oD Drug Policy Forum: Front Line Report - Week of December 13th 2010

This week we lead with news of an horrific abuse of power by undercover narcotics agents which saw the unlawful killing of an innocent 92 year old woman and attempt to cover up the crime. The Report also discusses US prison reform, the new UK Government Drug Strategy with analysis from some of the key stakeholders, and includes a groundbreaking new UKDPC report about the stigmatisation of drug users ~ CS & MW
Mark Weiss Charles Shaw
16 December 2010

The Drugs Bust

On November 21, 2006, Kathryn Johnston, age 92, was alone in her home when three Atlanta undercover narcs with a no-knock search warrant based on false information attempted a dynamic entry raid. The elderly woman fired one shot from an old pistol as the intruders tried to break down her door. They responded by firing at least 39 shots at the woman, who died at the scene -- in handcuffs.

No drugs were found. The officers involved attempted to cover their tracks by planting marijuana they had seized in a separate raid. They also tried to get an informer to say that he had provided them with the information in the warrant when he hadn't. The narcs' cover-up unraveled when the informant went to the FBI.

After an investigation by the FBI, five officers pleaded guilty for their roles in the shooting and cover-up. The three officers directly involved in the botched raid are serving sentences of five, six and ten years. Another six were reprimanded for not following departmental policy.

Source: Consciousness Cafe

“Tackle stigma or drug strategy will fail”, UK Drug Policy Commission warns government

Major new study reveals widespread stigma is barrier to drug user recovery

The government’s new drug strategy will fail unless stigma towards recovering drug users is tackled head on, according to a groundbreaking new study from the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) launching today.  Stigma is a major barrier to the successful recovery of drug users, preventing them playing a more positive role in communities and reintegrating into society, says the report.

Getting Serious About Stigma looks at public attitudes towards recovering drug users, revealing a contrasting picture of broad support for rehabilitation but fear and confusion about them.  At the heart of the report is a survey of nearly 3000 UK adults, which shows that: 

  • 81% of people agree that it’s important for people recovering from drug dependence to be part of the normal community


  • 43% would not want to live next door to someone who has been dependent on drugs
  • Only 41% of people would be willing to work with someone with a history of drug dependence
  • 58% agree that one of the main causes of drug dependence is lack of self-discipline and will power
  • One third of respondents felt a person would be foolish to enter into a serious relationship with a person who has suffered from drug dependence, even if they seemed fully recovered.

Professor Colin Blakemore, UKDPC Commissioner and former chief executive of the Medical Research Council oversaw the research.  He said: “If the government’s drug strategy is to succeed, it must first address this very real barrier of stigma.  Our research shows that the public agree that recovering drugs users need help and support to help rebuild their lives.  But they are also seen as blameworthy and to be feared.  These public attitudes spill over into public services, so we see time and again former drug users stigmatised and discriminated against when they try to access services.

To help tackle stigma, Getting Serious About Stigma recommends

  • Government communications and the media to be used more effectively to show the positive effects of rehabilitation and the dangers of stigmatization
  • Training and workforce development for professionals and services, to improve knowledge of drug related issues
  • Action to address institutionalised stigma
  • Support and promotion of  community participation and increased contact with recovering drug users

Getting Serious About Stigma comes only a week after the new cross-Government drug strategy was launched, which emphasised the importance of effective treatment and recovery of drug users. To learn more about this groundbreaking research, and read the report in full, please follow this link

Source: UKDPC

Keeping America’s Prisons Overcrowded

America's prisons, like many of our public schools, reflect our country's most shameful and profound failings. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court took on one aspect of our nation's love affair with incarceration.

In Schwarzenegger vs. Plata, the state of California has challenged a federal court order under the Prison Reform Litigation Act, which requires the state to reduce its prison population to deal with overcrowding. The court found that overpopulation is directly responsible for the failure of the California system to provide inmates with adequate physical and mental health services. California argues that the prison reduction order goes beyond the scope of the statute and infringes on the state's power.

This case is likely to play out before the court and in the media as a battle over states' rights – in this case, the right of the state of California to manage its own prison system – and against the encroachment of federal judges supplanting the judgment of elected leaders. Indeed, 18 states – including Texas – have joined in a brief supporting California and making this very argument.

