Author: Justin Mckibben
About this time in 2014 I wrote how many experts expected 2015 to be a huge year for Harm Reduction programs in America, and gave 3 examples of big changes in this class of addiction programs. Well 2015 did prove to present an extraordinary shift towards a health-based approach to drug abuse and addiction on both the federal and local level in drug policy.
We have witnessed the slow agonizing death of the failed War on Drugs that has fed off the stigma and corruption, while costing the country a trillion dollar price tag and had some pretty unsettling results including:
- Millions of casualties on both sides of the law
- A devastating public health problem
- Largest incarcerated population in the world
- Addiction rates as high as ever
- Record-breaking overdose death rates
Thankfully we can now see the subtle changes that are great victories of 2015 including:
- The largest number of states ever passing naloxone access laws
- A push for justice with the Black Lives Matter movement
- Historic Congressional deal to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing
- Release of 6,000 nonviolent drug offenders from prisons
The big hope now is that since we have seen how Harm Reduction Programs and more compassionate treatment options for addicts are in our best interest maybe 2016 will bring with it even more life-saving reforms on drug policy in America. Here are 4 signs of drug policy progress in 2016.
- Ending Marijuana Prohibition?
2016 will absolutely be a pivotal year for the marijuana legalization movement growing all over the country. So far several states have approved some level of legalization legislation including:
Numerous other states are considering similar legislation or ballot initiatives, including:
- Rhode Island
Many suspect that if even just a few of these states legalize marijuana, it could be the tipping point for the rest of the country to follow.
The thing about marijuana legalization is that most advocates insist ending prohibition and creating more liberal drug policy is less about increasing access to marijuana and more about cutting back on the collateral consequences of criminalization like over-populated prisons.
Marijuana arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests in the United States and according to an ACLU study, 88% of those arrests were for possession only. The hope of many is that legalization will allow millions of people to avoid a jail cell or a label of stigma attached to a criminal record.
- United Nations Special Session on Drugs
In 1998, the United Nations called a special session on drug policy entitled, “A Drug Free World: We Can Do It!” This was when the general idea of addressing drug policy was increasingly harsher penalties for even simple possession, a philosophy that only exacerbated the drug issue in the late 80’s and 90’s.
In the 17 years since a lot has changed… and thanks to these archaic ideals, not much of this change was for the better.
The next round of this special session was originally scheduled for 2019, but leaders in countries that were especially ravaged by the War on Drugs put forth a petition to have the date moved up, including:
The petition co-sponsored by 95 countries, and has now gotten the session scheduled for April 2016 in New York City. Just in time if you ask me, considering America itself has been wrecked in recent years by the opiate epidemic and overdose death outbreaks.
Drug policy advocates around the world are holding planning sessions to ensure that the mistakes of the past two decades are not repeated.
- Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) Programs
I want to start off with one area that has become a constant source of controversy- law enforcement. But instead of focusing on the ugly side, I want to celebrate the programs being created in law enforcement and police offices that are actually making incredible progress and saving lives.
One of the most encouraging drug policy reforms of 2016 that we can look forward to hopefully changing our world is called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD). The LEAD program is designed to divert low-level drug and prostitution offenders from jail to social services where they can be connected to resources to help them reform and rejoin society including:
- Career development
- Drug treatment
Police departments in several areas including Seattle have already launched LEAD programs with promising results. Evaluations of the Seattle program have revealed:
- Participants in LEAD are 58-87% less likely than non-participants to be re-incarcerated after joining the program
- The annual criminal justice costs incurred by LEAD participants also dropped about $2,000, while non-participants costs rose by almost $6,000
Donnie Varnell, coordinator for an upcoming LEAD program in Fayetteville, North Carolina stated:
“These programs are designed to identify subjects who would be better served by treatment programs than by incarceration. We [law enforcement] have all dealt with particular subjects that due to their addictions are constantly being arrested for petty charges. By using one of these LEAD programs, these subjects have the chance to find treatment and resources that can break the cycle of arrest.”
