04/06/07 - Terry Nelson

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Dr. Donald R. Vereen of HHS/NIDA Pt2 + Poppygate, Terry Nelson of LEAP, Drug War Facts

Audio file

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

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 phamaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Hello and welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m glad you could be with us. Today we’re going to do something I’ve never done before. We’re going to carry Part Two of an interview that began on this week’s Century of Lies show and the reason why, it’s with Dr. Donald R. Vereen. He’s with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, and he’s a medical officer, a special assistant for medical affairs for the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a former deputy drug czar. This was recorded last week in Washington, D.C. at the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition convention.

Dr. Vereen: Talk to anyone who’s addicted. They’re idea about trying these things in the first place, whether it was for some noble understanding reason like, hey, I just needed to treat my depression which runs in my family, I have a genetic loading for this. They did not expect to get addicted and I would say you pose these same questions not to me on the research end and not even to the folks in the policy realm, because we’re too far removed from the real world, and I did this myself, as drug czar, deputy drug czar, and even before then, go and talk to the people who are addicted and ask them what they would say. And I bet you, they come, this is where I learned the whole issue about availability, they used what was there.

Dean Becker: Now my associate referenced the Swiss heroin study, well heroin policy. I guess what he was pointing out, or I don’t know, I didn’t hear the whole thing, that the Swiss have found that the age of the users is increasing because they are no longer in their community supporting their habit by enticing others to join in the purchasing of that drug.

Dr. Vereen. Now start over with that again.

Dean Becker: OK, the Swiss have found that the age of their addict population is aging, getting older all the time, because they’re no longer out, part of that multi-level marketing black market, they’re no longer out there enticing others to purchase from them to help pay for their habit because they’re able to buy it on a more legal way through the government. And I guess my point I’m trying to make is we have created this situation where others, users entice others to become users to help pay for their habit.

Dr. Vereen: That’s true to a certain extent but not completely. The first time users aren’t turned on by addicts, I mean I’m not aware of that happening anywhere in the world. Addicts aren’t the ones who are necessarily turning on kids. Kids, at least in this country, will say “You know, I was curious. I’ve heard about this.” And they didn’t hear about from an addict, an addict doesn’t care about starting some kid. You’re not out there hustling like that, they are trying to get their next fix. And you also have to look at, and we have this dilemma, or this problem, when we look at epidemiologic numbers, there are other reasons why those numbers may be going up. It may be because the attitude among folks as it relates to drugs is such that they’re not interested anymore. We, if you watch drug use in this country we have these waves where there’s huge amounts of drug use and then it dips and there’s very little drug use and we have these waves that wax and wane and it has nothing to do with the addict population. It isn’t that there are fewer addicts around that the numbers have gone down. And the numbers that go up is just because more people are using. When you talk to folks in communities they’ll point to other factors. A neighborhood that has lots of homeless and disarray, where the kids’ parents aren’t around, those kids are the ones who are vulnerable for drug use. It has nothing to do with whether there are addicts around, that’s why we have more drug use in our suburbs than we realize. We know what’s happening in the inner city because that’s where the cops are. And its an efficient place to sell things but in the suburbs, you know, where people are living in their big houses and everything is kind of spread out, oh no, no, no, there’s a lot of drug use going on there and its not addicts pushing it. They’re not living out there. So I mean, explain that? And again I would say, go to people who are in treatment and ask them, “did some addict turn you on?” and the vast majority of people who become addicted start when they’re kids. There’s a little bit of an exception when it comes to African-Americans. When they’re bigger kids, when they’re in their twenties. It appears that’s when they start to take off and even then, we can’t quite explain that.

Ask, the point I’m trying to push here, and this is coming from a researcher, go and ask the people who have become addicted and see if your hypothesis, and again, you don’t have to do the perfect study, but go and ask them and I don’t think they’ll tell you that it was some addict pushing it on them. Either they were curious or they were self-medicating.

Dean Becker: One closing thought, and again, I want to back up to the fact that we arrest more people than any nation on the planet, primarily because of drugs.

Dr. Vereen: Amen. It’s a waste of resources to be doing that. We need to figure out a clearer way to deal with the issue of addiction.


Dean Becker: OK. Once again we’re speaking with Dr. Donald R. Vereen of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Dr. Vereen: One of the things I learned from chiefs of police, they, several of them without listening, after I introduce myself, “Doc, I just want to tell you something. If my city had more drug treatment slots I’d be able to go home at five everyday.” So there’s no disagreement with that but we have, and I’ll give a backdrop here, we have a health care system that is ‘effed’ up. And when you have that as a backdrop, and then you have a disease that people are still stuck on thinking about some, some amorality or some immoral individual...it’s not that at all. If anything, the evidence makes it clear that once you’ve used the drugs over and over again the part of your brain that you would use to determine what’s important, what are those societal values that I should be living within, that part of the brain doesn’t function anymore. It’s not dead, that’s important because everybody thinks “oh, once you’re addicted we’ll write you off.” No, no, no. The brain comes back. I didn’t get as far along on that slide but that’s why recovery is important. But not enough people know about recovery. And you can understand it but they also don’t know that about their own health. They don’t know about recovery from diabetes, they don’t know about recovery because doctors don’t spend enough time talking to them about it. (laughter)

