05/21/24 Drug Prohibition is Way Stupid

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sanho Tree
Doug McVay
Institute for Policy Studies

We are joined by two guests, DTN reporter Doug McVay and Sanho Tree of the Institute for Policy Studies in DC. Topics range from graduation season, drug education, the hypocrisy of drug war advocates, international drug war scrapes in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, around the world.  

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09/02/20 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century: Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and Oregon Justice Resource Center Executive Director Bobbin Singh on recent events in the city of Portland, Oregon. Plus, Virtual Hempfest will be October 10 and 11! To whet everyone's appetite we look back at some previously unaired footage from the Ric Smith Hemposium featuring Ed "New Jersey Weedman" Forchion, Keith Stroup, Vivian McPeak, Kari Boiter, Gloria Kalteich, and your COL host/producer Doug McVay.

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07/01/20 Doug McVay

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

Doug McVay who produces Century of Lies, talk about racism and the drug war. PLUS: the thoughts of Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow.

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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 barbarouscartels, 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.

All right, folks, I am Dean Becker. This is cultural baggage. We've got an interesting show for you this time. We're going to do a video series called, Becker's buds, Conscientious Objectors to Drug War, and the other day, me and Doug McVay who produces century of lies, uh, attempted the first one, that was a morning I was feeling particularly poorly. I looked like a hammered horse hockey, so that video is not going to air. And then secondarily, he and I are both white. We're trying to talk about racism and the drug war. So please forgive us if we overstep or miss the point so to speak. And we're going to close this out with the thoughts of Michelle Alexander, author of the New Jim Crow.

My name is Dean Becker. I call myself the Reverend most high. I run an outfit called the church of evident truth, but doing that for about 20 years, um, it is my pleasure to introduce the first guest for this, uh, um, Becker's buds, uh, video series guy. Who's been working with me now for years who has done hundreds of my, uh, well now his radio program, century of lies, uh, based up in Oregon. Now my friend, Doug Mulvanny how you doing Doug Dean. Good to see you. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us. Yes, I, I hope this is the first of many, uh, of these Becker's buds, uh, gatherings, if you will, um, got a database of many hundred approaching a thousand, uh, guests, who've been on my radio shows over the years and I'm hoping many of them will join us here to, uh, discuss the, the fallacy, the failure, the futility of this drug war. Now, Doug, you have been the editor of drug war facts for a lo these many years. Please tell the folks a bit about that endeavor.

Of course, drug war facts is a project that was started by common sense for drug policy foundation back though heavens more than 20 years ago. Um, it's in process of shifting, we're actually moving sponsorship from common sense drug policy to real reporting foundation because drug war facts facts really is a tremendous resource for any journalist out there. Anyone who's, whether you're writing a letter to the editor or researching an op ed or trying to do an a, an actual news article, um, or researching or a project at school, whatever drug war facts is terrific, direct quotes, complete citations, um, links to the original source materials, updated constantly and continuously and expanding at all, uh, in all kinds of directions. Um, it's a resource that's made available free of charge. We're a private foundation. So we just want to get information out there to try and inform the debate and try and help people, um, you know, reach good conclusions.

We think that an informed society will over time or should over time at least generate wise policies. Um, is he, it was started back in 98, uh, Paul Lewin and Kendra Zishe created the very first database and the very first, very small booklets. And then I came in in 2000, it grew and we grew and we created the blog. And I left for a time. And, uh, Jenny, Jonathan Crane and Amy Long, and, and Mary Jane Borden, uh, took over the, uh, the drug war facts for a few years. I came back in 2013, had been doing it since got it.

Now it occurs to me that we are now living in a new environment, a situation where, um, the obvious is being recognized. And by that, I mean, the fact that, uh, racism is, uh, being seen as the heart, the, the, the driving force behind much of the drug war tactics of law enforcement and the courts. And, uh, it it's, it's never been more obvious.

No, it's true. And that long history of drug war facts is partly to underscore what you're talking about is the fact have always been that we have a, just a criminally bad criminal justice policy. We have, uh, you know, it's, it's racist from one end to the other end and classes, and there are other issues within it too. Um, the facts have always been that reform is vital. The facts have always been that drug use should be decriminalized and legalized. I mean, the facts always been on our side. It's really been about getting people to, just to care, you know, and, and it's, it's, it's sad. It's, it's horribly sad that, um, that it took a murder live on film to get people caring, but that is what it takes. And it's getting that pushed right in their faces. I mean, I've been even back in eighties when I was working at NORMLl, the statistics and the data from the justice era, just, just explore was fascinating.

And again, it showed the same stuff that, that these harsh punishments don't really work. They don't really deter what deters people is the probability of actually being caught and what we've got you talk about racism, being apparent. When you look at drug use statistics, because you have so many people of color black and indigenous and people of color who are being arrested and prosecuted in so many more people who are white, who use drugs are involved in trafficking, but the problem [inaudible], the problem is much bigger than just that, because you can also look at for instance, criminal victimization. And we find that the vast majority of incidents of criminal violent victimizations in this country are committed by white people against other white people. And yet there's a higher proportion of blacks and indigenous people and other people of color in prison for those offense, if you're white, you're less likely to be arrested. You're less likely to be prosecuted. You're less likely to go to prison if you're found guilty

And less likely to spend more years behind bars.

Exactly. Exactly. It's not just with drugs. It's just more apparent when you look at drugs because we have this other use data.

Well, I would submit them that, um, because of this drug war mentality that the police carry with them, they have, uh, through the use of, uh, the legislature's, um, been given access to no knock warrants, then given access to stop and frisk by local authorities in essence, uh, and, uh, you know, three strikes, laws, and mandatory minimums and all of these things that are heaped upon the black community, um, most particularly, and, um, it, it has it's reared, its ugly head. And I dare say this carefully that the black community needs to, um, delve into this needs to, uh, use this as a means to, uh, to help make these changes occur. Your thought there, please.

Well, you know, one of the problems that in the 1980s, um, we had members of the congressional black caucus who were joining in the call for harsher penalties, Charlie Wrangle, and others were leading the charge and in the nineties Wrangle, and many others started to realize that they had been played. I mean, the, this sort of knee jerk response of, if someone's doing something you don't like then, and then punish them quickly and you have it, who's being punished and for watch and for how, and, and, um, I mean, in, in recent years, things have shifted and that's been important. Um, but it's, but yeah, I mean, it's, it's, it's, it's sorry. I was looking at a, I was trying to find a statistic that was going to be, that I think is quite interesting. You know, we have about (750) 700-4700 plus thousand people who are serving time in, um, counting, Oh, here we go.

738,400 inmates in jails around the United States. Um, last time we checked and that's a point in time, right? That's at one on one day during the year, there were that many people or actually 10 million people or 10 million people cycling through jail at any time during the year, all these people getting criminal records and you get the criminal record. And as you pointed out several times on, on cultural baggage, people get that record and it's a stigma, good luck getting a proper job, can't get licensing. And a lot of professions, even things like cosmetology. I mean, what in heaven's name are we doing? You're making it impossible for people to make a proper living, forcing them to live in the illegal economy or forcing them to accept really horrible, low wage jobs where they're treated badly, don't dare speak up or Jack, because he's going to be out on the street. If you do. It's a, it's, it's a ridiculous system and you're right. I mean, we've demonized the drug use so much all you really need to say, Oh, well they were a druggie and no one seems to care as much. You know? I mean, we still, there are still people, there are still people trying to justify what happened to George Floyd based on the criminal record he acquired while living in Harris County. I, I, on a social media, just, uh, my friends list just got one smaller today because of this.

Well, and that, that happens all too often ,that it happens to be, um, I don't know, I I've been on Facebook sharing this meme that, uh, um, people who are racist, seldom believe they are racist because it's like handed down from grandfather to father, to son. And it's just the family tradition, but that's, um, uh, and it needs exposed. It needs, uh, uncovered. Does it not?

You know, my grandfather was the, um, manager of industrial relations at a Maytag company's plant. Number one for many years after the war, they changed it to labor relations. Now we're back to being human resources. I'm not sure if that's progress in any case. He was one of the people who was charged with making sure that Maytag, um, you know, hired I, and I it's embarrassing and it hurts. And it hurts to say this. And if my cousins hear this, they're going to be upset with me for saying it out loud, but grandpa was sexist and he was racist. And he was one of the people made sure that the folks coming into Maytag companies plant number one in the forties and fifties were white folks, Protestant, maybe get a few Catholics saying, but only they're real quiet about it. And he was a, um, he was an old school Mason and he got a lot in my life that I need to make up for because of my insects.

Well, I, I, I don't know about my ancestors involvement in racism, but I do know the little town I grew up in Southern Illinois. And I don't know if I have the term, right, but it was a drive through town where blacks were not allowed to stop within city limits. Maybe if they were out of gas and they hurried, they could, they could fill up, but it was not allowed. And, um, I remember as a little kid, the, uh, the high school having a, you know, major events and, uh, the, the local, uh, Banker and mayor that would get on stage and do black face and sing Mammy.. And now all of these things that I, at the time, I didn't understand, but now I realize it was a perpetuation, even in Southern Illinois of this racist, uh, community standard, your thought, please,

I, I grew up in Iowa. We were really proud, you know, being a union state, my ancestors on both sides were in the union army, you know, so it's, um, on the one hand we have that, but yeah, I mean, Southern Illinois actually has more places like that. I was, and, you know, I mean, grandpa's ancestors may have bought on the side of the union, but it was trying to make sure that, um, and this was back in the old days when white also meant no people of Latin American ancestry, no Italians, because anybody who was, you know, Nordic and English and German is what, you know, white as an evolved thing. I mean, it's true. I mean, it has, it has changed in its definition and it's, um, and it's just, it's just everything. It's just stupid. What on earth do people think? I mean, for heaven's sake? Well, but then again, it's easy for me to say that here we are in the 21st century, right? I mean, we're, we're hopefully a little smarter, hopefully

To remind you, you are listening to cultural baggage on the drug truth network on Pacifica radio. We're speaking with mr. Doug McVay, DTN reporter. This is taken from a video that no one will ever see. Cause I look too Haggard anyway, back to our interview with Doug,

Oh, with our drug truth network, we're now producing nine radio segments per week of 450 something. I think it is per year, we're approaching our 8,003 radio programs. So, and this, our first video production of Becker's buds, the, uh, uh, conscientious objectors to the war on drugs. And I feel that, uh, the, the main thing is, you know, the truth. I know the truth about the drug where I think nearly knows a lot of the truth, but they're afraid to commit themselves their, their, their efforts, their words, their focus to actually exposing, to ending the stupidity. As you were talking about of this racist drug war, it's such an obstacle, you and I worked to help expose and motivate, um, people to, to take that step. Do we not?

Indeed we do. And you know, that's the thing I was thinking about recently, in fact, because there are, and I've seen people doing this, you know, policy experts and people who are, you know, on this, since I go, you know this, yes, but you're over, but you're underestimating the political problem. Oh, this you're making it sound so easy, but you're not, you know, the public health experts make it sound so easy to have track and trace, make it sound. You are going to have harm reduction and consent, but you're not accounting for the political difficulties. You just know. And it's like, no, keep we're not accounting, but we're not talking about the political difficulties. We're talking about what needs to be done. We're not trying to talk people into not wanting to do it. We're not trying to do you're right. It's going to be hard and it's going to be tough.

And that's why we got to bloody press on and make it happen. That's not why we decide, Oh, well, it's going to be too hard. So I guess we better just not bother. Those are the people that get on my nerves these days. It's the ones in there and they're out there, you know, smart people. Oh, you know, Oh, well obviously these systems don't work. Obviously this has to happen. But then the other shoe, of course it'll never happen because no one really cares that, that part. How many years have you been doing this since like 2000? Since the nineties?

Well, in 2098 when I was working with a New York times drug policy forum. And, and before that I was, you know, writing a screenplays and, and trying to delve deeper to find the, the heart of the problem and the deeper you dig, you just find it's evil. It's it's propaganda. It has no nexus with reality whatsoever. It's just, I call it a quasi religion,

My point is though half an hour of radio programming. You're doing each week, each week for 20 years, half an hour, a week, 50 weeks a year. Yep. Okay. Well, I'll give a, give them, give pledge drives. Rebroadcasts preempted bird for holidays, you know, but 50 to 52 half hours every single year, for that many years, you I've had the privilege of doing century of lies since about 2014. Is it so five, six years, once a week, 52 times a year, and they're learning stuff. And they're realizing that you can actually do this. You can speak out about how bad the drug war is. You don't have to worry that you're to be, um, you know, have your door knocked down and be thrown in jail doors over there. We're fine. You know, you can actually talk about legalizing. You can talk to the ledger, you can do all these things and make real progress. When I started out, I was at normal working in the 1980s when LV Noosa became the third federal marijuana patient, you know, the third person in the coal entire country to receive medical pot. And now here I am in Oregon, and this is a container that I purchased of legal marijuana at a dispensary, just a few blocks of what, just a few blocks away. You know, we did this.

Yeah, paramount. What is, is so necessary. As I mentioned earlier, is that the black community pick up this, this tool, put it to work that, uh, the it racist, there's no getting around it. It is ugly. It is continuous. And, and it plays out nearly every day on TV where some black man is, uh, being traumatized or murdered. And the heart of it is, is the mentality of the drug war, which gives license, which gives the, um, the, the police, the mentality that this is okay, cause he might have drugs or even if he doesn't, well, he probably did earlier or something, but it is always a means a, a motivator to law enforcement and, and it plays out so much more severely against the black community.

Oh, absolutely. I mean, honestly, this is the, this exchange between you and I are. It's the most that, you know, I love about your show and I love about the way that I do. I'm doing the same thing as we're trying to amplify the voices of others involved in this. We're trying to I'm I try to center my show around people affected by, by people who use drugs by people or within the community. I want those voices and those perspectives to be centered. Um, this is the most talk that I've ever done in a, uh, in a thing. I mean, you and I, we have to interview people, so we have to talk a little bit, but you know, it's, it's honestly, it's a little weird putting us because in a way we are centering ourselves right now. But, but then again, it's our, but that's because we're talking about our shows and we're talking about the future and the reality is that yeah. I mean, that's half the reason as I say that, I try and, um, bring in other perspectives and try and bring in the voices of other folks I'm needs to me the best show. The best show I do is one where you hear my voice, introducing it and closing it. And otherwise you got, otherwise, you've got people who you should be really listening to.

No, I that's so true. I, uh, well, I guess it's time to wrap it up here, but I want to say this, that our show has been diverted here in Houston to, uh, just before the prison show now on Friday nights. But, uh, you know, we get, uh, uh, shuffled around here and there, I guess like most radio programs too, but tonight my show features, uh, Roger Goodman, he's a representative up there in the state of Washington, very knowledgeable, very, intelligent man who, who is unafraid to speak of the same subject. You and I have been discussing, uh, openly boldly. And, um, you know, who's on your show tonight.

Well, this one is a, a broadcast where we were using some audio from a recent hearing. The Senate judiciary committee has been looking into police brutality. I mean, everyone on Capitol Hill right now is focused on police brutality, racist enforcement, the murder of George Floyd was a really strong trigger or a lot of things. And, um, I mean, it's not just his murder, it's the culmination of so many things. So many Briana tailored, Sandra bland, Freddie Gray. I mean, there's so much, but, um, we have been finally looking at it and, um, and having discussions. And so, uh, Vanita Gupta who we met years ago when she was still at the Washington, um, civil liberties union and working on some of their, uh, some of their projects up there. And then of course went to justice department and their sub had their civil rights division. And now she's the president and CEO of the leadership conference on civil rights.

Then you've got, um, a couple of other folks, Doug Logan jr. The Reverend Doug Logan jr. Who is a, um, really fascinating speaker. Um, and, and, you know, and I, and I appreciate that. He's got a positive message. I mean, as a, as a preaching, you kinda hope so. Right. Um, but it's, uh, it's, it's so easy to focus on the negatives and the uses and the tragedies and to leave off the, um, you know, the, what we must do art, but, um, but yeah, that's it. So we're, we're, we've been talking a lot about the racism and about the, the murder of joy Lord and the police abuses. And there's a, and there's bloody good reason, you know, because we need to, and, and again, kinda center other people. But at the same time, I also want to use the privilege that I know that I have to be able to push this stuff forward, to be able to push these ideas out there. And, um, you know, if people listening, the great leadership, we did say knowledge is like pollen, an idea, rather it's like pollen. Once it's in the air, you never know who's going to sneeze.


Well, real good. Uh, folks, once again, I've been speaking with mr. Doug McVeigh, uh, the, producer now of the, a century of lies show on the drug's truth network. You can access, 'em nearly 8,000 of our shows at, and you can access a lot of information. Doug edits and stores at, uh, drug war Thank you, Doug. Thank you. It's time to play name that drug by its side effects.

A fusion changes in breathing heartbeat or blood pressure or unusual changes in behavior agitation and irritability, worsening, depression, suicidal thoughts, leaking really large breasts, impotence, stroke, and death. Time's up the answer from Sunovion pharmaceuticals incorporated for depression.

All right. Now, as promised here's part of an interview I did with Michelle Alexander author of the New Jim Crow. Tell us about the, uh, escalation of the prison building era, uh, how this came about.

Yes, well, you know, within a relatively short period of time, we went from a prison population of about 300,000 to now nearly two and a half million in the space of just, you know, a few decades, our prison population quintupled not doubled or tripled quintupled. And this exponential increase in the size of our prison system was not due to crime rates as is so often believed. Um, and as told to us, um, frequently by politicians and media pundits, um, no, uh, rather than crime rates, the explosion of our prison population has been due largely to the drug war. Um, a war that has been waged largely, um, in poor communities of color, even though studies have now shown for decades, that people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites people of all races and ethnicities use and sell, um, legal and illegal drugs in the United States.

But it has been primarily overwhelmingly poor people of color in the United States who have been stopped, searched, arrested, and incarcerated for drug offenses. And once you're branded a drug felon, uh, you're relegated to a permanent second class status, uh, once labeled a felon, you know, you may be denied the right to vote automatically excluded from juries, legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits. So many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal. Again, once you've been branded a felon and it's the drug war primarily that is responsible for the return of millions of African Americans to a permanent second class status analogous in many ways to Jim Crow.

And the thing that strikes me right between the eyes from this book is that we have walked away from our amendments. We have walked away from what was prior valid and useful law that the Supreme court and various courts have determined though. They say there is not one that in effect, there is a drug war exception to the constitution, which allows all this to unfold. Are your thoughts on that police?

Yes. Well, I devote, you know, a full chapter in the book to the shredding of the fourth amendment, um, in the drug war. Um, you know, once upon a time, it used to be the case that law enforcement officials, um, had to have reasonable suspicion, um, of criminal activity and a reasonable belief that someone was actually dangerous before they could stop them or frisk them on the street, um, on the sidewalk or, uh, stop and search their car. Um, but today, um, thanks to a series of decisions by the us Supreme court. As long as police can quote unquote, get consent from an individual, they can stop and search them for any reason or no reason at all, giving the police license to fan out into neighborhoods and stop in search just about anyone anywhere. Um, you know, consent, um, is a very easy thing to obtain. Um, if a law enforcement officer approaches you with his hand on his gun and says, may I search your bag? Will you put your hands up in the air, turn around? So I may search you and you comply, uh, that's interpreted as consent, but of course it's precisely that kind of discriminatory and arbitrary police action that led the framers of the constitution, um, to adopt the fourth amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.

I want to thank Michelle Alexander for having helped to educate me. I want to remind you that because of prohibition. You don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

09/25/19 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay

This week on Century: a House subcommittee looks at e-cigarettes and the outbreak of lung disease that may be related to vaping, and the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs looks at rescheduling cannabis and cannabis products.

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SEPTEMBER 25, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of the drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization – the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVAY, Editor of One Monday, September 23rd, the U.N.’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs held an intersessional meeting in Vienna, Austria. They discussed recommendations made by the World Health Organization’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence on the rescheduling of cannabis and cannabis products. We are going to hear audio from that meeting later in the show.

First, on Tuesday, September 24th, the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on e-cigarettes and the outbreak of lung disease that’s believed to be associated with vaping. The hearing was entitled, “Don’t Vape – Examining the Outbreak of Lung Disease and CDC’s Urgent Warning Not to Use E-Cigarettes”.

We are going to hear opening statements from the Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Member. First voice will be Representative Roger Krishnamoorthy, Democrat from Illinois; he is followed by Representative Michael Cloud, Republican from Texas.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHY: We are here to amplify the recent health warnings issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) related to 530 e-cigarette related incidence of lung disease in 38 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. First I want to make clear that we did not plan to have this emergency hearing at the beginning of this congress, let alone this time last month but on August 23rd, officials from my home state of Illinois reported the first death due to a mysterious vaping related lung illness, and since then a total of eight individuals have tragically died in this outbreak.

In response to this crisis, CDC is warning the American public to consider not using e-cigarettes of any kind. Because this subcommittee has investigated the youth vaping epidemic and the companies behind it, we feel that it is our duty to draw attention to recent government health warnings about the dangers of e-cigarette use. The long-term health effects of continued vaping is unknown but what we do know should give us all pause. State health departments continue to conduct retroactive analysis of patient records to better understand exactly when this outbreak began as they do, the number of affected people will grow. Unfortunately, illness related to e-cigarettes is not new. The FDA has received 127 reports of seizures and other neurological conditions caused by e-cigarettes.

When a product is released on to the market without safety testing or clinical trials this is what we fear. This is a problem exacerbated by e-cigarette companies that make what appear to be unfounded and illegal claims that their products are safer and healthier than combustible cigarettes. People trust and rely on those claims even when there is no evidence to back them up. That is why this subcommittee wrote a detailed letter to the FDA outlining our findings about Juul illegally marketing its product as safe, healthy, and a smoking cessation device. FDA agreed with us and days after our letter, responded with its own letter to Juul declaring that Juul had broken the law. Juul’s response is due next week on September 30th. After that the FDA will have the opportunity to act. I encourage all of you to follow that development closely – we certainly will.

Just days after the FDA responded to our letter, the Administration, in part citing our investigation announced that it would move to ban all e-cigarette flavors including mint and menthol. The fact that flavors hook kids is a point this subcommittee hammered home over our two days of hearings in July. The Administration cited our hearing in rolling out its proposal. We should all be encouraged that democrats and republicans are coming together when the health of our nation’s youth comes under attack.

Today as we focus on the tragic outcomes of this lung disease outbreak, we must view it as another chance to come together to protect public health. At the heart of the recent vaping related outbreak are families being blindsided.

With us today is Ruby Johnson, a mother of seven from near Chicago. This August as she prepared to drop her oldest daughter off to start college – already a stressful time, the Johnson family faced a terrifying health scare. Instead of moving in to a dorm room her daughter moved in to a hospital bed far from home where she stayed for what would have been her first week of classes. Ruby’s daughter could have died. Thankfully, she recovered enough from her bout of lung disease to be released, but she still has trouble breathing and doctors cannot tell her how much longer that may last. Mrs. Johnson, thank you for coming to share your families harrowing experience.

We are also joined by leaders from the Public Health Community to provide a neutral assessment of the outbreak and provide their advice to the public they serve. We have Dr. Ann Schuchat from the CDC; Dr. Angosi Eseke of the Illinois Department of Public Health; and Dr. Albert Rizzo of the American Lung Association. Thank you all for joining us today. We look forward to learning more about how we can avoid more preventable deaths.

REP. MICHAEL CLOUD: It’s been clear that users of certain vaping products have become very ill, some tragically and to the point of death. Mr. Chairman, I do greatly appreciate your desire to utilize this committee’s authority to get to the bottom of what is causing these mysterious illnesses.

In the Center for Disease Control’s Prevention September 19 Update, the number of those sick reached 530 and eight deaths have been confirmed. This is very concerning and it is clear that we need to examine the cause and what can be done to prevent it. To the best information available, many of these cases seem linked to the use of products that present themselves to be something they are not. Based on the limited data available about those impacted by this mysterious lung illness, approximately 16% are under 18 years of age and while each life affected is important these recent incidents also serve to further bring attention to what has become an epidemic increase in teen vaping with currently 20% of high school student’s vaping. Add to that the decade’s long epidemic of addiction to traditional tobacco smoking that will leave five people dead by the end of these opening statements.

As a father of three, this is very concerning. I wish we had a quick fix to ensure that each child is protected, that no American finds themselves bound by a substance, and that all of us are able to find complete personal fulfillment in experiencing the purpose for which we were created. Today we are here to discuss what should be the appropriate response to the lung illnesses associated with certain vaping products. Complicating this discussion is a lack of scientific data and studies available, counterfeit products, untraceable supply lines, a lack of enforcement that allows players to pass the buck of accountability. For example, data available leads us to believe that many of the recently reported 530 cases involved vaping cannaboid products. I hope today we are able to do the good work for which this investigative committee exists. I believe there is a lot of bipartisan support for addressing this situation. I appreciate the Chairman’s heart in this to the point of examining this to find a solution and our desire to end teen vaping there is unity. Please know my heart goes out to those impacted and my condolences to those who have lost loved ones. Again, I appreciate the Chairman’s work on this issue and will look to a productive discussion today.

DOUG MCVAY: You’ve just heard Representative Michael Cloud, Republican from Texas, Ranking Member of the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was preceded by Representative Raja Krishnamoorthy, Democrat from Illinois, and the Chair of that subcommittee. They were giving their opening statements before a hearing on Tuesday, September 24th, the hearing was entitled, “Don’t Vape – Examining the Outbreak of Lung Disease and CDC’s Warning Not to Use E-Cigarettes”.

Now let’s hear from their first witness, Ann Schuchat, M.D., is Principal Deputy Director at the Federal Centers for Disease Control.

DR. SCHUCHAT: I want to make four key points. First, as soon as we learned about the initial cases of lung injury, CDC has been working 24/7 hand in hand with the FDA and our state and local public health partners to find the cause. Secondly, our ability to do this type of investigation relies on a critical underlying public health infrastructure, including data systems that need modernization and a trained public health workforce. Third, the CDC has made important recommendations to the public including the following: while this investigation is ongoing people are who are concerned about lung disease associated with e-cigarette use or vaping should consider refraining from using e-cigarette products or vaping. People should not buy these products off the street and should not modify them further. Adults who use e-cigarettes or vaping products because they have quit cigarette smoking should not return to smoking cigarettes.

We have a need to address the epidemic of youth use of e-cigarettes and this current outbreak reinforces the need to address the broader youth e-cigarette epidemic.

What do we know so far? As you’ve heard, several hundred cases have been reported from nearly all states. We’ve had a number of deaths. The cases are occurring in young people. One half of all cases are less than 25 years old. People present with cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, and sometimes with symptoms like nausea and vomiting, fatigue or fever. Most of the cases with information so far have reported use of either THC or THC and nicotine containing products, some have reported nicotine only. There may be some challenges with the histories of exposure in some subset of the patients.

What do we not know so far? Probably the most important thing we don’t know the cause. No single product, brand, substance, or additive has been linked to all cases. This investigation is ongoing and it’s very dynamic.

What are we doing to respond? CDC is working closely with state and local public health with the FDA and clinical community to get to the bottom of this. We have deployed staff through what we call Epi-Aids – assistants to help states with their investigations. We provided technical assistance, developed a case definition, standardized clinical guidance and the reporting system and are working every day on coordinating the parts of the investigation and response. We set up an Incident Management System and activated our Emergency Operations Center as we do in other public health urgent situations, and we’ve convened the public health clinical and media numerous times to share what we know and don’t know and how they can be part of the solution.

One such example is a clinical outreach and communication activity call that we held in the past few days that had 2,500 lines active and clinicians around the country listening to the latest information. We are working very closely with the FDA on the laboratory aspect of trying to trace back and study the products from affected patients. There are challenges with this response including the nature of the outbreak itself. Many states – some of the cases report using illicit products and may not be fully forthcoming. The marketplace for e-cigarettes is wide and diverse with a multitude of products and it may be very complicated to tease out the problematic exposures and our public health data collection systems are in need of an upgrade.

