09/26/18 Monique Tula

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Monique Tula
Hannah Hetzer
Harm Reduction Coalition

Monique Tula, the Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition re forthcoming conference Oct 18-21 & need to refocus US efforts on drug addiction + Hannah Hetzer of Drug Policy Alliance re Trumps "taking charge" of drug problem at UN + UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Donald Trump & Dallas Pastor George Mason re shooting of Botham Shem Jean.

Audio file


SEPTEMBER 26, 2018


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We're on a new day of the week here on KPFT, the mothership of the Drug Truth Network. Shouldn't make much difference to the rest of the affiliates, so let's get going.

Next month I'm going to New Orleans. I'm going to attend the Harm Reduction Coalition conference. It's a major event. They seek ways to, as the name would indicate, reduce the harms of the drug war. I'm real glad that we have with us at this time the executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, Monique Tula. Hello, Monique.

MONIQUE TULA: Well hello, thank you for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Monique, the recognition of the harms of the drug war, I think, seems to be growing, expanding, folks are starting to realize that we've been doing this wrong for decades on end. Would you agree with that thought?

MONIQUE TULA: Well, I certainly would. I think that's really spot-on. You know, it's a pretty complex conversation, but you know, I go around the country, talking about the ways in which this fifty-year-long drug war has harmed communities, you know, I feel like there -- our communities are not better off than when Nixon started his drug war, you know, five decades ago.

Sometimes I say I've come to believe that we've replaced nooses with bullets, and plantations with prisons, when we look at the number of people who are incarcerated, more -- almost forty percent of them are there for drug related offenses [sic]. It's the direction that we're heading in, that we've been heading in, is, you know, not about helping people, but really pulling people out of society that could use support in different ways.

DEAN BECKER: You bet, that's so true, Monique. You know, I think about the situation that there are more and more politicians willing to speak more boldly, more and more media outlets willing to speak more boldly, but they all kind of bite their tongue, they hold back a little bit, especially the politicians, in joining together, in banding together, to write better laws and to move them forward. It's not as taboo as it once was, but it's still -- keeps people at a bit of a distance. Your thought there.

MONIQUE TULA: You know, the zero tolerance policies of this war on drugs were based on the assumption that strict enforcement and punishment reduces personal drug use, and consequently demand for drugs.

But you and I know that despite decades of, you know, a decades-long massive display of force in communities across the US, we're still the largest consumer of narcotics in the world, and your listeners probably have heard this statistic before, almost thirty million Americans report using an illicit substance in the past month. That doesn't include alcohol or legitimate prescriptions for pain medication.

You know, what happens to those figures when you include legal drugs. You know, it's far easier to judge people who use drugs than to see them as human beings that are deserving of connection and care.

So one thing that happened in the recent few years with the opioid crisis and the ensuing overdose epidemic is that we have communities of people, families, who either are -- who've been directly impacted and have some access and some influence on our legislators, and so it's been, you know, an arduous -- the reason, what brings them to legislative halls and offices, you know, is pretty horrific.

But they've been able to move, there's been a shift in terms of the way folks are seen, the way people who use drugs are seen, that they're less of a, you know, scourge on humanity, but really people who are often trying to mitigate the previous or concomitant stress and impact of trauma or mental health issues.

So yeah, we are starting to see some movement, it's refreshing, and certainly a very different stance than we've seen over the past thirty, forty, fifty years.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah, that's very true, Monique. You know, I think about, I'm looking at y'all's website, by the way, dear listener, is I'm looking at the issues page, and I'm going to just kind of go down this list. One of the things it's showing at the top is syringe access, and you know, there are states and cities around the country where that is available, they have the syringe exchange and they help people avoid sharing needles, and thus avoid the sharing of diseases as well.

And at the same time, they offer help if people need it, and to look for treatment, and so forth, and my state of Texas passed a law, it's been, I don't know, 12 years ago, they were going to allow the city of San Antonio to be an experiment, to do needle exchange, and yet, the mayor said not in my town, and it's not happened as of yet. And, you know, there is a not in my back yard syndrome that goes around. Talk about that and how that's changing, if you will.

MONIQUE TULA: Well, it's this, you know, there's a slow movement. We have, we're launching a new initiative called Getting To Fifty. It's a little bit of a riff, if you're familiar with the HIV world, there's an initiative called Getting To Zero. So the idea there is no more, no new HIV cases. Right? So zero HIV cases.

Well, our spin on this particular initiative, Getting To Fifty, is ensuring that every state in the union, and the territories, have robust, sustainable policies that allow for the access -- excuse me, the expansion of syringe access programs.

So, to your point, there are about a third of the states, Texas being one of them, that do not have policies that allow syringe service programs or syringe access programs to open up, and, you know, what we find is that because of the opioid crisis and again the ensuing overdose epidemic, more and more communities are becoming vulnerable to chronic illnesses like HIV or hepatitis C, and certainly overdoses.

