05/13/09 - Maia Szalavitz

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Maia Szalavitz, author of "Help at Any Cost" + Terry Nelson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition & Abolitionist Moment/DTN Editorial

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, May 13, 2009

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

It’s not only inhumane it is really fundamentally un-American….. ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’ ‘NO MORE’ ‘DRUG WAR’

My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. We have with us today Maia Szalavitz, author of “Help Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.” With that, let’s go ahead and welcome Maia.

Dean Becker: Are you there?

Maia Szalavitz: I am here. Thank you so much for having me.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Maia. Your posts of late, I have seen several dealing with marijuana, medical marijuana, what, on The Huffington Post, was it, our alternate?

Maia Szalavitz: Yes, yes, and I’ve done some writing on that for Time magazine as well.

Dean Becker: Eight years ago I was very much a lone voice in the wilderness talking about this, but now we find that major newspapers, broadcasters, et cetera, are beginning to bring focus to bear. They aren’t hitting it with a sledge hammer like I do, but things are changing, are they not?

Maia Szalavitz: It really does seem like there has been a sea change especially with regards to marijuana. I think that people have realized that the idea that marijuana is more harmful than the already legal drugs is simply not true and I think that the medical marijuana movement in California has shown people that having access to marijuana does not lead to a society in which everybody’s stoned all the time.

Dean Becker: Yeah, and I guess we see signs of change, or recognition of change in some of the polls they have put forward in the last few months, indicating, was it, in California 56% in favor of legalization of marijuana and across the country something in the 40 percentile range, right?

Maia Szalavitz: Actually, I think it went up to 52% nationwide. For the first time there was actually a majority of Americans in favor of changing the marijuana laws.

Dean Becker: Well, then, hopefully some of these politicians will develop enough backbone to further address this and to take this forward, right?

Maia Szalavitz: I would really like to see that. There has been a sad counter sign where the Obama administration has pulled back on needle exchange. So I am hoping that is not a sign of back sliding in this issue, but it does look like they have left the federal ban on needle exchange in their budget.

Dean Becker: You know, on my drive in to the studio today, I was thinking back, and you can correct me if I am wrong, didn’t we first meet one another and talk about pain management?

Maia Szalavitz: I think that’s correct, yes.

Dean Becker: And let’s talk about that for a second. I want to preface this with a thought: It was what? Ninety-three years ago they passed the Harrison Narcotics Act and in so doing, they took away the rights of adults to choose for themselves. They handed it over to doctors to make that decision. But over the decades, it’s now to the point where they won’t even let the doctors make that recommendation, right?

Maia Szalavitz: Yeah, I mean, there have been a lot of doctors who have been prosecuted for what they call over-prescribing of pain medication or prescribing to drug addicts. The thing is that you can’t define over-prescribing because opiates cause tolerance and so if you’re going to be on opiates for a long time, you are going to need a high dose and people who are large, or overweight or have a fast metabolism may need doses that would kill other people ten times over, but that doesn’t mean that they are drug addicts. But people don’t understand the basics of pharmacology like tolerance and dependence.

Dean Becker: Well, your reference to, you know, a standard dosage, if you will, the fact is, if I recall, I think it’s been three, perhaps four years ago, the DEA actually posted standards and then they realized that some of the people they had under indictment were within those standards so they took them down, right?

Maia Szalavitz: That’s right, and it was a real outrage because they had worked for a long time with the pain prescribing, the doctors, the patients, the people in the community to — primarily doctors, actually — but to develop these guidelines and then as soon as William Hurwitz used them in his defense, they immediately retracted them and said that they were no longer official and hadn’t been approved.

Dean Becker: Well…

Maia Szalavitz: And it had gone through this long process of committees and arguments and back and forth and the whole bureaucratic thing, but suddenly it was no longer approved.

Dean Becker: Well, it’s reminiscent of the fact that when DEA law judge Francis L. Young said marijuana is one of the safest therapeutic agents known to man, they just didn’t believe him or just wouldn’t accept his statement, right?

Maia Szalavitz: Yeah, I mean, unfortunately the entire history of the drug war has been a history of data and evidence being rejected in favor of prejudice and preconceived ideas.