In terms of youth e-cigarette use, we are seeing an epidemic and then in the questions I’d be happy to go in to many more details about that but our most recent for 2019 is continuing to be concerning. I will just leave you with this, CDC is dedicated to working around the clock together with the FDA and the state and local health officials to identify the cause or causes of the outbreak and will continue to update you during the course of the investigation.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dr. Ann Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director at the Federal Centers for Disease Control. She was testifying before the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Tuesday, September 24th at a hearing entitled, “Don’t Vape – Examining the Outbreak of Lung Disease and CDC’s Urgent Warning Not to Use E-Cigarettes. You are listening to Century of Lies, I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of

Turning from domestic to international news. The U.N.s Commission on Narcotic Drugs held an intersessional meeting on Monday, September 23rd in Vienna, Austria. At this meeting they discussed recommendations by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence to reschedule cannabis and cannabis products.

Dr. Gill Forte works for the World Health Organization in Geneva as their Coordinator of Policy, Access, and Use in WHOs Essential Medicines and Health Products Department.

DR. FORTE: So the recommendations seek the recommendation for whether or not the substance should be scheduled. They seek to prevent harms caused by the use of psychoactive substances that are being reviewed. In those recommendations, there is an important concern of preventing harm to health and these recommendations (UNINTELLIGIBLE) whether or not those substances should be made available because they have a unique impact on health. One of the major objectives of those recommendations is to make sure that they will protect health from those psychoactive substances but also this recommendation will be made to ensure that those psychoactive substances that are reviewed and that have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are not presented for being accessible to who need them. These recommendations as we said before, are based on science and therefore it is the responsibility of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Secretariat and the expert committee on drug dependence to take in to account the most updated information available on those substances with respect to harm but also with respect to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

I would like to mention here that the level of international control that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) recommended by the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) should be considered as a minimal requirement. It is of the discretion of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) states to implement (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more stringent levels of control depending on the specific country context. This is a very important point to understand what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) recommends in terms of scheduling. It should be considered as a minimum requirement. It is up to the members to decide if they want a regulation that is more stringent or not.


I have been your host, Doug McVay, Editor of The Executive Producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast the URL’s to subscribe are on the network homepage at The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts has a Facebook page, too. Give it a like, share it with friends. Remember, knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter; @dougmcvay and of course, @drugpolicyfacts. We’ll be back in a week with 30 more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. This is Doug McVay saying, so long.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition, the Century of Lies. Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy.

03/20/19 Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century of Lies, international drug policy reform. We hear portions of the 62nd Annual Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, live from Vienna, including interventions by the delegation from Switzerland, the World Health Organization, the Canadian HIV Legal Network, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Audio file



MARCH 20, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

On this edition of Century of Lies, and for the next couple of weeks, we're going to look at international drug control policy.

The Sixty-Second Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place in Vienna, Austria, March 14 through the 22 this year. They held a high-level ministerial segment on the first two days, the 14 and 15. That may sound impressive, but what it simply means is that on those two days, high government officials from nations around the world traveled to Vienna, Austria.

It's really just to enjoy themselves in one of Europe's most charming cities, but while there, those high government officials -- I'm sorry, that should read "highly placed government officials," my bad -- also have to put in a brief appearance at the Vienna International Center, which is the UN's office complex in Vienna, to talk about drug control policy.

Those first two days were the only bits that the CND intended to be webcast to the public. The remaining five weekdays of meetings, debates, discussions, resolutions, et cetera, were supposed to go on without the prying eyes of people like me.

The CND must have forgotten to mention that to the folks with the UN Information Service, which handles news and public affairs for the UN in Vienna. The entirety of the meeting held on Monday, March 18, was webcast live. I recorded it. On this edition of Century of Lies, we're going to hear portions of that audio.

First up, let's hear from the representative from the World Health Organization, Doctor Gilles Forte, addressing the morning plenary session on the topic of the implementation of the international drug control treaties.

GILLES FORTE, PHD: Mister Chair, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. Half a million people die each year from psychoactive drug use, through overdoses, accidents, and drug related illnesses like HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. A majority of these could be prevented.

WHO is carefully assessing the cost to human health of the most harmful and prevalent of these drugs. The 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances mandate the World Health Organization to undertake the assessment of psychoactive substances that pose harm to health.

This mandate has been reinforced by the 2016 UNGASS document, and by a number of recent CND resolutions. Assessment of psychoactive substances are undertaken by the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, ECDD, on the basis of data that is scientifically valid.

For the substances under review, the WHO provides the CND with recommendations on appropriate levels of international control to prevent harm to health, including deaths.

There are three major issues currently being addressed by WHO. The first is the provenance of new psychoactive substances that are causing significant harm to human health, but for which there is very limited data to inform ECDD reviews.

NPS are substances that have potential for abuse and dependence that are harmful and that can cause deaths. Hence the proliferation of a large number of substances that are detected on the market. However, for most NPS, reliable scientific data on their potential for abuse, dependence, and harm, is piecemeal or is not available. Therefore, they do not meet the criteria for formal review by the WHO ECDD.

The lack of scientifically valid data is currently the main obstacle that limits the number of NPS reviews by the ECDD. In almost all instances, there are few published scientific reports regarding NPS.

In order to increase the information available for consideration by the ECDD, WHO engages with international and regional organizations as well as member states to facilitate sharing of scientifically sound information from reliable sources that has not been published.

WHO is currently developing a global surveillance and health alert system on NPS and other harmful substances as requested by the CND resolution 60/4. This surveillance system aims to alert member states to the risks associated with substances not currently scheduled and for which there is insufficient information to enable scheduling.

This system will also facilitate the collection of unpublished data on harm to health from the largest possible number of countries.

The second major issue of global importance is the problem of non-medical use of synthetic opioids that has been associated with a large number of deaths from overdoses. WHO is very concerned by harms posed by the non-medical use of synthetic opioids. The World Health Organization is committed to address this important public health problem in collaboration with other international organizations and in a comprehensive manner.

Since 2014, WHO has increased the frequency of ECDD meetings and scaled up the number of NPS reviews, in particular for non-medical synthetic opioids. WHO has recommended the placement of a number of opioids under international control, including the strictest level of control for very harmful substances such as carfentanyl.

In line with CND resolution 61/8, WHO collaborates with UNODC and INCB for jointly attacking the opioid crisis. As part of this collaboration, a UN inter-agency toolkit on synthetic drugs is being developed, and will be launched later this week.

The Forty-First ECDD undertook a critical review of tamadol, a synthetic opioid analgesic for the treatment of pain of moderate to severe intensity. The Committee was concerned by the increased evidence for tramadol abuse in several regions.

However, the Committee recommended tramadol not to be scheduled at this time, in order that access to this medication not be adversely impacted, especially in situations where there is limited or no access to other opioids. ECDD recommended that tramadol be put under surveillance.

And the third issue in the ECDD agenda, which is of importance for WHO, is a review of cannabis and cannabis related substances. This review was conducted in response to the CND resolution 52/5, and decision 50/2, requesting WHO to carry out further reviews on cannabis and cannabis related substances.

A number of member states have also expressed increased interest in the collection and analysis of newly available scientific evidence on the harm and on the medical use of cannabis and cannabis related substances.

Cannabis has never been subject to a formal review by WHO until now. The review of cannabis and cannabis related substances has been carried out, and ECDD recommendations have been submitted for the consideration of the Sixty-Second CND.

WHO has been engaged so far in a number of interactions with member states regarding the rationale and process of the Forty-First's recommendation on cannabis. WHO is prepared to hold subsequent information sessions with experts from member states that would require further clarification on the recommendation on cannabis.

UNODC and INCB participation to these information sessions will be critical in order to assess the requirements for the implementation of the cannabis recommendations, and the expected impact in countries.

Mister Chair, WHO is committed to continue to intensify the review of harmful NPS, in particular opioids, and to strengthen mechanisms for a systematic and speedy collection of robust evidence on harm to health.

WHO is scaling up the establishment of its global surveillance and health alert system for NPS for raising awareness on the risk for public health in particular from opioids.

As we contribute to actively tackle the global opioid crisis, we are at the same time engaged to address the barriers to safe and effective use of opioid medicines for the management of pain.

WHO is committed to a scientifically sound approach, to minimizing the risk of cannabis abuse and dependence, while not impeding development and access to new medications derived from cannabis.

WHO will pursue its collaboration with UNODC, INCB, and other partners, including civil society, in order to reduce the risk to public health associated with the use of narcotic and psychotropic substances. I thank you, Mister Chair.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Gilles Forte, PhD, representing the World Health Organization, addressing the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on the implementation of the international drug control treaties on Monday, March 18, at the Sixty-Second Session of the CND in Vienna, Austria.

Let's hear now from a civil society representative who was there at the CND. The Canadian HIV Legal Network does great work. Here's their executive director, Richard Elliott.

RICHARD ELLIOTT: For more than twenty years, member states have recognized in multiple unanimous resolutions of the General Assembly and of this Commission that countering the world drug problem must be carried out with full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

This was reaffirmed most recently in the Ministerial Declaration adopted by the Commission last week.

However, too often the reality has diverged, and still diverges, from this important commitment.

We therefore wish to draw the attention of member states to the international guidelines on human rights and drug policy, the result of a three year consultative process to address this gap. The guidelines were released here during last week's Ministerial Segment, with the support of member states, UN entities, and leading human rights experts.

The guidelines outline the measures states should take or refrain from taking in order to comply with their human rights obligations. The guidelines do not invent new rights. They apply existing human rights law to the legal and policy context of drug control in order to maximize human rights protections, including in the interpretation and implementation of the drug control conventions.

The guidelines first present foundational crosscutting human rights principles, such as equality and nondiscrimination, the accountability of states, and the right to an effective remedy for violations of human rights.

They then set out specific universal human rights standards and apply them to the specific context of drug policy. These include, but are not limited to, such matters as:

the right to health and what it requires in the areas of prevention of problematic drug use, harm reduction, drug dependence treatment, access to controlled substances for medical purposes, and measures effecting the environment with health implications;

the right to life, which continues to be violated in some settings by the continued application of the death penalty and widespread extrajudicial executions;

freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, which for example continues to be widespread in compulsory drug detention centers, where people are subjected to horrific abuses, sometimes in the name of supposed treatment for drug dependence;

and the rights to privacy, to freedom of expression and information, to a fair trial, and to enjoy cultural life, among numerous others.

The guidelines also address states' obligations in relation to the human rights of particular groups, such as children, women, prisoners and other persons deprived of their liberty, and indigenous peoples, for which groups there are specific human rights instruments of relevance to drug policy.

The guidelines also recognize that many other groups experience disproportionate harm, inequities, and intersecting forms of discrimination, which must be taken into account in drug policies, including on the grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, migration status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, poverty, and the nature and location of livelihood, including employment as rural workers or sex workers.

The guidelines respect states' prerogative to determine their national drug policies. But states have also repeatedly and unanimously declared their commitment to ensuring full respect for human rights in law, policy, and practice related to drugs.

We urge member states to make use of this new resource in order to fulfill this commitment. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV Legal Network, speaking at the Sixty-Second Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held in Vienna, Austria.

That meeting took place on Monday, March 18. I was only able to get this recording because some anonymous person with the United Nations Information Service, which is based in Vienna, made sure that there was a webcast that day.

The next morning, Tuesday March 19, I was sitting at my computer at 2 AM waiting for the webcast to start live from Vienna. I was still sitting and waiting at 3 AM. That's when I tweeted the CND to let them know that there were technical issues.

A little while later, I got this reply via direct message from the CND twitter account, @CND_tweets. Quote: "Hi! We only had a webcast for the ministerial segment, not the regular segment. Apologies for the misunderstanding. Kind regards!" End quote.

The Ministerial Segment was March 14 and 15. The CND's annual session runs through the 22nd.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of We're listening to portions of the annual meeting of the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was held in Vienna, Austria. We'll be back with more in just a moment.

The UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs holds its annual sessions at the UN complex in Vienna, Austria, which is the headquarters of the CND as well as headquarters for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and of the International Narcotics Control Board.

If these meetings were being held at the UN's facility in Geneva, Switzerland, or in New York City, then there would be video and audio of the entire proceeding online, both broadcast live at the time of the meeting and available afterward in an archive.

Unfortunately the UN's drug control agencies over in Vienna seem to think that they're living in the 1960s. It's so much easier to do the work of the people, for the people, when the people can be shut out of the proceedings entirely and left in the dark.

But you know, considering the catastrophic global failure that is international drug control policy, you can kind of understand where they're coming from.

Yeah, well, that stuff don't fly with me, whether it's policy making or law making, these sorts of proceedings need to be carried out in the open. Governments must be held accountable.

Drug warriors at these meetings insist on blind obedience to a set of outdated, ill-thought-out conventions that were doomed to fail because to do otherwise would be to admit that they were wrong. Millions of lives lost, more millions of lives ruined, all because some git in a suit with a government job can't admit that they got it wrong.

Drug control policies based on prohibition and centered around punishment have consistently failed for decades. If you look at the policies, the data, the facts, then that is undeniable.

That's the reason the CND doesn't keep an archive of its meetings, that's the reason why they don't video or webcast any of the many side events held during their annual meetings, that's the reason why they only do a live webcast of portions of their meeting.

That's also the reason why I watch and record as much of their meetings as possible, and why I encourage everyone from civil society who's attending these meetings to do everything they can to document, whether it's live tweeting, blogging, recording audio or video, using their smartphones, their tablets, their laptops. By every means available.

The CND hates people like us, dear listener. Global drug control policy is decided in darkness and maintained through ignorance. But we can force it into the light of day. We are doing it.

As I always say, the drug war is built on a foundation of lies. Those lies crumble when exposed to the light of truth.

Now, while I climb down off my high horse and compose myself, let's hear more from the 2019 meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The audio from that meeting that I'm using on this edition of Century of Lies was recorded on Monday, March 18. The CND did not plan to webcast any of what went on that day. Thankfully the techs with the UN Information Service didn't get the memo in time.

During the discussion of implementation of the international drug control treaties, the delegate from Switzerland had strong words for the International Narcotics Control Board, another UN entity which releases its annual report a few days before the CND has its annual meeting.

DELEGATE FROM SWITZERLAND TO THE CND: I would like to draw your attention to three issues: transparency and open dialogue; treaty mandate of the INCB; and evidence based policies.

Switzerland welcomed the INCB mission to our country in November 2017. We have taken note of the Board's recommendations to Switzerland in its subsequent letter, as well as published in its annual report of 2018.

But we would like to know what these recommendations were based upon.

We believe that for an open and constructive dialogue between any member state and the INCB, it is important to have all the decisive points at hand, and to discuss them. That is why we have requested the INCB to provide us with its mission report, and we would like to reiterate this request here, again.

The ultimate goal of the three UN drug control conventions is to protect the health and welfare of mankind as well as to ensure the availability of, and access to, controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.

In this regard, the Board should support any scientific research, including research on cannabis.

We are surprised to see that the INCB comments on society's perceptions, based neither on data nor on scientific evaluation. Commenting on the medical usefulness of any substance, including of cannabis, is not a mandate of the Board, but the Treaty mandate of WHO.

Questions regarding how cannabis should be administered are equally the mandate and within the competence of WHO.

The INCB, as a quasi-judicial body, should be impartial and focus very clearly on its mandate: monitor the global drug situation and ensure adequate access to and availability of controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes.

The INCB should contribute to informed decisions by member states, with scientific based information on all issues.

We would like to reiterate that Switzerland is committed to a multidimensional approach to the drug related problem. We look forward to continuing our cooperation and to maintaining an open and honest debate between the INCB, member states, and the Swiss authorities. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was the delegate from Switzerland, speaking on Monday, March 18, at the annual session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. She was bluntly critical of the annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board, another UN drug control agency.

Let's hear now from another UN agency. Here's Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

ZAVED MAHMOOD: Mister Chair, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights thanks you for inviting us to speak at this session.

The United Nations Human Rights Office welcomes the recommendation on human rights related issues in the International Narcotics Control Board's annual report 2018. The INCB report includes two key issues related to human rights. These are extrajudicial acts of violence, and the death penalty.

In the following, I briefly reflect -- I will briefly reflect on these two important issues.

In the outcome document of UNGASS 2016, all states committed to promote, respect, and protect human rights in drug control efforts and tackle impunity.

Despite this commitment, in recent years there have been alarming tendencies towards a deeper militarization in drug control efforts. We have also seen the concerning pursuit by some states of the so-called 'war on drugs' to counter drug problems.

Such approaches have disproportionately affected vulnerable groups and have repeatedly resulted in serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations in several countries.

The United Nations Office strongly condemns all extrajudicial and other killings, and all other serious human rights violations committed in the name of drug control. In accordance with their human rights obligations, authorities must adopt the necessary measures to protect all persons from targeted killings and extrajudicial executions. It is their utmost duty to protect the right to life of all, without any discrimination.

In the INCB report 2018, notes with serious concern that in several countries, in particular in south and southeast Asia, extrajudicial acts of violence continue against persons suspected of drug related activities.

Senior officials of those countries often commit such violent acts, frequently at the direct behest of senior political figures or with their active encouragement or tacit approval. I unquote.

The report also informs us that INCB has communicated with concerned governments to seek clarification and to remind them of their obligations under the international drug control conventions.

Such obligations include the requirements for states to respect the rule of law and due process when carrying out their obligation under those conventions.

The INCB report also mentions that in pursuit of its mandate, the Board will continue to monitor these developments and to draw attention of the international community to them. United Nations Human Rights Office welcomes INCB's initiative and recommendation.

United Nations Human Rights Office also calls upon all concerned states, in accordance with their obligations under international law, to carry out independent, impartial, prompt, effective, and credible investigations into all extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations carried out in the name of drug control.

States should provide full reparations, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation, to the victims of such violations.

Dear Chair, now I turn to the second issue, death penalty.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regrets that, despite repeated calls by the international community, including INCB's, 35 states still have death penalty for drug offenses, in violation of international human rights law.

In recent years, most of the executions were carried out, for drug offenses, in a small number of countries. In its 2018 annual report, INCB once again encourages states that retain capital punishment for drug related offenses to consider the abolition of death penalty for that category of offense.

Dear Chair, I would like to note some positive trends that have been reported in the last year. Reportedly, executions for drug offenses have fallen nearly ninety percent since 2015. This decline, a significant positive development, may have resulted from the amendment to the drug trafficking law and recent legislative initiatives on death penalty reform in several countries, mostly in the Asia region.

Any death penalty reforms, including its full abolition, are welcome and should be applied retrospectively.

While removing the death penalty from their laws, states should also revoke death sentences issued for crimes not qualifying as the most serious crimes, such as drug crimes, and pursue necessary legal procedures to re-sentence those convicted for such crimes.

Excellencies, despite various political trends towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, our Office remains concerned about warning signs of a resurgence and reintroduction of death penalty for drug offenses in a small number of countries.

Considering the death penalty as the model solution to address the drug problem is wrong, and indeed not based on any evidence. On the contrary, all the evidence indicates that death penalty neither deters crime nor does it provide justice to the victims of crime.

Its application also has the potential to become an obstacle to effective cross border and international judicial cooperation against drug trafficking.

In accordance with their international human rights obligations, states around the world adopted numerous national laws that rightly prohibit the exchange of information, mutual legal assistance, and extradition in cases where the suspects may face capital punishment.

The death penalty undermines human dignity, and its application violates human rights norms and principles.

The United Nations Human Rights Office once again calls upon all states to abolish the death penalty in all circumstances, including for drug offenses.

Dear Chair, in conclusion, our Office strongly encourages the INCB to continue to address human rights issues in the implementation of the drug control conventions. The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to cooperate with the INCB in this regard. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the Sixty-Second Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

The CND is held in mid-March each year at their headquarters in Vienna, Austria. We'll hear more from this year's CND on next week's show.

And that’s all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

02/20/19 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week: US Senators look at pain management, opioid policies, and the search for alternatives like cannabis.

Audio file



February 20, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

On February Twelfth, the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing entitled “Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis.” We’re going to hear some audio from that hearing today. Witnesses appearing at this hearing included:

Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the US Pain Foundation and Policy Council Chair for the Massachusetts Pain Initiative;
Halena Gazelka, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, where she's Director of the Mayo Clinic Inpatient Pain Service and Chair of the Mayo Clinic Opioid Stewardship Program;
Andrew Coop, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; and
Anuradha Rao-Patel, MD, Lead Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Let’s go to the questioning from members of the Committee. First up, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat from Washington State.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: You know, throughout this Committee's bipartisan work on the opioid misuse crisis, I've heard from people who supported our legislative efforts and were very grateful.

But I also heard from some people with disabilities who experience pain and fear that restricting access to treatment could affect independent living, merely because they were unable to manage their pain.

So, Doctor Gazelka, maybe you can take this on. Have we struck the right balance in our work to misuse, but also making sure that treatments are available, which can be really vital for people with disabilities?

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: That's a very good question, and I worry that we've gotten ahead of ourselves with wanting to restrict opioids. A lot of people are now, a lot of providers are now scared to provide opioids to patients they've been prescribing them to for many years.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that those patients have come in contact with a pain provider who can help them manage their pain, but with other means.

Most opioids in the United States that are prescribed chronically are prescribed by primary care providers, many of them who don't have any education in managing chronic pain. They don't have time to go into the detail that it takes to talk to patients about other options. They don't have access to pain providers.

And I think in some ways, I mean, we've done what needed to be done, which is to drastically reduce opioid prescribing, I think, but I worry that we're getting ahead of ourselves with having available other options.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: Okeh. Thank you. I know people experience pain in a lot of different ways, but one other thing I'm really concerned about is how bias in the health care system can affect a patient's treatment for pain.

Despite the fact that women experience pain at higher rates than men, they are more likely than men to receive sedatives or be diagnosed with a mental health condition when they seek treatment for pain.

And when it comes to cardiac care, women are less likely to have their heart attack symptoms recognized, or to receive painkillers after a cardiac surgery, and it's just, you know, when patients are listened to, the results can be debilitating, even fatal. So Doctor Gazelka, maybe I can ask you, have you seen female patients being treated differently than male patients?

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: I have a patient who has not only given me permission to share her story, but has encouraged me to do so.

Sixty-year-old lady in 2017 went to her local provider in a small town in Minnesota with abdominal pain. She'd been very active running before this. As the year progressed, she was -- became less functional. Her primary care provider did not know what else to do for her, other than ordering a CT scan of her abdomen and ruling out any difficulty there.

She started presenting to the emergency room locally. After multiple presentations, the emergency room physician sat her down and said, Mrs. B, you have chronic pain. You're going to need to go home and figure out how to manage this.

She was frustrated, so came two hours to the Mayo Clinic Emergency Room and eventually ended up on my schedule in the pain clinic.

Now, talking about bias, I admit that when I saw that on the schedule and I read her history, I just felt a little irritated that morning, having to go into the room, but I stood outside of her room and I told myself, you're going to listen to her like this is the first time she's told her story.

And I went in and I listened to her. And I ordered an MRI, that showed that she had a metastatic lung cancer eating through her rib and the nerve that innervated that area in her abdomen. It had been present for at least a year, and ignored because people felt that she was seeking opioids.

Bias is a significant problem in all areas of medicine. It's a problem in research, it's a problem when we see patients, and it contributes significantly, I think, to the stigma that surrounds the treatment not only of chronic pain but of addiction and of mental health disorders. I think it's a significant issue.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: I'm not sure how we address that, but being aware of it is certainly a critical part of it.

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: I think awareness, and I think education, both for patients and providers, the public.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: And, I understand people of color, the same biases.

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: Yes. There are definitely studies that show that, yes.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY: Okeh. Ms. Steinberg, I wanted to ask you, can you share your experience in providing a healthcare provider, who helped you manage your pain, and your thoughts on how Congress can help make sure that providers have the tools they need to support patients who live with pain?

CINDY STEINBERG: Yeah, I think it's a great question, because, I've often asked myself, after five years, why did it take me so long to find somebody, and what was special about this doctor that finally helped me?

And it wasn't anything miraculous, and that's I think an important message today, which is, he empathized with me. He believed me. A lot of people with pain don't get believed, because it's an invisible disability.

He said I will work with you to help you find things to manage your pain, but understand that there is no cure now for chronic pain. You probably have chronic pain and you're going to need to learn to live with this. But I will partner with you.

He was honest, he was empathetic, as I said, and he worked with me to find things that helped me. We often say in pain management now, if you do a program of several different things, and what I do is, I take medication, I limit the amount of time I'm up. Everybody has different limitations on their activities with pain.

I do a water based therapy, physical therapy program, and land based program. So if each thing takes down your pain fifteen or twenty percent, that adds up to maybe a fifty or sixty percent reduction in pain. You can live that way.

But, it's a matter of having doctors have the time to do the coordinated care. Our system is so fragmented now that people go from doctor to doctor, nothing is coordinated. They try one thing, it doesn't work, they go to another person because they're desperate.

But if we had coordinated care. Think about cardiac rehab. Heart disease has been a huge cost for us. Right? But we focused on cardiac rehab and said, we are going to have a rehab program that puts everything together. And we've had great success with that.

Pain needs something like that. We need that kind of approach. Where there's an integrated care center, doctors have time to provide that care, and you can try different things and have somebody helping you, you're not isolated.

It would go a long way to staving a lot of the wasted costs from trying different procedures and different needles and different injections. This is what happens to people with pain. So that's my suggestion. It is not miraculous. I think we can do this, if we rethink and realign insurance reimbursement, and think about models of care that are creative that way.


DOUG MCVAY: That was questioning by Senator Patty Murray during a hearing by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on the subject of "Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis." You’re listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay.

Now, let’s hear from the Chair of the HELP Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican from Tennessee.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Let me go back to you, recognizing I've only got five minutes, Ms. Steinberg. We have 300,000 primary care doctors in the country, they're the access point for most of us to whatever else we need.

How do we empower them to do a better job, as you just described?

CINDY STEINBERG: So, that is a great question, because I've been working in policy in Massachusetts for at least eleven years now, and I've worked with lawmakers to try some innovative things, and we just passed a law, something that I worked on, which was, patients are being dropped from care right now.

You've heard that doctors are afraid to take care of people with pain. And the bulk of people with pain end up, because we have so many millions, being taken care of by primary care physicians, who don't get much training in it.

So, we try --

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: I don't want to cut you off but I've got several questions in my five minutes.

CINDY STEINBERG: Okeh. So, we try to program where primary care doctors can call pain management specialists for consultation free of charge to them. So the state is going to pay for specially trained teams of pain management specialists who can consult with the doctors, so the doctor feels more comfortable handling that patient, they have a network of alternative providers, that really is helpful.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Doctor Gazelka, does the Mayo Clinic have such a system to connect with primary care doctors around Minnesota or other states?

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: We do have a system within our electronic medical record. We allow for e-consults, where a physician or provider can contact a specialty physician and ask for advice to treat that patient, and ask if a referral might be appropriate.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Doctor Coop, the hearing, this hearing, for an obvious reason, it's called human nature, you set out one direction, and it's the right direction, but you know for sure that something's going to happen that can cause -- in the other direction you didn't anticipate. And that's what we're worrying about here today.

Let's say, I'm, I have a loved one who's about to have a serious surgery. How do I think about opioid prescriptions in a state like Tennessee, where the state has said, with our encouragement, three days per prescription. How should we think about opioids, is it something you don't use at all?

I notice that Blue Cross in Tennessee won't reimburse Oxycontin, although I don't think that may be true for other opioids. But, how should one think about that, looking at it from the point of view of your own family, and someone headed toward a painful surgery?

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: My own family takes opioids, and I'm fully supportive of them taking them. When, if somebody needs opioids, they should get them. I really don't think -- one of the issues is the pendulum has swung way too back, to limiting and people suffering from pain.

We need to get to the middle ground, where opioids are used in limited quantities, but we also add all the other approaches that we --

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: What is a limited quantity? Three days, or three weeks?