Dean Becker: Kinda close out that question that I started there. There are those, the DEA, perhaps the ONDCP, certainly the narcotics squads across America that are so firmly entrenched, so desperate to prove their worth.…

Dr. Vereen: That’s their job, that’s their charge. Their charge is, if we draw this line then somebody has to maintain what happens on either side of that line. Just like I’m in research. We’re charged with doing research and some of the research that gets funded, you know I’m not sure how helpful it is to clinicians out there. But the rules are, if you apply and the science that you propose gets a high enough score through the quote-unquote “democratic process”, this due process we put in place that’s supposed to be fair, then you’re entitled to get funding. Yeah, there’s a little, very little room for discretion, but if you get a really good score you get funded but there are clinicians out there who say “but we really need the answer to this question” but nobody’s put it in a form that makes it through the scientific muster. So our hands are tied also.

Now, having said that, I can tell you that the DEA picks up on some very important phenomena, which they don’t tell the world about which is, I think, their problem. But, for example, amphetamines that are used to treat kids with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Well, when you see the prescriptions for ADHD skyrocketing in only certain parts of the country, not in the inner-city D.C. where I know there are many kids with ADHD, I do a lot of work for the city, are undiagnosed. Its a, ADD is one of those things that is very under-diagnosed in this country and its overly diagnosed. DEA, say what you want about them, when they’ve looked at the zip-codes where these prescriptions were skyrocketing, you know they were some of the wealthiest communities in the United States, so smart, white kids all of a sudden have this, is this an ethnically based disease, no its not. What they discovered is that you give somebody a little dusting, therapeutic doses, you and I if we took a therapeutic dose of an amphetamine, would think more clearly too because that’s just the effect of these things on the brain. But the danger there is, we don’t know what long time use does to a developing brain and every doctor who makes the diagnosis of ADHD has to weigh that. Because you’ve got the immediate challenge of, well the kids got to learn because our society says “you’re under sixteen, you have to be in school.” Some people don’t like, but that’s the rule we set, that reflects our values, that you’re supposed to be educated, right? So you got to go to school and you got to be able to function within the school. So if medication helps you to sit still a little longer, so that you can get what the teacher’s trying to teach you, well that’s a good thing. But how do you weigh that, you know, against other brain changes. Well, the kids develop tics, if there’s some other phenomenon going on, you know its affecting other parts of the brain, can we do a drug holiday? Take them off for a little bit? And for some kids some doctors say “you know what? What if we just put this guy in a smaller classroom and not do the medication?” Well, that works for some kids. Some kids have to have both, some kids have to taken out completely and put in a different institution.

So we gotta let the process, if you have a good medical system, and by the way, psychiatric coverage, its poor. We discriminate against people with that problem as well. Now, these kids are being prescribed a medication that if they took at a higher dose, they could become addicted to. And so you have to regulate those medications. You take an overdose of almost all medications that are prescribed, you’ll die.

Dean Becker: Right.

Dr. Vereen: Now there are some, because you mention aspirin and tylenol, well, some, you know, people have gotten together and drawn a line at what’s allowable without a doctor’s prescription, it’s a judgement, there are a set of rules that are kind of in place, should you have to go to a doctor every time you have a headache? No, there’s a determination that no, you don’t necessarily have to, is it the right line? I don’t know. Do the labels need to be stronger on tylenol? I don’t know. Probably. But that would be true of all medications, most people don’t know that you can overdose on all of these.

Dean Becker: OK. Now I want to kind of close this all up.

Dr. Vereen: I’m saying anything, you name it.

Dean Becker: Yeah. I...

Dr. Vereen: Cold remedies. You can overdose on them. You can kill yourself with them.


Dean Becker: OK, once again we’re speaking with a medical officer, Special Assistant for Medical Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Donald R. Vereen.


Dean Becker: I want to get back to this, to the DEA picking and choosing their data, to perhaps justify their existence. They go around saying there have been no positive studies on medical marijuana and the truth be told, there’s been well over a hundred including the ‘99 Institute of Medicine report which showed that smoking it is not a good idea but that it did have potential.

Dr. Vereen: On the issue of marijuana I’m going to interrupt you. Smoking marijuana will never be a legitimate, completely sanctioned way.…

Dean Becker: How about ingestion through cookies or through the vaporizers which are now on the market?

Dr. Vereen: You’ve zeroed in on an important issue which is route of administration. And it’s the reason we have an FDA, to make sure that when you’re going to give a human being an exogenous substance to help them you have to be able to control it so that you know if it’s having the positive effect that it’s supposed to have. So there has to be some control so you know what you’re getting. The patient has to be assured that what they’re getting is of a certain quality.

Dean Becker: And it is the prohibition that ensures that no one knows what’s in that bag.