Dean Becker: We’re speaking with, Maia Szalavitz, she’s author of "Help Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.” Maia, let’s talk about that book cause it’s a gut-wrenching story, really.

Maia Szalavitz: Sure. It is about the troubled-teen industry which is the group of tough love programs, including wilderness programs, behavioral modification facilities, and emotional growth schools — all kinds of different facilities that aim to reform teenagers through tough love. In the book I show where this idea comes from, which is actually from a cult, that was called Sinanon, and how it’s completely not based on any evidence of what actually helps people, and how it’s become a billion-dollar industry and has unfortunately hurt a large number of teenagers and their families.

The sad thing is we do know how to help people with alcohol and other drug problems, but it does not involve being cruel to them, it does not involve humiliating them, it does not attacking them. It involves treating them with compassion and respect and treating addiction as though it were actually a disease, not a moral problem.

Dean Becker: you know, I was talking to my engineer Laura just before the show and she was telling me about a friend of hers that, you know, in her teen years was caught smoking a joint by her mother and was sent to one of these camps. They shaved off her long blonde hair and then dragged her through the mud, and otherwise, I guess tried to reframe her mindset. I’m not sure what they were thinking, but Laura said she came back and she was never the same.

Maia Szalavitz: Well that, I mean, the thing is that, you know, those techniques as far back as 1974, a congressional investigation compared them to North Korean brainwashing. We’re hearing about these same tactics in the torture debate: sleep deprivation, food deprivation, isolation, extremes of temperature, and constant barrages of emotional attacks and sexual humiliation.

One of the reasons I believe that the American public has not become as outraged as I believe we should be in the torture debate is because we have unfortunately said that this is OK to do to kids for years. So, if we think its ok to do to kids, why wouldn’t we think it’s OK to do to people that we really hate?

So, it’s really an extraordinarily sad situation, and yes, you know, when they do studies on what happens to people who have been through that it can be incredibly damaging. It can demonstrably produce post-traumatic stress disorder and depression and ironically it often exacerbates addiction.

So, a lot of these kids go into these programs, they are smoking marijuana and they’re drinking and they are telling their parents to “F” off, but they are not much different from any other of their peers. But they come out and they have been exposed, they have hours and hours of confessing, “I’m a drug addict, I’m a drug addict, I’m a drug addict,” and they’ve heard from kids who have taken things like heroin or cocaine and who have been involved in things like injecting, and they are like well, “I’m a drug addict, so I guess I am gonna do drugs.” And also, they have all the pain they are trying to escape from, so unfortunately it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dean Becker: Yeah, and sometimes humiliation can be a longer lasting pain than a bruise, right?

Maia Szalavitz: That’s absolutely the case and unfortunately I think we also don’t understand how the human stress physiology works and humiliation is basically, if you look at in animal models where you’ve got dominance and submission and you’ve got the animals that are the alphas who have very nice robust stress systems that are doing well and then you’ve got the ones beneath them that aren’t doing well and so well, when you sort of make that physiology active by humiliating people, you are creating real problems that can be very lasting.

Dean Becker: Now, there is much reference within your book, and gosh, all over the internet about this organization called Straight. Who were the founders of that?

Maia Szalavitz: The founders of Straight were Mel Sembler and Joseph Zappala. Mel Sembler became the campaign finance chief for the first president Bush and under the second president Bush, he was the ambassador to Italy and he most recently headed up the Scooter Libby Defense Fund and an organization called Freedom’s Watch.

Dean Becker: So these people are not just some rebel, they are tied in tightly with many of the leaders of our government.

Maia Szalavitz: Yeah and I think that one of the things we have learned about these tough love programs is they’ve been very good with attaching themselves to local establishments and local politicians and I mean, in the past, there were some democratic people who supported Straight. But, they are very good at making themselves look like heroes.

They go out there and they say, “Look, we take these kids who are so troubled,” and the kids of course, when they are trying to get out, they are like, “Yes, you saved my life, you saved my life,” and it looks very compelling. So, they have definitely insinuated themselves into the government and that’s one of the ways that they’ve been able to survive this long.

