oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of November 29th 2010

Welcome to the latest Front Line Report - our largest yet - bringing you a collection of stories from across the globe, from national and international news and media outlets and UN agencies. This week we continue our documentary updates from the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union's Drug Reporter site, with a moving film about drug detention centres in Asia - 'Abuse in the name of Treatment'. We also bring you an Al Jazeera report on Whoonga, a 'tragic step backwards' in the fight against HIV ~ MW & CS

Abuse in the Name of Treatment

According to estimations, there are hundreds of thousands of people kept in compulsory drug detention centers in Vietnam, China, Thailand and Laos. It is easy to get in to one of these centers. Some people enter voluntarily in the hope of kicking their drug habit, others are sent there by their families who pay for their “treatment”; but in some cities, it often happens that the military police just collect street children, drug users, sex workers and other groups on the street considered “deviant” by the authorities and detains them in a camp for years, without any due process or right of appeal.

It’s easy to get in – but it’s hard to get out. Detainees are often forced to work for free, starved, beaten, tortured and raped – but they don’t get any treatment or rehabilitation. If they finally leave the camps, they feel more disintegrated from society than at any time before. The vast majority of detainees who leave the camps start to use drugs again or engage in other illegal activities. The governments of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand received millions of dollars from Western governments to build camps to treat drug addicts. Tax payers in donor countries had no idea what is happening in these camps before Human Rights Watch documented the widespread human rights abuses.

It’s easy to get in – but it’s hard to get out. Detainees are often forced to work for free, starved, beaten, tortured and raped – but they don’t get any treatment or rehabilitation. If they finally leave the camps, they feel more disintegrated from society than at any time before. The vast majority of detainees who leave the camps start to use drugs again or engage in other illegal activities. The governments of Laos, Cambodia and Thailand received millions of dollars from Western governments to build camps to treat drug addicts. Tax payers in donor countries had no idea what is happening in these camps before Human Rights Watch documented the widespread human rights abuses.

One of the centers – Koh Kor – was closed thanks to human rights advocacy but there are still too many in operation. HCLU, along with international organizations such as UNAIDS or UNODC, is calling for the closure of these camps. We hope after watching our new movie more people will join us and put pressure on these governments to stop the abuse in the name of drug treatment.

If you want to learn more read the related reports of Human Rights Watch:

http://www.hrw.org/node/87692

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/01/07/where-darkness-knows-no-limits-0

http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/09/unbreakable-cycle-0

Source: Drug Reporter

West Africa: Drugs and Corruption

"Growing number of organized crime which operates largely with impunity, is breeding corruption, threatening security across region where the value of drugs present is higher than national GDPs of some of the countries". Surprisingly this statement does not refer to Latin and Central America and Asia commonly associated with drug trade. In the last few decades we can observe a drastic increase of illegal activities of this kind in Africa, particularly its western coast. This trend, predominantly applies to the trafficking of cocaine which makes West Africa becoming a key transit hub for drug shipments to Europe.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is becoming increasingly concerned with the rapid development of drug trafficking in Africa. In the 2008 report UNODC claimed that exploding cocaine trade in West Africa is destroying weak economies and corrupting broad sectors of the population – from youth to police, military officers, and senior government officials. In the words of UNODC’s Executive Director, Antonio Maria Costa “The threat is spreading rapidly throughout the region, turning West Africa’s Gold Coast into the Coke Coast”.

By large, most of the cocaine enters Africa through Guinea-Bissau and Ghana and is then smuggled to Europe by boat or commercial plane destined for France, the United Kingdom and Spain. With reference to UNODC report, nowadays cocaine is smuggled through every country in the region. Furthermore, UNODC predicts that each year more then 50 tons of this substance find their way to West Africa, worth approximately US2$ billion on the street level (which is more then an annual budget of most West African states).

High profitability of drugs trade may have corrupting influence. As assumed by UNODC, present poverty and instability in the region combined with the easy profits from narco-business may have an effect of creating first African “narco-states” with corruption penetrating the high-profile officials and economy relying mainly on drug profits.

Although situation is appalling everywhere in the region it is still possible to identify countries where the present level of drug-related activities is particularity high.  Guinea-Bissau is the most common example with its GDP equal to the value of 6 tons of cocaine in Europe (US$304 million). Omnipresent poverty, unguarded coastline and almost absent rule of law enable traffickers to operate with almost no limits. 

As observed by experts from the UNODC, organized crime including the drug trafficking is best facilitated by the involvement of state officials. No matter if active or passive in their actions, politicians, high-rank military authorities and civil servants can largely smooth the path for the traffickers to operate also blurring the line between the state and the organized crime. Although unsurprisingly, officials refrain from pleading guilty when accused of corruption or earning money through drug trade, it is increasingly evident that West African organized crime is commonly relying on the protection of state authorities.

During the last decade, UNODC and other monitoring bodies including media were able to identify several examples of the procedure of this kind. In 2004 a gang of traffickers in Ghana was arrested under the suspicion of smuggling 675 kilograms of cocaine (valued circa US$140 millions). Astonishingly court decided to release them on bail of just US$200,000. Ghanaian researcher Kwesi Aning claims that “even those who work for the Narcotics Control Board … are scared to confront the levels of corruption in the criminal justice system.” 

More visible connection between crime and government was recently observed in Guinea-Bissau where a son of former military dictator (Lansana Conte) was arrested. As reveled, drug cartel has enjoyed protections from political figures on the constant basis. In Nigeria (a second most corrupted state in the world according to the 2003 Transparency International Report), a member of Nigerian Federal House of Representatives (Maurice Ibekwe) was accused of financial fraud, forgery and conspiracy. He had served as Chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Police Affairs. 

According to UNODC situation is even worse in the states overwhelmed by internal conflict. In Sierra Leone and Liberia it is believed that at least at some point both countries were under the control of organized crime. For example in Sierra Leone, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was powerful enough to force government to share the power with them and legitimizing it by placing its leader Foday Sankoh on the position equivalent to vice-president. Additionally, between 1997 and 1998, power was in hands of Armed Forces Ruling Council which are believed to be pioneers in the inviting global traffickers to the West Africa.

Corruption, which therefore is widely present in the West Africa results in tragic consequences, where state is not able to fight effectively with drug traffickers. To fight this phenomenon, UN is seeking to employ its forces and mobilize other international organizations to quickly react and intervene. Also countries themselves are proposing to implement harsher punishment (including death penalty) for the drug-related offences (situation presently observed in Gambia). Nevertheless it is doubtful if the alarming trend of drug smuggle in West Africa can be reverted until the deep reaching reforms of the judicial systems and, corruption punishment will be established. 

Source: Talking Drugs

Russia: Landmark study exposes lack of access to ARVs

In November 2010, SIMONA+, a network of community correspondents, concluded a groundbreaking survey on the availability of antiretroviral drugs in 19 Russian cities. Over the past year, the group has interviewed doctors, nurses, social workers and patients to document alarming supply shortages and frequent supply-chain breakdowns. Patients with HIV/AIDS in 30% of cities surveyed had been denied needed medications due to inadequate supplies or stock outs, and those in more than one-third of cities had to change treatment regimens due to delivery interruptions.

This new study served as a call to activists across Russia to demand the government fulfill its promise to provide comprehensive HIV treatment to all those who need it. Street protests erupted in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan and other major cities. Several lawsuits have been brought against local AIDS centers in Moscow, Tula, and Arkhangelsk. And still, the Ministry of Health denies the scope of the problem. Until it takes action, SIMONA+ and its partners will continue to exert pressure on the government through media, legal action and public hearings.

Source: IDPC

California’s Message – End the War on Drugs, Cut the Deficit

Campaigners are confident that it is now when, not if, marijuana is legalised in the US, with several states likely to vote on legalisation initiatives in 2012, and a Presidential election year that increases turn out of liberal voters likely to vote “yes” in California. Where the largest US state leads, others follow, but the ramifications would be global. Mexican and Colombian politicians have said their countries would follow suit, with a snowball effect all but inevitable.

Colombia’s President Santos has said: "How does one explain to indigenous people that they are not to grow marijuana at the risk of being thrown into jail, but that in the richest state of the United States, they have legalized its production, sale, and consumption?"