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: I'm not a physician. I can't answer that. I'm sorry.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Doctor Gazelka, what's a limited quantity?

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: That varies, by the patient and the procedure.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Well, what would a range be?

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: Between, I think three days is very reasonable for emergency room presentations. That's what we've instituted at Mayo, and actually throughout the state of Minnesota with other healthcare organizations cooperating.

But I think for a knee surgery, we know, from research, that it's about 16 days of opioids that a patient takes. What is appropriate is to educate the patient, and perhaps with the participation of a pharmacist.

Educate the patient that you should take this for the shortest amount of time possible. The risk for maintaining long term opioid use increases dramatically at about ten days of use.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Doctor Coop, I have about a minute left. What are the most promising non-addictive painkiller treatments or medicines coming down the road? And you can mention your own.

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: My own would not be approved. My own would not be approved. It does indeed cause less dependence and tolerance, but it is reinforcing. So, that's why I say the FDA needs to fully address all these drugs.

My drug should not be approved. It would be the worst thing to put onto the market. I'm working on the next generation.

The drugs that are coming, I mention cannabinoids. I really do, and I know that's a controversial topic, but, there is great potential --

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Why is there controversy?

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: Certain states have legalized, the federal government has not legalized. The studies out there --


PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: The studies out there have potential, but, the studies have been done with no systematic approach. We need systematic approaches --

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: You're talking about medical marijuana, is that -- ?

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: Medical marijuana. Sorry, yes. Medical marijuana.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: We're laymen, most of us, women ...

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: Sorry. I'm really sorry. Medical marijuana, yes. I think that has great potential.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That was questioning by Senator Lamar Alexander during a hearing by the Senate HELP Committee on the subject of Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis.

The hearing witnesses were:
Cindy Steinberg;
Halena Gazelka, MD;
Andrew Coop, PhD; and
Anuradha Rao-Patel, MD.

You’re listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

Now let’s hear a round of questioning by Senator Bill Cassidy, MD, Republican from Louisiana. It's worth noting that during her medical training, Doctor Rao-Patel, who’s one of the witnesses, was a resident under Doctor Cassidy.


SENATOR BILL CASSIDY, MD: Thank you. First, Ms. Steinberg, you're sitting back there, but I remember, and this will set up my next question, I remember having, when I was a first year in Congress, having a slipped disc in my neck, with a radiating pain down my radian -- my honor distribution, and it was so incredibly painful.

I was imprisoned by the pain and all day long I just waited for my every six hour dose of Motrin, and or, and I staggered it with my Tylenol, taking something just when I went to bed.

And for three or four months, that's all I did. And it just sapped my emotional energy. Now, I was eventually helped by epidural injections, and, and this sets up my next question, Doctor Gazelka.

When I looked at the research on epidural, and for people who are not in medicine, they put a needle right there, they injected it, and it would give me instant release -- relief that would then wear away.

I looked up the data, it said it was no good. The data says, you know, epidural has no long term benefit in the management of chronic pain.

But after my third one, it just went away, and never came back. Now, then I looked at the CDC guidelines for management of chronic pain, and they say, going back to Senator Collins' question, that there's really just no evidence of use of opioids long term versus no opioids versus et cetera et cetera et cetera.

So it seems like we have a paucity of evidence, and that which empirically worked in me, you know, n is equal to one, doesn't have the evidence to support it.

Now, briefly comment on that, because then I'm going to go to my former student. Doctor Rao-Patel, to ask if Blue Cross's covering things which have no evidence but nonetheless empirically do work in some. So, quickly.

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: Well, so, Doctor Cassidy, I do not have to explain to you that you can find studies almost to back up whatever you're looking to back up.

You had acute pain. Epidurals very effectively manage acute pain, radicular pain. Probably for patients who have spinal stenosis or other types of chronic radicular pain, they may not be as effective. I could tell you that anecdotally, from my practice.

Do we use them? Yes, because they are helpful to them, sometimes patients don't have other options available. But, definitely for acute pain, those are helpful.

SENATOR BILL CASSIDY, MD: Now, of course, mine lasted three months. Now eventually what my neurosurgeon friend told me is that just part of your nerve will die, although I still have a little bit of something, it tingles right there, and then after that death, that's a great way to look at it, I would feel better.

So, by the way, I also once read in Mad Magazine as a kid, give me statistics and I can prove that Rhode Island is bigger than Texas.


SENATOR BILL CASSIDY, MD: So, I feel your point. But Doctor Rao-Patel, will Blue Cross pay for that, which evidence suggests does not work, number one?

Number two, Doctor Gazelka mentioned all these wonderful things that can be used in lieu of opioids, in the, say, post-surgical setting, but then my physician friends tell me, hey, you're on a bundled payment, or you're on capitated paymet, and the insurance company won't give you that bump up for the more expensive drug, or the more expensive procedure. And I see Doctor Gazelka over there vigorously nodding her head yes.

So, tell us, since ultimately it comes to your decision as the UR [Utilization Review] manager for Blue Cross. How does that handle?

ANURADHA RAO-PATEL, MD: So, along with her comment, there are studies that show that for acute pain, injections like epidural steroid injections work.

Again, there are multiple kinds of injections for spinal pain, depending on where the pain generator is. And those are things that Blue Cross Blue Shield does cover.

Several of the things that we've discussed, like physical therapy, occupational therapy, water therapy, chiropractic care, epidural steroid injections, [inaudible] injections, those are all a multitude of things that we cover as a plan without any type of prior authorization.

So, if a provider feels that this is the appropriate intervention for the pain, for the patient, for their pain, they can go ahead and do the procedure, they don't even have to contact us.

SENATOR BILL CASSIDY, MD: Now, let me ask, though, because clearly given a prescription for opioids would be cheaper than a whole panoply of that which might be less likely to induce, and it seems like that sends -- that's the rub, right? If you're getting X number of dollars to manage patients, do you, how do you employ that which is significantly more expensive, even though long term there is a benefit?

ANURADHA RAO-PATEL, MD: Well, I mean, our approach at Blue Cross is, you know, again, we've participated with multi stakeholders at our state level, including the medical board and specialty societies on appropriate management and treatment of pain. And our approach has always been a multimodal approach.

SENATOR BILL CASSIDY, MD: So then let me ask, as I'm almost out of time, go back to the question of a bundled payment, and I don't know if Blue Cross uses bundled payment but I can imagine some place either you do or you plan to, and again my pain management physician said, listen, put surgically, we can do this or that, but it's more expensive than just giving them a prescription or giving them an injection of an opioid.

So, how do we manage that? How do we approach, as policymakers, bundled payments, when we know that it may increase the cost to do something which would decrease the use of opioids?

ANURADHA RAO-PATEL, MD: Again, the reason that we bundle payments, for example, is to be more cost efficient overall. So, again, we're, again, not trying to limit the options that providers have in managing pain, but we're encouraging them to use a multimodal approach in terms of management.

SENATOR BILL CASSIDY, MD: But I'm not sure that answers my question, because if your cost basis is just giving a prescription for opioids, but the alternative is this, and he's politely tapping his thing to tell me to shut up. So that will be a question for the record. Thank you.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Well, maybe you could provide some -- Senator Murray would like to know the answer, so we'll give -- if you -- we'll extend the discussion for Senator Cassidy and ask you if you have any comment on what he just said.

ANURADHA RAO-PATEL, MD: Yeah, again, like I said, the things that, for example, that I'm aware of that we bundle at Blue Cross in terms of payment are, for example, post-surgery, let's say a patient has a knee replacement or a hip replacement. They're, the perioperative period, the preoperative period, the perioperative period, and the post-operative period is bundled in a payment in terms of management of that patient.

I would -- it's more of a payment question that I would -- I could get back to you on and specifically what we bundle in terms of interventional pain management procedures. But there are instances where we do bundle payments in order to contain the cost.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: Thank you, Doctor Cassidy, I think she said she wants to submit some homework to you. It's terrific to have a United States Senator who has a former resident student as a witness.

ANURADHA RAO-PATEL, MD: Yeah, I feel like I'm in his clinic right now, so ...

DOUG MCVAY: That was questioning by Senator Bill Cassidy, MD, during a hearing of the Senate HELP Committee on the subject of “Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis.” Now, let’s hear questioning by Senator Doug Jones, Democrat from Alabama.

SENATOR DOUG JONES: Senator would be fine.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER: That's all right. Senator Jones. Well, you have a doctorate from law school.

SENATOR DOUG JONES: That's right. Thank you, Mister Chairman and ranking member, thank you all for being here today.

One brief comment, I appreciate the comments about tele-health and tele-medicine. We are continuing to have our rural hospitals and providers leave our rural area, and I've always thought that tele-medicine and tele-health is one way to try to keep that.

It is only however as good as our rural broadband, and access to the internet, and that is something that we are -- my office is continuing to push for, and I would, any help on that area, to try to get broadband in those areas, would be great.

I do want to follow up, though, with an area, and I, you know, a lot of times when we ask these questions, people think we're going at it with an agenda, and sometimes we are and sometimes we're not. This is not one of those.

But Senator Rosen asked about the research and development using medical marijuana and cannabis, and Doctor Coop, you gave a very good answer, I appreciate that very much. But I'd also like to hear from the other three of you on this issue.

I do think it's an important topic, it is one that, in the public's mind, is growing throughout the country, and so, with each of our physicians as well as Ms. Steinberg there, if you would, we'll just start with you, Ms. Steinberg, if you could comment on the pros and the cons of what you see in the developing of medical marijuana, cannabis, the ability to use as an alternative, but also the research that would be required to go into it.

CINDY STEINBERG: Yes, and actually cannabis has helped a number of people living with pain. I mean, I -- it's another option, as we talk about, in the toolbox. It's helped a significant number of people, but it's not legal in a lot of places, and therefore even where it is legal, as Doctor Coop said, it's not standardized.

Doctors need to be the ones prescribing it, but they're not -- they don't know what they're doing with it. They're not trained with it, either. And so without having a real good research base, you know, we're just flying, you know, blind.

SENATOR DOUG JONES: What prohibits the research base?

CINDY STEINBERG: The fact that it's not legal.

SENATOR DOUG JONES: Okeh. Just wanted to get that in the record, that we're a scheduled -- it's a scheduled substance, so that it limits the amount of research considerably that can go on and deal with the pros and the cons. Yes. Yes. Okeh, thank you. Doctor Gazelka?

PROFESSOR HALENA GAZELKA, MD: I don't think we do know that marijuana is not addictive. I've certainly seen patients who have excessively used marijuana, not medical marijuana perhaps, but pot, and, it is believed to be an addictive substance.

And it is, you know, years, not that many years ago, we heard that opioids weren't addictive, and so I think we have to proceed with caution, as with anything else.

I think the inconsistency among the products that are produced, with the ratio of CBD to THC, et cetera, is an important component of this, that will factor in when it's being researched. But I think the impediment has been that it's a schedule two -- schedule one substance, rather, sorry, and it's not permissibly prescribed by providers.

But I do think that there may be some significant areas where this may be very useful. I have some palliative medicine patients using it for nausea, appetite, et cetera, and I think pain, I think it can be helpful.

SENATOR DOUG JONES: Right. Right, thank you. Yes ma'am.

ANURADHA RAO-PATEL, MD: So, I would agree with that. I think that there is -- I think due to limitations, such as the fact that it is illegal in some states as well as on the federal level, make research difficult.

I think a lot of times, I have seen patients of mine in the past who were taking opioids and, you know, if we did a urine drug screen on them they tested positive for marijuana, and they found that that seemed to help more than being prescribed an opioid or any type of adjunctive medicine to an opioid.

So I do think that there potentially, from a physician's standpoint, I think that there is some potential to the utility of medical marijuana for the management of chronic pain.

I'll say, putting on my other hat as an insurer hat, that we obviously only cover procedures and drugs that are FDA approved, so we would obviously need some clinical evidence and support to be able to cover those kinds of medications.

SENATOR DOUG JONES: Have any of you got any suggestions other than -- other than, short of removing it off of schedule one, which I guess you could do, and put some other weird restrictions, I guess. What we -- can we do, other, is there anything other than that that we can do to open up the ability to research the pros and the cons of medical use of cannabis? Or is that the impediment that we've got to try to figure out how to deal with? Doctor Coop, you?

PROFESSOR ANDREW COOP, PHD: I was going to punt this. I would say that this is a decision that the National Institute on Drug Abuse, with the experts, that could know all the confounding factors. It would be something that I think we should charge those guys with, coming up with what is the best way forward.



SENATOR DOUG JONES: Great. Well, thank you all for your answers, and thanks for being here. Thank you, Mister Chairman.

DOUG MCVAY: That was questioning by Senator Doug Jones, Democrat from Alabama, during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee – the HELP Committee – on the subject of “Managing Pain During the Opioid Crisis.”

The Senators heard from:
Cindy Steinberg, National Director of Policy and Advocacy for the US Pain Foundation and Policy Council Chair for the Massachusetts Pain Initiative;
Halena Gazelka, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Director of the Mayo Clinic Inpatient Pain Service and Chair of the Mayo Clinic Opioid Stewardship Program;
Andrew Coop, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy; and
Anuradha Rao-Patel, MD, Lead Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

There’s no question that there’s a role for cannabis medicine when it comes to pain management.

The question which policymakers are wrestling with is whether marijuana should be available in its natural plant form as an over the counter herbal product, just like so many others on the grocery store and drug store shelves; or solely as a precisely formulated and patented combination of cannabinoids produced by a pharmaceutical corporation and sold only by prescription?

That question requires input from people with experience in cannabis medicine and cannabis research, experience no one on that panel has.

And for now, that's it. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

01/02/19 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century, we hear portions of a debate in the Denver City Council on a measure to establish a safe consumption space in the city of Denver. Hosted by Doug McVay.

Audio file



JANUARY 2, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

The city of Denver, Colorado, is moving closer to becoming the first city in the United States to open a supervised injection facility. The Denver City Council voted in late November to approve a resolution to set up a SIF as a pilot project, pending approval by the state legislature. On today’s show we’re going to hear portions of that city council debate.

In this segment, the first voice you hear will be that of Denver City Council President Jolon Clark. He introduces the first speaker in that debate, also the only opponent on the Council, Council Member Kevin Flynn.

JOLON CLARK: Madame Secretary, please put the next item on our screens, and Councilwoman Kniech, will you please put Council Bill 1292 on the floor?

ROBIN KNIECH: Yes, I move that Council Bill Twelve -- 18-1292 be placed upon final consideration and do pass.

JOLON CLARK: It has been moved and seconded. Questions or comments by members of council? Councilman Flynn.

KEVIN FLYNN: Thank you Mister President. Yes, I called this out as I did last week, because I intend to vote no on it again, and I want to just explain a little bit about the week between last Monday and today, and I said last week that this is probably the most difficult vote I ever faced up here in the three plus years, because of the very serious life and death issues that it involves, that don't usually attend to our normal business.

Over the intervening week, I've heard from numerous constituents, some of whom have stopped me, actually my wife and me at a restaurant over the weekend, a woman who just put her son into drug rehab at a cost of twenty-five thousand dollars, who begged me not to vote for this because of her fear that had there been such a site available to her son, he might not have chosen to go into rehab when he did.

Whether that's true or not, that's what she believed.

So I voted last week against it, and I intend to vote no also, and I wanted to explain a little more. We like to make data driven decisions, and in this as with a lot of our issues, there's a lot of data available, but it's raw data, some of it's not sliced and diced and analyzed very -- very usefully for us.

It's not, you know, a good regression analysis would really help here, to say, to help us know whether these facilities around the world are actually reducing the opioid crisis when it's occurring in an atmosphere where there's other factors that are creating a surge in deaths and a surge in usage.

It's hard to know what is the right path forward, and so we like to think that data tells us what to do, it leads us in a certain direction, and a lot of times that's just not so. There has to be human judgment. If data alone could tell us what the right thing to do is, you wouldn't need thirteen of us up here, you could just feed it into a computer, and it would tell you what the right policy choice is.

Don't get any ideas about that, by the way, about replacing us with a computer.

But there has to be human judgment that is applied to this data, and so I want to say at the outset, Mister President, that I have great respect for every single one of my colleagues who voted the other way last week and who will vote that way tonight, because they've applied their judgment as well to the facts, and have reached what I consider an equally valid course of action to do, and it's just not one that I can -- that I can personally support.

But I do want to say that I have great respect for the judgment that my colleagues have applied to this, but I also want to say that my judgment on this is that it's not the path that I think this city ought to be taking, to establish a designated area where dangerous drugs, illegal drugs, heroin, can be consumed.

I don't make this judgment based on any inaccurate reading of the data, nor out of any pretense that it's not occurring on our streets or in our allies or in our parks. I have it in my own district, I'm fully aware of this, and I -- as I said last week, I've had several overdose deaths just within a stone's throw of my office in Bear Valley.

So I'm fully aware that this is happening on the streets. I've simply concluded that a supervised injection site isn't the way to combat the crisis. I think it enables it without reducing it. This is a two year pilot program. We end the two years with, let's say there are no overdose deaths as we fully expect, because I don't think there's been one in any of these facilities around the world.

So what's the end game? Does that mean, Mister President, that we will then put a facility such as this in every district in the city? Or everywhere where we've experienced opioid deaths? Is that the way to really prevent the deaths, is to put these safe injection facilities elsewhere in the city if this pilot program proves successful?

I believe though if we want to be more effective, instead of establishing a safe use site, I think we should follow the lead that the state of Utah has taken, and that is with a very robust distribution, free distribution of naloxone, of Narcan kits, to the communities that are affected by this, to the providers, to nonprofits, to family members, family members whose sons, brothers, sisters, daughters, mothers, are struggling with addiction.

Provide them, and prevent the deaths where they're occurring and don't expect them to come down to a single site, but go out to the bike paths and the parks, and the library, and the public restrooms, where we know, where we've had these things occurring, and I think that would be much more effective. I could fully support a program like that.

You know, it's been stated that addiction is a disease, not necessarily a crime, but the addiction itself is a disease, and we don't criminalize a disease. Cancer patients don't have to do chemo in an alley. But then again, this isn't treatment. A safe injection site is not treatment. It's like bringing a lung cancer patient into a smoking room and giving him more cigarettes. This is not treatment.

If this bill offered more in the way of an aggressive path toward treatment, and resolving the addiction for the individual client, I could be more supportive of it. But a supervised injection room enables continued addiction and not treatment, and for that reason, reluctantly, after weighing all of the options, reluctantly, Mister President, I have to vote no.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Kevin Flynn, a member of the Denver City Council. His was the only no vote on a measure to approve a pilot program for a supervised injection facility in the city of Denver.

Next up, Council Member Wayne New.

WAYNE NEW: I also love to hear from my constituents as well, on all the key issues that we face in Council I normally survey my constituents, and I did on the supervised injection site as well.

I had 665 of my constituents in District Ten responded, just wanted to share a little bit of their data with you.

What was their feeling about reducing drug deaths and combating illegal drug use as a priority for the city? Over 76 percent of the residents who responded said yes, it is a priority, reducing deaths as well as fighting drug -- illegal drug distribution.

Do you support the supervised injection site in Denver? Fifty-six percent of my residents that responded said yes, we do support the drug addiction center.

The question is, in addition, should we wait until -- should we make sure that Colorado approves such a program as we submit our program? And that's what the plan is, that Colorado will need to pass that legislation first.

The last thing that he mentioned, in addition -- that Councilman Flynn mentioned, in addition to the self injection site we need to do more in terms of treatment centers. Treatment is, if we were able to help these folks get off of drug use, where they do not have to use a self injection site, that will be an incredible goal for everybody.

So we want to make sure that there's treatment facilities, and I've received this assurance from the chief of police, that there will be no reduction in combating illegal drug use, drug sales, we'll still have a robust effort to make sure that illegal drug sales will be combated in the city. So, I'm pleased with that.

I do hope that Denver Health will be a part of this program down the road as it comes forward and it passes, and from a community health standpoint, they are a valuable partner, and I hope they'll play a vital role in this program.

And I do like the pilot project. My constituents said over and over in this, make sure that the metrics for evaluating this program are meaningful, that you actually can see how effective this program is, so, and treatment -- treatment facility referrals, obviously, is an important metric too.

So, I just wanted to share the results from my constituents. I'll be supporting this tonight, and just wanted to let you know how they felt about it.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Denver City Council Member Wayne New. He was speaking in favor of a measure to set up a supervised injection facility in the city as a pilot project.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay. Now, here’s Denver City Council Member Paul Lopez.

PAUL LOPEZ: Thank you, Mister President. I'm very supportive of this. We're not going to arrest ourselves out of the problem. Jail is not going to be the cure for addiction, and it isn't.

Anybody who understands this issue and understands the population, understands addiction, understands what folks go through when they're addicted, the process that it takes, the amount of resources. If we could have it our way, I know that we'd fund it left and right, but it's not just up to Denver, it's also up to the state.

There are so many systems that are failing that whole treatment model, that are not addressing it, the hours are not there for folks sometimes, their hours are very limited. There are stigmas associated. There are so many different factors outside that need to be addressed.

In the meantime, while we're debating in government about what to fund and whether we're going to get mental health dollars or treatment dollars for a model like this, people are dying, and people are dying, they're overdosing, they're doing it in areas where they're not being found, where there's nobody around them to save their life, to give them a dose of Narcan, or to even talk to them.

This model allows for that interaction to happen, because if not, it's not going to -- it's not going to prevent folks from -- it's one of very many tools. One of very many tools that can be employed, that can be used to address the addiction issue.

And the last thing you want is to not support something like this, and know that the person who is ODing in a park, your neighborhood, your neighborhood store bathroom because they're -- that's the only place that they can be. Right?

Knowing that that can happen, and knowing how you're voting right now, I'd rather have that option for someone to be there and not be alone, to have -- to talk to somebody, but then to make sure that they -- what they're doing is being supervised, and can potentially save their life.

And I think that's something, and that's also an entryway to services. Right? This is a professional. These are area -- these are people who know what they're doing, and it's an opportunity for folks to interact that way, and could save some lives.

The last thing I want to say is that, you know, when we think about this, and we think of the folks on the other side, oh, all you're doing is enabling. You're not enabling. You're being there as a supervisor, to make sure that they're not killing themselves.

Oh, you're not -- why not just treatment? Well, treatment's very expensive. Yes, we'd rather have treatment, but not everybody has the access to treatment. It's not that simple, and it's not an either or. It's not supervised injection sites replacing treatment. This is just another tool, and another tool for a society that still doesn't know how to address addiction.

In a country that still is in the stone ages when it comes to addressing addiction. We have to look around the world for these models. You have to look at these other cities, and they are doing it right, and sometimes, you just employ that, and by doing that, you've got to remove your fear, you've got to deprogram everything you've thought of to be an addict, remove that fear, and look at this person as a human being, and the end goal is saving their life.

That's what this bill allows Denver to do, should the state act. So, I, Councilman Brooks, folks at the harm [reduction] center, thank you for your work. Thank you all for bringing this to us. I know this would be historical if we were to pass it.

But I want folks to get out of this mindset that oh, this is scary, this is just a bunch of folks shooting up and we're enabling them. No. And this is replacing other treatment? It's not. This is another tool that we need to treat addiction.

So, thank you. I support this wholeheartedly, Councilman.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Denver City Council Member Paul Lopez. He was speaking in support of a measure to allow the city of Denver to set up a supervised injection facility.

You’re listening to Century of Lies. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

Supervised injection facilities, or SIFS, also called safe consumption spaces or overdose prevention sites, are proven harm reduction interventions that save lives, improve public health, and enhance public safety.

They prevent overdose deaths because trained healthcare professionals are on hand to reverse opioid overdoses. They increase the safety of drug users through drug safety testing to identify contaminants and unexpected substances.

Cities around the country, cities around the world, have unsafe consumption spaces already. It's the alleyways, it's the doorways, it's the public restrooms. Those unsafe consumption spaces already exist, and that's where people die.

Supervised injection facilities, safe consumption spaces, these places work. People survive.

Now, let's get back to that Denver City Council meeting. Let’s hear from Denver City Council Member Paul Kashmann.

PAUL KASHMANN: As I said last week, I'm -- we know people are dying on the street. Letting people die in our restaurant bathrooms, and doorways, and our parks, and our trails, behind trees, and wherever, it's not reducing the opioid crisis. Okeh?

I have a letter from a constituent today, an email, and he said, well, what's going to be next? Are we going to have government sponsored locations where alcoholics can go to drink their booze?

We have it now. They're called bars.

Well, think about it. They're called bars, and we license every last one of them. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of places to get alcohol in Denver. We continue to license them. Now, not everybody who walks into a bar is an alcoholic. But, thousands and thousands and thousands of them are, and all we do is we keep serving them.

We pat them on the back and we send them out into the night. No one gives them a brochure that says hey, here's where the local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is. Or here's a place you can go to get treatment if you're having trouble.

As I read the bill for a proposed site, and all the discussions I've heard, is as is the case with the Harm Reduction [Action] Center, when people come in to get clean needles, they're offered help. They're counseled on where they can go. They're not just sent off into the night with a wink.

So, if we're serious about addressing addiction in this country, at some point, we need to look at the fact that the Super Bowl is sponsored by Budweiser, and our baseball team plays in Coors Field.

You know, I don't know if we're ever going to get the stomach to look at the alcohol industry, but people are -- I understand the concern with drug addiction. Absolutely. It -- we need to cut it back. We're talking about Vision Zero for traffic deaths. We need a Vision Zero for drug deaths as well.

But as a society, we haven't made that commitment, and it's about time that we do, so I will also be supporting this wholeheartedly. Thank you, Mister President.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Paul Kashmann, a member of the Denver City Council, speaking at a meeting in late November in support of a measure to open a supervised injection facility in the city of Denver as a pilot program.

Mister Kashmann made some excellent points. Something that I’ve been harping on for a very long time is our society’s hypocritical relationship with alcohol. Alcohol is a drug, it’s addictive, and it’s dangerous. In addition, there’s no question that alcohol use contributes to antisocial behavior and violent crime. Alcohol is one of the biggest drug problems that our society faces.

And yet, we can’t even acknowledge that alcohol is a drug. Which reminds me: the National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is an annual event sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It’s a propaganda exercise with events and webinars targeting young people, specifically middle school and high school students along with some college kids.

This year, drug facts week is January 22 through 27, with an online chat day on January 24. You can find more information at Social media hashtags are #NDAFW and #DrugFacts.

Well, here’s a question for NIDA: For decades now, everyone involved in substance use treatment and prevention has used the term Alcohol and Other Drugs, AOD for short. So why does NIDA persist, with its misnamed event, in promoting that false distinction between alcohol and other drugs?

Another question for NIDA: Stigma is one of the biggest problems facing people who use drugs, it's one of the biggest barriers to treatment, it's one of the worst stumbling blocks when it comes to recovery.

So why do we criminalize people who use drugs by criminalizing simple possession? Why do we add to the stigma by criminalizing drug use? Everyone admits that we can’t arrest our way out of drug problems yet we still treat drug use as a crime rather than a health issue.

Indeed, in this Denver City Council debate and other venues where supervised injection facilities have been discussed, the main objection seems to be that people would be allowed to use the facility without first pledging to quit immediately after.

Opponents seem to be saying they’d be okeh with a SIF if the people using that service would just go in and use it one last time, then immediately stop using drugs and go straight into treatment.

You know, just stop, because quitting opiates and other drugs is so easy for people, you know, especially for people without stable housing. They’re using alcohol and other drugs to stop the pain, to cope, and so what happens when you take away those substances yet the circumstances in which they live remain unchanged?

Let’s do something that works instead. Reduce the harm. Keep people alive. Treat people with respect and dignity and affirm their humanity. Build trust so people who have been alienated from and brutalized by society can come forward and get the care they need.

You can find data and statistics regarding safe consumption spaces, heroin assisted treatment, and other harm reduction interventions on the Drug War Facts website at With direct quotes, complete citations, and links to original source materials wherever possible, is your premier source for information on all things related to drug control policies.