Dean Becker: Now, I was at a conference I guess late last year, the Drug Czar was speaking and he was talking about when he goes to these treatment centers that one of the things you hear most often is that “The day I was arrested was the luckiest day of my life,” and that’s just people trying to get out the door, right?

Maia Szalavitz: Yeah and it’s also, it reflects another phenomenon where if something terrible happens to you, you know, you get sent a concentration camp, or something awful ,you know, you lose your parents, some really bad thing happens to you, people’s natural instinct is to make meaning out of it.

You don’t want to think, “I just suffered through a meaningless two years or ten years or fifteen years in prison.” You have to think, “This did something for me,” for your own psychological health. Unfortunately that means people end up supporting their own oppression.

Dean Becker: It was today I saw where President Fox was interviewed, he’s doing a tour of the U. S. and he’s talking about the need to decrim, but decrim’s really not going to help much in the long run, is it?

Maia Szalavitz: Well, the thing about decriminalization as opposed to legalization in terms of drug strategy is that decriminalization only applies to possession, so it doesn’t have any effect on the black market.

Dean Becker: Right, and then we leave all the cartels and the street corner vendors in place.

Maia Szalavitz: Right, so it doesn’t do anything about issues related to purity or issues related to violence related to cartels and those kinds of things because if you think about it, if you make possession legal but you don’t make the dealing legal, you still have the worst part of a black market.

You know, a lot of people think that legalization means Philip Morris Crack and I think that when people are considering alternate drug policies, they have to realize that there is a large range options between Philip Morris Crack and sending people to jail for twenty years.

Dean Becker: Right, and you know, I get the chance to speak for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and just yesterday I spoke to a fraternal organization in southeast Houston. While there, I presented the facts, I want to destroy the cartels, the gangs, kill Osama’s cash cow, and curtail death, disease, crime and addiction.

They were in agreement with every aspect I brought forward but there was still this nagging doubt, “We just can’t do that,” and I don’t know what it is, but have got to break the mold or open up this dialogue to fully explain what it’s about. Go ahead…

Maia Szalavitz: I think people are quite rightly afraid of a world where everybody would be high and wasted all the time and it would be like the situation that you see in some places in the inner city where you know, there’s a bar and a store selling beer and all kinds of alcohol bombarding people on every corner and there’s cigarette ads all over the place.

Then add the crack ads into that and you can just imagine the picture that people have because they are quite rightly worried that we are not doing a very good job of regulating the legal intoxicants and that also people are very, very distrustful, with good reason, of a lot of the major pharmaceutical companies because of the ways they have manipulated data.

So, there’s a real fear around those kinds of issues and if people want to consider alternate drug policies, they really need to understand that what you are talking about is not creating a replica of the way we’ve done this with other things, that what you are talking about would be in a situation if people were to consider this would be to look at ways of regulating things that would not be the situation of Philip Morris Crack.

Dean Becker: The fact is, when you quell those fears, because when you quell one fear, and then they think, “Well, what about this and what about that?” They are trying to get over a hundred years of propaganda is part of it, right?

Maia Szalavitz: Yes, I think so and I also think people in general are very uncomfortable with change and they have been told over and over and over that this is the way it has to be and this is the way it is and there is reasons for this being this way and you know, people do not like their certainties disrupted.

Dean Becker: Right. You know, there was a report out of California, maybe it was the San Francisco Chronicle, and they were talking about, interviewing John Walters — actually it was a video come to think of it — that John Walters said it’s been reported that there are more marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco than there are Starbucks. And what he didn’t say, what the reporting was John Walters saying there’s more dispensaries than Starbucks they distort and twist this info as best and every chance they get, right?

Maia Szalavitz: Well, I mean, the thing with that is, I mean, to be fair to the journalist there, unfortunately people have affection for nice little statistics like that and you know there’s this phrase that’s called “too good to check” and that unfortunately fits into that. I’m not defending that but I’m just saying that that is, you know, people’s sound bites can become irresistible to the media and I think that when people want to talk about change, they need to understand how to package their message well so that people do pick it up and it becomes too good to check and hopefully, obviously, you don’t want it to be untrue.