In 2016, seven more cities will join LEAD, including:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Bangor, Maine
- Camden, New Jersey
- Fayetteville, North Carolina
- Los Angeles, California
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Programs like this have created a new ideal of what it means to be an addict and how law enforcement can address these individuals and actually help them. In 2015 we saw revolutionary programs in Boston and other areas that were geared toward taking addicts who turned themselves in or got caught with drugs and giving them drug treatment instead of locking them up.
Again- compassion and shattering stigma can help us save lives and actually change them for the better. The old drug policies kept people sick and dying, hopefully now our police forces will be better equipped to improve the lives of people they protect and serve.
- Presidential Election
Then we get to the main stage when it comes to drug policy reform and take a look at what could arguable be THE MOST important event of 2016 concerning the future of drug policy reform- the 2016 presidential election.
The people are looking to see what kind of philosophy the new “Leader of the Free World” will have concerning drug policy and addiction treatment. The candidates for the next Commander and Chief have various positions on drug policy.
Some like Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders are in favor of letting states decide whether to legalize drugs.
Then on the opposite end of the spectrum candidates like Ben Carson and Jeb Bush don’t think the current War on Drugs is punitive enough (which personally sounds like neither one of them has been paying much attention to the reality of the opiate epidemic or the overdose death crisis in our country).
Others, such as Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, sit somewhere in between the liberal and the radical; these individuals want reform, but not too much reform.
Donald Trump… eh, I’m not even going to touch that one.
The deal is for 2016 the next President of the United States will hold considerable influence over whether or not the drug policy reforms of the last few years will continue to progress in productivity or be cut short of success. Luckily this particular element of drug policy reform is one that allows every person in the United States to directly influence the outcome. Probably a good thing since again, it is probably the most profound part of this change to take place this coming year.
Ladies and gentlemen- this coming November your vote may make a greater difference than you think in so many ways relating to all politics, including the way addiction and drug abuse is viewed and addressed in America.
2016 is going to be a big deal in a lot of ways. The tragic part is more people than ever aren’t going to see the New Year because of substance abuse and addiction. Hopefully we can all inspire change. Every day men and women from all over America find a solution to escaping addiction and changing their lives. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
One showdown in a town of less than 8,000 people has the potential of making a big part of history for American prohibition-style politics. This week, health officials and residents in Westminster, Massachusetts will be taking time to weigh in about a bill that could potentially issue the first ban on the sale of tobacco products in the country!
History of Taking on Tobacco
The state of Massachusetts has a bit of a history for taking on tobacco companies and users, and it is showing no sign of stopping with this news. Having already banned the use of tobacco in work places and more than 100 communities in the state have prohibited smoking in public spaces, Massachusetts seems to be biting off a bit more to chew, not any dip of course.
Proponents of the latest proposal generally seem to refer to increases in the sale of bubblegum-flavored cigars, electronic cigarettes and dissolvable smokeless tobacco as a threat to the youngest residents’ health. With this rise in these types of products, the fear is that the next generation will be essentially doomed, especially since smoking prematurely kills 5.6 million adolescent smokers across the country.
Elizabeth Swedberg, health agent in Westminster, Massachusetts noted that the local legislation is working to put a stop to the statistic in Westminster, and stated,
“The tobacco companies are really promoting products to hook young people. The board was getting frustrated trying to keep up with this.”
A lot of this stems from recent decline in rates of smoking among American adults in recent years. Some expect that R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard, being the second and third largest tobacco companies in the nation, will most likely continue a decades-old business model that thrives on the support of young people, also known as ‘replacement smokers.’
This new bill would eliminate the sale of tobacco products including:
Appealing to Adolescences
The strategy of luring in ‘replacement smokers’ usually requires tobacco manufacturers to adjust their products so that they are more attractive and make the activity of smoking a more pleasurable one for the novice smoker. These methods include adding elements that experts say mask the true flavor of the tobacco, including:
- Additional Menthol
But of course these companies can’t rely on taste alone, so each day the five largest cigarette companies spend a total of more than $34 million advertising their products in magazines and retail stores.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a significant portion of the money spent by big tobacco companies goes toward the promotion of smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes, which have become increasingly popular in the last years.