And remember, National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week is January 22 through 27. If you have kids or know kids in high school, make sure they know that URL, it’s Share it on social media, hashtag #NDAFW #DrugFacts.

So, while I climb down from my high horse, let’s get back to that Denver City Council meeting. We'll hear from one more Denver City Council Member, Mister Albus Brooks.

ALBUS BROOKS: Yeah, thank you, Mister President, and I want to thank all of my colleagues for their diligence and hard work in this, and I want to thank all the folks in the audience for being engaged and supporting this effort as well.

This is an ordinance that allows for a pilot in the city of Denver, with the General Assembly's approval, and -- for a supervised use site. And how I got to this point, I had a councilperson say, you know, where's the data? Where's the information? How do you -- what's the work that you've done?

Let me give you a number. Over 25 years, over 60 cities, ten countries, and over a hundred sites. That's our data. We actually have the information that shows us that this innovative idea that started over 30 years ago works.

But in our context, in this American context, it's so hard to wrap our mind around, and I understand that, and I get that. But, the fear mongering and the talking down to our neighbors, who are experiencing addiction, I've heard it all day today. I think it's ridiculous, and it's actually disgusting.

These are our neighbors, these are folks all over the world who are struggling with this. And we have an opportunity to address it.

Let me also say, we one hundred percent support the Mayor's plan to address the opioid crisis in the city. He released a plan from 2018 to 2022, it's three prongs, guys. It's prevention, it's treatment, and it's harm reduction. And one of the strategies is this supervised use site.

So let's not get stuck on this being just the one answer, like Councilman Lopez says, there's several strategies that we're working on.

And so I'm excited to support this, and I'm excited to have Denver lead boldly in this area. It's a big moment for our city, and as this Council approves this, and it gets sent to the Mayor's desk to sign, there's a couple things from my heart that I just want to say.

This is more than just public policy. This is about enacting justice in the city of Denver.

There is a national health crisis in front of us, and cities are on the front lines. Philadelphia, New York, Portland, just heard Portland, Maine, now is starting to move forward on this. Seattle, Los Angeles, there are so many cities that are trying to move forward with this issue.

And tonight, we act to save lives and repair families. And this is a beautiful moment for our city, to form a healing union with our state legislature and governor elect, because this is what it comes down to.

When we view people simply as addicts, we rob them of their humanity, and it becomes easy for us to stigmatize their struggle and ignore their pain. This ordinance is not about addicts. This is about our neighbors. This is about our neighbors experiencing addiction.

When we see people as our neighbors, we see their stories, and they become deeply connected with us. And that is how we save lives, and that is why we are here tonight. And with that, Mister President, let's vote on this thing.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Denver City Council Member Albus Brooks. He was speaking in support of a resolution to allow the city of Denver to open a supervised injection facility.

After Council Member Brooks spoke, the Denver City Council voted.

JOLON CLARK: Seeing no other comments, Madame Secretary, roll call.

























COUNCIL SECRETARY: Mister President.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT JOLON CLARK: Aye. Madame Secretary, please close the voting and announce the results. Are we missing ... ? Missing a couple. Anybody?

COUNCIL SECRETARY: We've got 12 ayes and one nay.

COUNCIL PRESIDENT JOLON CLARK: Twelve ayes, one nay, Council Bill 1292 has passed.

DOUG MCVAY: Twelve to one in favor, the Denver City Council approved Council Bill 18-1292, a bill for an ordinance authorizing a supervised use site pilot program contingent upon the state General Assembly passing legislation authorizing the operation of supervised use sites in the state of Colorado.

There’s still a long way to go, yet the Denver City Council’s vote moves us quite a ways forward. Heartfelt congratulations to the people of Denver and all the harm reduction activists who worked hard to get that bill on the agenda and approved, and to the city council members who made it happen. You’re heroes.

And well, that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs, including this show, Century of Lies, as well as the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, Cultural Baggage, and of course our daily 420 Drug War News segments, are all available by podcast. The URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

10/21/18 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay

This week on Century: Canada legalizes marijuana, plus a discussion about harm reduction at the international level.

Audio file



OCTOBER 21, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

Well this week, we’re going to look at harm reduction this week. But first:

Canada’s federal legalization of marijuana went into effect on Wednesday, October 17. The rules vary from province to province. If you plan to visit, you must check the provincial government website for a list of the rules. They are not all necessarily tourist friendly.

In Ontario, for example, people aged 19 and older can only purchase marijuana online through the official Ontario Cannabis Store website. Orders are then delivered to customers, who must present their IDs to verify age in order to accept delivery. There are no retail stores. The only way to legally purchase marijuana in Ontario, until April First, 2019, at the earliest, will be through their website. If you go to Ontario thinking that you will spend a fun weekend and go down to a shop and buy some cannabis, you are mistaken.

So again, check these provincial websites, check the rules. If you're going up to Canada to celebrate their new laws, make sure you know what the rules are before you go. There are restrictions on where you can use, restrictions on the amount you can get, and again most importantly restrictions on how you can buy.

The rules are convoluted, the prices are too darned high, and there are a number of people formerly in law enforcement and in government, who supported prohibition, who are now cashing in by joining Canadian marijuana companies. Ending marijuana prohibition is a great first step, and Canada still has a long way to go. Still, congratulations on taking that step.

You know, Canada is well ahead of the United States on drug policy issues. Harm reduction, for example. There are supervised consumption facilities and overdose prevention sites operating in several Canadian provinces, while here in the US, there are not yet any legally sanctioned supervised consumption sites in operation.

Not the smoothest segue but let’s turn to harm reduction, and we’re going to keep an international focus.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs will hold a set of intersessional meetings from October 22 through 25 of this year. They also held a set of these intersessional meetings back in September. In that September meeting, harm reduction wasn’t really on the agenda, but it was definitely part of the conversation, so we’re going to hear some of that discussion now.

Alexis Goosdeel is the director of the European Union’s drug agency, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EMCDDA. He spoke at the CND’s September intersessionals, during their discussion on the theme of demand reduction. We’re going to start listening to the recording a few minutes before Goosdeel actually starts to speak, so that we can hear an interchange about harm reduction between the Uruguay delegate and Vinay Saldanha, who was representing UNAIDS.

DELEGATE FROM URUGUAY: The issue of harm reduction seems to be a taboo subject here at the CND. We've been talking about harm reduction up until 2015, ad nauseum, and that phrase, simple harm reduction, couldn't be included in the UNGASS statement as such.

Why? Because many countries here in this room, and here in the CND, are of the view that, when handling drug addicts or possible addicts, providing various forms of prevention in order to stop HIV contamination or the spread of any other disease, as a use of injecting drugs or non-injectable drug use, as Mister Gerra pointed out today, and we were very pleased to hear that reference made by the way, many were of the view that in some way this would promote drug use.

And that actually is a contradiction because if somebody is given a syringe, an injection, and then you're being told 'don't use drugs,' but you're giving them a syringe, it makes it sound as if you are in a certain way motivating or encouraging that person to use drugs. Now that standstill went on for a year and a half, it was a stalemate, and we still haven't come out of it, and we haven't resolved it.

We won't probably have resolved it by next year, for the upcoming meeting in 2019. So it would be a good idea to get this out on the table once and for all because we have many countries, and we've just heard also from Mister Saldanha, who are well aware that there is a very strong trend, in particular in European countries, where there has been a clear emphasis placed on harm reduction.

If there are drugs, drug use in prisons, then there's also going to be HIV prevalence. That's principal. But it's not just about that. Harm reduction is a much broader subject than that, and it's not going to be simple to resolve. My question, Mister Saldanha, can you help us resolve this contradiction? Thank you.

VINAY SALDANHA: To the Honorable Delegate from Uruguay, thank you for your question, and if I could in one short response help you to resolve this question, I don't think I would have the job that I have today.

Having said that, as UNAIDS coordinates and unites all the UN agencies working on HIV, including UNODC, including WHO, one of the many areas of work we're involved with on an ongoing basis is looking at the evidence of the impact of harm reduction programs globally, regionally, and individual countries.

And one thing we have never seen, ever, anywhere in the world, is any evidence that a harm reduction program, when implemented, has triggered an increase in the use of drugs. If anything, it has produced the opposite, a very rapid and very positive improvement of the situation vis a vis HIV prevalence, hepatitis prevalence, and much safer overall trends related to the use of drugs, including a reduction in illicit or illegal forms of drug use, particularly when these harm reduction programs are combined with opiate substitution therapy programs.

So, if there are any member states, or work in cities or regions of member states, where there is evidence of the opposite, of course, the entire UN family, certainly the UNAIDS and our Secretariat, would be very interested in looking at that kind of evidence, but all the evidence that we've looked at suggests exactly the opposite.

And that's why, on behalf of UNAIDS, we can very confidently use the term "harm reduction," not only because it's an official policy that's endorsed by UNAIDS, WHO, and UNODC, and has been discussed many, many times at our board, the program coordinating board of UNAIDS, but also because time and time again the evidence has been shown it to be safe and effective. Thank you.

CND CHAIR: Thank you very much for this very good illustration. I think that Doctor Gerra would like to add something on top of this.

GILBERTO GERRA, MD: Only to support what the colleague has said now, because, if we do this kind of intervention that they called in my presentation a low-threshold outreach intervention to reduce the health and social consequences that is called under the umbrella harm reduction, we've got to incentivate the possibility of this patient to ask for, to knock to the door of the treatment system.

Because they start to say, these people are coming to see me in the night, when it is snowing. In Afghanistan, we have distributed blankest for harm reduction, because in winter it's snowing, and it's very cold, for example, in Afghanistan.

Or saving people from overdose. If you come every night to take care of me, without any condition, means that for you, I am of value. And they start to think that I am also valuable myself, and they gain some different perspective in life, not these things, starvation, in some place devoted to substance use, but to the door of the treatment system.

Good harm reduction interventions are able to increase the number of people asking for -- asking for a new perspective in life.

CND CHAIR: Thank you very much, to both of you. And now I would like to move to our next panelist, who is Mister Alexis Goosdeel. He's the director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs Addiction [sic: European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction], EMCDDA. He has been nominated as panelist for WEOG [Western European and Others Group], and it's a great pleasure to have you here, Mister Goosdeel, and you have the floor -- the floor is yours.

ALEXIS GOOSDEEL: Thank you, Chair. Honorable delegates, excellencies, distinguished colleagues, and friends from other UN family organization. It's an honor and a privilege to share with you some highlights of the European experience and outcomes as far as evidence based drug policy is concerned. And my presentation will be around five points.

The first point is that the European public health approach has not come out of nowhere. It started around the apparition of a big heroin epidemic in the '80s that caused a lot of deaths from overdoses, and I think in all the main cities in Europe there were people dying from overdose almost every day.

This is where came, for instance, the Frankfurt Declaration in the early '90s. There were also the spread of the outbreak of HIV and AIDS related or associated to drug use, and last but not least, the apparition of the hepatitis C epidemic.

So, this is to say, as Gilberto Gerra said before, that we have not developed, or we have not learned this more balanced approach, combined supply reduction interventions and public health, out of nowhere. We have payed the price, because thousands of people have died and certainly we should keep being inspired by this, in being prepared to avoid this repeat in the case of a new epidemic.

This is one of our benchmarks, therefore, for the work in the EU, is to look at what was the situation twenty-five or thirty years ago, and I will come back to this in my conclusion.

The second point I wanted to make is that something that was very quickly identified as a priority among the European member states, and this was stressed by President Mitterrand in '89, was the need and still is the need for monitoring for reliable data, and for scientific evidence guiding decisions.

As President Mitterrand said to his fellow heads of state in '89, basically, we lacked any serious and robust information helping to orient the decisions to be taken by decision makers at national and at European level.

So, the consensus that has grown up around this issue between the European Union member states is that we need data, strong data, and monitoring to understand the situation, to analyze the needs, to design the interventions, and to evaluate the research and where possible their impacts.

Therefore, this is how, in '89, was taken the decision to establish a European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which I have the privilege to lead for the moment.

The third point is the agreement, the consensus on the need for a more multidisciplinary and more collaborative approach between the European member states, and I would say this is probably one of the strongest assets of the European Union efforts and policy on drugs. It is not a top to bottom approach. It is a collaborative approach between all the member states.

The EU strategy and action plans are adopted together by the member states, not imposed on them, and it is also submitted to an external evaluation by a third party.

The European Commission role is also extremely important to support and encourage, and coordinate, where necessary, the action between the member states. And what we have seen that has developed over the last twenty, twenty-five years, it's an exchange of knowledge and best practice between the representative of the EU member states, and this takes place on the monthly basis at the Council in Brussels.

What is very important to understand is that if you look at some of the press clippings of 25 years ago, there were only very strong public declarations from some politicians or decision makers from one country against another.

Today, we don't discuss ideologies at European level. All EU member states share experiences and questions and best practice, and then according to the better knowledge they have of the drug situation, thanks to the European monitoring system, then they can decide and take decisions that apply to a better knowledge of their situation.

So, and this is reflected, if I anticipate on some questions made to the previous speakers, by the fact that all member states have a national strategy that is articulated with the European strategy, and the European action plans. Many, if not most, of them are evaluating their strategies and action plans, and this is what also led to the common position of the European member states that was presented at the UNGASS by the Commissioner Mimica on behalf of EU member states.

And so, those achievements, those positions, they are not -- they are not the result of something very short term. It's the result of a long term investment from the member states.

My fourth point is the balanced approach, combining public health interventions and supply reduction, and I think what is one of the cornerstones, and this was highlighted by Commissioner Mimica in New York in 2016, is that the basis is the charter for fundamental rights that are addressing and applied or are applicable to everybody living in Europe, including persons who are using drugs.

This led also to experiences like decriminalization in Portugal, but more broadly to what's a convergence between the member states through the conclusion that provided that people who are, or were, only using drugs, it was counter productive to put them in jail and that alternatives should be offered, and they are different models or experiences in the member states.

Still, there is a strong consensus that a repressive approach and putting people in jail because of drug use only is not something that is a good investment, from the point of view of the member states.

What it also allowed us to do is to build, over the years, a common toolbox based on scientific evidence, including an important set of harm reduction interventions based of course, and it was highlighted by my colleague of UNAIDS, based on strong scientific evidence.

Of course, we in the EU consider that one size doesn't fit all. As I said, depending on the diagnosis of the needs and the situation in the member states, the tools, the parts of the toolbox, are used according to the needs and the political priorities. Still, the toolbox includes also the OSTs [Opioid Substitution Treatment], needle exchange programs, but also drug consumption rooms, and evidence available about naloxone.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Alexis Goosdeel, director of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, speaking to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs at the CND’s September intersessional meeting.

You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay.

Now, let’s hear more about harm reduction. Olga Szubert from Harm Reduction International spoke to the CND delegates on Monday September 25, during that discussion on harm reduction. She was a civil society representative nominated to speak by the Civil Society Task Force.

OLGA SZUBERT: The 2016 UNGASS outcome document contains the strongest international endorsement of harm reduction in a drug policy document. Member states committed to initiatives and measures aimed at minimizing the adverse health and social consequences of drug use, which includes considering the introduction of medication assisted therapy, injecting equipment programs, antiretroviral treatment, and naloxone for the prevention of overdose related deaths.

While this language is a positive step, there remains a considerable gap between rhetoric and implementation of these life saving measures, and one of the primary barriers to implementation is inadequate funding for harm reduction.

Harm Reduction International tracks funding for harm reduction in low and middle income countries, and our latest research found that only 188 million dollars was allocated to harm reduction in 2016. This is just over one tenth of the one point five billion dollars that UNAIDS estimates is required annually in low and middle income countries by 2020 for an effective response to HIV among people who inject drugs.

The trends in harm reduction funding in low and middle income countries is of serious concern. There has been no increase in funding since 2007. Moreover, harm reduction funding represents just one percent of the estimated nineteen billion spent by donors and governments on the HIV response in 2016, and available funds for harm reduction equate to just four cents per day per person injecting drugs in low and middle income countries.

International donors continue to be the most important source of support, yet their funding for harm reduction has declined almost one quarter over ten years. Donor governments are withdrawing bilateral support that was once strong for harm reduction, and our research suggests that funding allocations from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and which is the largest funder for harm reduction, were eighteen percent lower in 2016 than in 2011.

In the face of donor withdrawal, the responsibility is shifting to national governments, and there are some bright spots where low and middle income governments are working to protect people who use drugs for a scale-up in funding, and our research identified domestic investment of over one million in ten countries, including India, China, Vietnam, Iran, Georgia, Thailand, and Myanmar.

However, nearly all national governments, including those with higher rates of investment in harm reduction, continue to prioritize ineffective drug law enforcement, placing the health and rights of people who use drugs and their communities at risk.

In short, funding for harm reduction is in crisis, and even when funding is available, it is not often aligned with where there is a clear need. For example, upper middle income countries have the largest share of people who inject drugs but receive a fraction of harm reduction funding.

As a consequence of donor retreat, and the lack of domestic investment in harm reduction cannot be overstated, people who inject drugs are among the most vulnerable to contracting blood borne viruses. New HIV infections among this population increased by one third between 2011 and 2015, and HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs are common place in Asia and in eastern Europe.

Harm reduction is integral to the world's HIV response, and cannot be ignored. And the benefits of harm reduction go far beyond the HIV response, too. As several countries play witness to overdose crises, we should be reminded of the importance of adequate naloxone provision and medication assisted therapy, both of which are highlighted in the 2016 outcome document, yet remain scarce.

And this says nothing of the range of other evidence based health, social, and economic interventions for people who use drugs, which many countries continue to ignore to the detriment of improving public health.

So if the enormous shortfall for harm reduction funding in low and middle income countries is not addressed, the commitments made at the UNGASS will continue to ring hollow and several important global health targets, including the SDGs, will now be missed.

And the Commission on Narcotic Drugs recognizes this dire situation, and in Resolution 60/H, urged member states and donors to continue to provide bilateral and other funding to address the growing HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs.

HRI supports CND's call for funding, and also recommends that international donors increase harm reduction funding in line with epidemiological need, and do not withdraw or reduce funds without adequate transition plans in place.

National governments invest in their own harm reduction responses. They should track and critically evaluate their policy -- drug policy spending, and redirect resources from drug control to harm reduction.

International donors, including donors governments, should, or must, invest in multilateral funding mechanisms such as the Global Fund, but also the Joint Programme, and should ensure that the UNODC HIV Section is sufficiently funded.

And lastly but most important, international donors should ensure financial support for overdose prevention, including naloxone and opioid substitution therapy. Thank you again, Madame Chair, for the opportunity to speak.

CND CHAIR: Thank you very much to you. And, I would like to thank, well, first of all, see whether there will be any comments from the floor. Ms. Szubert, I see China.

DELEGATE FROM CHINA: Thank you, Madame Chair. I've seen your data you talk about from 2007. The harm reduction measures, the contribution reduction is twenty percent on an annual basis. So if the situation is so favorable, why is it there are so many people who are no longer providing funding? Are these people stupid? Thank you.

OLGA SZUBERT: I'm sorry, I didn't get the question.

DELEGATE FROM CHINA: I'll [inaudible] in English. I saw from your presentation that the donor funding for harm reduction has fallen 24 percent since 2007. My question is, if the harm reduction measures are so good, why people withdraw money from it? Why will they take -- and you know, not donate more? Is that, are they foolish? Thank you.

OLGA SZUBERT: Well, I can't comment on the fact if they are foolish or not. But I can comment on the fact that donors are withdrawing bilateral funding. They're basically changing the way that -- how they are funding harm reduction.

So, donors are not funding other governments in the same way as, like, they have basically redirected the funding to multilateral donors. So they are using the Global Fund, or they are using more other multilateral agencies to fund harm reduction.

Whereas it doesn't mean that multilateral donors are funding harm reduction but this is how moneys are being channeled right now. So not bilaterally, but multilaterally.

DELEGATE FROM CHINA: Well, I just want to make sure -- figure out, are these measures so good? Or --

OLGA SZUBERT: I'm sorry?

DELEGATE FROM CHINA: Or, is -- I just want to make sure, to confirm, are these harm reduction measures so good, or is, you know, it's -- you know, universally accepted, or just a proposal from several, you know, countries or maybe organizations. Thank you.

OLGA SZUBERT: Well, I believe that harm reduction is universally accepted. Harm reduction measures are mentioned in the UNGASS outcome document. Harm reduction is being mentioned in the political declaration on HIV and AIDS, and ninety countries out of 158 countries endorse harm reduction in their national policy.

So yes, a majority of countries are accepting harm reduction.

DELEGATE FROM CHINA: Sorry, I don't think the UNGASS document adopted this word 'harm reduction.'

OLGA SZUBERT: No, the UNGASS outcome document didn't adopt harm reduction, but it mentions harm reduction interventions.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Olga Szubert with Harm Reduction International, speaking to delegates of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs on September 25. The CND has another set of intersessional meetings coming up October 22 through 25, and then another one in November. You can find a schedule of CND meetings at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime website,

Those CND meetings are only webcast live. They do not keep any video or audio archive. I don’t have the travel budget to get to Vienna to be there in person over those days, so instead, with the help of very strong coffee and a stable wifi connection, I’ll stay up and record as much as I can, and I’ll bring you the good bits.

Well for now, that's it. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

09/23/18 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century of Lies we look at California's Assembly Bill 186, which would allow the city and county of San Francisco to establish a supervised consumption facility that would prevent drug overdose deaths. Governor Jerry Brown has until September 30 to sign the measure into law.

Audio file



SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

Well, we're still waiting to know whether Governor Jerry Brown will sign Assembly Bill 186, to establish supervised consumption facilities in the city and county of San Francisco, or rather to allow the city and county of San Francisco to set up their own pilot projects. The bill originally would have let several locations around the state do so, but to satisfy conservatives, prohibitionists, and unrepentant drug warriors, the bill was amended so that only San Francisco could participate.

That bill landed on Jerry Brown's desk on September Fourth. At the time of this recording, it is September 21, Governor Brown has not yet signed the bill. He has until September 30.

On September Fourth, California state Democrats held a news conference to urge Governor Brown to go ahead and sign. We're going to hear that news conference now. The first speaker will be Vitka Eisen, PhD, she's the CEO and president of HealthRIGHT 360. HealthRIGHT 360 was formed when San Francisco's legendary Haight Ashbury Free Clinic merged with the equally legendary Walden House.

She'll be followed by California state Assemblymember Susan Eggman, then California state Senator Scott Weiner.

VITKA EISEN, PHD: Welcome to HealthRIGHT 360, where we provide substance use disorder treatment, mental health services, primary medical care, dental care, services to help people access housing, employment services, educational services, basically everything that our clients need to help get well and get better, do better and be better in their lives.

And hopefully, at some point, we're able to offer an overdose prevention service here, otherwise known as a supervised injection facility. We would like this here because we think it makes sense.

It makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, is because people who overdose and die never have another chance at recovery. Never have another chance of reuniting with their families and having a healthier, better life. And two, because there's a lot of research that supports it, that helps -- it helps people link to care and improve their health outcomes.

So, because I work in this field, I get -- I talk a lot about this, and I get a lot of questions about these services. And the questions are often, the ones that are directed to me, are often about, aren't we enabling people who are using these services? Aren't we enabling addiction?

And to this I say, absolutely not. People who live on the streets, and are publicly injecting drugs, those people live in a great deal of pain and misery, and pain and misery and shame do not lead people to health or recovery. They keep people unwell, they keep people where they're at.

It's really hope that brings people to health and recovery. It's hope and a belief in a positive, different future, and if a person can't have it for themselves, somebody has it for them. And I know this not just because of the work that I do, and have done for most of the past thirty years, I know it from personal experience. I am a former injection heroin user, and got my recovery through Haight Ashbury Free Clinics, which is one of our programs at HealthRIGHT 360.

Thirty years -- over thirty years ago, I think I came to Haight Ashbury Free Clinic's detox, like, nine times, and every time I came in, I was welcomed. I wasn't treated with shame, I wasn't made to feel embarrassed, I wasn't humiliated. I was welcomed with love and compassion, and support.

So then on that tenth time, when I thought I can't do this anymore, there was someone there who I trusted, who I had built a relationship with, who said maybe it's time to try something else.

And I -- because I trusted them, I did. I went on to Walden House -- again, one of HealthRIGHT 360's programs. I really didn't think I'd end up doing this job from those days, but, it was one -- it was -- because I trusted them, that I believed in what they had to say, and I went on, and I've been drug free for the past 33 years.

So it's really hope that brings people to health. It's hope, not shame, and it's what these supervised injection facilities will offer. Health and hope to those who live on the margins.

I'd really like to -- I'm really excited to have these incredible, courageous elected officials and policy advocates behind me, who have really stepped up in the face of a national epidemic, an opioid overdose epidemic, it's a public health crisis, and these folks have had the foresight and courage to bring legislation to the forefront that would help address this issue in AB186.

I'd first like to welcome the author of the bill, Assemblymember Susan Eggman. Susan Eggman, listen, when I got -- went into recovery, one of the things I did, I went back to school, and I went to graduate school, and I got a masters in social work, and so I might be a little biased when I say I think that social workers make some of the best policymakers, so I'd like to welcome the sponsor of the bill, the original author of the bill, to talk a little bit about it. Assemblymember Eggman?

CA STATE ASSEMBLYMEMBER SUSAN EGGMAN: Good morning everybody. Thank you for that warm welcome, and thank you for having us in this great facility. So, I'm Susan Eggman. I am a social worker by training, a politician by accident, like most of us are, I think.

But there comes a time when you work with people for years on the streets and you work with people in recovery, in different parts of their life, until at some point you realize we can only talk about things so much, but unless we have laws and policy in place, that actually allow people to rise to their full potential, then we're not doing our full job.

I'd like to specifically thank one of my staff members, Logan Hess, who was a champion of this bill the whole way through, and it wouldn't probably have been possible without him. So sometimes a brave assemblymember only gets brave when they have brave staffers who say this is a great idea.

So I, shortly out of the military I worked in substance abuse. I saw the epidemic go from heroin to crack cocaine to methamphetamine, back to opioids. During that time, what I learned and then as becoming a professor of social work, that one of the things that's already been mentioned is this issue around relationship.

I could teach my students all I wanted about different theories about works, what doesn't, but the most basic thing that we can do is to connect with somebody on a human level and treat them with dignity and respect, and that is the whole idea behind the safe injection sites.

And I think when we look around and when we tell stories about who we are as a society, when we talk about who we are as a people, as a country, as a state, I think we think about the fabric of who makes up that. Is it journalists, is it politicians, is it rich and famous?

It's all those, but it's also the people who live amongst us on the streets. It's also those people who, when we walk by, we have that moral crisis within us to say, what are we doing? Are we doing enough, have we tried enough? Do we judge, do we offer hope? What do we do?

And so I think this bill comes on the back of that, of really understanding that we have a crisis, and seeing the evolution of people's willingness, I think, to think outside the box and try different things.

We have long been a law and order kind of society, and I think we're realizing now that we need to work towards a little bit more humanity.

We introduced this bill three years ago for the first time, and I couldn't even get a vote in the first committee. And again, when we started the bill was much broader, to say let's go state-wide. Last year we came back and said, let's just try nine counties, and when we were finally able to pass it, it was one city, one brave city, San Francisco, who was willing to do this.

Also recognizing you have a crisis, and recognizing again that people who live on the street, addicts, are part of the fabric of our culture. They are going to be the story of what we tell about ourselves in 20 and 30 and 40 years, and so it's really incumbent upon all of us to use all the resources we have, I think, to be able to treat people with compassion, to keep them alive that one more day.

Everybody out there is somebody's son or daughter or father or mother or something. They all have a family. They all have family members who've been waiting for that call, and hopefully this call will be, they got into treatment.

So I couldn't have done this without a great team behind me, and I'd next like to introduce a tenacious, you know, when somebody says your first term, you should take it easy a little bit, Senator Scott Weiner didn't follow that advice, and so I'd like to introduce my friend, and one of the co-authors of this bill, Senator Scott Weiner.