If the architect of the War on Drugs acted in direct contravention of the UN Conventions underpinning prohibition, the unravelling of the current approach to all drugs could be rapid.

But why is legal regulation of marijuana in the California now on the cards, and are the circumstances the same in the UK?

Partly it is the bloody reality of the Drug War's failure arriving uniquely on America’s Mexican doorstep. Partly it is a generational shift as older voters are replaced by younger ones who lean towards reform - which is also happening in the UK.

But the most important trigger is probably economic. As public spending is slashed to reduce California’s budget deficit, the State Board of Equalisation estimates that legalising and taxing cannabis could raise $1.4 billion dollars, with huge additional savings in reduced enforcement costs. Others have disputed this figure on and the precise number will clearly depend on price controls tax levels and other variables. Regardless, this is an argument that is not going away soon - in the UK as much as the US.

As dust from the Comprehensive Spending Review settles, ministers claim no area of public spending will escape scrutiny. Exploring non criminal justice responses to drug users, or more ambitiously, legally regulated drug production and availability, could dramatically improve outcomes for society, make substantial cost savings, and generate tax revenues. Currently, enforcement aimed at reducing supply costs us £380 million per year, but the Home Office estimates the additional cost of ‘dealing with drug related crime’ is £1.7 billion a year, rising to over £4 billion a year, if costs across the criminal justice system (prisons etc.) are included.

Yet despite these billions, the Government’s own analysis shows we are further than ever from the promised ‘drug free world’. Drugs are cheaper than ever before, use of the most harmful is at record highs, and massive levels of drug motivated crime is fuelling a crisis in the criminal justice system - at a time when the Government plans to reduce prisoner numbers.

Despite this staggering cost ineffectiveness, drug enforcement spending remains protected from public scrutiny within a political bubble of law and order populism. This year alone, reports from the National Audit Office, The Public Accounts Committee and Home Affairs Select Committee have blasted the Home Office for having no meaningful evaluation of the impact of the money spent. In terms of major public spending initiatives, drug policy is unique in this regard. But with widespread concern about public spending cuts, the blank cheque for the drug war may soon be a thing of the past.

Crucially, it is now widely accepted that many of the costs of ‘the drug problem’ – including gang violence and acquisitive crime committed by addicts - are primarily fuelled by drug prohibition, not drug use per se. The Home Office does not dispute this, nor does the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which has acknowledged a ‘vast criminal black market’ is one of the ‘unintended negative consequences’ of the current approach.

Yet such is the political fear of more cost-effective approaches, including Portuguese-style decriminalisation or the regulatory models for drug production and supply explored in Transform’s Blueprint for Regulation (with controls over products, vendors, outlets, access and marketing), that they have never been seriously considered. Questions about legal regulation are rebuffed with claims that the benefits would be outweighed by increased health costs from an assumed increase in use. These claims are baseless. The Home Office has never, and will not do, the cost benefit analysis needed to substantiate them. There is also no evidence that prohibition has been an effective deterrent, or reduced drug harms, or that strictly controlled legal availability would increase misuse. When challenged, successive governments have admitted all they have is a ‘belief’ the current system is effective.

Transform’s analysis, which the Government does not dispute, shows that legally regulating drug supply could save around £2 billion a year from the Home Office budget alone (primarily through a 75% drop in drug motivated crime), with much greater savings to society as a whole. On top of this is the potential to tax cannabis in particular. California’s $1.4 billion marijuana tax take would be from a population only about two thirds that of the UK, whilst in the Netherlands (one quarter of the UK population, with lower levels of use) ‘coffee shop’ tax revenue is 400 million Euros a year, which would rise by 260 million Euros if the supply of cannabis to the coffee shops were taxed as well.

The stark reality is that squandering money on the War on Drugs is not just counterproductive, it starves worthwhile projects of funds. If legally regulating drugs realised £2 billion a year in savings and taxes - which is an extremely conservative estimate - it would be equivalent to paying the salaries of 86,000 police constables, or 92,600 teachers, or 94,000 nurses. Alternatively we could refurbish around 250 schools every year and reverse the cut in Child Benefit. Or just fund proven drug treatment and education programmes properly.

Whilst this research is based on limited data, it demands that at the very least the Government formally counts the costs and benefits of the current approach, and explores alternatives. No more, in fact, than has been called for by the pre-coalition Lib Dems, and David Cameron when on the Home Affairs Select Committee.

When even the US is exploring legal regulation, what is the UK still afraid of? The Government needs to ask; is it really still worth squandering billions a year just to sound tough on drugs?

Source: Transform

22nd International Harm Reduction Conference: ‘Building capacity, redressing neglect’

3 Apr 2011 - 7 Apr 2011

Beirut, Lebanon

IHRA’s 22nd International Harm Reduction Conference will take place in Beirut, Lebanon, from 3-7 April 2011.

About the conference

Although harm reduction has been adopted in policy and practice in more countries than ever before, significant gaps remain in the response. The coverage of harm reduction programmes, and the capacity of civil society to respond to harm reduction issues, remains low in much of the world. In many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), for example, harm reduction is still a new or emerging concept. For this reason, the building of skills and capacity of civil society organisations in harm reduction implementation and advocacy will feature strongly in this year’s conference programme, and will include a dedicated stream of workshop and skills building sessions, designed specifically for participants from the MENA region. 

Gaps in the response are not solely an issue in countries where harm reduction is new or emerging. Even in those in which harm reduction is well established, the development of specific policies and programmes to meet the needs of women and other vulnerable populations has often been neglected. This year’s conference will therefore also contain a strong focus on women, drug use and harm reduction, and provide a forum to highlight the needs of women who use drugs and other marginalised populations within the overall harm reduction response.

The programme will be created from the submitted abstracts in early December, and will be available for delegates to view from mid-January.

Conference objectives

  • To exchange knowledge about new scientific research and evidence on psychoactive drug use including alcohol and tobacco, drug related harms and the effectiveness of harm reduction interventions.
  • To involve a broad range of participants from the Middle East and North Africa and beyond including government officials, frontline workers, HIV/AIDS and drug user advocates, people working in criminal justice, human rights advocates, law enforcement personnel, researchers and scientists.
  • To enhance advocacy in the Middle East and North Africa internationally for harm reduction
  • To enable the transfer of harm reduction knowledge and sharing of best practices
  • To raise awareness of human rights issues related to psychoactive drug use and harm reduction

 Source: IDPC

Call for submission for the Drugs and Harm Reduction Film Festival

If you have missed the deadline for abstract submission to the 22nd International Harm Reduction Conference next April, why don't you submit a film? Spread the word and be a part of the '8th Drugs and Harm Reduction Film Festival'!

The Film Festival screens documentaries, advocacy films, training videos and fictional work relevant to reducing drug and alcohol related harms.

The deadline for the submission of film abstracts is Friday, 17th December 2010.

For more information, please contact the Film Festival team at filmfest@burnet.edu.au, or by visiting the Film Festival website.

'Harm Reduction: 2011' will be held in Beirut, Lebanon between 3rd - 7th April 2011. For further information and details, please visit the conference website.

Source: IDPC

Alternative sentencing in Albania - Interactive workshop in Durres

As part of the project "Network of community services for alternative sentence" supported by the European Commission, an informative workshop was held on 12th November 2010 in Durres, Albania.

The workshop was attended by judges, prosecutors, the directors of the probation service of Tirana and Durres, representatives from the probation service and network members, and representatives from the partner organisations responsible for the project (Aksion Plus and Refraction Association).

PDF download: 

Aksion plus report.pdf

Source: IDPC

IAS and NIDA fellowship programme encouraging HIV and drug use research

The International AIDS Society (IAS), with the support of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), offers a research fellowship programme focusing on HIV and drug use, with the goal of contributing to advances in the scientific understanding of illicit drug use and HIV, while fostering multinational research on HIV and drug use.

This fellowship programme consists of two awards: US$75,000 to be awarded to a junior scientist for 18-months post-doctoral training and US$75,000 to be awarded to a well-established HIV researcher for eight-month long professional development training, both at leading institutes excelling in research in the HIV-related drug use field.