But there's much more at stake in this case than the age-old "state sovereignty vs. federal courts" story. In fact, the federal court's prison reduction order is something of a last resort – imposed only after eight years in which California, while conceding the unconstitutional overcrowding in its prison system, has failed to reduce its prison population. Built for 80,000 prisoners, the California corrections system houses twice that number. In 2006, a report from a court-ordered receiver determined that until the overpopulation problem was addressed, it would be impossible to fix the prison's health care services.

But the California Legislature has failed to enact a plan to reduce the prison population. There's no political gain to enacting reforms that would release prisoners and create more humane conditions for those who remain incarcerated.

States' rights come with responsibilities. The condition of our prison system is a reflection of irresponsible state and federal policies that have often been politically expedient but fiscally and morally unsound.

Source: November

US: The Verdict on Drug Courts

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 9 percent of Americans are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and less than a quarter of these receive substance abuse treatment.  Another study estimates that 37 percent of those who do are referred by the criminal justice system.  Because of the lack of accessible, community-based resources, many people gain access to the treatment they need only after being arrested. 

In recent years, the use of drug courts-court-regulated treatment and supervision programs that serve as alternatives to incarceration for people arrested for a drug-related offense-has increased dramatically.  There are now nearly 2,500 across all fifty states. 

But though they have helped a small percentage of people struggling with addiction, drug courts may be widening rather than shrinking the net of criminal justice control.  And they have helped delay the expansion of community-based treatment-on-demand that will best reduce addiction and the harms it causes. 

How so? Without drug courts in the mix, some addicts might have received the help they needed without getting involved in the justice system.  Before, if a person was arrested for possession, the prosecutors might have dismissed charges, put him in touch with a social worker or issued a warning or referral for treatment. 

A clear and growing demand for community treatment might have pushed policy-makers to expand resources.  Now well-meaning police, prosecutors and judges send people to drug court, and given the lack of other options, people are often grateful for the opportunity to get treatment. 

The real catch, though, is that generally a person must plead guilty to participate, with the conviction reduced or overturned only if he or she is successful.  Disobeying court rules or experiencing a relapse-which is a natural part of recovery-can result in jail time.  And when people fail drug court, they face traditional sanctions. 

In this way, participants become vulnerable not just to incarceration but to the pervasive after effects of a criminal conviction-which can include difficulty finding employment, being banned from benefits like public housing and food stamps and denied the right to vote.  Those with felony or violent offenses or records are often excluded, even if they are the ones who would benefit most. 

Source: Media Awareness Project

Decriminalizing Poverty

America's drug policy aims to reduce illicit drug use by arresting and incarcerating dealers and, to a lesser extent, users.  Whatever its merits ( and there are some ), the policy is deeply flawed because it is unjust.  It applies only to the disadvantaged.  As such, it reflects massive deficits in the areas of treatment, education and employment. 

Drugs are intensively criminalized among the poor but largely unregulated among the rich.  The pot, coke and ecstasy that enliven college dorms, soothe the middle-class time bind and ignite the octane of capitalism on Wall Street are unimpeded by the street sweep, the prison cell and the parole-mandated urine tests that are routine in poor neighborhoods. 

The drug war is nitro to the ghetto's glycerin.  In neighborhoods of mass unemployment, family breakdown and untreated addiction, punitive drug policy ( and its sibling, the war on crime ) has outlawed large tracts of everyday life.  By 2008 one in nine black men younger than 35 was in prison or jail.  Among black male dropouts in their mid-30s, an astonishing 60 percent have served time in state or federal prison. 

The reach of the penal system extends beyond the prison population to families and communities.  There are now 2.7 million children with a parent in prison or jail.  There are 1.2 million African-American children with incarcerated parents ( one in nine ), and more than half of those parents were convicted of a drug or other nonviolent offense. 

In the absence of any serious effort to improve economic opportunity, particularly among young men with little schooling, drug control has become our surrogate social policy.  For all the billions spent on draconian criminalization, addiction remains a scourge of the disadvantaged in inner cities and small towns, drugs are still plentiful and the drug trade remains a ready but risky source of casual employment for low-education men and women with no legitimate prospects.  Though drugs are at the center of an array of serious social problems in low-income communities, things are made worse by a dysfunctional policy in which arrest, imprisonment and a criminal record have become a normal part of life. 

The most important lesson policy-makers can take from this historic failure of social engineering is that the drug problem depends only a little on the narcotics themselves, and overwhelmingly on the social and economic context in which they are traded and taken. 