CA STATE SENATOR SCOTT WEINER: Thank you, Susan, and, I try to be tenacious, but Susan Eggman is pretty much the definition of tenacious. It is -- I still don't fully understand how Susan was able to get this out of the Assembly, not once, but twice, two different votes.

It's, I wasn't a hundred percent confident, but she found a way to do it. And then we almost hit a wall in the Senate, we actually did hit a wall last year and had to park the bill for a year, and we were able to really make the case. We had a great team effort, the two of us, also Senator Ricardo Lara, we really made the case, got it out of the Senate, and now it's on the Governor's desk, and this is incredibly exciting.

I want to thank HealthRIGHT 360 for hosting us here today. This is one of our amazing, amazing health organizations, and, you know, I'm proud to represent San Francisco for many, many reasons, but one of the reasons near the top is that this is truly a public health town.

This is a city, a community, that believes deeply in the power of health care, in the power of progressive, forward looking public health approaches, and we're not scared to push the envelope on public health policy, even if we are ahead -- even if we're ahead of other cities, even if the federal government threatens us with criminal prosecution, such as that ignorance New York Times op-ed that Rod Rosenstein crawled out of his cave to publish a few weeks ago, filled with inaccuracies.

We did it with needle exchange decades ago because we were experiencing the height of the HIV AIDS epidemic in this town, and if the federal government was going to stick its head in the sand, we were going to do it the right way here.

We did it with medical cannabis. These are all situations where we were being threatened by the federal government, where both Republican and Democratic administrations were threatening us, were raiding, but we persevered, and then, down the line, guess what? Needle exchange is happening in a lot of places. Medical cannabis is being embraced even in Republican states.

So yet again, despite threats from our federal government, we are going to move forward here in San Francisco, and show the rest of the state, and show the rest of the country, that this can be done.

We know from every other city and country -- Australia, Canada, Europe -- every other place that does this has succeeded. Safe injection sites lower crime rates, lower infection rates, get people into recovery. This is exactly where we should be going, and I am just so proud of the legislature for doing this.

We are urging our great friend, Governor Brown, to sign AB186. The Governor has spoken to me repeatedly about the syringe and the public injection crisis that we have here in San Francisco. He's seen it with his own eyes. This is a governor who believes in progressive alternatives to incarceration. He understands that the war on drugs failed, that drug addiction is not a criminal issue, it's a health issue, and we have to take a public health approach to addressing it.

And of course, what we did in the legislature was simply giving permission, to say under state law, it's legal. But nothing happens without local leadership. And we are so lucky here in San Francisco to have a mayor and to have a board of supervisors who are solidly behind this idea.

And it's now my honor to introduce and bring up our great mayor, someone who I have known for about fifteen years now, back to when we were both, you know, political babies, and we are now, I think, in a, thankfully, in a position where we can work on these issues, and she, it's just, not that many mayors would take office and one of the first things that they would push would be a safe injection site.

But, London Breed understands that the way we've been doing things hasn't worked. We have to try new things if we're to address the situation on our streets, and I want to thank Mayor Breed for her leadership on this and so many issues. So, Mayor London Breed.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay. We're listening to a news conference by California Democrats, urging California Governor Jerry Brown -- who by the way is a Democrat -- to sign Assembly Bill 186, which would allow the city and county of San Francisco to set up a supervised consumption facility, or what's referred to as an overdose prevention site, which would save lives.

You just heard Vitka Eisen, PhD, the CEO and President of HealthRIGHT 360. She was followed by California State Assemblymember Susan Eggman and California State Senator Scott Weiner. Now, let's hear from San Francisco Mayor London Breed. She'll be followed by California State Assemblymember David Chiu, and he will be followed by Laura Thomas, who's the Drug Policy Alliance's interim California State Director.

SF MAYOR LONDON BREED: Thank you, Vitka, for opening up the doors of HealthRIGHT 360 and allowing us to hold this event here and all that you do for San Francisco.

I remember when HealthRIGHT 360 was actually Walden House, and I spent a lot of time helping people in my community and family members get into treatment at Walden House, and I do really appreciate the approach to focusing on health, and trying to get people healthy, and that's why the name is so fitting: HealthRIGHT 360.

I remember when you changed the name, and I kept calling it Walden House, but now, I'm calling it what it needs to be called, and that is HealthRIGHT 360. Getting the health of citizens here in San Francisco, who sadly struggle with drug addiction, health, healthy.

And I want to thank our leaders in Sacramento, including Susan Eggman and Scott Weiner, for their consistency in pushing something that is going to help us get to a better place in San Francisco.

When I served on the Board of Supervisors, on a regular basis I would get complaints about the number of needles on the streets. I would get complaints about the number of people shooting up on the streets. And in certain instances, some programs and other folks would be out there talking to individuals, trying to get them help, trying to get them support, and sadly, it hasn't worked.

What we've been doing in San Francisco, and I think in many places, hasn't worked. I was basically not completely sold on safe injection sites initially, until Laura Thomas over here, from Drug Policy Alliance, kept bugging me and bugging me and bugging me to get to Vancouver to see exactly what it entails, and look at the data, and how it's actually been effective.

And, I was very surprised at how impressed I was with not only the numbers but the facility. Zero overdoses [sic: overdose deaths] in those facilities. Over thirty-five-hundred people referred to detox who have not come back through their system.

The compassion of the people who work there, and it just made all the difference for the people who I had spoken to who said they wanted to get clean and sober, and they knew that they had a place to go. They knew that they had people who respected them, who supported them, and that would help them when they needed the help.

And so such a major difference in terms of the before and after photos, the look, the conversations, this is something that I know will make a difference.

What we're doing right now isn't working, and I know it makes people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable. But I feel like, here in San Francisco, we have to be willing to try new things.

Just because we don't want to see people shooting up, and we don't want to see the needles on the street, doesn't mean that it's just going to disappear without taking real action to get us to a better place here in our city.

So it's going to take a lot of work, and this is one tool that is going to be so significant in helping us here in San Francisco with state laws that get in the way of real progress.

And so I want to thank our leaders in Sacramento, and I'd also like to thank David Chiu for his work, and his support, because this narrowly made it through the Assembly and the Senate, and we are so grateful for their work, and we are here today to encourage our governor, Jerry Brown, to sign this legislation.

This is really going to make such a huge difference, and it gets us one step closer to the reality of a real site here in San Francisco, something that we are long overdue to try, something that we have the will, and people want to see happen, but we just don't have all of the tools necessary to get to a better place.

So here we are, today, and I am so looking forward to making sure that, as soon as we are able, we will open a site here in our city, and we know we have some amazing partners that we will continue to work with, but more importantly, we want to make sure that we protect our great organizations as well.

And with that, I'd like to introduce Assemblymember David Chiu, who has been just an incredible leader in Sacramento on this issue as well as others that have impacted our city. Assemblyman David Chiu.

CA STATE ASSEMBLYMEMBER DAVID CHIU: Thank you, Madame Mayor, and let me first start by thanking all the health advocates who are here for your vision and your tenacity and your courage, and thank HealthRIGHT 360 for helping to host us.

And I want to welcome Susan Eggman to San Francisco, and thank her as has been mentioned before for her courage. As we were just recounting, I was the first San Francisco legislator to cast a vote publicly to support this in the Assembly Health Committee.

And, as I had shared with her before the vote, as I shared publicly during the committee, as a former prosecutor, I had some initial questions about this policy. It is initially counter-intuitive, until you stop to think about it, and before that vote, I actually pulled down many of the studies that you have heard about, of Vancouver, of Sydney, from Canada, Australia, and Europe, that showed just demonstrably that the health data, the health facts, suggest that we have to do this.

As the chair of the Assembly Housing Committee, we all know that our challenge of chronic homelessness, not just on the streets of San Francisco but around California are exacerbated because of individuals who are addicted to drugs. We need to try new things.

And as I said on the Assembly floor this past week, people are dying on the streets of our state, on the streets of our city. We have to be willing to innovate, but innovate with facts and innovate with science.

I also want to thank the courage of my colleague, Senator Weiner, who has been so tenacious in leading his colleagues along. And I also want to thank Mayor London Breed. If I had a dollar for every time she risked, on the campaign trail running for mayor, the importance of moving this idea forward, we would probably be able to fund another campaign in San Francisco.

And the courage of San Francisco, in moving forward this important and, dare I say, this historic idea. This is a historic moment. If Governor Brown signs this bill, we will be able to move forward with an innovation that is rooted in science and facts. It was not long ago, in fact, in recent years, it was not long ago when an abortion, medical marijuana, and needle exchange were considered illegal in the state of California.

And we are here making history to say that public health should win. That science and facts should win. And it is my hope that with this pilot program, San Francisco will lead, California will lead, and the rest of the country will hopefully follow in bringing true dignity and true healthcare to those who desperately need it.

And with that, it's my honor to bring up one of the earliest advocates for this policy. Laura Thomas is the executive director [sic: Interim California State Director] of the Drug Policy Alliance. Ms. Thomas.

LAURA THOMAS: Thank you. It's an honor to be here in HealthRIGHT 360, you know, its predecessor, Walden House, saved the lives of some people who are very important to me, and I owe Walden House, and now HealthRIGHT 360, a huge debt.

And it's amazing that so often the push back that we get around supervised consumption services, as Vitka mentioned, is that they are enabling drug use, that they are not going to help get people into treatment, and it's been amazing to have the treatment providers across California working with us on this legislation, to be able to push back on the myths and misperceptions around what leads people out of problematic substance use.

So I'm Laura Thomas, I'm the Interim State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. We're one of the co-sponsors of this bill, along with Harm Reduction Coalition, Project Inform, Tarzana Treatment Center, the California Society of Addiction Medicine, and the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, and together, we did the ground work for this campaign, but we relied so heavily on the leaders, the leadership, and the tenacity, that you've already heard about.

And the reason that we're working on this, the reason that we've been pushing for supervised consumption services, is because at the most basic level they save lives. And we know that these are lives that need to be saved. They are people who may not be reached otherwise. And we all deserve better. San Francisco deserves better.

We deserve clean, healthy environments, everyone does, whether it's people who use drugs, or those of us who have homes to go to where we may consume our substances, our glass of whiskey, in peace.

And, so, this is a new idea for us here in San Francisco, but it is not a new idea. You've heard the research referenced. There are now well over a hundred and twenty of these sites around the world. They've been in place for thirty years, and the first one started in 1986 in Bern, Switzerland.

And so we have a wealth of information and experience to rely on as we move forward here in San Francisco.

But in order for that to happen, we need the governor to sign this bill, and we need to stand up to a Trump administration that is doing a lot of saber-rattling and threatening us. This is par for the course with this administration, and I am grateful to live here in San Francisco, where we, whether it's about the environment, it's about same sex marriage, it's about immigration, it's about access to medical marijuana, or it's about supervised consumption services, our own leadership, our population, the people who live here, will push forward to do the right thing.

And so I'm grateful to live here in San Francisco. I look forward to many of these sites opening around the city. I'm excited to figure out what kinds of models and locations will work best for us, and I look forward to being able to provide people who use drugs in San Francisco with better options.

You know, these sites work for everyone. If you live in a neighborhood that has, where you're seeing needles discarded on the streets and people injecting, then your neighborhood is probably a good location for one of these sites.

If you're not seeing that in your neighborhood, your neighborhood's probably not a good location for one of these sites. But I think everyone understands that people who are injecting on the street, that they're doing that because that is their last resort. They don't want to be injecting on the street. They don't want to be injecting in public. They don't want to be injecting where children may see them.

And, they desperately want to have safer options, such as a supervised consumption service. So, I'm happy to answer any questions about the statistics and the research, but I know that many of you have covered that as well.

And I also want to give a shout out to Glide and the Capital One Design Firm, that hosted, developed and hosted along with many of us the prototype supervised consumption overdose prevention program that many people were able to tour last week. It was really gratifying to see so many folks, from local elected officials to members of the community, to people who use drugs, able to tour it and see what it would really look like.

So I'm hoping that that goes a long way to help addressing some of the misperceptions around this. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: You just heard San Francisco Mayor London Breed, California State Assemblymember David Chiu, and Laura Thomas from the Drug Policy Alliance speaking about California's Assembly Bill 186, which would allow the city and county of San Francisco to set up overdose prevention sites, what are otherwise known as supervised consumption facilities, within the city and county of San Francisco.

This bill will save lives. Governor Brown has until September Thirtieth to sign. Governor Brown, with each tick of the clock, another life is lost. You can save lives by simply using your pen and signing AB186 into law.

And that's it for this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available by podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network has a Facebook page, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power.

And speaking of knowledge, January 22 through 27 in 2019, the National Institute on Drug Abuse holds its annual propaganda exercise aimed at young people. That's their National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week.

Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back in a week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the failed war on drugs. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

07/15/18 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week on Century of Lies: Congress debates HR6082, a measure that would take away privacy protections from patients who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder; plus, decriminalization and the Republic of Ireland's national drug strategy.

Audio file



JULY 15, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

On June 28, the Irish parliament discussed the implementation of its national drugs strategy. We're going to hear statements from a couple of members of the Dáil Éireann that were delivered on the floor of the Dáil in just a moment.

First, on June 20, the US House discussed a piece of legislation, HR6082. It's called the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act. That title is a lie. What this bill does is remove privacy protections from people who have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder.

On the floor of the House on June 20, there was a debate on this. One of the speakers was Frank Pallone, Democrat from New Jersey. Let's give a listen.

REPRESENTATIVE FRANK PALLONE, JR.: Mister Speaker, I rise in opposition to HR6082, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act. This legislation would greatly harm our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic. If we really want to turn the tide on this crisis, we must find ways to get more people into treatment for opioid use disorder.

In 2016, there were about 21 million Americans aged 12 or older in need of substance use disorder treatment, but only 4 million of those twelve [sic: 21] million actually received treatment. That means 17 million people are going without the treatment they need. Failure to get individuals with opioid use disorder into treatment increases risk of fatal and nonfatal overdoses as people continue to seek out illicit opioids as part of their addiction. The increasing presence of fentanyl in our drug supply only heightens this concern.

Strategies that increase the number of people getting into and remaining in treatment are particularly important because, as these treatment statistics show, major challenges exist to getting people with substance use disorders to enter treatment in the first place. And this House should not, and I stress should not, take any action that puts at risk people seeking treatment for any substance use disorder, but particularly opioid use disorders.

Unfortunately, this bill risks doing just that, reducing the number of people willing to come forward and remain in treatment because they worry about the negative consequences that seeking treatment can have on their lives. And this is a very real concern.

This bill weakens privacy protections that must be in place for some people to feel comfortable about starting treatment for their substance use disorder. Ensuring strong privacy protections is critical to maintaining an individual's trust in the healthcare system and a willingness to obtain needed health services, and these protections are especially important where very sensitive information is concerned.

The information that may be included in the treatment records of a substance use disorder patient are particularly sensitive because disclosure of substance use disorder information can create tangible vulnerabilities that are not the same as other medical conditions. And for example, you are not incarcerated for having a heart attack, you cannot legally be fired for having cancer, and you are not denied visitation to your children due to sleep apnea.

According to SAMHSA, the negative consequences that can result from disclosure of an individual's substance use disorder treatment record can include loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of child custody, discrimination by medical professionals and insurers, arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. These are real risks that keep people from getting treatment in the first place.

While I understand that the rollback of the existing privacy protections to the HIPAA standard would limit permissible disclosures without patient consent to healthcare organizations, this ignores the reality. It may be illegal for information to be disclosed outside these healthcare organizations, but we know, Mister Speaker, that information does get out. Breaches do happen. Remember the recent large-scale Aetna breach that disclosed some of its members' HIV status?

But there are also small-scale breaches that don't make the news that can have devastating consequences for patients trying to recover and get treatment. For example, a recent ProPublica investigation detailed instances where a healthcare organization's employee peeked at the record of a patient 61 times and posted details on Facebook, while another improperly shared a patient's health information with the patient's parole officer. Breaches such as this are very concerning and could occur more often as a result of this legislation.

While I appreciate the sponsor's efforts to alleviate these concerns, I do not believe the potential harm that could be caused by eliminating the patient consent requirement under existing law for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations can be remedied through the measures included in this bill.

The inclusions of these provisions cannot compensate for the risk of stigma, discrimination, and negative health and life outcomes for individuals with opioid use disorder that could result from the weakening of the existing privacy protections, and that's why every substance use disorder patient group has come out in opposition to this bill.

According to the Campaign to Protect Patient Privacy Rights, a coalition of more than 100 organizations, and I'm quoting now:
"Using the weaker HIPAA privacy rule standard of allowing disclosure of substance use disorder information without patient consent for treatment, payment, and healthcare operations will contribute to the existing level of discrimination and harm to people living with substance use disorders.'' Unquote.

The Campaign goes on to say, and again I quote: "This will only result in more people who need substance use disorder treatment being discouraged and afraid to seek the healthcare they need during the Nation's worst opioid crisis.''

And this is a risk we simply should not take, and yet the majority is bringing this bill to the floor today despite the very real concerns of these experts. And these groups uniquely understand what's at stake from this legislation because many of their members live with or are in fear of the negative consequences that result from the disclosure of substance use disorder diagnosis and treatment information.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, speaking in opposition to HR6082, which has been mis-titled the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act. Again, that title is a lie. What this bill really does is take away privacy protections from people who have received a diagnosis of a substance use disorder. HR6082. Unfortunately, this thing has already passed the House and has been assigned to committee in the Senate.

You are listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

The national drug strategy for Ireland was introduced on June 28. They had a discussion in their lower house of the Oireachtas. We're going to listen now to portions of that debate. The first person we're going to hear from is Alan Kelly. Alan will be followed by Gino Kenny.

DEPUTY ALAN KELLY: The new drug strategy, we shouldn't be debating this a year later. It's kind of crazy, just so much talk about the need to address this issue and we're debating strategy a year later. I think, you know, we talk a lot about new politics but this is as an example of where it's not working.

It's rightly called Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, and I welcome the shift in tone towards caring for people who suffer from addiction, which is an illness. And therefore, it makes sense to take a health-led approach to drugs use, but we must not underestimate the scale of the challenge.

Cases of people in treatment for drug addiction have gone up steadily since 2007. Back then, there were 5,259 people in treatment for addiction, not including alcohol. In 2015, this figure was 9,710. That's an 84 percent increase. The number of new cases each year has also gone up, from 2,431 cases in 2007 to 3,650 cases in 2015, an increase of 50 percent.

And these, Minister, are just the people in treatment. We know that many more people are affected by addiction but they're not included in these numbers. Some because they do not want to admit it. They don't want to make it public. They don't want to show the impact drugs have had on them. Others because the State actually doesn't offer them any services. So these figures are way higher.

And the issue in relation to these figures is that the service provision that is there is not there at the same level, I'll say this as a Tipperary Deputy, outside of Dublin or maybe one or two other main urban areas.

I welcome in particular that the Department of Health engaged in a much more comprehensive consultation process this time round regarding this strategy. It is important that the Department continues to engage in serious listening exercises because the whole area of drugs use has changed, and it's affecting people across Ireland in different ways now. The Department needs to continue to listen to how addiction is affecting communities and families across Ireland, because this isn't a problem that is just isolated in one period of time, it's iterative and continuing.

We used to see the drugs issue as something concentrated in urban areas where there was a concentration of social housing. Now the drugs issue is nationwide. Proportionately, villages and rural areas may even be more affected by addiction than some urban areas. I am not sure if anyone has said that before in this House. Some villages in rural counties probably have a higher percentage of drug abuse than actually inner city Dublin. Smaller sample, but bigger problem proportionately.

But the state has nowhere near the level of service provision required to tackle the addiction issue. The new strategy will need to be backed up by serious investments in services if even half of the intended actions are going to be implemented. Otherwise it is just wishful thinking. Ireland's level of opiate addiction, to heroin among other substances, is much higher than in other western European countries. Opiate addiction affects seven in every 1,000 people here, compared with four in every 1,000 across Europe.

Most of the State's infrastructure for dealing with drug addiction is focused on opiates, since the heroin epidemic of the 1980s. In addition to that serious problem, the situation on the ground has moved on. Cocaine and crack cocaine are prevalent and highly addictive. We have few detoxification and rehabilitation options for people. Amphetamines, cannabis, and ecstasy are all widely used. There also continues to be abuse of solvents. And people are becoming addicted to sedatives or tranquilizers, which they may or may not have acquired on prescription.

Drug dealing has changed too, with people ordering drugs online through so-called dark web websites, and even getting drugs delivered by post. This kind of thing has spread addiction to every corner of Ireland, including every village. There is a risk of drug addiction becoming totally out of control unless the Government puts in the necessary resources to get a grip on the issue. There is obviously a divide between legal and illegal drugs in this mix. We could mention tobacco and alcohol, which are legal, are also associated with addiction.

One of the actions under the national strategy is for the consultation on the potential decriminalization of the personal possession of illegal drugs. The consultation is currently ongoing. I understand that more than 14,000 submissions from the public have been received to date. I welcome this because, you know what, it is clear evidence, Minister, if any were needed, of the level of public interest in and concern over the issue of drug misuse.

There's a real opportunity here, Minister, and this is the most important point I want to make to you. There's a real opportunity for Ireland to take a new approach to the whole issue of addiction. We don't always often get to spend much time in government but if there is one issue regarding which you have an opportunity on, it is this.

Countries such as Portugal have achieved a major reduction in the use of opiates and much fewer drug-related deaths because they changed strategy. There is something wrong, however, with the focus on the question of what substances should be legal or illegal. That is not the real issue; the real issue is how we treat people who have an addiction.

The Labour Party's proposal is that we should decriminalize the person who is addicted to drugs. It should not be a criminal offence to be in possession of a small amount of soft drugs when one is addicted to them. Fear of a criminal record should never stop a person from seeking the medical help that they need. The vicious drugs gangs involved in drug dealing of course need to remain outside the law. Garda resources should be freed up to deal with them.

At present, by contrast, Garda time is taken up with minor cases where people who are addicted to drugs are found in possession of small quantities. If we make it clear that possession of drugs by addicts will not be a criminal offence, we can focus on getting people into treatment for addiction.

In Portugal, people are offered the choice of medical and social supports instead of getting a criminal record and facing a judicial sentence, which hangs over them for the rest of their lives. This is the option we should be discussing for Ireland but it will not work if there are not the services put in place to help people deal with addiction.

A wide range of services is needed to deal with different types of drug addiction and different groups of people. For example, different services are needed for long-term heroin users compared with services for young people. The real test of the national drugs strategy will be whether the Government is ready to put the serious resources into the front-line services that actually help people to escape from addiction and to move forward with their lives.

Massive cuts were implemented in services since 2008 and none of the funding has been restored proportionately. Staff working in drugs services have had their pay cut and frozen. Since they are in the community and voluntary sector, funded through section 39, about which we all know, they are not getting the pay restoration that public servants are getting in the HSE.

Rent costs and insurance costs have increased and many of the services are on their knees. At the same time, as I said at the outset, the number of people presenting to services with drug addiction problems has grown enormously.

Simply decriminalizing substances in the absence of funding for addiction services would be a dereliction of duty by the Government and the Minister of State and would lead to anarchy. There is a need for the creation of proper working conditions for those who provide addiction services. They need proper working conditions like me, the Minister of State and everyone else.

There should be some standardization among addiction workers to ensure minimum quality standards. That would involve a lot of training and the development of addiction practitioners. It would also have to include pay grades and career opportunities equivalent to those enjoyed by HSE workers. That is simply not the case now. It is part of the problem when it comes to the provision of services because we cannot get the people.

The final point, the new national drugs strategy is going to be health-led but the HSE is not in a position to lead on this topic. We need to think outside the box because if we just throw it in as part of the mix of what the HSE is meant to be doing, we will still be here. We will have a nice, shiny document but no implementation. Therefore, we need to think outside the box and create a different format and pathway for dealing with this issue.

So there are clear political challenges to do with drug addiction that need clear political leadership, which returns me to my point that we do not always get to sit there for very long. This is your opportunity, and in fairness I know you have a passion for this issue. So please try and deal with it. So you need to deal with this issue and you need to put up the money to develop addiction services. You need put in place the right format and the right organisation and should ensure it provides services nationwide and not just in Dublin.

And one final point, Minister, it's relating to services in prisons. I've reason to believe that these services across many of the prisons have simply, are absolutely not working. The number of prisoners who are addicted to drugs and are not being provided with the services needed, I believe is going to be a big issue that's going to blow up in this country. I also believe many of the people working in the Prison Service are being treated appallingly, where they have to actually go and deal with prisoners in this situation but yet the backup services aren't there.

And furthermore, when they do find people in possession of drugs, sometimes they feel they are the ones who are getting into more trouble than those who are bringing them in or carrying them inside, in the prison service. The whole issue of drugs in prisons, how those who work in the Prison Service are being treated and the lack of services has been left behind. It will blow up in our faces. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Deputy Alan Kelly. Now, Deputy Gino Kenny.

GINO KENNY: I too want to add to the debate, and the frustration that, I mean, this debate has been going on for years but, it seems to be stalled, and it seems to be doing a lot of talking but no action. But, we are talking about obviously the, kind of the debate at the moment, and it's glad to see that 14,000 submissions have been received so far to the public consultation. I look forward to the report being completed by October, Minister, and hopefully, the recommendation can consider some of the issues around personal drug use, which is critical to what I'm going to say the next few minutes.

I also want to say -- mention the critical roles of community drug projects, local drugs task forces, to continue to deliver a fantastic service in their communities, even though they've been kind of, you know, they've been, like, have been subjected to serious cuts over the last seven, eight years, where 37 percent of their cuts [sic: budgets] have seen dramatic changes to what they can actually give to the community, and I've seen it with my own eyes, in Clondalkin, what it has done.

Just from the outset, Minister, you know, the strategy of criminalizing people for drug use has been an abject failure. And I know this is kind of a catchword that the war on drugs has been a failure. It has been an abject failure. It just does not work. It has failed. It's failed communities, and you know, it's failed systems, it's failed judicial systems, and it just doesn't work.

So you obviously have to look at a radical approach to drug use and what that entails, because whether we like it, people will continue to use drugs. They used drugs generations ago and they'll probably use in generations to come.

Do we criminalize them? No, we should not. They shouldn't go through a criminal justice system if for personal use because that system has failed. From the community I'm from, I have seen drugs, and the abuse of drugs, ravage not only friends of mine, family members, whole communities literally destroyed. And what that does to people’s mindsets, it's a cancer almost in communities. Words cannot articulate what drugs does, what they actually leave people behind, and young people that were never born into addiction.

Nobody's born a heroin addict, but, sometimes addiction chooses them. And when you know, heroin gets a hold of you, it's a very, very, very difficult drug to get away from. Some people do and others do not. I know friends of mine have passed away, I know people that have got away from addiction and have done very well. They have children and have good jobs and so forth. But sometimes, you know, drugs, whether we like it, it takes hold of people.

And, I think what drugs does, Minister, I don't know if you'll agree with me this, but, I mean, I hear this all the time, that there -- the debate on drugs, that cannabis is a gateway to harder drugs. Absolute rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

What is the gateway to heroin, and crack, and all the drugs which bring misery, is alienation and poverty. So, I think this argument that softer drugs lead onto hard drugs, yes, people that have, say, chronic heroin problems, they probably did smoke hash, but it didn't, it just doesn't lead on to harder drugs.

Because I know many people who smoke cannabis but will never touch heroin, crack, cocaine and so forth. So, we need a radical approach to that. And also, decriminalization, you know, it's, as the last Deputy said, it decriminalizes the person rather than drugs. I think that's very, very, very important.

I think one model that we speak about is Portugal. In 2001, they decriminalized drugs for personal use. So, if a person has that particular drug on them, they don't go through the criminal justice system. They're given counselling or health-led products, which is harm reduction.

