does failure look like?”

Given that the vast majority of Addiction Specialists both in Australia and Internationally, fully concur with the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s consensus definition of addiction and its call for an end to prosecution, incarceration, including without rehabilitation and cruel punishment of sick citizens, when will the National Drug Strategy cease its emphasis on Prohibition, Law Enforcement, criminalisation of non-violent users and aiding and abetting the stigmatisation and vilification of illicit drug users at the same time as increased access to alcohol continues to be facilitated. All available epidemiological evidence points to the inevitable failure of Prohibition and instead highlight its many destructive societal consequences.

The collusion of Prohibitionist governments with the rise of the vicious black market drug trade by maintaining policies that have been proven to ensure massive profits for criminal cartels, is incomprehensible and immoral. Repeating the same strategy year after year and presiding over several well reported international tragedies in which democracies are usurped by the corrupting power of the drug dollar, is simply unintelligent in the extreme, or is sanctioned for scandalous motives not revealed to the public.

My attempts to share my 32yrs experience as a doctor, 29yrs in Psychiatry, with senior politicians in my State, have been met with little or no interest, unwillingness to discuss the science involved or straight out rejection of any alternative ideas to tackle the reality of human substance use and abuse. The strength of conviction and belief expressed by some key decision makers, in the face of crystal clear evidence that they are wrong, borders on delusional.

My question really comes back to a genuine request for a rational explanation as to why Prohibition, a strategy destined to continue to fail and to lead to such pain, suffering and hardship, continues to win favour amongst political, law enforcement and community leaders who are currently my age or younger and whom I vividly recall once held quite different views, much more in line with the realities of human behaviour. Some overseas nations are abandoning these failed strategies in favour of education, regulation and rehabilitation and these new strategies are proving far more effective in decreasing the harms caused by Prohibition for the entire communities.

Is it true that politicians do not believe that the public can be educated to embrace decriminalisation of controlled quantities of currently illicit drugs? Do politicians here, unlike their Portuguese and Swiss counterparts, lack the foresight to co-operate in the bipartisan development of a groundbreaking, best practice, integrated drug education, community based, case managed rehabilitation pathway and in the dismantling of the overburdened, ineffective, criminal justice system that has devastated young lives and ambitions for no return.

I look forward to a candid response that may invite further constructive dialogue.

Kind Regards,

Jerry Gelb

Consultant Psychiatrist

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