Our best research shows that criminal justice reform must be buttressed by drug treatment, education and employment.  These measures complement one another.  A less punitive drug control regime acknowledges relapse as a likely stage on the road to recovery.  Keeping people out of prison can carry a steep social cost unless they're meaningfully occupied.  In this context, school and work are as important for the stability and routine they provide as for the opportunities they expand. 

The drug war made an enemy of the poor. A successful ceasefire must do more than lift the burden of criminal punishment. It must begin to restore order and predictability to economic and family life, reducing vulnerability not just to drugs but to the myriad

Source: Media Awareness Project

Ed Miliband rebukes Bob Ainsworth over 'legalise drugs' call

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said today that the legalisation of drugs would send out "the wrong message" to young people as he distanced himself from a Labour backbencher's calls for a "grown-up debate" on the issue.

Bob Ainsworth, the MP for Coventry North East, who previously served as a drugs minister in the Home Office and as defence secretary, has claimed that the war on drugs has been "nothing short of a disaster" and that it was time to study other options, including decriminalising possession of drugs and legally regulating their production and supply.

His comments were met with dismay by the party leadership, while fellow backbencher John Mann claimed that Ainsworth "doesn't know what he's talking about".A spokeswoman for Miliband made clear that Ainsworth's comments did not have the blessing of the leadership or the wider party. She said: "These are not the views of Ed Miliband, the Labour party or the wider British public."

A party source described the legalisation proposal as "extremely irresponsible", adding: "I don't know what he was thinking." The Labour leader told Sky News: "I am all in favour of fresh thinking on drugs. I don't agree with him on decriminalisation of drugs — I worry about the effects on young people, the message that we would be sending out.

"I have great respect for Bob as a person. On this one I don't agree with him but he is absolutely entitled to his view and he has the freedom to say things as he sees fit." Ainsworth, who claimed that his departure from the frontbenches now allowed him to express his "long-held view" on drugs policy, is due to lay out his case later today at a debate in Westminster Hall.

He said his ministerial stint in the Home Office made him see that prohibition failed to reduce the harm that drugs cause in the UK, while his time as defence secretary with specific responsibilities in Afghanistan, "showed to me that the war on drugs creates the very conditions that perpetuate the illegal trade, while undermining international development and security".

He called on those on all sides of the debate to support "an independent, evidence-based review, exploring all policy options, including further resourcing the war on drugs, decriminalising the possession of drugs, and legally regulating their production and supply".

Source: The Guardian

Victory: NIU Allows Drug Policy Reform Group on Campus

Young adults are the most vehement critics of the war on drugs, with polls showing voters under 35 overwhelmingly oppose marijuana prohibition in particular. But when Jeremy Orbach tried to start a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at Northern Illinois University (NIU) to channel anger with the status quo into action, the student government stopped him, refusing to even allow his group to organize and post fliers on campus. 

But after challenging the school administration to defend free speech -- and after more than 230 Change.org members wrote NIU President John G. Peters demanding he intervene -- Orbach reports the university is overturning the decision and recognizing his chapter of SSDP as a student organization.

“We’ve done it,” Orbach tells Change.org. “We’ve gotten it done.”

As he explained in an interview earlier this week, Orbach founded the NIU chapter of SSDP about nine months ago after attending an on-campus debate about marijuana legalization. “When I walked in, I noticed the fact that there were many hundreds of students at Northern Illinois that really obviously had a passion toward changing drug laws, and specifically marijuana policy.”

But when Orbach tried to get his group recognized as a “social advocacy” organization, the NIU Student Association (SA) Senate refused to do so, ordering him to instead apply for recognition as a “political” group, an arbitrary distinction that would deny it the funding from student fees that other campus organizations -- many decidedly political -- receive.

To read more about this extraordinary attempt to deny free speech, please follow this link

Source: Criminal Justice

Drug strategy 2010

On 8 December the government launched its new drug strategy, 'Reducing demand, restricting supply, building recovery: supporting people to live a drug-free life'.

A major change to government policy, the 2010 strategy sets out a fundamentally different approach to preventing drug use in our communities, and in supporting recovery from drug and alcohol dependence. 

The strategy has recovery at its heart. It:

  • puts more responsibility on individuals to seek help and overcome dependency
  • places emphasis on providing a more holistic approach, by addressing other issues in addition to treatment to support people dependent on drugs or alcohol, such as offending, employment and housing
  • aims to reduce demand
  • takes an uncompromising approach to crack down on those involved in the drug supply both at home and abroad
  • puts power and accountability in the hands of local communities to tackle drugs and the harms they cause

With regards to devolved powers, the coverage of the new strategy is as follows:

  • health, education, housing and social care – confined to England
  • policing and the criminal justice system – England and Wales
  • the work of the Department for Work and Pensions – England, Wales and Scotland  

You can view the strategy and its associated documents (the impact assessment and equality screening document).