Experts say that’s part of the reason why e-cigarette among youth has tripled between 2011 and 2013, despite its well-documented health risks that bear a striking similarity to that of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The biggest trick the tobacco companies has pulled here is the claim that e-cigarettes serve as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco products. However a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association determined that e-cigarettes do in fact encourage use of regular cigarettes among teenagers and young adults.
The Problems with Tobacco Prohibition
That’s why a proposed local ban on the sale of tobacco products, though unprecedented, could become a reality. Westminster public health officials, however, face a number of challenges, including that from a coalition of business owners.
The group, endorsed by the New England Convenience Store Association, collected 800 signatures for a petition against the proposal thus far recorded. Representatives of tobacco companies have also spoken out against the proposed ban. One spokesman David Sutton made comments as he represented one of the biggest dogs in the fight. Sutton works on behalf of Richmond Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA. Sutton said,
“We believe businesses should be able to choose which products they carry. If the ban were to be implemented, adult tobacco and e-vapor consumers could shift their purchases to neighboring stores. The proposed regulations, if enacted, would fundamentally alter these businesses and would likely cost Westminster jobs.”
That argument, however, hasn’t deterred local and national group efforts to combat Big Tobacco.
Moves Being Made Against Big Tobacco
Last year, 5 health groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, wrote a letter to the Tobacco Committee co-chairs of the National Association of Attorney in response to R.J. Reynold’s efforts to advertise Camel Crush cigarettes — a product with a capsule in the filter that allows the smoke to be menthol flavored when crushed being overly promoted in publications often associated with teenagers.
Of the U.S. states, 30 of them, not to mention Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have also banned smoking in indoor public places. Some employers also offer smoking cessation programs with offerings that include counseling, bonuses, and other incentives and supports to promote this cause.
Last month, congressional Democrats demanded that US Weekly, People, Time, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly cease its tobacco advertising.
The moves currently being made against Big Tobacco’s efforts doesn’t come without reason. Tobacco products are commonly credited with killing more than 400,000 people annually, which translates into nearly 1 out of every 5 American citizens dies from these products!
With the numerous health risks and fatal illnesses associated with tobacco use, it is no wonder that the people of this town are trying to do everything in their power to keep big tobacco companies from pushing their products onto the young people in the area as part of a sales pitch. Tobacco is one of several serious addictions, and like any real addiction it takes work to recover, and not everyone gets so lucky. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
By Cheryl Steinberg
You know what really grinds my gears? I won’t make you guess: it’s hypocrisy. And although everyone can be a hypocrite from time-to-time, the worst offenders are people in power, such as politicians. Not only are they the biggest hypocrites, they can do the most damage because they actually have the power and ability to make laws – laws that are usually highly-restricted and based on an assumed moral code.
For instance, last year Republican Rep. Trey Radel was busted for buying cocaine from an undercover cop. Radel’s hypocrisy comes into focus when you take a look at his stance on…you guessed it, drugs. Radel was one of the proponents for drug testing welfare recipients – a policy that proved more costly than it was effective and found that people getting government assistance actually don’t tend to use drugs, despite the classist assumption that people who need help are probably spending all their money on drugs.
So, that last part was more of a little aside. Back to hypocrisy. The underlying lesson here is that people who are middle- to upper-class, who hold positions of prestige and power, and who are likely of a certain ethnicity (read: white) are somehow exempt from current drug laws, such as the ones that state the buying and using of illicit drugs – i.e. cocaine – is illegal.
In another ironic twist of fate, Anthony Bosch, founder of Biogenesis – a clinic that served Major League Baseball players – tested positive for cocaine. This after helping nearly 20 baseball players get suspended for Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).
Back in August, Bosch was arrested as part of a two-year investigation into Biogenics known as Operation Strikeout. Not only did Bosch oversee the administering human growth hormone and steroids to numerous MLB players, the clinic also supplied as many as 15 high school and college athletes with performance-enhancing substances.
Now, his bail has been revoked after testing positive – again – for drugs, specifically cocaine.