Dean Becker: Yeah. OK. Once again, friends, we’re speaking with Maia Szalavitz, she’s author of “Help Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.” Well, Maia, we’ve got five more minutes here, and I wanna turn it over to you.

Maia Szalavitz: Well, I do think, part of me is still very hopeful because the people that Obama administration has appointed, for example Peggy Hamburg to FDA, who is a long, long, long time supporter of needle exchange, and there are other people throughout.

The deputy drug czar is going to be Tom McClellan who, I think he’s actually already appointed, I’m not one hundred percent sure. He is a treatment guy. He has worked at the University of Pennsylvania doing addiction treatment stuff. He understands the data on treatment and he understands the need for compassion. He’s had family members affected and he really knows what he’s doing so if people like that are allowed to actually set policies we could really see some good stuff happening in terms of drug policy, particularly in regards to improving treatment and doing better public health outreach. So, that would be really good.

And also, I just think that people, when people have real things to worry about like the economy, the scare factor of “Oh my god, my kids gonna smoke pot,” is a lot less. People start thinking very closely about what is important to them and what’s true and when you have this sort of upsetting of conventional wisdom that we’ve had also with the economy where, you know we’ve had for a long time this idea that, you know we don’t need to do anything for each other, we can just let everything go by itself and we don’t need any regulations.

People are starting to see that we do need each other and when we become more compassionate towards each other in that way I do think there’s openings for a more compassionate drug policy.

Dean Becker: I would agree. Even this guy, Gil Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief that’s is to be the new Drug Czar has got to be better than John Walters and he’s, I guess, a step in the right direction, would you agree?

Maia Szalavitz: Yes, it certainly seems that way. I don’t know that much about him but since he is from Seattle, which has long been a harm reduction city, where they did needle exchange very early and where they have a long tradition of good public health stuff. I do think that’s a very hopeful sign. I have not heard public statements of him on this stuff, so…

But, McCaffrey, in the past, he literally talked Clinton out of lifting the ban on needle exchange when he was going to go ahead and do that. I hope we don’t have someone who is actively doing that kind of thing in the face of the evidence.

The other thing that I think is a very hopeful sign is that Obama has promised to restore science to its rightful place. When you look at the science on drug policy and on things like needle exchange and things like drug treatment and all these kinds of things, the evidence shows a very strong pattern of what we should do. If we actually follow the evidence and use evidence to make policy we could have an extraordinarily better, we could deal with this problem a lot better for everybody.

Dean Becker: Well, you mention McCaffrey and he was a typical drug czar. I understand a couple of months back he was at a panel and actually said, "hey if you want to grow fifteen marijuana plants behind your house and leave everyone else alone, it doesn’t bother me at all." So even die-hards can change.

Maia Szalavitz: I would be very curious to hear him on needle exchange lately. But yes, I think that people that have had a very long time in this area are rethinking things. I think everybody is rethinking things in light of the changes we’re all facing.

Dean Becker: Alright friends, once again we’ve been speaking with Maia Szalavitz, author of “Help Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids.” Maia, is there a website you would like to recommend?

Maia Szalavitz: You can check out my website at http://www.helpatanycost.com/ .

Dean Becker: Maia, as always, it’s a joy talking with you. We’ll be back in touch with you I’m sure before the year is over and thank you so much.

Maia Szalavitz: Thank you.

It’s time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!
Ventricular fibrillation, vasoconstriction, inhibition of the pump, increased concentration of calcium in sarcoplasm of cardiac cell, a positive inotropic effect that is caused by digitalis…
Time’s up. The answer MEODMT, piedra, lovestone, Jamaican stone or chinese rock from Bufo alvarius, skin of the toad. The doctors say the safest and surest way is not to eat it or lick it and sure as hell not to smoke it, but simply to sniff it. Otherwise, you could wind up dead.

Extract from an AP video: How important a role does the U.S. play in stopping vicious drug violence along the border?

Vicente Fox: If this nation really reduces, really eliminates drug consumption, thank god! I mean, we in Mexico would not have this problem.