Source: Home Office

Alcohol Concern Respond to the New Drug Strategy

The Home Office has released its new Drug Strategy outlining the government's approach to tackling drugs and addressing alcohol dependence.

The Strategy (Drug Strategy 2010: Reducing demand, restricing supply, building recovery: supporting people to live a drug free life) focuses on drug-free recovery, rather than reducing the harms caused by drug misuse and puts responsibility on individuals to seek help and overcome their dependency.  The Strategy recognises that severe alcohol dependence raises similar issues to drug use and dependency and that treatment providers are often "one and the same".

The Strategy has two overarching aims to:

  • Reduce illicit and other harmful drug use, and
  • Increase the numbers recovering from their dependence

The Strategy also commits the government to work with "the sector and local authorities and communities to examine the development of a Payment by Results process to develop local accountability and transparency for housing-related support services for people dependent on drugs and/or alcohol".  Read more.

Source: Alcohol Concern

Addaction responds to the new drug strategy

"In many ways, the strategy mirrors existing working practices at Addaction, and across the treatment sector. It is rightly ambitious, and we are pleased to see it recognise that a number of approaches are needed to tackle the devastating impact that drugs and alcohol have on society - as well as increasing the focus on supporting people to recover from their addictions.

"It also recognises that people who have overcome their own problems can offer a vital support and mentoring role to others. When it works, it can greatly enhance the chances of someone successfully achieving long-term recovery. Addaction has played a lead role in taking this approach forward across the UK. We believe more opportunities for mutual support among those addicted is a vital part of the range of support offered. We're therefore glad to see the new strategy recognise this as a vital part of the services and support on offer to those addicted to drugs.

"We are also pleased to see an increased focus on the effect drugs and alcohol have on the families of the people who use them. For a number of years, Addaction has been working with such families, and to great effect. What is needed now is a continued resolve to ensure that, in these tough financial times, there is enough support across the country to get people free of dependency".

Source: Addaction 

NTA Response to the Publication of the National Drug Strategy (2010)

Paul Hayes, Chief Executive of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse (NTA), said:

"As a keystone of the new Public Health England, the NTA looks forward to delivering on an ambitious new drug strategy firmly focussed on getting users into full recovery. 

"Investment in drug treatment over the last ten years has meant effective help is quickly and widely available.  Now we must repeat this success for those with more severe alcohol dependence.

"At the same time, we must become more ambitious for all those seeking treatment for drug and alcohol problems and offer them a route out of dependency. 

"This can only happen if we consider the needs of the whole person and work closely  with partners in training and employment, housing and family support, wider health services and the criminal justice sector to provide seamless  support throughout.

"The task is challenging but, by encouraging these individuals to recover and start contributing to society, we can bring about huge change in our local communities making them better, healthier and safer places in which to live and work." 

Source: National Treatment Agency

DrugScope responds to the publication of the 2010 drug strategy

Martin Barnes, Chief Executive of DrugScope, said: “The strategy gives a strong emphasis on supporting treatment and recovery. We welcome the content, tone and approach outlined in the strategy, particularly the need to build on progress achieved, putting individuals at the heart of recovery and working with a range of services, such as training, housing and wider health services.

“The aspiration for treatment and recovery is to be applauded, but the challenge will be ensuring that high level ambition is delivered and sustained locally, not least at a time of policy change, uncertainty and spending cuts. We welcome the fact that the benefit system will offer support for recovery rather than additional targeted sanctions and that the need to work with potential employers is recognised. In promoting a recovery agenda the Government needs to ensure doors are opened for people wanting to reintegrate into society and get back into work.

“The next couple of years will be a period of transition and managing the process will be crucial in delivering the change the Government has outlined. It is imperative that local authorities and communities are fully engaged in supporting the strategy, and that the strong case for partnership, investment and support for problem drug users and their families is demonstrated.”

Dependence on prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drug use is mentioned in the introduction, with a commitment that the Strategy will address these issues, but there is then no further mention in the document. However, DrugScope notes that the Department of Health has yet to publish its review into dependence on prescription and OTC drugs and awaits this with interest.

It is encouraging to see the commitment to evidence-based drug policy and continued scientific involvement in the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the acknowledgement that treatment services must meet the needs of minority groups.