The Bigger Picture
These are clear indications of the drug policy and hypocrisy that exists in this country. Our current approach to drug enforcement is frustratingly stupid and unjust. Currently, the U.S. drug policy is to take a draconian approach, imposing intensely punitive consequences as a means to restrict the drug market. An approach, I might add, that lacks almost any evidence of efficacy, rather than focusing on treatment. We spend money chasing after offenders and locking people up for non-violent drug offenses such as possession of some weed or coke, and yet address alcoholism – which Radel previously stated he is afflicted with – as a disease that needs to be treated by a doctor, while everything and everyone else is treated better by jail- or prison-time.
The War on Drugs is proving to be a complete failure and a waste of vast monies. It’s time we look at the ‘drug problem’ differently – with a more compassionate and progressive approach, one that offers access to treatment rather than a ‘Pass-Go’ straight to jail.
Do you struggle with alcohol addiction or any other drug addiction? Do you have a record due to your substance abuse disorder? Maybe you’re currently facing the legal consequences of drug use. If so, there is help available for your drug abuse issues. Getting help can mitigate your legal woes and case managers are available to help you navigate the legal system while you are recovering. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist. We are available around the clock. Remember, you are not alone and it’s not too late to turn your life around.
By Cheryl Steinberg
In case you didn’t know, the legalization of certain drugs and the prohibition of others rarely has to do with actual science. So, for example alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs are all legal. They are also the deadliest drugs in America, contributing to more health risks and deaths than illicit drugs are associated with.
One major contributing factor of total tobacco and alcohol deaths is that both substances are legal and easily available. As a result, they are also socially-acceptable to use.
What about marijuana? Up until recently, it was illegal.
Marijuana: A Brief History Lesson
The country is polarized when it comes to the legalization of marijuana, whether it be for medical purposes only or for recreational use. Marijuana has long been vilified in the media by newspaper men such as William Randolph Hearst, whose wild and sensational ‘old wives tales’ of the “Devil’s Weed” were spread via main news sources of the time (newspapers) in a large-scale smear campaign.
You see, Hearst was ‘in bed’ – as it were – with the Dupont Brothers who had recently patented the wood-pulping machine. This meant that paper was to become the go-to for printing newspapers. At that time, though, hemp was being considered – by the American government’s Agriculture Department – as the “Billion Dollar Crop of the Future.” If hemp, instead of trees, was to be grown and cultivated, that would make the Duponts’ invention obsolete.
Hemp vs. Marijuana
If you didn’t know, marijuana and hemp go hand-in-hand. Hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant, Cannabis Sativa L. Hemp is the cannabis stalk and seeds that are used for textiles, foods, papers, body care products, detergents, plastics and building materials; it doesn’t contain the psychoactive drug THC that marijuana does. Thus, ‘marijuana’ refers to the cannabis flowers, or buds, that are used for medicinal and recreational purposes.
The Three Deadliest Drugs Just So Happen to Be Legal
As the US debates drug policy and marijuana legalization, there’s one aspect of the war on drugs that remains perplexingly contradictory: some of the most dangerous drugs in the US are perfectly legal.
If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at this chart, compiled with available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Alcohol: One of the three deadliest – and legal – drugs
The rates of direct death and overdose leave out other factors such as health and socioeconomic issues. Alcohol, in particular, is widely associated with several issues, such as a higher rate of crime and traffic accidents that cause harm both to users and to society as a whole. What makes alcohol so dangerous is most obvious when looking at health effects and drunk driving. But there are other major issues when it comes to alcohol, like aggression, erratic behavior, injuries, drop in economic productivity, family problems, and even crime. Alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
- Alcohol increases the risk of a traffic accident 13 times over, whereas other drugs double to triple the risk.
- It takes less relative doses to die from alcohol than it does to die from marijuana and even cocaine
- Alcohol causes more fatal traffic accidents than other drugs – in 2010 alcohol caused more than 10,000 traffic fatalities
Tobacco is a known killer
Smoking cigarettes used to be chic and very commonplace. I mean, you could smoke on airplanes and even hospitals! Just watch an older movie, like The Exorcist (the original) in which a doctor is seen smoking in a hospital, and you can see remnants of a by-gone era.