And even in this state, Minister, last year, 80% of drug-related offences are for personal use. So, that runs into probably 10,000 people have gone through the criminal justice system for personal use. That is a complete waste of time. It's a complete waste of time for the criminal justice system, for the police, and even the police will actually say this. You know, the police are in the front line in the war on drugs, and they'll even say it, I mean, they'll even say it's a fail -- it's failing them, it's failing civil society, and we need a new approach, and I think decriminalization is one approach to that.

And also, people that are found in possession for personal drug use, if they get a criminal record, that has a profound effect on their future job prospects. And, I know people that have, ten, 15 years ago they were found for a small amount of cannabis, and they still have a drug offence, and you know, that leads on to -- I mean, it's a ridiculous situation, absolutely ridiculous situation.

I remember going to a festival ten, 15 years ago, and you know, undercover police were looking for people for small possession of cannabis and arresting them. It was ridiculous. I mean obviously, we've moved on. I think civic society has moved on, that we cannot criminalize people, particularly for cannabis use, because that's a complete waste of time.

So, Minister, I think the more profound effects, I think decriminalization is inevitable to come into this country. It's inevitable. And I think another issue, which I'd like to kind of, is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977.

I think you've got to look at the whole range of that Act. I think you need to reschedule cannabis. I think cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug that has no medical or recreational use is ridiculous. For example, Minister, which is probably going to shock you a little bit, last -- this year, the Minister for Health granted a licence for medical cannabis. One of them licenses was the raw form of cannabis. Meaning that, that person was granted a licence for a bag of grass. That's fact. That's fact.

So the Minister for Health, of which I'm glad he done it, he has granted licence to a person in the State for medical use, proving that that particular drug helps that person for their medical benefit. So you have a ridiculous situation where it's a schedule one drug, while the Minister for Health, you know, he kind of gives a license for that plant, and that drug.

And, just the last thing, Minister, I think, more controversially, you know, at the moment, in this country, all illicit drugs are controlled by criminal individuals or criminal gangs. Them individuals do extremely well out of selling drugs. Very very well. Big cars, holidays, and so forth.

Now, there's going to come a time, I don't know, it's a very nuanced argument, where we're going to have to look at the war on drugs has been a failure. You've got -- not you personally, but I think society has got to look now at ways of taking it out of the hands of criminal gangs and criminal individuals and take that back. It's not a panacea by any means, you know, it's a difficult situation, difficult situation, but we've got to take it out of the hands of illicit gangs, because illicit gangs are unregulated, they don't care what they actually sell.

They give it, you know, children will take it, they die, individuals, communities are destroyed. We've got to look at legalization of some drugs. Now, that is an argument that some people in this country will find it difficult very, very difficult to do. It's a very nuanced argument. But I think cannabis should be reschedule, and then we've got to look at, even a more radical approach than decriminalization.

Because, my starting point and finishing point, is this going to save somebody's life? Can this save somebody's life? And if it can, then it is worth approaching and it's worth looking at. Because at the moment, hundreds of people die of overdose, opiate use, and are affected by drugs.

If we can cut that down, you know, by half, by any means, if we can save one life by decriminalization, regulation, legalization as well, by some drugs, I think we can have a different approach to this issue. Because at the moment, we are losing the war on drugs. It shouldn't be a war, because it's a war on people.

So, Minister, if you can comment on that, particularly about the repealing of the drug act of 1977. Thanks.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Gino Kenny, a deputy in the Irish parliament. He was preceded by Alan Kelly, also a deputy, both serve in the Dáil Éireann. They were discussing the Irish national drugs strategy.

That's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

06/10/18 Seattle Safe Consumption

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week we hear an update on efforts by King County/Seattle, Washington, to establish a safe consumption space in response to the opioid overdose crisis.

Audio file



JUNE 10, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

On June Seventh, the Seattle City Council's Housing, Health, Energy and Workers' Rights Committee got an update on the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force recommendations. Loyal listeners may recall that way back in September of 2016, that task force recommended that Seattle and King County set up community health engagement locations, a fine euphemism for a safe consumption space or supervised injection facility.

The person testifying is Jeff Sakuma from the mayor's office, he's a member of that task force. Nearly two years later and they are still talking about it. You know, rather than me rant, let's just get straight to it.

JEFF SAKUMA: As has been mentioned, overdose deaths continue to rise, that the recommendations, and I think that this is a really important piece from the task force are being implemented, and that we are expanding our prevention work and our treatment work. And something that I would point out is, even though those -- the recommendations did come out twenty months ago, part of that was that we really needed, in order to move the CHEL work forward if you will, that we really needed to be very, sort of, clear about our commitment to expanding treatment.

So, that is part of the timeline in this, is to really make sure that people understand that there are treatment options open, so that when we do open a CHEL, that people who choose to move into treatment, we can get them into that treatment rapidly.

SALLY BAGSHAW: Jeff, thank you so much, and I'm, again, thankful to you and Brad Finegood and the others that were on the opioid task force. Now, when you were here last time, I think Brad mentioned that there are over 40 treatment facilities available where people can go and get access to buprenorphine. Can you talk about, as you're going through this, how those differ from what you're talking about?

JEFF SAKUMA: Sure. I think -- yeah. So, we've got, obviously, Brad isn't here today, and he's the one that has the expertise on the very specifics, and he did sort of talk about them last time that he was here, but I will kind of just review sort of the numbers again, if you will.

And also, just as a reminder, I know that every time we -- that we speak to this issue, that there are new people who are sort of watching and listening, and so to also remind everyone that the task force made eight different recommendations in the prevention, treatment, and user health areas, and that a Community Health Engagement Location was one of those recommendations, and this is all part of a really important package.

So this gets to what you were just talking about, Councilmember Bagshaw, and that is what's been happening in terms of treatment and user health expansion in King County.

And again, I think that Brad and Doctor Duchin sort of did talk about this last time that they were here, and that in 2017, that there was the new detox facility that was opened up on Beacon Hill, a very important piece of the treatment system, that there are 40 new access points for buprenorphine, that there are ten new outpatient treatment on demand agencies providing services to people in our county, and this is county data, we don't break it down sort of by -- we can get the city-specific, but this is county data.

And then really importantly that we have put out, you know, 8700 naloxone kits in the community, which also help to prevent overdoses in our community.

So, I kind of want to kind of get to the headline here around Community Health Engagement Locations. As you know, the last time we had a discussion, we did -- part of it was the presentation of the SLI [Statement of Legislative Intent], where we did outline sort of what we had looked at it in terms of options for a Community Health Engagement Location, and along with that we sort of outlined the potential costs for those, each of those options.

So, the work that we have been doing really has been looking at a couple of those options that had us looking internally, if you will, to city and county owned properties, that when we began to look at all the various options that we realized that the city doesn't own a lot of buildings, if you will, and the buildings that we do own oftentimes are community centers or park-related centers, and obviously those would not be appropriate types of building sites.

So we have kind of exhausted what we have looked at, and determined that there wasn't anything truly viable to move forward if we wanted to move forward sort of quickly, if you will.

TERESA MOSQUEDA: And, Jeff, on this issue of location, when you say none available or appropriate, I think the appropriate piece is really important to emphasize. You know, we just talked about some of the community conversations that we have across the city, but really when we think about appropriate locations, it's not going to be somewhere in district five, perhaps, it's going to be in an area where we're already seeing high rates of overdose and death.

And so when you looked at locations, I assume you were really looking at locations that were accessible directly in areas where people are frankly already using, and we're trying to prevent deaths and use outside. Is that correct?

JEFF SAKUMA: That's correct. So we were really focusing on the overdose and overdose response data that we have, both from, obviously from the county, and as to location of a death outside, as well as the SFT [Secure File Transfer] data around sort of response to overdoses outside. And then again, the outside piece is really important just because we understand that a Community Health Engagement Location would be there mostly for individuals, not entirely, but mostly for individuals who are currently using in public settings, outside, bathrooms, other types of settings.

And it's really that group of folks that we want to bring inside, and ensure that they're safe, because oftentimes when they're doing -- doing -- engaging in -- injecting drugs, or using drugs, in the bathrooms and, you know, other types of areas, and that they're doing so alone, as well, and so it's really those individuals that we'd like to continue to focus.

So that's correct. So we -- we know, sort of generally, where the majority of that activity happens. We know that the majority of that activity happens sort of in the downtown corridor, down to the SoDo district. We know that there is -- that activity occurs up on the west Capitol Hill area. So we understand sort of generally where the areas that we really do want to focus on, and that's what we've done.

TERESA MOSQUEDA: Councilmember Bagshaw.

SALLY BAGSHAW: Yeah, Jeff, just following up on that really quickly. Do we actually have the data, and maybe a map, heat map, that could say, you know, 23 here, 64 here, that kind of thing? Because I think as we're talking with the community, to be able to say, hey, look, the problem's already here, we're not bringing people to you, the problem is here, let's get them inside.


SALLY BAGSHAW: So if you could do that for us, then we've got that data to go back and --

JEFF SAKUMA: Absolutely, yeah, there is a heat map, I know that Caleb has presented that heat map in different settings, but there are -- there is in fact a --

SALLY BAGSHAW: I'm sure we've seen it, but it would just be helpful to have it in our hands.

JEFF SAKUMA: Absolutely.

TERESA MOSQUEDA: I think that that, just to sort of bring back the conversation we were having before about the community, I think that will be a helpful tool as we talk about where this is going to possibly be a benefit to the community, where we can prevent deaths and overdose, are places that might be very welcoming of a site like this.

We just heard testimony that the Capitol Hill Friends have asked us to consider how we might provide assistance up there. I'm looking forward to touching base with them and getting some contacts so that we can do some outreach, because again I think this is, according to your slide here, this is going to require us to reach out and have partnerships with either nonprofits or the religious community, or the business community, to help us identify a location.

JEFF SAKUMA: Absolutely. This, as you will see, this is definitely having us work with another entity.

So, and obviously, the cost of purchasing a property, as you will imagine, is -- can be quite prohibitive, and, you know, I think that if we want to move forward sooner than later, as obviously has been discussed, that that -- that we also, sort of, we're not sort of pursuing that area.

Let's see. So, I think that what we have really -- so the other piece that's really important for the background of this is, is that understanding that if we are, potentially are not putting this into an owned city-county property, that we obviously are at risk of having somebody else's property seized, just because of our federal government not necessarily seeing this as something that's legal or appropriate.

So, therefore, what we are, that has really moved us towards, this -- what I'm, this is my term, a -- a fixed mobile option. And, what I mean by a fixed mobile option is, is that, that it is an option, where we would actually lease, or go into an agreement regarding a fixed site, and then with that, that we would have a mobile van, a van is a little bit of a misnomer as you all know, these are potentially a very large vehicle, that we would then house the actual consumption activities in.

And that -- that mobile van, and that fixed site, would be, I mean, that -- the van would literally be parked right up against a site, I mean, that would be the preference, is something that is really sort of almost adjoined, but obviously two different settings, and therefore, in such a -- in that situation, what we'd do is in the fixed site part is, is that we'd have the reception and waiting area, so that people who are wanting to use, we're not queuing people outside or anything, that we are bringing people inside, if you will.

That we are, in that indoor setting, providing people with other types of services and resources, so that we -- that if people, including low barrier buprenorphine, so that if any of those individuals say today I choose not to inject, or use in the van, but instead I really want to consider treatment, that we can -- that would be an immediate hand-off for any of those individuals.

The mobile piece of this would be the place where that people can -- would be using, or consuming, drugs, in that setting, and then also, hope -- you know, a space that, there for that they don't have to leave until they've been sort of observed for a period of time. So that would include both sort of the drug injection process as well as the recovery space, if you will.

And then lastly, just is that this has become such a super important piece of this, is that, any of that, any of this that we would also be having security and neighborhood mitigation services, that regardless of how much we bring services indoors for the individuals themselves, obviously there will continue to be concerns about the neighborhood, as, the security of the neighborhood, about other activities happening in the neighborhood, and so we would definitely want to make sure that we provide a safe area, if you will, not only for obviously the neighbors but also the individuals who are using as well.

TERESA MOSQUEDA: Thank you, Jeff. Do we have a few questions? Councilmember Juarez? No. Okeh. So, fixed mobile site is I think a new term that we should all familiarize ourselves with. And I understand the complexity given our federal government, the rationale behind why you have coined that term.

I know that San Francisco and Philadelphia have also announced plans to move forward with similar concepts around how they can try to find a location for individuals to safely consume substances under the supervision of trained healthcare providers, and more importantly make sure that they have immediate access to other health services as well, so it's truly wraparound.

And I appreciate the courage that I think Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia are showing here, and I know that we -- we have many potential new challenges now that were not maybe anticipated two years ago, when this report was originally drafted. But I think that this being one tool among the eight that were recommended back then, in addition to the concept of a fixed mobile site, provide at least us with a better vision of how this may work, only in, it sounds like, those certain neighborhoods you're talking about.

And when you say, same location every day, it also sounds like the concept here would be to almost have potentially a pilot, right? A pilot location instead of an actual roaming --

JEFF SAKUMA: Absolutely, and thank you for pointing that out. I sort of skipped over that point, but I did sort of put it up on the slide here, and that is the concept of the same location every day. In other words, that the mobile piece of this is only mobile from point -- place of parking overnight from place of where it would be located on a daily basis. So that would be the only mobility that it would have, if you will, that it would go from parking to that same site every day.

SALLY BAGSHAW: It would leave at night and go to a secured, locked location like what the methadone clinic has down on Airport Way, as an example.

JEFF SAKUMA: Right. Or, like what our the -- our mobile medical van has, as well. Obviously, they're -- these are pretty expensive pieces of equipment, and we want to make sure that they are secure.

SALLY BAGSHAW: And the supplies inside, that I assume you don't want to leave overnight in the --

JEFF SAKUMA: Yeah. Though, you know, with a safe injection site, there probably wouldn't -- you know, obviously people are bringing in their own -- what they're, ever they're using, they're bringing in their own.

But, again, but, for the security of the whole vehicle, absolutely.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

We are listening to audio from a Housing, Health, Energy and Workers' Rights Committee of the city of Seattle's City Council. They are getting an update on Heroin and Prescription Opiate Task Force recommendations that were made almost two years ago. The person testifying is Jeff Sakuma, from the mayor's office. He's a member of that task force. The chair of the committee that we're hearing is Teresa Mosqueda, and one of the other city councilmembers who we're hearing a bit from is Debora Juarez. Now let's get back to that hearing.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Jeff, I know we talked about the CHEL siting factors, and, you know, thank you, executive, for the memo that outlined the four, and I know that we looked at the study, so, let me just be candid. Is this, I mean, are we -- are we looking for like a unicorn here? I mean, at some point, I mean -- I've seen the areas where there have been siting factors that were much more intense and egregious than these four, that we were able to find land.

Granted, it was a different issue, but, when I look at the map of the city, it looks like a CHEL site, looks like it probably would end up south of the ship canal, and again going back to what Councilmember Bagshaw said, you're going to want to put it in that service area to capture where people are, and, quite frankly, when I look at the -- the factors or limitations, as you called them, what is our -- what is the executive's position, or what is the strategic thinking, how to, if you will, overcome, whether you call them factors or limitations.

I guess I'm frustrated that it's like, well, there are four factors here, I'm sorry, five, and we just can't find it. We just can't find a perfect spot that meets all these, so we're just going to kind of throw up our hands and say, well, we can't, we can't find anything. We can't use existing city property, we can't use existing county property, we can't lease, we can't buy. I mean, what's the bottom line? It's, I mean, I know we wouldn't ask Seattle Public School to lease some of their property, whether or not we could explore with the Port, their property. What is going to be the executive's response to this?

SALLY BAGSHAW: A parking lot?

DEBORA JUAREZ: I mean, at this point, it's like, and I apologize, I'm not trying to take it out on you because I know you've -- we've been looking at each other for two years now. So, I just want you to be --

SALLY BAGSHAW: Like, every day.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Yeah. Yeah, and Doctor, all the doctors, too, the two Jeffs. What is, just be straight with me, what is, what is -- what are we going to do about this?

JEFF SAKUMA: Yeah. You know, I -- you're right. I mean, it does narrow, sort of, our options, greatly, but, and I do think that the most important piece going forward is going to be finding a willing partner, and that partner is a partner who owns a piece of property that is willing to work with us.

So I think that that will be sort of the key to this. But, potential -- but, possibly, it may be due to my over optimism in -- on this subject, and in life, but, I, you know, I just think that we just need to be, you know, as we begin to move forward in figuring out sort of the next slide around how we're going to continue to pay for this, is, is that is something that, you know, that we just need to go out there and do our -- our best work in trying to find that, that partner.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Okeh. Let me follow up.

JEFF SAKUMA: I think that's not a great answer.

DEBORA JUAREZ: No, it's not. But that's okeh, I understand.

JEFF SAKUMA: My optimism isn't a guarantee, I understand.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Let me just be, again, straight with you and candid.


DEBORA JUAREZ: It's -- we have like five hundred thousand dollars, is that correct? How much money do we have?

JEFF SAKUMA: Well, so, that gets to this next slide.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Yeah, I know, but just -- just so I can finish this question with you, and we can go to the next slide.


DEBORA JUAREZ: So, what is -- I know what the county, what does the city have to site this?

JEFF SAKUMA: Yeah, so, we have, right now, we have the funding to potentially buy the van, which will cost between, you know, somewhere between three fifty and four hundred thousand dollars. We have the $1.3 million that the council has put in proviso.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Right, that's what Councilmember Johnson and I did.

JEFF SAKUMA: Yes. Absolutely.

DEBORA JUAREZ: So, now you're looking at, what?

JEFF SAKUMA: Yeah. So we're looking at, again, up here, it says about $1.8 million that we are currently working, that we have to work with. That's one time funding to try to put something into place.

DEBORA JUAREZ: That's a -- does that include operating costs? That's --



JEFF SAKUMA: It would only include operating costs if we don't exhaust all -- I mean, all of that money, and the operating, obviously, is an ongoing. These are one-time funds, though, so it would only move towards whatever we could --

DEBORA JUAREZ: I don't want you to go in the weeds, I know you've got a whole chart, and I know we're going to go into that. I'm just -- we'll get there. Just, I just want a straight answer: Can we not just buy a piece of property or build, brick and mortar, and do this? Because what we're finding in the last two years, we have seven districts, and not everyone is a willing district or neighborhood, with open arms. Whatever we think about that, the point is, we don't have that.

And the one that we do have, which maybe is district two, there are all these limitations because of space and schools that don't line up with the five limitations, or whatever we want to call them.

So, it seems to me, then, if I were in charge, I would just say, I need more money, we need to either just buy our own dang building, or build one. Is that ever going to be a conversation we have? I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I read the one time costs, operating costs, capital costs, but this conversation's been going on for two years.

So, I just -- help me out here.


ALAN LEE: Oh, no, I was just going to point out that Jeff did outline what leasing a space would look like, what the challenges are, and we know that there are potential legal challenges, and when we exhaust that process, that I think Jeff will describe more in detail later in his presentation, then we can explore these other -- that the council could explore these other options, such as purchasing a site outright.

Of course, one of the big challenges there is, if we're -- if we're considering the three areas that were recommended by the task force, Capitol Hill, Belltown, the Pioneer Square area, that we're talking about, are some fairly expensive pieces of real estate.

DEBORA JUAREZ: Okeh. Thank you.

TERESA MOSQUEDA: I really appreciate your sense of urgency, and I also share your frustration. I also think that if we have a known amount for the purchase of a van, potentially being $350,000, that we should move forward with the purchase of that van as we engage with the community about the possible location, and with a reminder that it would be a fixed location.

If those dollars are in hand right now, and if I'm reading the information correctly, if that is the most cost-effective and most expedient way for us to create a potential site, I would like to register in addition to wanting to have the dollars to move forward so that we could either purchase our own property and build brick and mortar, if that's not an option right now, then I would like us to get this van in hand.

So I think you hear a sense of urgency for one or the other, so we can move forward. I know that the -- you can stay, you're good? Okeh, I just want to do a quick time check, I thought we had a time limitation. We are on the second to last slide, and you've been incredibly helpful in giving us some additional data this time around. I do have some questions about the community engagement section on the one time cost there. Have you already gone through this slide, or do you have more to say on it?

JEFF SAKUMA: Oh, no, I think that the one really important piece on this slide is that we do not have ongoing operating costs being -- budget for the ongoing operation cost of a Community Health Engagement Location. So I just wanted to be very clear in pointing out this slide, that the ongoing costs, and this is us really working hard with folks at public health, to really ask the question, what is it that we absolutely need on this site, and how do we do so in a way that doesn't have such a large dollar attached to it that it -- that will be come our barrier.

So we worked really hard to sort of really bring this down to between $1.5 and $2.5 million dollars, an on annual operating basis. The difference there would be the number of days and hours per day of operations.

But that is where we are, but that, those dollars, for ongoing operation costs, have not been identified at this point in time. So, I just want to be very clear that that is the -- that, what we are looking at is really trying to secure that, those ongoing dollars in order for us to move forward. And that is securing both, that is securing, with our partners, at the county, sort of sharing in those operating costs, moving forward.

DOUG MCVAY: We've just heard a portion of a hearing before a Seattle City Council committee on the Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force recommendations about establishing a supervised consumption facility, a safe injection space, which in Seattle is referred to as a Community Health Engagement Location.

It appears that nearly two years on, the city of Seattle still has no idea what they are going to do. There are people dying in the streets, in the alleyways, in doorways, in bathrooms, in public libraries, in parks, there are people dying because elected officials cannot pull their thumbs out, and they cannot figure out how to save lives.

There's an easy solution. Vancouver, at the Insite facility, in places around the world, in Australia, in Germany, in the Netherlands, there are dozens of supervised consumption facilities in nations around the world. And they work. They save people's lives. They engage people with the healthcare system, people who may not have contact with the healthcare system.

It's being stymied in the city of Seattle because of what's called NIMBYism, not in my back yard. We only became concerned, as a society, about this opiate overdose crisis because middle class, middle aged white people and middle class young people were dying of opiate overdoses. We only became concerned about this because those very same middle class people who are raising objections about having a supervised consumption facility are the people whose family members are dropping dead.

Now, what are we to make of it, when those people don't want to see a harm reduction intervention that could have saved those lives? My god, what has our society become? What is a human life worth? There are other cities around the country that are moving forward with this, hopefully Seattle will figure itself out, and start trying to save the lives of people who live there.

Meanwhile, New York City and San Francisco are both moving forward. I will be hopefully bringing you news about those supervised injection facilities, those harm reduction interventions, very soon.

Meantime, that's all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DOUG MCVAY: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

04/29/18 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug Truth Network

This week, we listen to parts of a debate in the Scottish Parliament on whether, and how, to establish supervised injection facilities and safe consumption spaces. The motion to do so was introduced by the ruling Scottish National Party, and passed by an overwhelming margin. The spotlight now shifts to the UK Parliament, which is considering legislation to allow Scotland to set up a safe consumption space in the city of Glasgow.

Audio file


APRIL 29, 2018


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

The Scottish Parliament is currently debating a proposal to establish supervised injection facilities in response to growing numbers of overdose deaths. Needle exchange and syringe service programs are already well-established in Scotland as well as other parts of the UK, however the public health situation there, as in the US, requires a more expansive and innovative approach.

On April Nineteenth, the Scottish Parliament debated a motion to create a safe consumption space in the city of Glasgow. We’re going to hear parts of that debate now. First, let’s listen to Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s Minister for Public Health and Sport. Ms. Campbell is a member of the ruling Scottish National Party, and she introduced the motion.

AILEEN CAMPBELL: In 2016, 867 individuals lost their lives through problem substance use, and countless others were devastated by the loss caused by its impact. Alongside such loss of life, problem substance use can inflict pain, trauma and suffering on individuals, families and communities right across the country.

At a time when we are updating our national drugs strategy to take into account changes that have happened in the past 10 years, we have a chance to review and improve the services that we offer to people and the methods by which we engage with and support them.

Since coming into this post, the rising number of drug-related deaths has weighed heavily on me, I've very aware, given the nature of the population that we are talking about, and the allied challenges of austerity, that this pain will remain in Scottish society for some time.

Each number represents an individual loss of life, potential unfulfilled and a family devastated by grief. We cannot tolerate that, and therefore we need to examine what we are currently doing to help and support some of the most vulnerable people in our society and consider what we can do differently, even if it is unpopular or uncomfortable.

Sadly, we are not alone in facing that challenge, with other countries also needing to find ways to cope with problem substance use. However, the treatment and harm-reduction approaches that are taken vary, as do the results, so it makes sense to explore further those for which the evidence suggests that they can make a positive difference.

I have recently returned from Australia, where I was supporting our fantastic sportsmen and sportswomen at the Gold Coast Commonwealth games. Like Scotland, Australia has seen recent increases in the number of drug-related deaths. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of heroin-related deaths in Melbourne, Victoria doubled.

In an effort to seek a solution, the Victorian state Government looked to the successes seen in Sydney, which had introduced a safer drug consumption facility—SDCF—in 2001. In the 16 years in which the Sydney SDCF has been open, it has had more than a million visits from individuals who seek to use its facility. During that time, it has treated more than 7,000 overdoses without there being a single death.

It has also recorded an 80 per cent reduction in the number of ambulance call-outs to the area, the number of used needles and syringes discarded in public has halved and nearly 80 per cent of local residents say that they support the facility.

I have spoken with officials from the Victorian state Government about their recent decision to approve an SDCF in the North Richmond neighborhood of Melbourne. Like us, Victoria has chosen to treat the problems associated with substance use as a health issue rather than a justice one, which means taking a health-led response to the situation.

For the Victorians, that meant looking at the evidence for what works and what would reduce the number of deaths. They did not have to look far to see the impact that an SDCF could have.

Closer to home, just before I left for Australia, I addressed the Dundee community forum as it launched a drugs commission to explore the problems that it faces on problem substance use, amid a growing number of drug-related deaths, and to look for potential solutions.

At that forum, I explained that such solutions might initially seem controversial or unpopular, but we owe it to families who have lost loved ones and to those who have lost their lives to try something different, as the status quo for those furthest away from services is not working.

I am well aware that, for some, the idea of an SDCF is unpalatable and that the idea of offering a safe space for individuals to consume drugs seems wrong. However, I am clear—as is the Government—that our vision for this country is one in which all our treatment and rehabilitation services are based on the principle of recovery.

Indeed, that commitment lay at the heart of our 2008 publication “The Road to Recovery: A New Approach to Tackling Scotland’s Drug Problem”. For some people, the possibility of recovery or abstinence is a long way off. In the meantime, it is important that we focus on keeping them alive and in touch with services that may provide them with the support that they require eventually to take further steps towards their own recovery.

JOHN MASON: I agree with all that the minister says on the health aspect, but so far she has not touched on the supply aspect. It seems to me that the proposed model is built on people buying and selling drugs illegally, which is linked to organised crime. My main reservation about the policy is that we are building crime into the system.

AILEEN CAMPBELL: I do not agree with that assessment. It is about taking a public health approach to a public health issue. We currently do not have the powers to enable that to happen legally. That is why I am seeking Parliament’s agreement to enable us to ask the United Kingdom Government to give us the opportunity to take a public health response to the public health need in the city that John Mason represents.

An SDCF can offer a place where individuals can go and a safe space where they can be treated with respect, but it is also a place where they can build a relationship with treatment workers so that, if and when an individual decides that they want to make a change to turn their life around, they will have support on hand to do so.

An SDCF would be a real shift in service provision. It would be a service that has no barriers to engagement and one that provides a highly marginalised population with a place to engage with staff, build trust and get support to address some of the wider issues that they face.

Following a recent debate on the topic at Westminster, the UK Government minister came under attack for misrepresenting some of the evidence on such facilities, and I am keen not to make the same mistake.

Instead, I will defer to a 2017 report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which summarizes some of the evidence on these facilities. The report found that the evidence that SDCFs can “reach and stay in contact with” highly marginalized individuals is “well documented”.

The report says that “This contact has resulted in immediate improvements in hygiene and safer use for clients ... as well as wider health and public order benefits.”

Such facilities are associated with increased uptake of diverse types of dependence care such as referral to an addiction treatment center, initiation of detoxification programs and initiation of methadone therapy.