Source: DrugScope

Russia and Methadone: Breaking the Ice

HCLU’s video advocacy team attended a press conference organized by the Russian delegation in Vienna at the  Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), where the representatives of the world's governments discussed the burning questions of international drug control policies.

We asked Mr. Viktor Ivanov, the head of the Federal Drug Control Service, the largest anti-drug agency in the world, to explain why his country does not tackle the demand side problems present in Russia with evidence based interventions, such as Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST).

Mr. Ivanov’s answer was partly disappointing. He said there is no evidence that methadone treatment works and in those former Soviet countries where OST was introduced it proved to be a failure. However, he also said that there is a possibility to experiment with methadone in the regional level. When on the next day we asked Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the UN agency on drugs (UNODC) to comment, he expressed his disagreement with Mr. Ivanov concerning the effectiveness of OST. He emphasized that despite his general disapproval of OST Mr. Ivanov said there is a possibility to introduce methadone programs in the regional level.

Source: Drug Reporter

'The Nation' magazine special issue / cover feature on ending the Drug War

Great to see yet more mainstream media coverage of the drug law reform debate, this time in a special issue  of The Nation Magazine. The cover story includes a visual riff on the logo of the infamous D.A.R.E drug prevention program, a gag used previously by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP is covered in one of the feature articles, by SSDP director Aaron Houston - see below).  

The feature content list is as follows (most available online for non-subscribers):

Watch Speakers from Transform's 'Ending the War on Drugs' Event

We have now uploaded footage of the speakers at our 'Ending the War on Drugs' event which has held last month in London.

This was a really successful event, with some great speeches from a range of people who each provided their own particular insight into the so-called 'War on Drugs'.

The speakers are Angus MacQueen, award-winning documentary maker and director of the recent Channel 4 series 'Our Drugs War'; Carel Edwards, former head of the European Commission's Anti-Drug Coordinating Unit; and Misha Glenny, a specialist on Southeastern Europe and author of 'McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime'.

Source: Transform

"We don't have no drugs education"

A recent journal article explores students’ and teachers’ impressions of drug education in schools. Fletcher et al have carried out a qualitative study in 4 schools. A total of 50 students and 10 teachers were questioned in semi structured interviews regarding drug education in schools and teachers were questioned about their schools drug policy. This research project sought to gain an insight into pupils’ opinions regarding the drug education that they had received and teachers’ reflections regarding the implementation of their schools’ drug policy.

The research concludes that pupils reported little or indeed no drug education during their time at secondary school with 70% reporting that they had no drugs education. Students spoke of learning about drugs from family experience or the media however, none of the students interviewed had used government sources such as websites.

Teachers spoke of the schools’ responsibility to educate young people regarding drugs however they acknowledged that the provision of this was limited due to the pressures of assessed subject areas and league tables. Teachers acknowledged that it was ‘squeezed’ into timetables and it depended on how comfortable the individual teacher felt in delivering drugs education.

Regarding drugs policies in schools, teachers spoke of there being a drug policy but drug education itself was not a priority for schools. Schools were using other mechanisms to prevent drug use such as surveillance television, police officers on sight, spot checks and also counselling. This was regarded by some pupils as stigmatising. Teachers even spoke of issues being ignored by senior members of staff to avoid negative attention.   

Although this is a small study it shows an interesting picture and the authors call for further research to establish whether these results can be generalised and reflect a national picture.

Source: The Drug Education Forum

Mexican border city hits 3,000 dead in drug war

MEXICO CITY -- This year's death toll in drug-related violence in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, the hardest hit by Mexico's drug war, rose to 3,000 Tuesday after two men were shot dead on a street, authorities said.

Ciudad Juarez has seen its homicide rate rise to one of the highest in the world after vicious turf battles broke out between gangs representing the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels in 2008.

That year, 1,623 people were killed in drug-related violence, and the toll increased to 2,763 deaths in 2009.

With prosecutors' spokesman Arturo Sandoval announcing the latest grim milestone, a total of 7,386 people have died in the city of 1.3 million people across the border from El Paso, Texas, in three years. Most were members of rival drug gangs, but civilians, police and recovering drug addicts have also been targeted.

More than 28,000 people have died throughout Mexico in the four years since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels when he took office in December 2006.  The U.S. Embassy touted Mexico's increased cooperation in anti-drug efforts, noting in a statement that on Tuesday Mexico extradited 14 suspects wanted in the United States on drug, organized crime, money laundering, weapons and homicide charges.