The two initial fellowships were awarded at the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2009), which took place in Cape Town, South Africa on 19-22 July 2009. In 2010, five fellowships were awarded in conjunction with the XVIII International AIDS Conference (AIDS2010) in Vienna, Austria on 18-23 July 2010.

In 2011, up to four fellowships will be granted at the IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2011), to be held in Rome, Italy on 17-20 July 2011.

We are hoping to reach a maximum number of potential candidates and we are requesting your help in the following ways: 

  1. Please distribute the attached flyer through your networks and to eligible applicants at your institution.
  2. Please advise us on specific networks we should be aware of in promoting this fellowship programme.

The online application will be opened on the IAS website from 8 December 2010 until 10 February 2011.

For more information about the fellowship programme, please click here.

PDF download: 

Fellowship programme.pdf

Source: IDPC

Global Commission on HIV and the Law seeks submissions from Asia-Pacific region

The first Regional Dialogue for the Asia-Pacific will take place on 24-25 February 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand. In addition to giving a voice to regional and country perspectives on issues of HIV and the law, the dialogue aims to contribute to regional efforts for creating enabling legal environments that support effective HIV response.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law looks forward to hearing from you if you have worked or presently work in the Asia-Pacific on the following issues:

  1. Laws and practices that effectively criminalise people living with HIV and vulnerable to HIV
  2. Laws and practices that mitigate and sustain violence and discrimination lived by women
  3. Laws and practices that facilitate or impede HIV-related treatment access, and
  4. Issues of law and HIV pertaining to children

How to Submit

The English version of the Call for Submissions can be found here.

Please note that although this call is specifically for the Regional Dialogue in Asia-Pacific, other Regional Dialogues are also being planned. Calls for Submissions for these (with appropriate translations) shall be put up on the website shortly and their announcement shall be disseminated at that time.

Source: IDPC

Cannabis gets a Trade Association

The marijuana industry is growing up. On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) officially came into being to represent the interests of the marijuana industry and its consumers. The group aims to influence policy in Washington, DC, just the same way any other industry does -- by lobbying the federal government to protect the interests of its members.

"We've seen such tremendous growth in this industry in the last five years," said NCIA executive director Aaron Smith. "It seems like the industry is not just surviving in the midst of economic decline, but booming. But it wasn’t represented in Washington, DC, like all sorts of other industries are. I just started talking to some of the major industry players, and just about everybody was really enthusiastic about jumping on board. This thing just blossomed."

The makeup of the NCIA's board of directors, with about one third of its 23 members from California, one third from Colorado, and one third from the rest of the country, correlates roughly with where the cannabis business action currently is. Most of the board members represent dispensaries or associated businesses, but there's also Kush magazine, Weedmaps.com, a pipe-market, an insurance company, and a hemp-seller.

At least three board members have well-known positions favoring marijuana legalization. As long-time head of the Marijuana Policy Project, Rob Kampia has put big money into legalization initiatives; Oaksterdam

University's Dale Sky Jones was a spokesperson for the Proposition 19 legalization initiative; and as director of Sensible Colorado, Brian Vicente is working with others to get a legalization initiative on the ballot there in 2012.

"We wanted to be diverse in the types of businesses represented," said Smith. "It's not just dispensaries, it's all these other businesses creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy."

Becky DeKeuster is CEO of Northeast Patients Group, which will operate four state-licensed, nonprofit medical cannabis dispensaries in Maine. DeKeuster joined the NCIA board of directors and hopes to encourage others in the medical cannabis community to support the fledgling trade association. "I’m proud to be one of NCIA’s founding members," DeKeuster said. "This organization will be a great step forward not only for the medical cannabis industry, but also for the interests of the countless patients nationwide who rely on us to provide safe and effective natural medicine."

Another NCIA board member, Kush Magazine CEO Bob Selan, said that the trade association will be the force that finally unifies an extremely diverse industry. "In my years working for a top cannabis culture publication, I’ve met an astonishing number of talented individuals who are experts in their particular field. From cannabis cultivators to pipe manufacturers to crop insurance brokers, all will benefit from being collectively represented by the national industry association," Selan said.

The NCIA wants to attract at least 200 members in the coming year, Smith said. Regular membership costs $1,000 a year, a sponsoring membership is $2,500 a year, and a sustaining membership is $5,000 a year. If the group meets its membership goals, it could raise a minimum of $200,000 to go to work on Capitol Hill.

A sponsoring membership gives the member the right to vote on the group's board, half of which will be up for election each year. A sustaining membership gives the member the right to run for a place on the board. With the board setting policy, the NCIA is an association that will truly be run by its members.

"Our intention is to hire a lobbying firm," said Smith. "Right now, we have Steve Fox from MPP working part-time for us. As we raise funds, we'll be hiring lobbyists in the District and bringing in a full-time staff."

The group will work to get the federal government to let states set their own marijuana policies, and to ensure that federal agencies treat businesses compliant with state laws just like any other law-abiding businesses, said Smith. He pointed to agencies like the IRS and the Treasury Department, as well as the Department of Justice.

"We want cannabis-related businesses treated the same as any others," he said. "Now, we have things like banks not accepting deposits from legal medical marijuana providers. We may well be lobbying executive agencies to make administrative changes, as opposed to congressional action."

Smith is based in Phoenix, which, as he pointed out, is the "next wave" of legitimate cannabis businesses after Arizona became the 15th medical marijuana state earlier this month, but he'll be hitting the road to build the NCIA, he said. "I'll be traveling the country and getting new members to get the clout we need to make the change we want. Our lobbyist will be representing hundreds of businesses, thousands of jobs, and millions of tax dollars. It's really important we build membership as fast as we can."

The NCIA is in embryonic form right now, but it has the potential to open a new front in the battle to end the persecution of marijuana users and producers. The degree to which it succeeds will be a measure of the real maturity of the contemporary marijuana industry.

Source: Stop the Drug War

Heroin Drought Causing Problems in England

A scarcity of heroin in England is leading to a growing number of drug overdoses and poisonings as users ingest dope cut with other substances by dealers trying to stretch supplies, The Guardian reported this week. Scene watchers there are calling it the worst drought in years.

The drought is being blamed not on seizures by law enforcement agencies, but on a fungus that has blighted the Afghan opium poppy crop, reducing the size of this year's poppy crop by half. Afghanistan accounts for more than 90% of the world's opium production and likely 100% of the British heroin supply.

"There is a very significant heroin shortage across the UK at the moment," said Gary Cross, head of drug policy for the non-profit group Release.  "It has been going on for some time now, but the last two months have seen stockpiles exhausted."

"I've never known anything like it in 30 years," wrote one long-time heroin user on an on-line forum discussing the shortage.

As dealers and users scramble to grapple with the shortage, users are turning up at hospitals after ingesting adulterated heroin or, in some cases, fake heroin consisting of a powerful sedative, caffeine, and paracetamol, a bulking agent. Some have passed out after smoking or ingesting, while others have reported vomiting, amnesia, and flu-like symptoms.

"This 'heroin drought' appears to be serious and geographically widespread," said Neil Hunt, director of research at KCA, a nationwide community drug treatment service. "Street heroin is in a complete and utter muddle at the moment, and users are collapsing unexpectedly. We need to standardize information about what's out there.

"If people use this intravenously, perhaps on top of alcohol and methadone [the prescribed substitute drug for heroin], it is extremely risky," said Dr. John Ramsey, who runs a drug database at St. George's Medical School in London. "We have had many reports of people overdosing. It's really important that accident and emergency departments understand that they may not be dealing with a 'normal' heroin overdose when people are brought in," he said.

Harm reduction drug agencies are aware of the problem and working to address it. Several of them held an urgent meeting last week to discuss setting up an online warning system to give users notice about contaminated or adulterated drugs.

Source: Stop the Drug War

UN Secretary General hands out methadone to patients in Cambodia

World Health Organisation, Phnom Penh (Oct. 28, 2010)

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and his wife, Ban Soon-taek, visited Cambodia's first methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) clinic in central Phnom Penh as part of a two-day visit to the Kingdom.