The report also states that evaluation studies have shown that there has been a “positive impact” on the communities in which the facilities are placed, including a “decrease in public injecting ... and a reduction in the number of syringes discarded in the vicinity”.

That is an important point in response to John Mason’s question. Surely those outcomes deserve exploration to ensure that our communities feel supported.

DANIEL JOHNSON: I hear much of what the minister has to say. If there is evidence, we should indeed look at it, but what she is saying is focused on intravenous drug use. What about the wider services and the engagement that goes beyond that cohort of intravenous drug users in tackling the wider drug problem?

AILEEN CAMPBELL: I am talking about that specific group and a problem with drug-related deaths. There are examples from across the world where countries have taken up the opportunity to proceed with such facilities, which has resulted in a reduction in the number of drug-related deaths.

I do not pretend that the measure would be a panacea for all the issues of drug and substance misuse in Scotland, but I am seeking agreement for us to try to initiate dialogue with the UK Government through which we can try to take forward a public health response to the growing and very real public health need that is felt keenly in Glasgow.

The evidence from the Sydney facility shows that it has had support from the local residential and business communities, because they have witnessed a positive change in the area as a result of the success of the SDCF. In Melbourne, locals actively campaigned for a safe injecting facility.

From the interventions that I have had, I am aware that, for some, the argument will be that there is no safe way to take a class A drug such as heroin. My answer to that is that SDCFs do not claim to make drug use safe; rather, they are based on the premise that it is safer to use drugs under supervision than to do so in a disused building or on the street or in any other place where an individual might take them and not be found should anything go wrong.

We rehearsed the arguments previously when setting up needle and syringe exchange programs. We did not claim that doing so would make injecting safe; instead, we claimed that the programs would make injecting safer by reducing the chances of the transmission of blood-borne viruses and bacterial infections.

An SDCF would also provide the opportunity for individuals to access the health and social care services that are usually out of their reach. On that point, evidence from the Sydney facility shows that about 70 per cent of the people who registered had never accessed any local health service before and that, since the introduction of the SDCF, almost 12,000 referrals have been made, connecting people to health and social welfare services in a way that never happened in the past.

ALEX COLE-HAMILTON: The minister is absolutely right to say that there is a link between safe injecting rooms and use of other healthcare facilities. A key service in that regard is the alcohol and drug partnership. Will she take this opportunity to confirm that budgets for ADPs will be protected in future? They have not been protected in the past under this Government.

AILEEN CAMPBELL: We have invested record levels in ADPs, and in the previous budget we committed to invest a further £20 million, to ensure that we can deliver on our new and refreshed approach to drugs.

Closer to home, the UK Government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published a report in December 2016 in response to the growing number of drug-related deaths in the UK. In that report, the council recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of SDCFs in areas with a high concentration of injecting drug users.

The council reported that in addition to the evidence that SDCFs reduce the number of drug-related deaths, there is evidence that they reduce the transfer of blood-borne viruses while improving access to primary care and more intensive forms of drug treatment. The council was clear that the evidence showed that the facilities did not result in an increase in injecting behavior, drug use or—I address this to John Mason—local crime rates.

All that leaves me wondering just how much more evidence in support of SDCFs the Westminster Government requires before it will act. How many more people need to die before the UK Government agrees that such facilities save lives?

The issues that I am talking about affect individuals and communities throughout our country, but it is Glasgow that leads the charge for Scotland in its attempt to open an SDCF. For that reason, I want to take a moment to focus on the current situation in the city.

The most recent statistics that I have seen indicate that the HIV epidemic in the city continues unabated. The outbreak among injectors in greater Glasgow involves about 120 people. Such a level of HIV infection is unacceptable in our society, and I am adamant that we must offer some solution to the situation.

If one in five of the people who inject drugs in and around Glasgow city center is involved in the outbreak, it seems essential that we should have a service that gives those people regular contact with services so that they can get effective HIV treatment.

In addition, Glasgow has had the largest number of drug-related deaths in the country in recent years, with 170 such deaths recorded in 2016. Again, the figure is unacceptable and the situation demands action.

I was encouraged by Glasgow City Council’s recent discussion on the issue. The discussion was initiated by Scottish National Party councilor Mhairi Hunter, but agreement was sought from members of all political parties on the need for a safer drug consumption facility to be introduced in Glasgow, and the discussion ended with a unanimous vote to pursue the provision of an SDCF in the city.

In addition, a Conservative councilor invited Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, to come to Glasgow to see the situation for herself. The invitation was backed by the rest of the council, and I add my voice to those who are calling for the Home Secretary or her minister with responsibility for drugs, Victoria Atkins, whom I am due to meet next month, to discuss the pressing and urgent issues to do with substance use on which we are unable to act due to powers being reserved.

My officials have been involved in discussions with Glasgow health and social care partnership, which has been developing the proposal from the start. They will continue to engage with the partnership as things progress. I will also soon meet Susanne Miller, the chair of Glasgow’s ADP and chief officer of the health and social care partnership, to get a further update on the situation in the city.

We are currently working to renew our national drugs strategy. The current strategy has achieved a great deal and I pay tribute to the hard work of the people who were involved in delivering it: the ADPs, drug services, professionals, clinicians, people with lived experience and people from the third sector who introduced the world’s first national naloxone program, presided over a decline in drug use among our young people, supported more than 120 independent recovery communities and greatly reduced drug and alcohol waiting times.

NEIL FINDLAY: I support much of what the minister has said about injecting rooms. She is right to focus on that today, but will she bring to the Parliament a debate in Government time to allow members to discuss the whole issue of drugs and the holistic approach that we need to take to drugs policy?

AILEEN CAMPBELL: I am always happy to engage, indeed, I have sought to engage, with parties across the parliamentary chamber, to ensure that members feel a degree of ownership of our drugs strategy. We took forward our road to recovery strategy in that way.

I will happily engage with the member, who takes a keen interest in the issue, and I hope that he takes that commitment in the spirit in which it is meant, so that we can get something that delivers for people who are marginalized and vulnerable in the here and now, and make progress on safer injecting facilities.

Our refreshed strategy will seek to build on the achievements of the road to recovery strategy. It is also important that it seeks to rectify the gaps and shortfalls that have become all too evident. The new strategy must be innovative in its approach.

It must be guided by the evidence of what works and it must be unafraid to suggest approaches that might make some people uncomfortable, at first. That will include ideas such as SDCFs or heroin-assisted treatment. Against the backdrop of rising numbers of drug-related deaths, those bold ideas could be what makes the difference.

It is important, however, that we do not view such approaches as a panacea for all the challenges that we face with problem substance use in Scotland. Again, I would welcome all members who want to contribute to the refreshed strategy.

The strategy will be backed by an additional £20 million each year during the current parliamentary session, and I have been clear that that money is not just to produce more of the same. Instead, I want it to encourage new thinking and approaches, and to encourage ambitious and innovative front-line responses.

Unfortunately, at this time, we are, to an extent, curtailed in what we can do as a nation in response to the problems that we face from substance abuse. The options that are available to us under current legislation are limited, but the situation in Glasgow is serious enough to warrant considering alternative approaches, including a supervised consumption room. I am pushing for a change in the legislation to let that happen.

There are SDCFs in more than 70 cities around the world, but not one in the UK. Such a position is no longer tenable and I seek the consensus and agreement of Parliament to help change this.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Aileen Campbell, Scottish National Party and Scotland’s Minister for Public Health and Sport, introducing a motion in the Scottish Parliament to set up a supervised injection facility or safe consumption space in the city of Glasgow.

Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom. There was an attempt not long ago to establish Scottish independence, however that referendum failed narrowly. The UK government made several major concessions to Scotland before the vote in order to scupper the vote, and some powers have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament from the UK government.

Unfortunately, establishing a supervised injection facility falls somewhat outside the scope of the Scottish Parliament's power. That’s why Alison Thewliss, a member of the UK Parliament from the Scottish National Party, has introduced legislation to allow Scotland to set up supervised injection facilities.

Several nations around the world, including Canada, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and many more, already allow these safe consumption spaces. The research is clear. Supervised injection facilities and drug consumption rooms do not lead to increased use, nor to crime, nor to public disorder.

Supervised injection facilities and drug consumption rooms do prevent people from dying. They prevent people from getting sick, and from spreading disease. They bring people into contact with healthcare and mental health services, people who may otherwise be disconnected from those systems.

The research is indisputable. The real world experience is undeniable. It’s clear what works. It’s also clear what doesn’t work, and our current policies, based on prohibition, do not work.

Change can happen, it does happen, it will happen, because we make it happen. Our voices matter. Our votes count. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.

The prohibitionists, the people against reform, know that they can only succeed is if they can get us to shut up, and that’s just not going to happen. Not so long as there is still breath in my body to be able to say these words: You are listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.Net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

Now, while I climb down from my high horse, let’s continue listening to that debate in the Scottish Parliament over supervised injection facilities and safe consumption spaces. Now, let’s hear from Anas Sarwar, he’s a Labour Party member of the Scottish Parliament who represents Glasgow.

ANAS SARWAR: The increase in drug-related deaths is a tragedy—it is a tragedy for the individuals concerned, for their friends and families, and for society. Scotland tops the league table in the European Union for drug-related deaths, and the position is getting worse, not better. In the past decade, the drug-death rate has doubled. Drug deaths in Scotland are 160 per million of population, while the EU average is 21.

It is not just an issue of ageing drug users. Drug use among young people is, I believe, as prevalent now as it has ever been. The substances might not all be the same, but we are kidding ourselves on if we believe that young people are not using drugs. MDMA, legal highs, cannabis, cocaine and others are rife in communities across our country.

We cannot allow ourselves to be viewed as distant “suits” who are out of touch with reality. Sadly, much of what we see on our television screens and at the cinema continues the glorification of some forms of drug use.

That is why we must, with honesty and in good faith, consider whether the current approach is working. This is not a political attack on the Scottish Government’s current drug strategy; it is a candid reflection that we are failing as a nation. I say that in full recognition that drug deaths have been steadily increasing since 1995. For long periods since then, my party has been in power.

I want to make it clear that I do not believe that we can continue as we are. That is why, today, we will support the Scottish Government’s motion. I hope that the Government will recognize the good faith of our amendment and support it, too.

This is far too serious an issue, with far too many lives being lost and families affected, for it to be used as a political football or as a proxy for constitutional conflict between the Scottish and UK Governments. We should not allow it to become that.

Whatever position we agree today, we have to be honest enough to say that safe injection facilities are not the answer in themselves. Whatever benefits they may bring, they are not the magic bullet for solving Scotland’s drug problem. Nobody in the chamber is seriously suggesting that one injection room in one part of one city is an adequate response to Scotland’s very serious drugs problem, but it may well have a part to play,

We believe that, if necessary, powers should be devolved if all other avenues have been exhausted. In supporting the Government’s motion, however, we are not willing to give the Government a free ride. There are serious questions to answer—not the least of which is how the minister believes that cutting the funding to drug and alcohol partnerships will make things better.

A budget that was more than 69 million pounds in 2014-15 is a budget of less than 54 million pounds now. It cannot simply be written off as a coincidence that, over that period, the number of drug-related deaths has increased sharply, and it cannot simply be a coincidence that the health impacts of dirty needles are increasing when needle exchanges are closing down. I would therefore welcome the minister’s explanation of how the cutting of budgets has made a positive difference, if it has.

I come back to the motion. Labour supports the Glasgow safe injection space proposals, but it is clear that we need a wholesale change in the approach to our drug strategy. Why? It is because the evidence that is before us is stark: whatever else our drug strategy might be, it is not a success. Our drug strategy is failing: it is failing individuals, families, whole communities and our nation.

AILEEN CAMPBELL: I appreciate a lot of what Anas Sarwar has said and how he has articulated it. However, I worded the motion as I did in order to ensure that we focus on one element of drug policy so that the issue does not become a constitutional issue and we could achieve consensus.

However, on the reference to a “failing” strategy, will Anas Sarwar concede that there have been successes, and that many people do not want to rip up the current strategy but to build on it? We have had the first-ever national Naloxone roll-out program, we have seen a reduction in numbers of young people who are taking drugs, and we have a flourishing recovery community.

All those can trace their roots back to the road to recovery strategy. We know that the strategy has shortfalls, but we want to plug any gaps. However, that does not suggest that the entire strategy and approach has been a failure. In fact, saying that it has been a failure does a disservice to the many people who are working incredibly hard to deliver it.

ANAS SARWAR: I emphasize that what I am saying is not an attack on the Scottish Government, the existing strategy, the minister or the people who are doing lots of very important work across the country. What I am saying is a reflection on the stats and facts, the numbers and the evidence on the ground.

I note what the minister says about young people’s use of drugs, but I am sorry to say that that is not what I understand from my experience of talking to young people the length and breadth of our country. Young people are now seeing drugs in a much more normalized way.

There seems to be increased drug use among crisis individuals and people in crisis families, but what worries me is that there are lots of people right across the country who would not be regarded as crisis individuals or as being in crisis families who are normalizing use of drugs.That might not be about intravenous drugs like heroin, but about legal highs, MDMA, cannabis and cocaine. That is why I think that we need a fresh approach.

There is a large degree of consensus across the chamber on the issue, and some of that has been articulated. I think that there is a large degree of consensus among people who work with drug issues every day across our country. That is why we are committed to taking a fresh and wide-ranging approach to dealing with our country’s drug problems.

ALISON JOHNSTONE: Will the member take an intervention?

ANAS SARWAR: I am willing to, but I think that I am running out of time.

CHRISTINE GRAHAME: The member is coming into his last minute, but I will give him a little extra time as he took a long intervention previously.

ANAS SARWAR: Thank you.

CHRISTINE GRAHAME: Your intervention must be brief, Ms Johnstone.

ALISON JOHNSTONE: I am not entirely clear about whether Anas Sarwar sees substance misuse as a public health issue or as a criminal justice matter, so I would be grateful if he could clarify that.

ANAS SARWAR: I am just coming on to that. I see substance misuse as a public health issue. The complex nature of substance abuse means that it must be addressed across portfolios. We should look not only at our justice system, but at policing, housing, local government and, more important, the impact of poverty, inequality and austerity on the prevalence of drug use.

That is why Labour will hold a wide-ranging cross-sector and cross-portfolio drug summit to consider innovative ways to improve the policy and political response to Scotland’s addiction problems. I think that Alison Johnstone and I are probably very much on the same wavelength in terms of making the issue less about a criminal justice reaction and more about public health.

We should seek to learn lessons not only from around Scotland and the UK but from all around the world, so that we can see how other countries have changed their approach and, as a result, changed levels of drug use. There are bold and innovative examples, Portugal being one, but I will not go into detail, given the time that I have left. However, we need to be brave enough to consider innovative proposals in a cross-party way.

Simply doing the same things over and over again, with the same forlorn hope that things might be different in the future is not the definition of an effective evidence-led policy.

So I close by urging the Scottish Government to do as the minister has said and not use our support for the motion as a proxy for a different disagreement, but to use it, and the willingness of members across the chamber, to take a fresh look and to consider new ways so that, years from now, people can look back and say that today, in the Scottish Parliament, we began the process of turning around Scotland’s place as the drugs-death capital of Europe.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Anas Sarwar, a Labour Party member of the Scottish Parliament from the Glasgow constituency.

At the end of this debate, votes were taken on amendments and then on the motion itself. All amendments were rejected. The motion passed by a vote of 79 in favor, 27 opposed, with one abstention.

Now, loyal listeners will recall that we heard part of the debate in the UK Parliament on its supervised consumption facility bill on a recent show. Parliament will soon have its second reading and debate over that legislation, to allow Scotland to set up that safe consumption space. When the time comes, I’ll bring you that audio.

Until then, I just want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DOUG MCVAY: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

04/08/18 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug Truth Network

This week, host Doug McVay talks to students about harm reduction in a time of drug war, plus we hear from delegates from Czech Republic, Costa Rica, and Australia about decriminalization, human rights, harm reduction, and international drug policy reform.

Audio file

10/15/17 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

Live from the Drug Policy Alliance's 2017 International Reform Conference, we hear from South African researcher Shaun Shelly, Pastor Kenneth Glasgow from The Ordinary Peoples' Society, and Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno.

Audio file


OCTOBER 15, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

And this week, we are coming to you live from Atlanta, Georgia, site of the 2017 Drug Policy Alliance International Reform Conference.

SHAUN SHELLY: I'm Shaun Shelly, I'm from Capetown, South Africa. I am a bit of a generalist who specializes in drugs. So, a highly specialized generalist, and the reason I say that is because the field of drugs and particularly illicit drugs, or drugs that are deemed illicit, is vast. It takes everything from economics through to understanding the human condition, psychology, psychiatry, pharmacology, and those kind of differences and sectors that intersect into the drug field really suit my supremely attention deficit kind of personality, so my so-called pathology becomes quite an advantage in that.

I kind of want to know everything. I want to get the meta-view of stuff, and I think in the drug world, that very seldom happens. So, I have a number of roles that I fulfill, a number of hats that I wear. I spend most of my time working for an organization called TB HIV Care, we're based in South Africa, we're quite a large nonprofit focusing mainly on TB and HIV, which is pretty logical. It's been around since 1929 as an organization, which is fairly old. But I'm their drug guy, so I head up their people who use drugs policy, psychosocial, special projects, advocacy, and harm reduction section, and then as a subsection of that, I run the South African Drug Policy Week, as well.

And, then I've got a post at the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria, where I'm researching and implementing a community orientated substance use program as part of the primary care and primary wellness program that they've got there, which I think is quite interesting. And then I chair the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs at the moment, and I sit on the strategic subcommittee for the International Drug Policy Consortium as the African and Middle Eastern representative. So that's mainly what, you know, those are the four sort of main hats I wear. But, yes, I see myself both as an academic, as a researcher, and an activist as well, I think.

DOUG MCVAY: What is drug policy like in South Africa?

SHAUN SHELLY: They're very much informed by American drug policy, and --

DOUG MCVAY: My apologies.

SHAUN SHELLY: Yes, yes. And also, you know, obviously the international conventions. And I think one of the big tricks of the current drug policy status quo is that it's enabled us to perpetuate -- it's a little soundbite, almost, it's, like, perpetuating the colonial and imperial through the myth of the international, and what that means realy is that we've got this myth that there's an international consensus on what drugs should be legal and really, that is a myth. You know, which drugs are legal and which are illegal is an accident, or an intention of politics, not of science, and we're using this to impose a set of constraints and social controls on various population groups, and that's repeated in South Africa very much.

Which I find really sad, because up until recently, when we had apartheid, we had this huge set of activists, or group of activists, and unionists, and Marxists, and sort of socialists, working together to try and overthrow oppression. But now, these same people have become uber-capitalists, they are not looking at the way that the oppression and the subjugation of the communities is being perpetuated, and the drug was is exactly this. And what we're seeing is we're seeing the old apartheid policing structures are being used now to police drugs. And that for me is very frightening, you know, when you haven't dismantled this extremely violent and extremely rights-abusing structure, and are now using it to fight against drugs, you're actually still using it to perpetuate apartheid, as far as I'm concerned.

And nobody's really realizing that, and that's very disappointing for me. So, we have got communities who are calling for the death penalty for people who deal drugs, we've got people calling for the introduction of the military into certain areas, we're seeing that people don't see that both drugs and gangsterism are symptoms of a sick community, they're seeing them as causes of the sick community, and it's not very helpful. And so, my mission is to try and change minds and hearts of people, and get activism going from the grassroots up, in the same way that we had apartheid activism. I'm not for on instance saying that the drug problem is the same as apartheid, but certainly apartheid has informed it.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and it's the policing structures and the violence and other things that are the, I mean, the tools and the machine never stopped, and never went away, the machine simply changed direction and changed focus. That's -- no, I can't. I can't. I'm trying to make an analogy with marijuana legalization and the capitalists taking over, and the regular people still being oppressed and communities of color and the poor still being out of the loop, and if they try and get in in an unofficial and unregulated way they're going to go to jail, they're going to be subject to incredible penalties, but it's obviously a much lesser scale.

SHAUN SHELLY: Well, I think that, you know, I think these things work in kind of fractals, you know, the meta-view is simply a repetition of the micro-view, as you burrow down you're seeing more of the same, more of the same, more of the same. And so the cannabis one is interesting for me, because in Africa, we've had centuries of nonproblematic cannabis use. It was the South African sort of white regime that really pushed to have cannabis on the initial list of illicit substances internationally. I think Egypt was the other country as well that pushed it right in the very beginning. The reasoning from the sort of South African, I think it was the prime minister at that stage, who wrote to the League of Nations, he said that cannabis makes the natives lazy, you know, directly, he said that. And we haven't critically looked at that.

But now, we've got this move towards legal regulation of cannabis all of a sudden, and it really is being designed for big business to take over the cannabis industry. Now, we've got growers of cannabis, and growers is -- sort of implies that they actually take some active role in the production of cannabis, they don't, they just simply keep the cows away from the cannabis fields, because the cannabis grows absolutely naturally in these areas. Totally naturally.

Every couple of years, each community will get flown over by police, the helicopters spraying glyphosate on them, which kills all their crops, all the flat-leaf crops, and in the other years, they harvest the cannabis and they sell it, they take it on donkeys across the mountains and sell it to people, and that provides a little bit of income for them, and it then gets smuggled through to the urban areas and semi-urban areas, and a group of traders, who are not making huge margins, because cannabis doesn't make huge margins, who are not part of the gang structures, are selling cannabis, and are performing a very important role in the informal economy.

Now if these people are excluded, or if there's a move towards big business, they're going to lose this income, because it is going to be far better policed than it is at the moment. Sure, it might not mean as many jail sentences, but put it this way, these people are certainly going to be out of business, and if they are out of business, a lot of people suffer. It's not just one person. If we look in the western Cape, we've got over 1,400 illicit, we call them shabeens, they're alcohol outlets selling legitimately produced alcohol but they don't have a license to.

And, once again, these people are very active in the informal economy. What's going to happen when the cannabis guys are gone? We're going to have a big problem. We're going to have eleven growers in South Africa, and believe you me, those aren't going to be 11 guys who are currently growing cannabis, or not growing cannabis and harvesting it in the eastern Cape or the former Transkei areas.

DOUG MCVAY: There's even a community in California that has, that's trying to decide whether or not to allow legal cannabis business within their limits, and the police department is arguing that they shouldn't because it would cost them more to regulate and enforce legal marijuana than they currently spend on enforcing marijuana prohibition, which, dear god, I want to check their math but I'm scared to think that they're probably right. They would spend more doing this.

SHAUN SHELLY: So, for me, you know, that's why I'm cautious about legal regulation. But decrim is an absolute no-brainer. Just simply stop arresting people. You don't even need to really change the laws to have de facto decriminalization. Just tell police to stop arresting people and stop investigating these kind of drug related charges, you know, that's not that difficult to do. And we saw that example in South Africa, for example, with apartheid. Everybody was saying, oh, you know, if apartheid falls there's going to be chaos and all the rest. There wasn't any chaos, and that was a much bigger structural issue.

I had dinner with Ruth Dreyfuss, the former president of Switzerland last year, and we were talking about the changes that took place in Switzerland. And everybody thinks that that happened over a decade or so. It didn't, it happened over one year. She was president for one year, and they went from Needle Park and huge problems, huge overdose deaths, huge transmissions of HIV, to the current Swiss situation in one year, because they had political will. Somebody decided this must change, and it changed.

So, you know, I think that decriminalization can happen instantly. It can happen overnight, and nothing's going to really fall apart. There's not going to be mayhem and destruction. However, when we move towards legal regulation, if you do it unintelligently, and you do it based on some sort of template that's not applicable to your community, you're going to be in big trouble. Very big trouble.

DOUG MCVAY: One of the recurring themes for me at this conference has been the dropping of the veil, the hypocrisy of the drug policy movement for many years has been that yes, actually, a lot of us do use drugs of some kind, many of -- and some of -- I've been a marijuana smoker for most of my adult life, and I've never been caught, never been arrested, and I haven't had a problem with it. I, you know, but I'm -- having said that, I've been breaking the law for most of my adult life, and so have a lot of the other people. We're not doing this because we want -- and that's the point, we've been able to do this all this time, and never gotten caught and never gotten arrested, it's not that the laws have ever stopped us, that's the bloody point.


DOUG MCVAY: But dropping that veil of hypocrisy, because the drug policy movement, we have always talked about those people as drug users, instead of talking about ourselves. Drug user organization -- the organizing of people who use drugs, I'm trying to get my terminology right, people who use drugs --

SHAUN SHELLY: Yes. Drugs, yes.

DOUG MCVAY: -- is relatively new, and I know that my listeners need to know about it, and that's -- could you tell me about this?

SHAUN SHELLY: Yes, so, and you're right about the terminology. The nice thing about the term "people who use drugs" means that you put people first, and I'm working towards a world where we can just drop the "who use drugs" part, because it is obvious: everybody uses drugs. So if we can just go, you know, people. And I often tell medical students and people who are studying to become psychiatrists and that kind of thing when I teach them, I say, drop the "who use drugs" part, and that's where you start your treatment process for anybody.

And for me, that's why people who use drugs movements are essential. But they also need to happen on a couple of levels, because in South Africa for example, I'm the current chair of the Network of People who Use Drugs, but I'm not truly representative of the people who suffer most under drug policy, because frankly, being a white male in my fifties means that I don't suffer the same consequences that other people suffer.

And when I gave my talk yesterday, I said to the room, I said, would everybody who has used drugs for a significant period of their life, and has never been arrested, please stand up. And of course, the majority of people were white males. And, I think there were about fifty percent people of color in the room, and they probably had used drugs and been arrested. And so I looked at my fellow drug users, and I said to them, why aren't you being more vocal about your drug use? You know, I was, for a period of time I was banned from coming to the United States. I couldn't get a visa because I didn't lie on my application form. When it asked the question "do you or have you ever used illicit drugs?" I went yes.

Now, everybody says, oh, that's stupid. I say, but you know it's never going to change until enough people do say yes on that. And when we can't get certain people to come and talk in the United States that everybody wants to hear, that when the president of the United States, when he comes to visit, he gets blocked from coming into the United States, you know, because he says yes to that question, you know, and obviously he wouldn't need a visa for the States, but I'm just saying, you know, your former president. In fact I wish your current president would take some drugs, preferably large doses.

But anyway, so, the issue is that the people who are protected, and who are able to take drugs, and I'm not only talking about the illicit drugs, I'm talking about people for example who are able to access amphetamines, or methamphetamines, or sort of very close to methamphetamines, or whichever pharmaceutical analog of street drugs, those are also drugs, and it's tremendous privilege to be able to afford to go to a doctor, to be able to have these drugs prescribed for you, and then, I think it is absolute hypocrisy to look down on another person who is maybe using a methamphetamine, who may or may not be self-medicating, we don't know, you know, and then look down at them and say, oh, they just shouldn't be doing something illegal.

I think it's absolute hypocrisy, and we need to challenge people in positions of privilege who are taking drugs to come out and own their drug use. In fact, I was saying yesterday, I would love to set up dummy courts for parents who use drugs, and never will suffer the consequences, and put them in front of a dummy court as if they were parents from a marginalized community, and see how they feel being treated and broadcast that, because really, a lot of people would be losing their kids. Ad executives, financial executives, you know, basically, I reckon we'd be seeing about 40 percent of the population, and that's just a thumbsuck, would lose their kids, because their parents use drugs in one form or another, but nobody's looking at them.

DOUG MCVAY: I've got to say that I was in that presentation you did at the, yesterday, and was one of the people who stood up, and, yeah, that, your challenge is one of the reasons I just -- is one of the reasons I'm a little more willing to admit now, well, yes, I've been using marijuana for a long damn time, other stuff too. I'd rather not go into the list right now because this is not about me, but the point is that you're right. We have to, this is ridiculous, this is garbage, we've got to, you know, we can't -- the hypocrisy, our own hypocrisy has to stop before we can get the government and the authorities to stop being hypocrites themselves.