The extraditions "represent another victory in our joint fight against organized crime," the embassy said. And touting Mexico's own successes in the offensive, Calderon said Tuesday that a big party led to the demise of a drug cartel chief, who was killed in a shootout with federal police. The La Familia gang invited hundreds of people to a party last week in the western city of Apatzingan and didn't bother to keep it a secret, Calderon said in an interview with W Radio.

Federal police learned about it and the shootout broke out when they arrived to investigate, he said. The government says that La Familia leader Nazario Moreno, nicknamed "The Craziest One," was killed in battles that lasted two days and in President Calderon’s words dealt “La Familia cartel the biggest blow in its history."

To read more about this story, follow this link

Source: The Washington Post

Jump in South-East Asian opium poppy cultivation

The 2010 South-East Asia Opium Survey was released today and shows a surge in opium cultivation in the region over the past year.  Combining the UNODC Lao PDR and Myanmar Opium Surveys as well as information on poppy cultivation in Thailand from that country's Office of the Narcotics Control Board, the Survey points to rising levels of opium poppy cultivation across all three countries.

It also highlights the continued high opium prices seen in recent years.  For 2010 the potential value for opium production in South-East Asia rose dramatically to US$ 219 million - an increase of US$ 100 million over the 2009 estimate, and a monetary jump of 82%.

In terms of cultivation, there was a 22 per cent increase between 2009 and 2010 in the region as a whole.  Myanmar experienced the biggest increase in actual area with cultivation climbing by 6,400 hectares (ha), or 20 per cent, to reach 38,100 ha in 2010.  The Survey shows that while opium poppy cultivation in South-East Asia remains well below the peak figures of the mid-1990s, the year-on-year increase over the past four years, from the low point in 2006, has been relentlessly upward.

In releasing the Survey, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov noted: "While Governments have increased their eradication efforts, the potential opium production in 2010 is estimated to have increased by approximately 75 per cent when compared to 2009."  On the causes of these increases, Mr. Fedotov stated: "Poverty and instability are two of the drivers which push farmers to grow - or sometimes return to growing - illicit crops". 

Regrettably, while progress has been made in reducing poppy fields over the past decade, the recent global economic crisis appears to have exacerbated the situation for poor communities and tempted many to enter the drug market.  The rising price of opium over the last few years has also been instrumental in making opium cultivation an attractive option for many.

Source: UNODC

Taking a recovery-based approach to drug policy

Drug treatment is the best way to tackle the harms caused by drug use. It helps people to overcome dependence, reduces drug use, improves health and reduces offending. Treatment also relieves communities and families from the very serious harms that drugs cause them.

But treatment can only be the beginning. It is not an end in itself. Long-term treatment is costly and needs wider support to make it effective. In the new drug strategy, the focus is on recovery – making people productive members of society, not just treating their dependence. Not just making them go cold turkey and throwing them back out into their old lives and old ways where drug use is again the norm.

It's very rare that people turn to drugs out of the blue. Dependence is a product of much wider circumstances. Poor education, poor housing, a chaotic upbringing, low self-esteem, debt, violence – the list goes on.

There are about 320,000 problem drug-users in England. These are people who use crack and/or heroin and commit crime to fund their habit. Drug dependence in this country costs the taxpayer more than £15bn a year – an appalling human and financial cost.

So we are very clear that it's not just about treatment and getting people off drugs. We need to focus on giving people a life. Re-integrating them into their families and into better health. Treatment and recovery needs to be personalised. That's why we're going to give local commissioners and local directors of public health the power and the budget to decide how best to help those dependent on drugs in their local population.

We are creating a new public health service – Public Health England – which will be led by local public health experts and local councils and be funded by a ringfenced budget. This new service will incorporate the work of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse and will give local people the opportunity to decide their own treatment programmes. We'll expect them to make their local population more healthy, but we won't be telling them how to do it.

And we're going to start a new programme of drugs recovery pilots. We are going to test ways to incentivise and reward drug treatment providers that help people to recover from their drug dependency and get people into work. This is groundbreaking territory for drug treatment. Payment by results for drug recovery programmes has never been developed anywhere in the world.

What's our key aim here? Do we want people to stop taking drugs and live clean lives for ever? I'm very realistic about that. Clearly, our ultimate goal is to enable people to get drug-free – something we know is the aim of the vast majority of people entering drug treatment. And supporting people to live a drug-free life is at the heart of our recovery ambition. But recovery is a unique journey for each drug user. It will mean different things to different people. So I fully acknowledge that substitute-prescribing has a role to play.