Once the evidence of just how detrimental cigarette smoking and tobacco was uncovered, all hell broke loose. Do you remember all the lawsuits Big Tobacco was fighting? Yet, tobacco remains a legal substance – a heavily-taxed substance, but legal nonetheless.
Prescription drugs like narcotic painkillers and benzos (Xanax and Valium) are super popular in a pill-popping society like ours. Back pain? Take a pill. Headache? There’s a pill for that. Social anxiety? Here, swallow this. With all these meds floating around, doctors, parents, and even grandparents have become unwitting drug dealers.
Although there are conditions for which medication might be a necessary intervention, there are non-narcotic alternatives as well as lifestyle changes that can improve quality of life. If you are struggling with alcohol, prescription pills, or any other substance, help is available. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. Addiction Specialists are available around the clock to answer your questions. You are not alone.
The “War on Drugs” may have been made “public enemy number one” in 1971 by then-president Richard Nixon but, the hard stance on anti-drug policies that have been implemented by administration after administration have established an American history deeply entrenched in this idea. Ever since Prohibition in 1914, and even before, there has been a position that we need to “fight” against drugs in this country. Lately, however, there have been signs that a new, progressive way of doing things is taking root. Here are 4 signs that the war on drugs is ending.
#1. The Legalization of Marijuana
Recently, Colorado and Washington State have made history by legalizing recreational marijuana – and the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world – to approve the legal regulation of marijuana. This is certainly an indication of the beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the U.S. Alcohol Prohibition repeals began at the state level in the late 1920s, which ultimately led to the repeal of federal Prohibition. In this way, Washington and Colorado are paving the way for change on a national level. It’s noteworthy to mention that 50% of Americans are now in favor of taxing and regulating marijuana.
#2. California Votes to Reform “Three Strikes” Mandatory Minimum Law
Californians are tired of their state’s severe “three strikes” law – and it shows. After nearly 20 years and spending over $20 billion, they voted overwhelmingly to reform the draconian law. Intended to get violent offenders off the street, the law mostly ended up punishing – harshly – those it was not intended to punish. Just as the state set a trend in the 1990s for harsh minimum sentencing laws, it’s possible that their latest, progressive political act will set a new trend across the country.
#3. Harm Reduction Strategies
With the latest macabre trend in drug-related overdoses across the country, states across the nation are opting more and more for what is known as harm reduction solutions. Two effective strategies that are already being enacted in order to reduce overdose deaths are: “911 Good Samaritan” immunity laws, and making available a narcotic antidote.
The 911 Good Samaritan laws make it safe for someone to report a drug overdose or bring someone who is overdosing to the hospital without fear of punishment. This law has now spread to 10 states –California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Washington State – with many others considering adopting it, too.
The narcotic antidote, naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a drug that, if given in time, shortly after an opiate overdose, can reverse the effects and restore normal breathing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report this year crediting the drug with deterring over 10,000 overdose deaths.
#4. Politicians Are Saying No to the War on Drugs
And they’re winning.
Even though vast majority of Americans seem to know that the war on drugs has failed, it has remained a “third rail” issue among elected officials because they don’t want to seem ‘soft on crime.’ This trend began to wane in 2012 with campaigning politicians speaking out against the drug war and still winning elections.
For example, Beto O’Rourke, a supporter of the legalization of marijuana, defeated eight-term incumbent Sylvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for Texas’s 16th congressional district. Congressman Reyes was a steadfast supporter of the war on drugs and tried to use O’Rourke’s position on pot as a major issue in campaign – which obviously backfired.
- In the Democratic primary for attorney general in Oregon, Ellen Rosenblum won a (surprising) victory over the favorite, Dwight Holton, in a race during which medical marijuana became a major issue.
- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is known to be eyeing the presidency, supports the decriminalization of marijuana.
- Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, is also for marijuana decriminalization.
With politicians of this caliber supporting marijuana decriminalization, this is a clear indication that the political stance on the war on drugs is changing.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.