That’s the take of former Mexican president, Vicente Fox. In an AP interview Tuesday, Fox said the U.S. must reduce the demand for drugs for drugs at home and stem the flow of guns and other weapons to Mexico.

Vicente Fox: The responsibility is here as well as it is in Mexico. So it’s a joint responsibility. Finally they have accepted this, but, but, I am not yet sure or convinced that what they are saying is that they are going join Mexico in this war against cartels or that they want to protect the border, and they just want to protect U.S. citizens.

Border towns like Juarez, near El Paso, Texas, have turned in to war zones as Mexican president Felipe Calderon has deployed his army to stop drug-running cartels. The cartels have responded with brutal force and more than ten thousand have been killed. Calderon’s approach is different than the one Fox took during his six-years in office. Fox sought to manage the cartels non-militarily, but he supports the actions of his successor.

Vicente Fox: I think it’s very courageous that my president, Presidente Calderon from Mexico, is going in this war with a very clear, ethical objective to cut the drug supply to our youth. And when I say to our youth, I mean United States youth and consumers, so Calderon is doing part of the job that this nation has to be doing and should be doing.

Fox also called on U.S. and Mexico leaders to consider legalizing narcotics, an idea he first proposed while still in office.

Vicente Fox: What I would suggest to the United States and to Mexico is that we open the debate of legalizing drug use as a very well controlled thing, like you did here in the States with the prohibition for alcohol back a hundred years ago, in the 1930s.

That was courtesy of the Associated Press.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
As the war on drugs drag on and on and a call for open dialogue grows, the government’s response alarms me. For example, I recently heard of an enforcement entity offering a $5,000 reward to teenagers for snitching on someone that tried to sell drugs to them.

Three major things are wrong with this concept: First, it is not the norm for anyone to contact a stranger for the sole purpose of buying drugs. It is, in fact, more likely that a friend asks a friend who may know someone. The second is that the snitch, in an effort to collect the reward money, may choose to falsely accuse someone. Third it is a most likely dangerous for this person’s health to seek out someone that will not be sent to jail for a very long time. Retribution is a well known fact of life among drug dealers.

This program, which is supposed to be anonymous, has to have a name and contact information in order to receive the reward payment and thus, the snitch’s safety and security is at risk because authorities are not famous for keeping secrets. But let’s assume this program — which I understand is already in place in the Texas valley — manages to bust a few small time dealers.

These arrests will have absolutely no effect on the drug trade. It will manage to further degrade trust among friendship groups from which someone is arrested. The official I heard commenting on this subject said there had already been thousands of leads, but he neglected to mention how many arrests had been made as a result of this program.

And, let’s remember that when a juvenile is arrested the result is to screw up his or her life — exactly the opposite of what was intended — and the arrest will make absolutely no difference. More than 900,000 teenagers are reported to be selling drugs and an arrest simply creates a vacancy and someone will immediately step in and the game will go on.

I don’t think that the officials should be using children to snitch on their friends and acquaintances for what is a lost cause. When will the officials stop and think about the consequences of actions such as this before they implement something that will actually harm children? Isn’t the war on drugs being waged solely to protect our kids?

LEAP believes that the strategy should be one of legalized regulation and control of all drugs, thus removing the criminal gangs and drug cartels from the picture. It will not cure our desire for drugs, but it would greatly reduce the crime and violence that is directly associated with drug prohibition.

This is Terry Nelson at http://www.leap.cc signing off.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Abolitionist’s Moment.

The drug war monster must die. We must drag this horrendous beast out into the public arena. We must strip of its supposed honors; tear down its leaders over their feigned morals and intellectual failings. We must slit the monster’s throat; drain every drop of its blood into the sewer. We must immolate the body of quasi-religious evidence to a charred ash. We must then place the remains into a deep, dark hole; fill it with concrete. On top of this pit of shame and corruption we must place an enormous monument to warn future generations of the folly of prohibition.

Please, do your part to end the madness of drug war. Visit http://www.endprohibition.org/. Do it for the children.

Alright my friends, once again I remind you that because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.