SHAUN SHELLY: Absolutely. But what I found really, really interesting is that people have this fear of exposing themselves in terms of their drug use, and I kind of proved to myself that that's not necessarily true, because I work in a very conservative environment, I work in an academic environment, I work with police officers, I work with sort of the head of our narcotics division, and I will occasionally say I'm the chairperson of the Network of People Who Use Drugs, and they kind of go, oh, when did you stop using drugs, I say no, I'm the chairman of the Network of People Who *currently* Use Drugs, not who once upon a time used drugs. And they sort of like gloss over it and move on, because I'm incongruent with their vision of a person who uses drugs.

And at the South African Drug Policy Week, we had one of the -- the head of the police forensic labs was sitting there, and he said, I was really challenged and made really really uncomfortable, he said, because I looked at this person next to me who had a PhD from a very, very prestigious university -- you know, one of the two that there are, I won't say which one because we'll get to close to who this individual is, and they said, I said to them, oh, so do you use drugs? And they said yes I do, I use opioids, and he said, well when last did you get high on opioids? He said, well I'm high on opioids right now, by your definition.

And he said, I'd been having a fifteen minute intelligent conversation with this person, and I felt so guilty, because all my life I'd assumed that somebody who had recently injected heroin or had recently smoked heroin would be unable to hold any form of intelligent conversation, and this was probably the most intelligent conversation I've held for months.

DOUG MCVAY: Closing thoughts, and if you have a website and such that you could -- that people can find out about the work you do.

SHAUN SHELLY: Look, at the moment, people should just google my name, which is Shaun Shelly, and you'll find a lot of my writing, and other than that, I'm trying to resurrect my website. Otherwise,, and they will see some of the work that we're doing there, and some great talks by a variety of people around the world.

At this year's SA Drug Policy Week, we had speakers from the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, right through to the current head of the Central Drug Authority in South Africa, right through to the head of the Narcotics Division from Ghana, who's a man by the name of Yaw Akrasi Sarpong, who's a dynamic speaker.

And we had four keynote speakers. We had Ethan Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Alliance, we had Professor David Nutt, from Imperial College in the UK, we had Neil Woods, the former undercover policeman from the UK, and we had Anand Grover, who is the man who decriminalized same-sex sex in India, and broke the patent laws on ARVs and managed to get ARVs around the world at affordable prices. So we had some really great speakers, go and have a look at that, and you can follow my work there.

DOUG MCVAY: Excellent, Shaun Shelly, Network of People Who Use Drugs,

SHAUN SHELLY: That's it.

DOUG MCVAY: Excellent. Shaun, thank you so much.

SHAUN SHELLY: My pleasure.

DOUG MCVAY: You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

I'm sitting here with Pastor Kenny Glasgow from The Ordinary People Society. I heard you speak in 2013 on a panel that was one of the most inspirational things I have ever been to in my life, it helped to change my perspective, and at least to shape my perspective, and before we start I just want to thank you.

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Thank you. Thank you. I feel honored.

DOUG MCVAY: Ah, the honor is mine. Could you tell me about yourself and The Ordinary People Society?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Well, I'm Pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow. I did fourteen years in prison. While I was in prison, I had an epiphany from god to start a ministry and go out and help some of the people that I used to do drugs with when I was on crack cocaine. In the process of doing that, I started looking at society and how it treated those of us who were incarcerated, how it treated those of us who were drug users, how it treated those of us who have been drug sellers, and just how it treated some of us.

And in doing so, I started studying these different religions, and, you know, everybody was getting a degree in theology, I got a degree in theosophy, the study of all religions, and I learned that those ten principles that we use as the Ten Commandments are ten principles that a lot of different religions use, that we're not aware of, and that concept of Jesus and Jesus the Christ, and I started studying his life, and that's what TOPS is, The Ordinary People Society, because who he went after was the ordinary people.

Well, they called them common in those days, but I got a thesaurus, synonymous word was ordinary, so we came up with the The Ordinary People Ministry. But it needed to be more than a ministry. It needed to attach itself to society to change the way society looked at the ordinary people. And so then we came up with the finalization of The Ordinary People Society.

We do three things emphatically. We feed about 300 people, as you've heard, at three or four different places in the south, southern states of Georgia, Florida, Alabama. We have a mentoring and monitoring program, everybody mentors but who's monitoring what's happening with the children, the ADHD, why they've got them on all these psychotropic medications now, and all that, well now when we were growing up that didn't happen.

And then last but not least, we have the Prodigal Child Project, where of course you've where I've changed so many laws, and well known for changing the law in Alabama, under the Moral Turpitude Act, where they can vote even if they are in prison. So, that's The Ordinary People Society and myself. I've been affiliated with the Drug Policy Alliance for about 11, oh, 11 to 12 years, and we've been working, you know, hand in hand, getting a lot of things done in the south, and so I end up getting about thirteen to fifteen laws changed in Alabama, three in Georgia, one in West Virginia, and one in Florida.

DOUG MCVAY: You do tremendous work, and I -- well, hold on a minute. Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow.


DOUG MCVAY: Sharpton?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: I'm Sharpton's little brother, I'm his half brother, we have the same father.

DOUG MCVAY: The Reverend Al, who's finally come around on some drug policy stuff.

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Thank god, he's come around, we've been talking about it for years. He's come around, he's seen it, and, you know, all of us that are advocates and activists that are supposed to be fighting for human rights need to recognize it as a human right, and not an opportunity to treat people inhumanely, such as the prisons and all these draconian laws do.

DOUG MCVAY: We're about to, the closing plenary's about to start, so I should probably get myself back there and make sure my recording is going. Any closing thoughts for our listeners, and is there a way to find out about The Ordinary People Society, do you have a website?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Yes. Go to, and you know, just look at some of our videos and everything we've put out. If you need any help in your different states, pastors, preachers, ministers, and all, please get in touch with us. We want to take the Prodigal Child Project all across the nation, and what it's doing, it's helping to aid pastors and preachers in learning how to change policies with the scriptures in the [inaudible] as well as sermons.

DOUG MCVAY: You're getting an award later tonight, am I right?

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Yeah, I thought you were going to forget that. Yeah, I'm getting one of the most prestigious awards I've ever gotten in my life, and that they give at Drug Policy Alliance. I didn't even realize the significance of this international award, but I am getting one for civil advocacy and civil action work that we've been doing, and I'm really, really feeling a little excited about that.

DOUG MCVAY: I -- you deserve it. You are -- for once I can say this without having to excuse or feel sheepish. You are doing god's work, and no one is more deserving. God bless, you man, bless you.

PASTOR KENNETH SHARPTON GLASGOW: Thank you, and thank you so much, and y'all got to remember, the key thing about people that have felony convictions, people that use drugs, people that have been out there and lived the righteous life? The key and operative word is, they're people. God bless you.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm talking to Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno, the new Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and first of all congratulations on the new position, and secondly, congratulations on a tremendous conference. This has been one of the most exciting I've been to in a long time. Well, silly question, but how do you think it's been going?

MARIA MCFARLAND SANCHEZ-MORENO: I think it went wonderfully. I mean, we got 1,500 people here, we've got people from fifty countries around the world, people representing all walks of life, from across the drug reform movement, including people who use drugs, people who don't like drugs, people who were in law enforcement, front line activists who are reducing harm and preventing overdose, people who are fighting for legalization of marijuana, for decriminalizing personal use of all drugs. It's really a wonderful, vibrant, energetic community that is, in very difficult times actually, making a difference.

DOUG MCVAY: One of the things that's been most exciting to me at this has been that, for years, there was a sort of split between harm reduction and policy reform. It feels like over the last few years that split has been narrowing, and it feels a lot like at this conference you've been successful at bridging that gap between the service providing people on the one hand, the advocates for the people who use drugs, and the other side, the drug policy reformers, working on this. Any closing thoughts for the listeners, and of course to remind folks, they can find out more about all this at

MARIA MCFARLAND SANCHEZ-MORENO: Yeah, no, I think that what you just talked about with the harm reductionists and others, coming closer, I think we all recognize across this movement that ultimately our goals are the same, that this is about human autonomy, human dignity, it's about respect for basic and equal rights, and so this is about very basic principles that we want our society to be built upon. And at this time, when so many difficult things are happening in this country, with overdose rates soaring, with a government that is very aggressively pushing for a harsher war on drugs that is often using straight-up lies to justify those policies, I think this is a moment where it's been especially important that we all come together, that we strategize together and that we be inspired and energized for the fight ahead.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. Thank you so much, Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno --


DOUG MCVAY: -- new executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.


DOUG MCVAY: And that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at I’ve been your host Doug McVay, editor of The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

07/26/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts

This week: the Justice Department's inspector general issues a report criticizing the DEA's handling of its confidential informant program, and the Senate narcotics caucus hears about barriers to CBD research.

Audio file


JULY 26, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. And now, on with the show.

This week, the Justice Department's Inspector General's office released its audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration's use of confidential informants. It will probably come as no surprise to learn that the I-G found numerous abuses and errors by the DEA as well as a complete lack of oversight. Here's the Department's Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, speaking with Deputy Inspector General Rob Storch about the report:

ROB STORCH: Today’s report found that the policies that govern the DEA’s Confidential Source Program, are not fully consistent with guidance provided by the Attorney General. Michael, could you explain that for our listeners in a little more detail, and why the OIG found it was significant?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: Certainly. To start with, the DOJ has Department-level standards for all Justice Law Enforcement Agencies, including the DEA. The standards cover the establishment, approval, use, and evaluation of confidential sources. They're called the Attorney General Guidelines, or the AG Guidelines. Instead of adopting these AG Guidelines, the DEA chose instead to incorporate certain provisions of the Guidelines into its own preexisting policy, called the DEA Special Agents Manual.

ROB STORCH: Now, I saw in the report that the DEA’s policy was approved by the Department's Criminal Division in 2004. So what's the problem?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: That's right, Rob. The Department actually did approve the DEA’s policy, and the DEA said that its manual captured the essence of the AG Guidelines. The problem our audit team found was that DEA’s policy actually differs in several significant respects from the requirements in the Attorney General’s Guidelines. We found that the DEA’s Confidential Source Program lacks sufficient oversight, and it lacks consistency with the rules governing other DOJ law enforcement components.

Let me give you 3 examples. First, DEA’s policy differs by allowing high-risk individuals to be used as confidential sources without the same level of review that the Department requires for high-risk sources -- such as sources who may have information obtained through confidential, privileged relationships or people who are affiliated with the media.

ROB STORCH: And these high-risk and privileged or media-affiliated sources are confidential sources who can pose an increased risk to the public and who have unique legal implications for DOJ. These include individuals who are part of drug trafficking organization leadership, as well as lawyers, doctors, or journalists. Is that correct?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: That’s right. And, and what you have now is that the AG Guidelines require that each Justice law enforcement agency establish an oversight committee, called a confidential informant review committee. This committee is then tasked with reviewing how these high-level, privileged, or media-related confidential informants are registered and used.

ROB STORCH: And the report explains that the DEA had in fact identified its Sensitive Activity Review Committee, also known as the SARC, as its established committee for conducting these responsibilities. Right?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: That’s right. And, but unlike the requirements in the AG Guidelines, the DEA policy doesn't require the SARC to review how high-level or privileged confidential sources are registered or used. So the DEA’s SARC committee does not actually do these reviews, and that’s obviously the problem.

ROB STORCH: Was that the only area where the report identifies DEA’s policies as differing from the AG Guidelines?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: No, and that brings me to our second example, which is that confidential sources are sometimes authorized to engage in activity that would be illegal if they were not acting under the direction of the federal government. That’s what’s called, "otherwise illegal activity." One hypothetical example of otherwise illegal activity could be if the DEA is trying to find the leader of a drug ring. The DEA might then allow a confidential source to buy and sell drugs, in an effort to find out who is directing the drug sales.

ROB STORCH: Well, that makes sense. So what’s the issue with DEA’s policy on otherwise illegal activity”?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: The issue is, there are clear risks with these kinds of activities. So what the AG Guidelines do is provide clear requirements for reviewing, approving, and revoking a confidential source's authorization to conduct otherwise illegal activity. However, we found that DEA’s policies and practices weren't in line with those requirements. That, too, is a concern. Inadequate oversight in this area could prove detrimental to DEA. It could jeopardize the success of its operations and expose the DEA to unnecessary liability. It could also create unforeseen consequences. For example, if a confidential source perhaps oversteps his or her boundaries, with a mistaken belief the DEA sanctions any illegal activities in which the source participates.

ROB STORCH: Let’s move to another topic covered in today's report: DEA’s long-term confidential sources. As the report explains, the AG Guidelines require the DEA to evaluate the continued use of confidential sources who have been in use for six or more consecutive years. And the report explains that DEA's own policy is consistent with that. But contrary to its own policy, the DEA did not always review its continued use of long-term confidential sources, and when it did, the reviews were neither timely nor rigorous. Is that right?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: That's correct, Rob. This is another example, and the third example of how DEA’s confidential source policies are inconsistent with the Department’s guidance. These reviews are important because of the significant risk that an improper relationship between government handlers and sources could be allowed to continue over many years. Yet we found that from 2003 to 2012, the DEA committee charged with reviewing these long-term sources considered each source for an average of just one minute each. And that’s when there was any review at all.

ROB STORCH: Okay, so the audit found concerns with oversight of high-risk sources, otherwise illegal activity by sources, and long-term sources. I also saw in the report a finding about tax dollars -- specifically, how tax dollars have been used to provide death and disability benefits for confidential sources, under a law called the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, also known as FECA. Could you talk a little about that?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: Yeah, well, as we describe, Rob, in the report, DEA provided FECA, or death or disability benefits for confidential sources without any process in place for reviewing the claims and determining the eligibility for these benefits. Moreover, it’s unclear if confidential sources even qualify as federal employees, and in turn whether they qualify for any FECA benefits. And we found that DEA was in some cases inappropriately continuing to use and pay confidential sources, who were at the same time receiving full disability benefits through FECA.

ROB STORCH: Does the report give an idea of how much the DEA spent on these FECA benefits for confidential sources?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: Well, we estimated that in the one-year period from July 2013 through the end of June 2014, the DEA paid a little over one million dollars in FECA benefits to 17 confidential sources or their dependents.

ROB STORCH: Well clearly a lot of important findings in the report. The report also talks about the process that the OIG had to go through in order to conduct the review. And in the report, it says that DEA was uncooperative about providing information to the OIG team. What happened?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: Well, when we, Rob, conduct our work, we require components to give us complete and timely access to information about the program that we’re reviewing. We just didn't get that kind of access here from the DEA and as a result our work on this audit was seriously delayed. For example, the DEA attempted to prohibit our observation of confidential source file reviews. And, our requests for documents from DEA were delayed, sometimes for months at a time. Each time, the matters were resolved only after I personally elevated them to the level of the DEA Administrator.

These kinds of issues are just unacceptable. We are entitled to access these materials under the Inspector General Act, and that’s because without unfettered access to information, we simply cannot do the work that the Department, the Congress, and the American taxpayers expect and require of us, and problems such as the ones described in today’s report are more likely to continue unfixed for lengthy periods of time, if we even discover them at all without that kind of access to information. I’m hopeful that these issues with the DEA are now behind us, but you can rest assured if they’re not, we will address them, and we will report on them.

ROB STORCH: Absolutely.

DOUG MCVAY: That was the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz speaking with his deputy inspector general, Rob Storch, about their office's new audit report on the Drug Enforcement Administration's mishandling of its confidential informant program. The audio came to us courtesy of the Justice Department. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of

On Friday June 24th, the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control held a hearing on barriers to cannabidiol research. The Caucus co-chairs, Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and California Democrat Diane Feinstein, are known for their horribly backward and reactionary positions on drug policies and criminal justice policies. When it comes to CBD however those two may actually be softening. Just the fact that they're holding such a hearing is a huge step forward.

Two senators who are leading the fight for reform were invited to participate. Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand from New York and Cory Booker from New Jersey were seated along with the actual committee members at the front of the room. First, let's listen to their opening statements:

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY: Thank you. Now, Senator Gillibrand.

SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Thank you, Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, for holding this important hearing, and for inviting me to participate. I first came to this issue of medical marijuana when parents of children suffering from seizure disorders began to contact my office for help in accessing a strain of cannabis known as CBD.

As we’ll hear today, CBD can reduce the number of seizures patients experience. The benefits are dramatic: children’s brains and bodies can develop, they can learn, and they can play. Children can be children. I’ll speak more about families I’ve met in a moment, but I also want to note that CBD is just one strain of cannabis that has medical benefits for a variety of illnesses affecting our constituents.

I've submitted added testimony today that, while outside of the scope of today’s
hearing, it's important in our consideration of medical marijuana reform. I appreciate the
Caucus's consideration of that testimony. Over the last few months, I've met with many families from across New York state and the nation who desperately need access to medical marijuana.These are mothers and fathers whose children are suffering every single day from diseases like Dravet Syndrome and epilepsy. These are young boys and girls who have hundreds of seizures a day. Their development is delayed because they experience so many seizures.

But while doctors advise that CBD would alleviate the number of seizures, parents risk
violating federal law just to administer the medicine prescribed, and can face arrest and the
loss of custody. I am a parent. I have two young boys. I know many of you in this caucus are parents. I personally cannot imagine the pain and frustration that these families endure when confronted with this choice.

Earlier this year, we received a letter from a mother named Missy, whose son, Oliver, who I have met, suffers from a seizure disorder. She wrote a letter for our committee, and she wrote:

“Oliver had a planned trip for a long time to perform at Disney World with his school's percussion group! It was supposed to be one of the highlights of his life. But as is our life with refractory seizures, he has been seizing and sedated from all rescue meds this whole trip. It's heartbreaking for me to watch this endless torture. The last time we were here at Disney World, Oliver could still walk. He could still sit up in rides, he could still enjoy being in a pool. That was two years ago. This is what the seizures have taken from him in just two years.

"This trip, he can no longer walk, he can’t sit unsupported in any ride, he could not tolerate the pool, and he seized through his favorite ride. Please remember him and represent him and so many others like him.”

This mother, and the thousands of other parents just like her, they're simply asking Congress to do its job: to take care of America’s families by letting doctors determine what
their patients need. State lawmakers across the country have already recognized what the medical community is telling us: that cannabis can treat a variety of illnesses, from MS to cancer, to epilepsy, to seizures. Twenty-three states, plus Washington DC, have already passed laws to legalize medical marijuana.

But none of that matters because our outdated federal laws preempt any of the state laws. The recognition that the regulations are behind the science is growing here in Washington. Committees in both the House and the Senate have passed amendments to expand access to medical marijuana. And just this week, the White House proposed a new rule to lift long-standing obstacles to medical marijuana research.

But until we change our federal laws, doctors cannot prescribe this medicine to children
who need it -- even in states where it's legal. Until we change the federal laws, scientists will still face barriers to researching medical marijuana and the most effective way to use it -- even in states where it is legal. Until we change the federal laws, parents like Missy are stuck watching their children suffer through hundreds of seizures a day -- even in states where medical marijuana is legal.

Let’s do our jobs. Let’s pass a new, modern law on medical marijuana that respects state laws, that respects modern scientific research, and that respects our families. Thank you.

SENATOR GRASSLEY: Yeah. Thank you, Senator Gillibrand, now Senator Booker.

SENATOR CORY BOOKER: Chairman Grassley, I'm grateful for you holding this, I'm grateful also to Co-Chair Feinstein. We've heard now from multiple senators about the agonizing reality of not having CBD legally recognized, despite painful obvious benefits of CBD, recognition from 38 states, 38 of our nation's 50 states, that it has medical benefits. The federal government is lacking woefully behind, and this is simply unacceptable.

The fact that the federal law conflicts with states on access to CBD is just not a small issue. There is an urgency here, there is a moral urgency here. To access the CBD treatment they need, many people put themselves at considerable legal risk. The people don't access CBD, they put their health in jeopardy. They are caught in a terrible trap. I've talked to New Jerseyans about this catch-22, and I know the incredible stress it puts on families. The pain, the agony, the concern, the worry.

Today, conventional treatments often fail Americans afflicted with serious conditions and diseases. We've heard heart-breaking stories of children suffering from Dravet Syndrome and other forms of intractable epilepsy, who are unable to find medicine that is able to sufficiently control their seizures. We have heard and we do know how CBD and THC are the only drugs that often can -- are able to control these conditions.

We've heard stories about parents moving from their home states because of restrictive state and federal medical marijuana laws, literally becoming refugees in other states, away from their homes, away from families, communities, and neighborhoods.

This issue has real impact on the lives of ordinary Americans. My staff met with Jennie Stormes, a woman recently forced to leave my home state of New Jersey because of our restrictive medical marijuana laws. Mrs. Stormes' son, Jackson, suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a severe and debilitating form of epilepsy. Without medication, Jackson can have multiple seizures in a day. This condition has affected his development and put him through a tremendous amount of pain.

Jennie Stormes and her family experience many hardships living in a state where it's hard to gain access to medical -- to the medication that Jackson needs. Jackson has tried 23 different drugs, in 60-plus different combinations, but nothing has worked to control his seizures. Medical marijuana was the first drug that controlled his seizures, and changed their lives. Unfortunately, Jennie announced her family moved to Colorado because in New Jersey, it was too difficult to access the medication they needed for Jackson to stay alive.

This to me is unconscionable. It is an affront to what our nation believes in. It is an affront to our common values, and our collective aspirations, for families and our children. No child in America with a debilitating disease deserves to have a life path, a life of pain, especially when there is treatment options available. It is time to take action, waiting months, years, or even days causes unnecessary hardship, burden, and injury to families like the Stormes. They have to be able to access the medication they need.

This hearing is limited to access of CBD. It is a drug now that is a schedule one drug, that has severe limitations, while other drugs, like methadone, oxycodone, methamphetamines, and even cocaine, are schedule two. As was said by my colleague, CBD does not have any of the effects of the overall marijuana plant that we discussed, none of the ability to get high on that drug. It is simply one that should be in sight. But I do not want to lose sight, I do not want to lose sight of the bigger issue as well, that millions of Americans are in the precarious position because of the federal government's position on overall medical marijuana, not just CBD.

I'm grateful for the Chairman, and for Chairwoman Feinstein, for their willingness to consider the whole issue as a whole, and I'm hopeful that as we look at CBD, we can also expand our vision to other Americans who are dealing with severe diseases and conditions, that can be addressed by the medical application of marijuana, which is a schedule one drug. I believe it is time for us to act. I'm confident that if we do the right thing, we can relieve the suffering of thousands of Americans, and it would allow doctors to help others with -- in our veterans' affairs facilities as well.

I thank all the witnesses who are here today for their testimony. I thank the families and other concerned Americans who have come for this important hearing, and again, I end by saying thank you again to the Chair and the Co-Chair for their work and their focus on this issue. Thank you.

SENATOR GRASSLEY: Thank you, Senator Booker.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, speaking at a hearing on barriers to cannabidiol research which was held before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on Friday June 24th. Now, let's hear from one of the witnesses who was invited to testify. Douglas Throckmorton, MD, is the Deputy Director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Here's Dr. Throckmorton:

DR. DOUGLAS THROCKMORTON: I'm Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for Regulatory Programs in the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA. Thank you for this opportunity to be here today to discuss the important role FDA plays in supporting appropriate and scientific research into the medical promise of marijuana and cannabidiol. This is an important part of FDA’s mission to protect and promote the public health by helping to ensure the safety, efficacy, and quality of medical products, including drugs. In addition, I will briefly discuss the regulatory oversight function of the Agency with respect to other products that may contain cannabidiol.

Marijuana contains compounds such as cannabidiol with potential to provide important new treatments for serious diseases, and rigorous studies are needed to assess that potential. To accomplish this, FDA, as the -- like the other panelists, believes that it is important for us to identify and address any barriers that might hinder the conduct of that research, wherever possible. FDA continues to believe that the best way to ensure the safe and effective new medicines from marijuana, including those containing cannabidiol, are available as soon as possible for the largest numbers of American patients.

FDA is the agency that is responsible for the assessment and regulation of new drugs in the United States, including drugs derived from plants, like marijuana. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act required that those drugs be shown to be safe, effective for their intended use before being marketed. In addition, drugs must be shown to be manufactured consistently, lot to lot, with high quality.

Because many factors influence the make-up of plant materials, such as temperature, time of year, location grown, this essential part of drug development presents special challenges when the drug is derived from a botanical source like marijuana. To address these challenges, FDA has published guidance to investigators to give recommendations about the types of studies to be conducted when developing drugs from plants, guidance we believe is helping clear a path to efficient drug development. FDA also works very closely, I have a team dedicated to working with the individuals developing drugs from plants throughout their development plan, to make sure that they know the right path, they can do what they need to do.

Recently for example, FDA has had that team working with public health officials from several states, considering support -- considering support for medical research into cannabidiol, to provide scientific advice and support. In addition to working directly with investigators to support their studies, FDA has several mechanisms to apply specific drug development programs to facilitate and expedite their development. Programs such as fast-track designation, accelerated approval, priority review, and breakthrough designation.

Wherever possible, we are applying these tools to the development of products derived from marijuana and cannabidiol. For example, fast-track designation was granted to an investigational cannabidiol product, Epidiolex, being developed for a rare form of childhood epilepsy. One goal of these expedited mechanisms is to speed drug availability for patients. I have also personally spoken to parents seeking help for their sick children, and understand the importance of making investigational products available to patients while they are under study for approval.

To make this possible, FDA has put in place expanded access programs to give patients access to investigational drugs where appropriate, and where the manufacturer chooses to participate. As has been said earlier, the makers of Epidiolex, containing cannabidiol, report that twenty Epidiolex intermediate size expanded access programs have been authorized to treat approximately 420 children.

Importantly, these children are getting access to an investigational product under close medical supervision, and the data obtained from their use of the investigational agent is being collected to help support drug development.

While doing what we can to speed the development -- the pace of development for promising investigational drug therapies, we are also mindful of protecting consumers. In February of 2015, FDA took action against marketed unapproved drug products that were making egregious health claims, including products that allegedly contained cannabidiol and other compounds from marijuana. For example, products containing cannabidiol were advertised nationally, making unsubstantiated claims as being effective in the treatment of conditions such as breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and ebola infection.

In addition, as a part of this action, we analyzed the products, and found that many did not even include -- contain the ingredients listed on their labels. For example, when we tested products that allegedly contained cannabidiol, around one third of those products in fact contained no cannabidiol on careful testing. Marketing of products that make unsubstantiated claims or do not contain the proper amounts of ingredients, such as cannabidiol, does more than simply defraud consumers. These products and their marketing can create false hope in those seeking relief from serious medical conditions for themselves or their loved ones. Moreover, it can divert patients from products with demonstrated safety and effectiveness.

To conclude my remarks, FDA on its own and in partnership with other federal agencies strongly supports the need for additional research into the therapeutic promise of marijuana and in particular cannabidiol. As evidence of this partnership, I'd highlight the recent decision to abolish the Public Health Service review of investigators seeking marijuana for research. For its part, FDA's committed to using the tools we have to encourage that research and also to identify and address any barriers to research wherever possible, as a part of FDA's mission to assure that safe and effective medicines are available for the American public. Thank you and I would be happy to answer any questions I can.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Douglas Throckmorton, MD, deputy director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. He was testifying before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control at their hearing on barriers to cannabidiol research, which was held on Friday June 24th. All that audio came to us courtesy of the committee.

And finally: Hempfest is scheduled for August 14th, 15th, and 16th this year. It's the world's largest marijuana legalization and drug policy reform protestival. Once again this year the event will be held along Seattle's waterfront and spans three parks: Centennial Park, which is the North Entrance, Myrtle Edwards Park, which is the Central Entrance, and Olympic Sculpture Park, which is the South Entrance. Information about the festival is available at their website,

And that's really all the time we really have today. Thank you for listening. This is Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of

Recordings of this show and past shows are available for free download from the website While you're there, listen to our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and of course also @DougMcVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts is on facebook too, please give it a like and share it with friends.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.