During his brief visit, the UN Secretary General unveiled a plaque to commemorate his visit and learned of the objectives of the methadone programme and its achievements since dosing began on July 1, 2010.

The UNSG and his wife met with six methadone patients who represent the wide range of socio-economic backgrounds of the current 61 clients enrolled in the programme. Each of the six patients received their respective doses of methadone from the UN Secretary General, and his wife, who had requested the opportunity to assist.

Following the signing of the MMT Clinic visitor's book, the UN Secretary General was presented with a silver plate depicting the famous temples of Angkor Wat by the Clinic Director, Dr. Chhit Sophal, and a representative of the methadone patients to thank him for his interest in the programme.

In this speech to the audience and crowd who can come to see the UNSG make this special visit, Ban Ki-moon noted that the methadone programme, "is providing an important service, not just to people struggling to conquer addiction, but to the broader community."

The UN Secretary General continued, "I commend the Government of Cambodia for launching this pilot programme. Evidence shows that such initiatives are more effective than incarceration in addressing the social problems caused by addiction."

The combined and ongoing efforts of several UN agencies in Cambodia was emphasised by Ban Ki-moon, in particular with respect to the new, innovative approaches to drug treatment in the Kingdom through the community-based drug treatment programme initiated by UNODC with the support of WHO and UNAIDS, that has been formally adopted by the entire UN Country Team in Cambodia.

The UNSG praised Cambodia for its successes in its response to HIV/AIDS whilst noting the challenges still ahead: "I would like to congratulate the Government of Cambodia on receiving the MDG Award [for] its work on HIV/AIDS. The UN System will continue to assist the Government to maintain its achievements and to focus on developing a continuum of prevention, care and treatment for HIV/AIDS for populations most at-risk - including entertainment workers, men who have sex with men, and drug users."

At the conclusion of his remarks, the UN Secretary General commented, "I look forward to continued partnership between the Government and the United Nations system to deliver evidence-based approaches to drug-related problems."

Source: IDPC

Ukraine: Organisations demand repeal of harsh drug law

In Ukraine, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and other local organisations are calling for a repeal of Resolution N634, a revised drug-possession law that dramatically reduces the minimum amount of drugs subject to criminal penalties. The new regulations, enacted October 29, severely imperil the country’s needle-exchange programs and efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS.

Drug users arrested with as little as 0.005 grams of acetylated opium—Ukraine’s most widely used opiate, known locally as “shirka”— now face prosecution and up to three years in prison. This new threshold is 20 times lower than under the previous law, and by comparison, 100 times less than prosecutable limits in Russia. It is also equivalent to residue left in a used syringe, forcing outreach workers as well as drug users to reassess before engaging in primary and secondary syringe exchange. Click here for more information.

In anticipation of World AIDS Day, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the International Renaissance Foundation and their partners are drawing attention to the harmful, sweeping effects of this punitive law and asking that Ukraine’s health officials and legislators rescind it immediately.

For further information on any of these programs, please contact Kathleen Kingsbury at Open Society Foundations at kkingsbury@sorosny.org.

Source: IDPC

Study supports call to allow addicts to shape treatment

If recovering addicts help to shape services and are involved in support networks, services are more engaging, says an RSA report

When Brian Morgan finally found the courage to visit a GP for his alcohol addiction a few years ago, the encounter confirmed his worst fears about top-down mainstream services. "He basically told me to pull my socks up and stop drinking," recalls Morgan, 38. "In substance misuse there's a perception that you bring it on yourself. You take what's on offer even if it's not very good – because you're not worth much anyway." The encounter meant that window of opportunity towards recovery was lost.

Morgan began drinking in his teens and it became his social prop. His addiction escalated until he lost his project development job at a health trust around six years ago, became estranged from his partner and nine-year-old son and ended up sleeping rough.

After four stints in rehab, he got back on his feet thanks to a community-based support programme and his desire to be reunited with his son. His experience led to a job in West Sussex county council's drug and alcohol action team (DAAT) where he co-ordinates service user groups.

Now Morgan and his service user peers are collaborating with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) on a project to design and test user-centred services. The charity's report, Whole Person Recovery, published today as part of the project, argues that if recovering addicts help to shape services and are involved in social networks, services are more engaging.

The economic and social cost of drug use is estimated at £15.3bn a year, according to government figures. Problem alcohol use is estimated to cost £2.7bn a year in healthcare alone, says the charity Alcohol Concern. Yet of 152 drug and alcohol addicts and recovering users surveyed by the RSA, half of those who had received treatment did not finish their programme and two in five had never had formal treatment.

The report's authors conclude that services are still too centralised, standardised and stigmatised, fail to help the majority of problematic users and exclude recovering addicts from the drive towards personalised services.

"Ultimately, service users will always be the experts in knowing what will work best for them," says Sam Tearle, West Sussex council's DAAT joint commissioning manager. "Hopefully, the move towards a more localised model of decision making and target setting will reduce the need to commission services in line with rigid frameworks."

The time is right for a fresh approach, says the RSA, not least because the public spending squeeze could exacerbate debt and social exclusion, fuelling addiction.

While the concept of user-led services is not new, practice is patchy and the approach is rarely used for drug and alcohol services. Steve Broome, RSA head of research and the report's co-author, explains: "We're not saying that people haven't done innovative grassroots-based bottom-up initiatives, but this work exists outside any mainstream framework."

The RSA will launch a range of user-led schemes in West Sussex next year, including a 24-hour online radio station, funded by the council's DAAT. The station will broadcast stories of drug and alcohol recovery, offering round-the-clock support, a vital safety net for recovering addicts.

Another plan is a £25,000 "community chest", allowing people to apply for grants of up to £500 to help their recovery. Broome explains: "The journey to the next stage of recovery can be hindered by something minor like someone couldn't afford a travel pass to get to work." Grants, awarded by a panel that includes recovering addicts, carry the stipulation that beneficiaries return to show how they put the money to good use.

But in the current financial climate, do statutory and third sector organisations really have the time or money to focus on such user-led approaches?

Broome argues that user-led services are affordable – the grants scheme has a relatively small budget – and unleash a "hidden wealth" of knowledge among users. Tailored responses to addiction, delivered in a user-friendly way – where and when they are needed by users, for example – boost people's chances of staying in recovery and so increase efficiency.

Overturning traditional practice is, admits Broome, a "big ask", but is worth it. The government's emphasis on punitive drugs policy and the demand on service users to take more responsibility for shaping services will be challenges that will need to be faced.

And Morgan reveals how ingrained the orthodox, top-down approach is: "How does it feel being listened to? It feels very different, odd almost."

Source: The Guardian

Whoonga a setback in the Battle against HIV and Aids

In the townships surrounding Durban in South Africa, there are people who would like to have HIV, or so local campaigners are saying.  The reason for this dangerous state of being, is a new drug on the streets; Whoonga.  Whilst it was first used in the Durban area it is spreading into other parts of South Africa, putting, say campaigners, the battle against HIV and Aids at risk.  

The ingredients of Whoonga hold the key to its relationship with HIV.  Whilst it is composed of a number of chemicals including rat poison and bleach more importantly it contains antiretrovirals, the drugs which are used to help those with HIV and Aids.

Usually smoked with cannabis, which has no addictive qualities on its own, the mixture is highly addictive.  Users chase six to seven hits a day, which goes far beyond what they can get their hands on legally, leading to higher crime rates and the usual social deterioration that often accompanies heavy drug use.  

The other option of course is to acquire HIV and get antiretrovirals handed out as a legal medication.  Reports exist which show that many HIV sufferers are selling their own legal supply, even when they are not personal Whoonga smokers, as the drug, formerly of little value is now ‘hot stuff’ on the street.  There are even reports emerging which suggest that HIV sufferers are being ’mugged’ outside clinics for the drugs they intend to carry home.

The tale which is worrying as it is, has a further twist; expert understanding cannot see why antiretrovirals are being used in the first place, as there is no evidence that they add to the addictiveness of the drug, which would suit those peddling it, or that they enhance the high from marijuana. The belief is that the other ingredients are the main active ingredients.  To that end expert understanding is somewhat at a loss as to why this trend is occurring.  