Everyone who wants to improve their lives needs inspiration. So we're introducing a network of community recovery champions – people who have recovered from their drug dependency and will take on a mentoring role to others seeking help. People tell us they are most motivated to start their own recovery journey by seeing people who were in a similar situation and have made progress. 

Source: The Guardian 

Beyond the Fair Sentencing Act

This year's historic vote in Congress to scale back the harsh and racially disparate mandatory sentences for federal crack cocaine offenses was a watershed event in the long campaign for a more rational approach to drug policy. The Fair Sentencing Act is expected to benefit about 3,000 defendants a year, with an average sentence reduction of twenty-seven months.

Defendants convicted of possessing as little as five grams of crack—the weight of two pennies—no longer receive a mandatory five years in prison, and the quantity-based sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses has been significantly reduced. The true value of the new law will be seen, however, only if it helps to open the door to more widespread drug policy reform. As welcome as the reforms are, they leave in place the broad structure of mandatory sentencing for most drug offenses, under which judges have no discretion to consider mitigating circumstances such as the defendant's age, parenthood or history of abuse.

In recent years states across the nation have been re-evaluating the excesses of their sentencing policies. In Michigan the extreme "650 Lifer Law," whereby even a first-time offender convicted of selling 650 grams of heroin or cocaine would receive a sentence of life without parole (the same as for first-degree murder), was finally scaled back in the late 1990s after being on the books for twenty years. Former Republican Governor William Milliken, who had signed the law into effect, called it "the worst mistake of my career."

The federal crack reform continues this incremental move toward more rational sentencing policies, but much work remains to be done. Drug courts, for example, have been shown to help divert low-level offenders into treatment rather than prison, but many impose strict criteria for admission, often focusing on cases in which prison terms would be unlikely to be imposed even without the program. School-zone drug laws, imposed with the inarguable goal of reducing drug sales to children, often apply as well to drug sales between consenting adults. This has a predictable racial impact, because large portions of densely populated urban areas, disproportionately comprising communities of color, lie within a school zone.

To read more from this article, please follow this link 

Source: The Nation

Senators Introduce Bill to Create Western Hemisphere Drug Commission

US Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Dick Lugar (R-IN) last Wednesday introduced a bill that would create an independent commission to evaluate US policies and programs aimed at reducing the supply of and demand for illegal drugs in the Americas. Similar legislation sponsored by Reps. Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Connie Mack (R-FL) passed the House one year to the day earlier. 

The bill, the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission Act of 2010, also known as SB 4001, would also require that the commission recommend a multiyear anti-drug strategy to address what the members called "the escalating security crisis in the hemisphere fueled by the illicit narcotics trade." That strategy will “describe the assistance required to achieve regional counternarcotics goals and methodology for countering shifts in production and transit routes by producers and traffickers due to pressure from counternarcotics efforts." If the comments of Sens. Menendez and Lugar below are any indication, the commission's charge will not be to come up with an alternative to drug prohibition, but to find more effective means of prosecuting the drug war.

"While we have had some notable successes in the hemisphere, the plague of narcotics and organized crime has surged in Mexico and Central America and remains an intractable problem in much of the rest of the region," said Sen. Menendez on introducing the bill. "Despite the billions of dollars spent on counternarcotics efforts in the Western Hemisphere, hard data proves that the positive results have been limited and that we still face a very real challenge."

"Though we still have a long way to go, it is clear efforts to fight the common threat posed to the hemisphere by drug traffickers and organized crime are showing some positive results. It is also clear that many of these efforts should be strengthened," said Sen. Lugar. "As the creation of this commission suggests, the United States should undertake a broad review of further steps. I am especially interested in efforts to bolster the role of the US military and the intelligence community to help combat cartels.”

The US government has poured tens of billions of dollars into fighting the hemispheric war on drugs in recent decades, but has little to show for it.  It is hard to have confidence that this new Drug Commission will contribute to providing a solution to these problems. To read more, please follow this link

Source: Stop the Drug War

DrugScope responds to publication of the Green Paper on Rehabilitation and Sentencing

Kenneth Clarke, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, has outlined government proposals to reduce levels of re-offending among adult and young offenders in a Green Paper on Rehabilitation and Sentencing. Of particular relevance to the substance misuse sector is a commitment to increase diversion of those with drug, alcohol and mental health problems from prison and into treatment, in recognition of the fact that continuing substance misuse problems, especially drugs, were a key factor in the high level of re-offending.