And so, you know, there's a level of geographic isolation, so if you don't -- if you live in an area that doesn't have a legal syringe service program, then you struggle to find sterile equipment to use, and until someone is ready to stop using, they're going to continue doing, you know, what we -- what we hope, you know, they're going to continue to behave in manners that we want them, you know, we want them to change. Right?

And so what harm reduction does, what my organization is, we'll come into communities, we'll work with local legislators or municipal leaders, we'll work with direct service providers, so people working directly with people who use drugs, and help them to shift their mindset so that they understand that until somebody is ready to stop using, they still have a right to, you know, health and wellbeing.

And so the Getting To Fifty initiative is really just that, expanding, really sort of a culture shift, getting people to think differently about people who use drugs. You know, they say that, and I don't like to use this term, but, you know, the saying is a dead junkie can never recover. Right?


MONIQUE TULA: So our whole -- our whole focus is making sure that people have the tools and resources that they need to keep themselves alive until they're ready to make different choices.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Again folks, we're speaking with Monique Tula. She's executive director, Harm Reduction Coalition. Monique, kind tied in with the syringe exchange, or step beyond that if you will, are the safe injection facilities. The idea that cities or counties within these United States would set up facilities where drug users could come in and safely use their drugs with a medical supervisor, or monitor, on hand, should them overdose.

It hasn't happened yet. It's certainly succeeded, I've visited Insite in Vancouver, they've -- it is an amazing facility. It's happening in cities around the world, but as yet it's not happening here in these United States, though San Francisco may be our first. Is that correct?

MONIQUE TULA: It may be. We have the support of the mayor. It's been a long journey, but we definitely have the support of the mayor, the city council, the city department of health.

As you mentioned, you know, there are, we call them safe consumption spaces, recognizing that not everybody uses a needle. Right?


MONIQUE TULA: And so if they are using some other mode of administration like smoking, for example, they still run the risk of overdose, and so, anyway, that's just a little bit of a twist on the name, safe consumption spaces rather than focusing exclusively on syringe or injection.

But yeah, there's, you know, about a hundred programs like these operating around the world. There's hundreds of scientific articles and reports about safe consumption spaces, you know, they're evidence based and peer reviewed studies that demonstrate the positive impact for both individual and the public health.

You know, they're cost effective -- excuse me, they're cost effective, they increase uptake into drug treatment programs, which can lead to cessation. They reduce public drug use and other social order programs, including discarded syringes and other litter. You know, the folks who attend these programs have access to medical providers or prevention information and tools to reduce infectious diseases like HIV and hep C.

And of course, they eliminate drug overdose deaths due to immediate access to medical care, to naloxone, which is the antidote to an opioid overdose. And they've also been found to not actually lead to increased injection drug use, not to lead to increased crime, and I think, you know, lastly, and probably the most important thing, is that they engage typically hard to reach populations.

So folks who have lost trust in health care systems, who are targeted by law enforcement, walk into these places and have immediate access to medical professionals, mental health and social service professionals.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Monique, as we're wrapping this up, I want to bring forward this thought, that what's changing, what's influencing many of these politicians, what's influencing many within the media, is a recognition, an awareness, that we had 72,000 Americans die last year because they didn't know what was in the bag, they didn't know what they were taking.

It reaches back to the early days of this, when, you know, they were talking about the street corner vendors that were selling the crap that was killing people. Well, we have just expanded that problem, we have exacerbated, when carfentanyl, a gram of it is equivalent to five thousand doses of heroin.

MONIQUE TULA: That's right.

DEAN BECKER: We don't know what in the heck we're doing insofar as trying to control these supposed controlled substances. We are a complete failure at that, are we not?

MONIQUE TULA: Well, yeah, I would agree, you know, the current regime doesn't appear to be drastically different from, you know, those of fifty or even a hundred years ago when we first started seeing drug policy in this country.

You know, there's this belief that our borders are the reason behind the opioid crisis, you know, and so the answer is to build the wall or lock up or you know incarcerate or put to death people who don't or can't conform to society's rules, deprive people of the basic right to human, you know, to affordable healthcare, while prescribing us a pill to fix every little thing that ails us, you know?

We're living in an era where more and more people are experiencing inner-generational trauma and poverty and social isolation, which leads to homelessness, increased drug use, you know, and so, they're turning to drugs to cope, and the drug supply is more dangerous than ever, you know, your listeners I'm sure can't watch the news or scroll through their social media feed without seeing another death to drug related overdose, and I think, you know, just the last piece is that while drug policy historically has targeted black and brown people, we have a whole group of folks who are now coming online, who are not black and brown, who are disproportionately affected by these racialized drug policies.