Some suggest that what has emerged as fabrication but there are stories citing this trend that go back to 2009 and the existence of “Project Whoonga,” a project trying to help users and spread the word about the drug, would suggest that Whoonga is very real.

Myths surrounding HIV are already a problem in South Africa, such as the belief that sleeping with a virgin is safe.  The fact that a drug which should be helping in a fight against what has rapidly become one of the most widespread viruses in the world, is being used, purportedly without any real effect, is a worrying new adage in the fight to help prevent further spread.

Source: Talking Drugs

Going Deeper Into Prohibition

In April 2010 UK Government decided to ban mephedrone (a former “legal high”) motivating its decision by public health concerns. The ultimate goal was to limit availability of the drug and eventually eradicate it from the market. The same as in the time when the ban was being passed the counter arguments are piling up today. For example, knowing the trends of supply and consumption for other banned substances (i.e. marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines etc.), is it a really reasonable move? Can we expect people to turn away from mephedrone and magically stop seeking unofficial sources of it? Having in mind that the mephedrone was introduced as a legal alternative to cocaine or ecstasy, shouldn’t we be worried about potential reversal to those substances by consumers? Eventually, observing the growing speed in which producers are able to come up with another alternative, wouldn’t it be safer for the society to keep the drug open for use? This article seeks to give a basic answers to some of these dilemmas and present today’s situation on the illegal mephedrone market.  

Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) also know under popular names of Meow Meow, Bubbles and M-Cat became available on the market as a legal alternative to the illicit drugs like ecstasy and cocaine. It is chemically related both to amphetamine and to the cathinones and is usually sold in the form of white or yellow powder. Substance is sniffed or swallowed giving an effect of enhanced mood and increased heartbeat. So far however this is pretty much it when it comes to the knowledge on mephedrone and its effect on humans. Although we can understand the motivation of the government to ban the substance with unknown ramification, it is highly probable that once the mephedrone is illegal it will follow the path of lower purity and addition of extra substances which as methadone itself will pose a mystery to the unaware consumers.   

Straight Statistics go even further than criticizing the ban on mephedrone. Although the research is still unfinished, they claim that potentially use of mephedrone could save lives of people rather that put them in danger. So far they discovered that since the introduction of mephedrone the rate of deaths from cocaine overdose fall app by 28% in the first semester of 2009. Although it is still too early to proof that this trend can be observed among wider population (so far research was based on the mandatory drug test among soldiers), it may soon appear that “the decision in April 2010 to make mephedrone illegal may have had the unintended consequence” (Straight Statistics).

Adam Winstock and co-workers from the King’s College London pursed a research in June this year between the mephedrone users to check how many of them kept using the drug even though it became illegal. According to their results 63% of mephedrone users continued to use the drug after the ban, among which 55% intend to use the same amount as before. Moreover research assumes that the mean price for a gram of the substance is nowadays around £16, being app. £6 more than a price before legislation. It is further assumed that in total the ban did not construct a solid barrier for the consumers to obtain mephedrone. Another worrying fact is that Winstock et al, predict that, “in time, there are likely to be reductions in purity, and increases in health harms”.

Interestingly, despite the ban, mephedrone derivatives are still easily obtainable by internet. Researchers from the Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Liverpool and Lancaster University, say many drugs being sold as alternatives for mephedrone are also cathinones. The most common example of the “second generation” products is the NRG-1. According to scholars, in most of the 17 substances bought from the website vendors after the ban was introduced, 70% of them contained traces of illegal substances usually being the methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). Problem which arises is that MDPV, if used, has to be taken in much smaller doses then mephedrone.  Another issue, as authors claim, is that "these products are offered as legal substitutes for the recently criminalised 'legal highs' […]. This suggests that both consumers and online sellers are, most likely without knowledge, at risk of criminalisation and potential harm".  Consequently the law enforced does not bring desired effects, leaving the mephedrone still on the market.

Concluding, the mephedrone ban introduced in April 2010, did not manage to discourage consumers from using the mephedrone. Similarly, like in the case of other illicit drugs, users are offered this substance from alternative sources (dealers or website) with no control on their content and potential harm. Frightening fact is that on many occasions buyers are not aware of what they bought, also not knowing how to use it. Although mephedrone is one of the most well-known examples of the “legal highs” it is definitely not the only one.  National drug policies tend to follow the path of prohibition not only in case of mephedrone, but also in case of other substances like synthetic cannabis (banned toady in the US). As mentioned, government’s intention might be very noble, but the mean in which it is operated can unfortunately bring more harm than good. 

Source: Talking Drugs

A youth correctional facility in the USA accused of serious breach of human rights

Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility is accused of being in serious breach of the human rights, in a court case being brought against those responsible for running the facility.  Walnut Grove is charged with youth incarceration as part of the legal and correctional apparatus of the state of Mississippi.

The federal suit claims that guards in the complex routinely fail the inmates on a number of counts which directly affect the health and well being of the youths.  Staff are accused of allowing fights to continue, personally beating up inmates who’s ages range from 13-22, which are the least of the charges.  More seriously staff are accused of engaging in sexual behavior with inmates and on occasion supplying drugs to those in the facility.

Managed by umbrella company: “The GEO group inc.” the facility is accused of being in its current state due to the heavy incentive to cut costs in the pursuit of profits. The case claims that at times one guard was in charge of watching over as many as sixty individuals.  Rather than correcting behavior or helping inmates, the majority of whom are in the facility for non-violent crimes, it would suggest that the facility is corrupting or potentially further damaging youth in its care.  

The facility gets around $1000 a month for each inmate which translates to $14 million in taxpayer money when the 1,200 capacity is considered.  The US has seen its prison populations balloon in recent years, and the emergence of questionable detention facilities such as Supermax prisons, which specialize in solitary confinement, has lead to many questioning the rational of incarceration without adequate reintegration or education programs.

Many adults within the prison system in the USA are there for drug offences, and the implication raised by the case in Mississippi does not bode well for the future of the youths interned within.  The attitude of, lock them away and throw away the key, which prevails in the USA appears to have extended into the realm of youth incarceration and would appear to be a symptom of the disjointed state of US law enforcement.  

Source: Talking Drugs

Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan strengthen anti-drug trafficking initiative

The Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani Ministers for drug control have adopted measures to strengthen their cooperation in addressing drug trafficking at the annual meeting of the UNODC-facilitated Triangular Initiative in Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier today.

The Minister of Counter Narcotics of Afghanistan, Mr. Zarar Ahmad Moqbel Osmani, the Secretary-General of the Drug Control Headquarters of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Eng Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, and the Federal Minister for Narcotics Control of Pakistan, Mr. Arbab Muhammad Zahir, agreed to establish additional border offices to increase cooperation between law enforcement officials.

Further, the Ministers committed to expanding the work of the Joint Planning Cell in Tehran, which aims at sharing information on illicit drug trafficking. Agreement was also reached on organizing more joint patrolling operations in the border areas of the three countries. In addition, the Ministers agreed to enhance legal cooperation in drug-related matters.

Congratulating the Governments on the progress made at the annual meeting, Mr. Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, said: "Your countries form the first line of defence against the massive flow of illicit drugs that threaten security throughout the region and beyond. Many of your law enforcement and border control agents, as well as ordinary citizens, have sacrificed their lives in the fight against drug trafficking. This is a terrible price to pay, and we mourn their loss."

Mr. Fedotov also praised the Governments' cooperation which has been demonstrated by simultaneous operations conducted in 2009 and 2010. Six operations have taken place, leading to significant drug seizures - almost 2,500 kilograms of opium, heroin and hashish - and the arrest of at least 74 drug traffickers.

UNODC launched the Triangular Initiative in 2007 to strengthen cooperation in law enforcement between the three countries most seriously affected by illicit opiates from Afghanistan, the origin of more than 90 per cent of the world's opium and heroin. The Initiative has helped to forge an unprecedented level of cooperation between the three countries on vital issues such as border security and regional cooperation to deal with drug trafficking.

On the same day, Mr. Fedotov met with Mr. Asif Zardari, President of Pakistan to further strengthen Pakistan's and UNODC's joint programme to fight drug trafficking and other forms of transnational organized crime.