There was also recognition of the importance of employment and training as key components of recovery. The Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle: Effective punishment, rehabilitation and setencing of offenders will be subject to a 12 week consultation process. Commenting on the proposals, Martin Barnes, Chief Executive of DrugScope said: “It is encouraging that the government recognises the importance of substance misuse treatment as a critical element in rehabilitation and diverting offenders from prison.

“Currently 29 per cent of referrals into community drug treatment are referrals from the criminal justice system.It is in the interests of offenders, their families and the wider community to build on this.

“While it is vital that we have a robust drug treatment system within the prison system, the recent Patel Report reviewing prison drug treatment highlighted the problems in delivering effective drug treatment to short stay offenders. But if the intention is to increase the numbers going into community drug treatment, then drug treatment budgets will - at the very least - need to be maintained.” 

Source: DrugScope

ATLAS 2010: First global report on substance use disorders launched

To better prevent and treat alcohol and illicit drug use disorders, the World Health Organization has launched the first global report on resources currently in use to respond to these health concerns. The Atlas on substance abuse: Resources for the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders has collected information from 147 countries, representing 88% of the world's population. It has a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries.

"Alcohol and illicit drugs are harming millions of people in many ways, from becoming dependent on such substances to causing a range of other health problems, such as injuries, cardiovascular diseases, HIV and hepatitis C or cancers," says Dr Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. 

Dr Saxena adds: "WHO's new Atlas on substance abuse lays out what resources exist today in different parts of the world to reduce this harm, and highlights critical gaps in service delivery which should be overcome." The report analyses issues such as levels of government funding, staffing, policies, legislation and information, detailing measures that meet health needs for people with substance use disorders, and highlighting gaps and challenges. Key findings include:

Many more people suffer from alcohol use disorders compared to drug use disorders, and both types are more common in men than women

  • Alcohol causes the highest demand for treatment of substance use disorders in most WHO regions bar the Region of the Americas, where treatment demand is mainly for cocaine use disorders
  • Alcohol kills every year 35 people and illicit drugs kill four people per every 100,000 people
  • Two-thirds of countries have a government unit or official responsible for treating substance use disorders, and under 50% have a specific budget for treating such disorders
  • In Africa, out-of-pocket payments are the main funding method for treating alcohol and drug use disorders. Africa is also the only WHO region with the fewest countries with substance abuse policies

To learn more about this new WHO Report, please follow this link

Source: WHO 

Commission Calls for Rethink on Proposals on the Role and Membership of the ACMD

UK Drug Policy Commission statement on Government proposals about the role and membership of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

The UK Drug Policy Commission at its meeting today (7 December) called on the government to revisit the proposals set out in the recently published Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill which affect the role and membership of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The Bill proposes two things:

(i) Removal of the requirement for the ACMD to have members with certain specified scientific expertise. (ii) The introduction of new powers to make temporary banning orders for new drugs, and 

On ACMD membership: Dame Ruth Runciman, Chair of the UK Drug Policy Commission said, “We have some sympathy with Home Office Ministers desire to have some flexibility with regard to membership of the ACMD. But in removing any formal requirement to have scientists as members they are at risk of ‘throwing the evidence baby out with the bathwater’.

The UKDPC suggests that the Misuse of Drugs Act could easily be reworded so that the Home Secretary would, after due consultation, appoint people with a background from one of four broad areas. This would include: 

  • Scientists from the natural and physical sciences (such as neuroscience; pharmacology, medicine and toxicology).
  • Experts from the social and behavioral sciences (such as epidemiology, psychology; social policy, criminology and public health).
  • Experts with backgrounds in tackling drugs (for example from drug treatment, health and social care, prevention, education and youth work and criminal justice).
  • People affected by drugs (eg service users and/or their families). This approach would overcome the concerns of many people that the role of science, research and evidence is being sidelined”.

On Temporary Banning Orders: The UKDPC also considered the proposal in the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill to temporarily ban new substances. This allows the Home Secretary to make a banning order but, unfortunately, does not, as the draft legislation stands, require the Home Secretary to formally consult the ACMD prior to making the order. 

The UKDPC believes this oversight could easily be remedied by introducing an additional safeguarding condition (to the two already proposed) that the Secretary of State consults with and seeks the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs before exercising the power.

Source: UKDPC


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