You know, what -- the life expectancy for white American men, for example, is, without a college education, is declining, and for the first time in decades, what's killing the white working class isn't diabetes or heart disease, it's alcohol induced liver failure and opioid addiction.

So we need a fresh evidence based approach, to rethinking the way that we engage with people who use drugs, and that begins with our policy makers.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Wow. Thank you, Monique, for that. Well, as we're wrapping it up here, as I indicated at the beginning here, we're, or I will be there, and I'm sure you will too, at the Harm Reduction Coalition conference taking place in October in the city of New Orleans. Give us some details, when is it, and who's going to be there?

MONIQUE TULA: Well, sure. So, it is the largest harm reduction conference in the country. It happens every two years. This is our twelfth conference. As you mentioned, it's in New Orleans, taking place October 18 through the 21. We are just about sold out of hotel rooms, so if you're interested in coming, please register now. If you've never been, I can tell you you've never experienced a conference quite like it.

Our program is purely abstract driven, so what that means is everyone who comes to the conference who wants to submit an abstract, because they've got something to say, some strategy that they want to share, they get to really help drive the content and the feel of the program.

So, it's a wonderful group of people, some of which have been coming to the conference for the last twenty years that we've been doing it. We've got people who are effected by the drug war, you know, coming directly from communities that have been effected by the drug war. We've got people who use drugs themselves who come to this conference, and share center stage with researchers.

You know, sometimes we've got legislators there, and certainly practitioners, and media as well, so it's a really grand collection of people, you know, it spans from, you know, the soccer mom to the local anarchist, fighting, you know, fighting for, raging against the machine. It's a great group.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it is. I don't know, this is going to be my fifth or sixth one to attend. I'm really --


DEAN BECKER: -- really looking forward to it. All right, friends, as we're wrapping it up here, I want to remind you once again we've been speaking with Monique Tula, she's the executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, and they're out there on the web at Please check it out.

The DEA's the joker,
The FDA's a joke.
The joke is on the USA
So why not take a toke?

The following is the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

NIKKI HALEY: None of us would be here today without the leadership of the man it is now my honor to introduce. As president of the United States, donald trump has taken on the challenge and felt the weight of leading a nation in pain and grief over the abuse of illegal drugs.

Now he is taking this leadership worldwide. He is relentlessly committed to building a global coalition to fight the global problem of drug abuse. We are grateful for his leadership in this event. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce my boss, president donald j. trump.

DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, Nikki. Thank you very much.

The scourge of drug addiction continues to claim too many lives in the United States and in nations around the world. Today we commit to fighting the drug epidemic together.

As the 2018 World Drug Report highlights, cocaine and opium production have hit record highs and global deaths cause by drug use has increased by sixty percent from the year 2000 to 2015, so in fifteen years it's gone up sixty percent, which is absolutely terrible.

As we know, illicit drugs are linked to organized crime, illegal financial flows, corruption, and terrorism. It's vital for public health and national security that we fight drug addiction and stop all forms of trafficking and smuggling that provide the financial life blood for vicious transnational cartels.

Newly elected president Duque of Colombia campaigned on an anti-drug platform and won. We look forward to partnering with his new administration to eradicate cocoa production in his country.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness, fast heart beat, allergies, constipation, headaches. Time's up! The answer:

VOICEOVER: Nestle Quik chocolate flavor.

DONALD TRUMP: Cocoa production.

VOICEOVER: No one can say no to Quik.

DEAN BECKER: We just heard a little bit of Trump's thoughts given to the UN. We now have Hannah Hetzer with the Drug Policy Alliance. She focuses on the international aspects. But, she's got some thoughts I think she wants to share with us about that, of Trump calling for an escalation of the global drug war, and I want to welcome her to the program. Hello, Hannah.

HANNAH HETZER: Hi, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Hannah, just your initial response to Trump's presentation yesterday.

HANNAH HETZER: I think Trump is just using this stage at the UN to fake leadership on drug policy. He convened this gathering to kick off the General Assembly at the UN, in which he said he's going to talk about the world drug problem, and at that event, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley praised Trump for his leadership domestically and says he now want to take this leadership worldwide, and then in his speech Trump, you know, used outdated drug war language like drug free future and eradication of supply and curbing the scourge of addiction, really sort of outdated language.

But I think he's using this as an opportunity to pretend that he is leading on an issue in which he has provided no real solutions for. He talks about the opioid crisis, the overdose crisis, all the time, and yet he doesn't listen to any of the scientific or medical evidence, or listen to advocates that are pushing for public health and harm reduction interventions that have really worked elsewhere.

He ignores all of that and just uses more drug war mentality and rhetoric, talking about locking people up and even the death penalty for people who sell drugs. So I really think that this is kind of just Trump, you know, trying to have a flashy photo-op with leaders of other countries standing behind him so it looks like he has support and it looks like he's engaged in action on this issue, when really he has done little to nothing at all to help the problem.