They discussed the new expanded UNODC country programme that was developed in close collaboration with the Government. The programme, for the period 2010-2014, will significantly increase international support in four areas: illicit trafficking and border management; criminal justice; drug demand reduction and HIV/AIDS programmes; and recovery assistance to law enforcement establishments affected by the recent catastrophic floods.

UNODC and Pakistan will cooperate in securing national borders, establishing international standards for the criminal justice system, and setting up prevention and treatment programmes for drug users. Mr. Fedotov praised the Government of Pakistan for its role in supporting regional initiatives to combat drug trafficking.

Source: UNODC

Ecstasy and Methamphetamine first choice of drugs in East and South East Asia

According to the latest report from UNODC, amphetamine-type stimulants - or ATS drugs - in particular methamphetamine, are now ranked in the top three most popular drugs of choice in East and South-East Asia displacing the use of traditionally used drugs such as heroin, opium or even cannabis.

The report, " Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs: Asia and the Pacific", points toward ATS as a critical emerging threat to the region on health and law enforcement levels, with between 3.4 million and 20.7 million people in East and South-East Asia alone having used amphetamines in the past year - a sizeable portion of the estimated 14 million to 53 million global users.

Speaking on the spread of ATS and the marked implications for health and welfare, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, noted: "The increased manufacture and use of ATS is a worrying trend and a growing health challenge for the region. While overall development levels in many countries are climbing, and the lives of millions are improving, the spread of ATS use is a sad - and unnecessary - situation and one which must be tackled with immediate urgency."

In addition to the health threat posed by ATS, the spread of these drugs has also been linked to organized crime in the region. In South Asia for instance, the large licit chemical and pharmaceutical industries offer organized criminal groups an attractive base from where to manufacture and market ATS and unlike plant-based crops that are dependent on factors including climate and geography, ATS drugs can be produced in clandestine laboratories using easily obtainable ingredients and formulas. This ease of establishing facilities has been witnessed with the movement of these locations from traditional production areas such as Western Europe to the more lucrative markets in the developing world.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Tokyo, Sandeep Chawla, Director of Policy Analysis and Public Affairs at UNODC stated: "By being able to produce ATS in their basements and backyards, criminals are presented with new opportunities which must be denied. While the production and consumption centres of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine are often separated by large geographical distances, synthetic drugs can be manufactured almost literally in the kitchens of users. This means that there is no long trafficking route along which law enforcement can intercept the drugs. ATS thus pose very different challenges for law enforcement".

Developed under the UNODC Global Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends (SMART) Programme, the report highlights the spread of ATS, looking at amphetamine, methamphetamine, methcathinone, and ecstasy-group substances. One particularly worrying trend highlighted in this year's report - and an example of the evolving health and law enforcement challenges - is the continued growth in the use and trafficking of ketamine in East and South-East Asia. As a cheaper alternative to drugs such as ecstasy, and with wide availability due to its medical uses, the growth in this drug is a disturbing movement and one which must be dealt with urgently. In 2009, 6.9 metric tons of ketamine were seized in the region, up from 6.3 metric tons the previous year, and with about 85 percent of global seizures being made in East and South-East Asia in 2009, ketamine is an example of the rapid expansion of ATS in the region.

Sadly, as is far-too-often the case, improved prosperity in an area is often followed by the growth of drugs in that particular market. As East and South-East Asia's increased wealth and accelerated movement of persons, trade and goods continues to lift millions out of poverty, it is regrettable to see the expansion of criminal, drug-focused organizations and the resultant increases in the production, trafficking and use of ATS and other drugs.

Source: UNODC

Who is the government's health deal with big business really good for?

It was on a Friday afternoon in May 2009 when Andrew Lansley's Public Health Commission met, as usual, in the newly restored 1930s splendour of Unilever House on Victoria Embankment in London. It was gathering for its final plenary session, having been tasked by Lansley, now health secretary but then in opposition, to come up with new policies for the Conservatives to tackle the big public health crises of obesity, diet-related disease, and alcohol abuse.

Obesity has trebled in the last 20 years, diet-related disease is estimated to cost the health service £6bn a year and rising, alcohol misuse £2.7bn a year, and the effects of lack of exercise a further £1.8bn a year. Nearly a quarter of all adults and one in seven of children in England are now obese. Alcohol deaths have doubled in the last 15 years, reflecting a doubling of alcohol consumption per capita over the last 40 years.

The commission's job was to assess Lansley's idea that a deal between business and government should form the basis of his health strategy after the election. It was about to produce its report: We're All in This Together, Improving the Long Term Health of the Nation.

In the chair of the commission, by invitation of Lansley, was Dave Lewis, UK and Ireland chairman of Unilever, one of the largest processors of industrial fats in the world.

With him were Lucy Neville-Rolfe, corporate affairs director of Tesco, the supermarket that has been a leading opponent of the traffic light food labelling scheme favoured by the Food Standards Agency, and Lady Buscombe, Conservative peer and former head of the Advertising Association, where she established herself as a formidable political champion of the ad industry's right to operate free of restrictions.

Asda's corporate affairs director, Paul Kelly, formerly PR head of Compass, the school meals company of turkey twizzler fame, had to send his apologies. Mark Leverton, policy director of Diageo, manufacturer of leading vodka, whisky and beer brands, joined them by phone.

Diageo, in fact, had closer links with the Lib Dems than the Conservatives – its corporate relations director, Ian Wright, was one of three people who paid donations directly into Nick Clegg's personal bank account to fund a researcher – but that would come in useful later once the election results were known. Bolstering the alcohol industry's presence in person was Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of its lobby group, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

The area of increasing physical activity to fight obesity was covered by Fred Turok, chairman of the Fitness Industry Association, the lobby group for private gyms and professional personal trainers. Public interest groups were represented at the meeting by a handful of health and consumer charities and two leading liver and alcohol specialists.

The secretariat for the Public Health Commission that day was, as usual, provided by Unilever and its marketing team. They were led by Unilever's public affairs director George Gordon, and joined by Martin le Jeune, director of the corporate PR agency Open Road (its clients include Unilever, Sky, and the alcohol industry's Portman Group). Le Jeune is former public affairs director of Sky, a former director of Fishburn Hedges PR agency (clients Diageo, Nestlé), and is a member of a group calling itself the "progressive conservatives", who are dedicated to "progress achieved by maximising liberty in both economic and social fields".

The commission's fifth meeting in Unilever House had "set the scope for progress" on the contentious issues for the industry of food and alcohol labelling, and on portion sizes.

It must have felt like a new dawn for the food and drinks industries. After more than four years of determined and co-ordinated lobbying, they were about to achieve the corporate PR agency dream: being invited to write the policy themselves. And, if the Conservatives won the election, in Lansley they would have a health secretary who understood them.

He not only subscribed to the libertarian view that public health should be more a matter of personal responsibility than government action; he bought in to the whole pro-business PR view of the world. (At that time, Lansley was a paid director of the marketing agency Profero, whose clients have included Pepsi, Mars, Pizza Hut and Diageo's Guinness. He gave up the directorship at the end of 2009.)

Partnership for change

Lansley attaches huge importance to public health, believing that too much emphasis has been put on treating illness in the NHS rather than preventing it in the first place. He talks about the ageing population and rising costs adding to the economic imperative to rebalance prevention and cure – but says change can only come through a partnership between individuals, business, charities and local and national government, and by understanding behavioural science.

By the time he outlined his vision for public health as a responsibility deal between business and government in 2008, Lansley had already adopted several of the industry's favoured approaches to the food, drink and health crises, promising that "government and FSA promotion of traffic light labelling will stop"; that there would be no mandatory extension of advertising restrictions; and that alcohol strategy would focus on the responsible drinking messages and improved labelling the industry preferred to regulation.

Lansley also committed to avoiding a narrow focus on "fear of junk foods" that might demonise individual manufacturers' products, and to talking instead in terms of diets as a whole, of the balance of energy in and energy out, and of portion size. He had said the government and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would "highlight the continuing contribution made by business to improving diet by reformulating its products".

And so the FSA, the regulator that had caused food and drink manufacturers and retailers so much irritation, was about to have its comeuppance. Government policy on public health and nutrition would soon be taken away from it and placed back in political hands.