DEAN BECKER: No, I'm with you, Hannah, and at this time it's also, in fact, necessary for him to deflect and distract from a lot of other situations that are chewing on his ankles as we speak.

I was startled to hear the same verbiage, the same concepts, the same dreams and fables being put forward that we've heard for the last fifty or a hundred years, that somehow the use of these words one more time will get it done. Your response to that.

HANNAH HETZER: Right. I mean, we just know that drug prohibition does not work. The war on drugs does not work. We've tried it for decades. All that it has done is, you know, it fails even on its own terms of decreasing drug use and production, and is just [inaudible] enormous harms. We know it doesn't work, and no amount of money that you pour into it or law enforcement efforts that you pour into it, will eliminate drug use and supply, and all it's doing is, you know, violating human rights and development and livelihoods and criminalizing people and stigmatizing people.

It doesn't work, and yet, and there are things that have been proven to work elsewhere and there are other leaders that are talking about reform. I mean, it's -- it's actually ironic that on the same day as drug, as Trump had this world drug problem event, a group of leaders, ex-presidents, ex-prime ministers from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, were launching their new report on the exact same day that called for an end to the war on drugs, an end to prohibition, and calls for the regulation, responsible regulation, of all drugs.

So it really was this huge contrast between, you know, these leaders who are forward looking and looking for, you know, innovative, health based approaches, and Trump's outdated drug war mentality, and I mean he surrounded himself by a person like Sessions, who, you know, is so mired in the '80s and '90s approaches to drug policy, and they just don't want to let that go and they still use it as a rhetorical tool to stigmatize people, oppress people, and close their eyes to the suffering that it's caused.

DEAN BECKER: Your mention of the drug commission calling for legalization and, you know, regulation, actually control of these so-called controlled substances, you know, on that same stage yesterday, with Trump, was the UN Secretary-General António Guterres from Portugal, a nation who has gone another direction, who is using treatment, who hardly ever arrests anybody for personal amounts of drugs, and yet that seems to have been overlooked.

HANNAH HETZER: That's right. I mean, Guterres was the leader in Portugal at the time that they decriminalized, and he even referred to that in his address yesterday. He didn't use the word decriminalization, but he talked about the Portuguese strategy, and he said that people need treatment, not punishment, and I think he could have pushed a little harder, under some diplomatic pressure and he's sitting next to the president of the United States, the UN's largest donor.

But, you know, he has on other occasions, the Secretary-General has on other occasions talked a lot more forcefully about the need to remove criminal penalties and to decriminalize and provide health options and treatment options to people that are based in human rights.

So there was a contrast between what Trump was saying and what the Secretary-General was saying.

DEAN BECKER: And, when they opened up these proceedings, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, to put it the way she toadied up to him. Your response there, please.

HANNAH HETZER: Right. She opened up the conversation just praising Trump. She did a few strange things. I mean, first she talked about this too much initially as like an American problem. She said, what brings us here today is the opioid crisis in America, it's an American problem, not really taking into account that she's in a room full of global leaders, and then eventually started talking about the international dimensions.

And then, she just went on to heap praise on Trump, undue praise, saying, you know, none of us would be here without the president, president donald trump, and praised his leadership on this issue, which just is completely false, because as I have said, he has demonstrated no leadership on this issue and he should be the last person who should be leading the global debate on drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, once again we've been speaking with Hannah Hetzer of the Drug Policy Alliance. I wanted to throw in this one last thought, that heretofore, I think those in charge of responsibility for the drug problem have been his son, donald junior, and Kellyanne Conway, hardly knowledgeable on this subject. Your closing thoughts, there, Hannah.

HANNAH HETZER: Well, president trump has demonstrated continuously that for every position he intends to fill, he selects the person either least qualified to fill that, or who directly is antagonistic to the cause, or the mission, which they are meant to be leading. So it's no surprise that he would surround himself with advisers on drug policy who knew nothing about drug policy and just cater to self image and his own ideas on drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, real good. Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Hannah Hetzer of the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website:

DEAN BECKER: This is George Mason, a white pastor in the city of Dallas.

GEORGE MASON: It's been a hard week in Dallas. The fatal shooting of a young and impressive professional man named Botham Jean by an off-duty police officer, Amber Guyger. This police officer shot an unarmed citizen in his own home. The victim was black, the officer white.

The preferential treatment of the officer by the criminal justice system reminds us that justice in this city, in this country, is still not color blind, whether you are white or black or brown or blue.

And then the smear campaign of the dead man's character started immediately after his funeral, which is a long and nasty practice used against people of color to gain sympathy for the defendant.

Lord, have mercy.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed, lord, have mercy. Once again we're out of time and I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.