The work of the Public Health Commission was not only setting out a strategy for a new Conservative government, it had created a working group of industry partners who could be drafted in effortlessly to the new administration's public health structure once Lansley had become secretary of state for health.

Now, a few months in to the new coalition government and with Lansley due to publish his white paper on public health in the next few weeks, the same cast of characters has been invited in to Whitehall. The Guardian has found that they make up the bulk of new "responsibility deal" networks the health secretary has set up to be at the heart of his public health policy. They are drawing up deals between the Department of Health and business, having been asked to volunteer measures to tackle obesity, diet-related disease, alcohol abuse and lack of exercise.

In a reversal of normal government process, recommendations are not being prepared by civil servants before the meetings, but by the working groups themselves and then sent to civil servants and the wider group for comment, according to sources close to the deals. A senior corporate source welcomed this, saying it was a recognition by the new government that a lot of the best expertise lies with industry and voluntary sector groups.

In the chair of the alcohol deal with Lib Dem health minister Paul Burstow is the Wine and Spirit Trade Association head, Jeremy Beadles. The Fitness Industry Association's Fred Turok is in the chair of the physical activity deal with Conservative minister Simon Burns.

The food deal is chaired by Lansley himself and Dr Susan Jebb, the leading Medical Research Council obesity academic known for her pragmatic approach to working with industry and for endorsing the methods of Weight Watchers.

A responsibility deal network on behavioural change is co-chaired by the National Heart Forum and public health minister Anne Milton. A further deal, health at work, is being chaired by Dame Carol Black with minister Lord Howe.

The overarching board, set up and chaired by Lansley to oversee all five of these business responsibility deal networks, also includes many of the contributors to the health commission at Unilever House. As well as local government representatives, health charities and a regional health director, there are from the industry lobbies Unilever, Tesco, and Asda – plus other leading retailers, Diageo, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, the Advertising Association, the Fitness Industry Association, Compass and Mars.

Lansley's special adviser on policy development at the Department of Health, meanwhile, is Bill Morgan, who used to work at Mandate Communications, a corporate PR agency whose clients have included health organisations and Kraft/Cadbury, Dominos Pizza, and drug companies.

Stuck on red

Looking back, senior FSA sources identify those Unilever House meetings as the "beginning of the FSA abolition movement". They could see the writing on the wall for their traffic light labelling scheme, despite the research that showed it was the most helpful one for consumers.

Nevertheless, they were startled when newspapers reported in July that Lansley was planning to abolish the FSA altogether. They were startled not least because he had no powers to do so. Labour had set up the agency in 2000 in the wake of the BSE and E coli food crises by an act of parliament as a non-ministerial government department. It could only be abolished by parliament.

The FSA's chair, former Labour minister Lord Rooker, had been told by Lansley just before the election that the agency would lose its public health and nutrition role, which he himself would take back, and that it would go to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) if the Conservatives won.

In fact, in the early chaotic days that tend to accompany transitions to new administrations, it became clear that the Defra ministers didn't want the FSA anyway. The news of the agency's exaggerated death, which had come from Tory sources, was interpreted as a deliberate attempt to destabilise the FSA and soften the public response when it was formally announced that it would instead have its powers much reduced.

Relations between the agency as regulator and the food industry it regulated had been severely strained for some time. The FSA's successful move, with broadcast regulator Ofcom, to introduce restrictions on TV advertising of foods high in salt, fat or sugar to children had already hit food companies hard. The breakfast cereal industry was particularly affected, with the vast majority of its marketing effort falling foul of the new rules.

The FSA's proposal to introduce traffic light food labelling on processed foods that would put a red light on foods high in salt, sugar or fat was where the companies drew their line in the sand. They thought a red light would be understood by consumers as "stop", and were not prepared to negotiate on a device that would damage their sales.

Although some retailers such as Sainsbury's, Asda and Waitrose accepted the FSA's scientific research supporting the value of traffic lights and introduced a version of them, Tesco and Morrisons were adamantly opposed.

The response from manufacturers to all these public health measures was a lobbying effort of unprecedented intensity, both in the UK and in Europe, according to senior sources from the regulator and Whitehall. Tesco, Kellogg's, Unilever and Kraft led a campaign to derail the FSA's labelling scheme by launching their own rival system based on guideline daily amounts (GDAs), which FSA research showed consumers found GDAs harder to understand. 

The industry also spent hundreds of millions of euros lobbying against traffic lights at European level.

"It was appalling the way manufacturers and Tesco conspired to defeat traffic light labelling despite the willingness of other retailers to give it a shot," said Richard Ayre, a member of the FSA board for seven years, adding that tensions between the FSA and the Department of Health had existed from the beginning.

By the end of their term, Labour ministers had become impatient with the FSA's independence. The Department of Health wanted to reassert political control. It decided not to confirm a second term for the FSA's chair, Deirdre Hutton, making clear to recruiters that ministers wanted someone with "Westminster experience" instead.

Rooker was appointed to take over, a move health experts believe made the agency's position more exposed when the coalition came in. By October, around 70 nutrition experts from the FSA had moved to the Department of Health, along with their files.

Public interest health experts are still trying to absorb the scale of Lansley's pro-business shakeup. They are concerned that when it comes to nutrition, the food sector is now unregulated. They are cooperating with the deals only because there appears to be no other mechanism to tackle public health problems on the table.

Professor Tim Lang, expert adviser on the government's obesity committee, explains: "What's clearly happening is that the government has dealt with some sore points for industry. It's already tamed the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, responding to the drugs industry not wanting curbs on its powers. The diet and health responsibility deals fit with the rest of the approach. 

"The strong message is 'work with business'. But the idea that we can solve these huge systemic problems with slight small changes makes me very nervous. It completely misunderstands how obesity reflects a whole drift of economy and culture in the last 40-50 years."

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, leading liver specialist, who is on the alcohol responsibility deal, shares the reservations. "I am very supportive of the secretary of state taking a position of strength on public health. But I am very concerned with the emphasis on voluntary partnerships with industry. We have to understand that their agenda is very different." 

Source: The Guardian

Transform Launches New Impact Assessment Webpage

We have recently added a new page to the Transform website promoting our call for an Impact Assessment (IA) of drug policy.

An IA would make an independent, non-partisan evaluation of the merits and flaws of existing domestic and international drug policy, and compare them with the costs and benefits of alternatives - including further resourcing for a criminal justice led approach, decriminalising personal possession, or legally regulating production and supply. The outcomes of this evaluation would then point the way to the most effective policies to manage drug production, supply and use.

In 2007 a UK government review concluded that such an evaluation could not be made – a conclusion that the UK Home Affairs Select Committee strongly condemned (in its report March 2010 report on the cocaine trade). The Committee diplomatically declared it “careless” that the Government published its Drugs Strategy in 2008 without having assessed the effectiveness of existing drug policy. Consequently, the Committee said that it

“support[s] calls for a full and independent value-for-money assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and related legislation and policy.”

Since then support for an IA has grown rapidly, with several prominent public figures and organisations calling for an objective review of current drug policy - including the Howard League for Penal Reform, Prof Sir Ian Gilmore and Lord Norton of Louth.

The beauty of this call is that it is policy neutral and therefore can be supported by those who support prohibition, those who are undecided, as well proponents of reform. To his great credit Prof Neil McKeganey has signed up to support an IA.

To find out more about what an IA would involve, and to see who supports it, please visit the new web page here.

Source: Transform

Brazilian forces seize large drugs haul in Rio favela

Brazilian police and troops say they have found a large haul of drugs after storming a major drug traffickers' stronghold in Rio de Janeiro.

More than 30 tonnes of marijuana was seized - as well as cocaine - in the Complexo do Alemao favela, police say.

Some 2,600 police and paratroopers carried out a pre-dawn assault on the favela, where hundreds of drug traffickers had been holed up.

Gunfire was heard but police were met with less resistance than expected.

Drug traffickers had been given an ultimatum to surrender by sunset on Saturday or face an assault.

Officers later hoisted the Brazilian and police flags on the hilltop of Alemao. 

Luxurious mansion

Officials said they seized the marijuana, which was packaged for delivery, from several houses in Grota - one of the shantytowns that make up the Alemao complex.

Police then formed a long human chain, passing the drug along to awaiting lorries in a main street.

Forces also moved from house to house, searching the area for hundreds of alleged drug traffickers who police feared could be trying to escape through the sewerage system.

Complexo do Alemao

 Complex of 13 smaller neighbourhoods

  • Surrounds a road that leads to the international airport
  • Population of 65,000 (2002 estimates) who live in 18,000 homes, 15% without sewerage
  • Ranks 149 out of 158 Rio neighbourhoods in terms of social indicators
  • Known for regular clashes between armed gangs and police
  • Has been the target of previous operations against drug traffickers, such as in June 2007 when 19 people died

Officers said that during their search of the area, they had found the luxurious mansion of one an alleged drug dealer, complete with rooftop swimming pool and its own armoury.

The three-storey house with a sauna and disco was empty when the officers arrived and much of the electronic equipment inside had already been destroyed, police said.

Within hours of Sunday's operation, police said they had taken control of the favela.

“We won. We brought freedom to the residents of Alemao," said the head of Rio's military police, Mario Sergio Duarte.

"Now it is time to be patient. We've taken over the territory but it doesn't mean that we won't have confrontations with the gang members still inside. We have to be careful because they may be trying to set up traps for our men," he said.

Eduardo Paes, the city's major, said the police were "giving the city back to its citizens".

The operation follows a week of clashes between security forces and suspected drug dealers in several slums in the Rio area, with drug gangs fighting back with gunfire and setting vehicles on fire. At least 45 people have been killed.

The suspected traffickers fled to Alemao from the Vila Cruzeiro favela after police took control of it earlier this week.

Heavy-handed'

Brazilian authorities say it aims to make the city safer ahead of the World Cup in 2014 and Olympic Games in 2016.

But human rights activists have accused Brazil of being too heavy-handed in its approach.

"The police so far this week in operations in other communities have killed over 50 people, including in a tragic accident a 14-year-old girl," said Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty's Brazil researcher.

"And one has to remember that this community has a long history of these very militarised campaigns by the police, and in 2007 the police did a huge operation, stormed the community and shot dead 19 people, and then left," he said.

Source: BBC News

Willie Nelson wants Marijuana Legalization Teapot Party

After his third pot possession bust in five years, country music legend Willie Nelson has had enough. He told former High Times editor Steve Bloom's CelebStoner web site Sunday it is time for a new, pro-marijuana political party.

"There's the Tea Party. How about the Teapot Party? Our motto: We lean a little to the left," Nelson said. "Tax it, regulate it and legalize it, and stop the border wars over drugs. Why should the drug lords make all the money? Thousands of lives will be saved."

A Willie Nelson's Teapot Party Facebook page went online Sunday, as well.

Nelson was arrested Friday at a border checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas, on Friday after officials smelled marijuana. They searched the vehicle with drug-sniffing dogs and found six ounces of pot. Nelson was arrested and jailed until he posted a $2,500 bond later that afternoon.

Nelson's arrest was just one of what are likely to be around 900,000 pot busts this year, the vast majority for simple possession. Last year, more than 850,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses.

Despite a raft of recent polls showing increasing support for marijuana legalization nationwide and majority support on the West Coast, the number of members of Congress showing any interest in moving toward marijuana legalization remains in the one-figures. However, there have been rumors of support in some influential Democratic circles for marijuana legalization as a get-out-the-vote strategy. Dozens of Democratic organizations in California lent their endorsement to this year's Prop 19 ballot initiative, as did the Republican Liberty Caucus.

Source: Stop the Drug War

Mexico Drug War Update

Wednesday, November 17: In the city of Chihuahua, two Ciudad Juarez attorneys and a companion were executed after being snatched off a street by an armed commando. The two men were in Ciudad Juarez to investigate a case for a client they represent who faced federal charges.

Friday, November 19: In Tamaulipas, 11 suspected members of the Zetas Organization were killed during a clash near the town Nueva Ciudad Guerrero. The firefight occurred after soldiers on patrol came under fire. Two other gunmen were captured and nine rifles were seized, as well as four handguns, a grenade launcher and body armor.

In Ciudad Juarez, five people were murdered across the city. Among the dead was a municipal policeman who was gunned down on his day off. He is the 55th municipal police officer killed this year. In total, 130 policemen from the various law enforcement bodies that operate in Juarez have been killed so far  in 2010.

Saturday, November 20: In Mexico City, authorities began the process to extradite Edgar Valdez Villareal, better known as La Barbie, to the United States. Valdez, 37, was a high ranking lieutenant in the Beltran-Leyva Organization before being captured in August. He is charged in a 2002 indictment in Louisiana and a 1998 indictment in Texas, both for his involvement in cocaine trafficking. Valdez is a US national, as he was born in Laredo, Texas.

Sunday, November 21: In Colima, a former state governor was shot and killed at his home. His wife was wounded in the attack. Cavazos left office in November 2009. He is one of several governors, ex-governors and gubernatorial candidates killed in Mexico in the last few years. Colima has been relatively free of the rampant drug-related violence seen in other parts of the country. The state Secretary of Economic Development, who was visiting Cavazos at the time of the attack, was also wounded in the incident.

In Tepic, Nayarit, five suspected drug traffickers were shot and killed during a series of firefights across the city. The incident began after soldiers began chasing a vehicle with armed men aboard. One gunman was captured in the incident, and two soldiers were wounded.

Monday, November 22: In Colima, police accidentally shot dead a doctor during an operation to find the killers of ex-governor Cavazos.

Tuesday, November 23: In Brownsville, Texas, border patrol agents seized over 700 pounds of marijuana in the remote Flor De Mayo area of the city, which is located off Highway 281 and is just across the Rio Grande. The area is a well-known crossing point for drugs coming from Tamaulipas.

Total Body Count for the Week: 159 / Total Body Count for the Year:  9,241

Source: Stop the Drug War

Canadian Senate Passes Mandatory Minimums for Five Marijuana Plants

The Canadian Senate Friday passed the Conservative government's crime bill, S-10, which institutes mandatory minimum sentences for a number of non-violent drug offenses, including a six-month sentence for growing five pot plants. The bill now heads to the House of Commons for hearings and a vote.

Last year, the bill passed the House, but had been watered down by a Senate amendment raising the bar for mandatory minimums to more than 200 plants. But the bill died before final passage when Prime Minister Steven Harper dissolved parliament. 

This year, after elections strengthened the Conservatives' hand in the Senate, the body of sober second thoughts had no stomach for another fight over the bill, which was reintroduced this spring by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson. Liberal members of parliament counted heads and conceded they couldn't pass the amendment again. Another amendment that would have had the mandatory minimums kick in at 20 plants was defeated earlier.

The bill would impose six-month mandatory minimums for growing five or more plants with the intent to sell and one-year minimums when marijuana dealing is linked to organized crime or a weapon is used. The bill would also impose mandatory minimum one-year sentences for dealing hard drugs when linked to organized crime or weapons and two-year sentences for dealing hard drugs to minors or near a school or other place where young people congregate.

"The bill is a disaster for Canada," said Jacob Hunter of WhyProhibition.ca. "S-10 will imprison thousands of Canadians for victimless crimes, send people to jail for growing 6 marijuana plants, making any hashish or baked goods, and a host of other offenses. There is no evidence that S-10 will work," Hunter said. "Indeed, every scientific study says it will fail. We know that prohibition has never worked, and we know that mandatory minimum sentences only increase the violence in our society."

Activists in Canada are working with opposition parliamentarians in the House of Commons to try to block it there. Stay tuned.

Source: Stop the Drug War

 

About the authors

Charles Shaw is a writer and activist living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. He is the author of Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics and Spirituality, and the Director of The Exile Nation Project. Charles serves as editor for the Dictionary of Ethical Politics and the oD Drug Policy Forum.

Mark Weiss edits the openDemocracy Drug Policy Forum Front Line Report.

He has explored UK drug law for DrugScope and worked with Harm Reduction International,  providing support on UN / EU projects. He holds a Masters in Law from Birkbeck Law School and BA (Hons) in Politics from Queen Mary, University of London.