Dr. Vereen: Well, first of all, it can’t, it can’t be known, when you smoke something you cannot control the dose that you’re getting. That is precisely why nothing through that method is in established medicine. You get a pill, you get an aerosolizer.…

Dean Becker: Like the Sativex which is coming from GW Pharmaceuticals?

Dr. Vereen: Yes. But the vision for that is something like an inhaler. So somebody who has asthma or some other lung problem, what they’re getting is a measured dose of their medication. The problem with marijuana and what’s going on California and other places is, you have, you’re literally going to a stranger who operates with no standards. There are these so-called “buying clubs” but they’re not like a pharmacist. The pharmacist has, you know, there have been these scandals about counterfeit drugs, people stealing drugs off the trucks and then replacing them with counterfeit stuff, you know, sugar pills, and then selling the real stuff. Yeah, that kind of stuff happens. The DEA is involved in stuff like that too, but in the case of marijuana, its route of administration. For people who are interested in legalizing drugs or legalizing marijuana my response has always been “Guys, you want to put pressure on the Federal Government? Put pressure on finding other routes of administration.” And Don Abrams and other folks in California are looking at precisely that. Now, what they’re doing...

Dean Becker: With the vaporizer?

Dr. Vereen: Early on, no, actually early on what they’re doing is, they’re trying to get some approximate sense of what happens when you do smoke because we can’t measure perfectly what you’re getting. But they’ve come up with all these contraptions to try to, to get a better guess than you would if you just bought something off the street. You don’t know what it’s been laced with. You don’t know if there’s formaldehyde in it. You don’t know if there are herbicides, you know, attached to it, and you’re going to burn those and smoke? Doctors, no, we need to be as responsible as possible if we’re going to prescribe an intervention.

Dean Becker: And again, Sir, I would say...

Dr. Vereen: The same standards of care need to be in place for all patients, whether they’re dying or not. They require the same high standard that we require of anyone who gets medical care in this country.

Dean Becker: I close out one of my radio shows with this phrase: “because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.” You’re thoughts on that?

Dr. Vereen: Well, I would agree. I mean, I would agree and people become compulsively addicted to it as well and some people believe that you can’t but go to a drug treatment place and folks will tell you “I’m here because I can’t stop smoking marijuana.” So it does happen. Now, you’re taping me. Are you a journalist?

Dean Becker: I am. I produce nine radio shows each week.

Dr. Vereen: OK. Because you didn’t identify yourself.

Dean Becker: I ran out of business cards. My name is Dean Becker.


Dean Becker: OK, we pretty much wrapped it up at that point and the doctor was a bit concerned that I would use this tape without getting permission of HHS. I called him this week a few times, I sent him a couple of emails and I got no response. I wanted to use this information while it was still hot and fresh for your taste. I hope Dr. Vereen will forgive me. Sounded like we had many things in common, a couple of points I wanted to make. One is that the U.S. Air Force did in fact start my out on amphetamines and it was Ritalin. I was able to quit on my own a couple of years later and they’re still issuing various types of amphetamines to pilots and soldiers out there doing dangerous long-term missions. And I also wanted to mention that he talked about, “you can’t judge your dosing when you use marijuana” and that’s in fact 180 degrees opposite from my perception that by taking one hit, two hits, three hits you can judge for yourself. You can titrate your dosage. Thank you Dr. Vereen. I do appreciate your candor.

And we got to depend on the FDA?


It’s time to play “Name That Drug by its Side Effects”.

Answer: Talk about dependence. The answer from GlaxoSmithKline, Coreg for hyper-tension, heart failure and heart attacks.


Poppygate: Bizarre News about the U.S. policy on controlling heroin, featuring Glenn Greenway.

Glenn Greenway: In 2001 President Bush resolutely declared that "When we fight against drugs, we fight for the souls of our fellow Americans." Since making that statement, illegal opium poppy cultivation in U.S. and Western occupied Afghanistan has increased from under 20,000 acres to over 400,000 acres. The narcotics trade now accounts for at least half of the wretched country's economy. Last year an unprecedented 6,700 tons of opium was harvested "making Afghanistan virtually the sole supplier to the world" in the words of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Last month, Congressional Republicans delivered angry letters to the Secretaries of Defense and State demanding the appointment of a high-level coordinator of overall Afghan narcotics policy. The were answered this week by the White House who has appointed Thomas Schweich, a State Department official, to the new post. Republicans who demanded the appointment are extremely disappointed and fear the position will have no real authority and that Mr. Schweich will simply echo the State Department's current do-nothing policy. "Putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop" was how one senior GOP Staffer described the appointment.

Mr. Schweich's new title is Coordinator for Counter-Narcotics and Justice Reform in Afghanistan. He has been awarded the personal rank of Ambassador. Since assuming the post this week, Drug Ambassador Schweich has already announced that he expects this year's Afghan opium harvest to once again exceed last year's record setting and completely illegal bonanza.

In related news, the UN reports that Afghan cannabis cultivation nearly doubled last year to a record 124,000 acres. Despite the fact that Afghanistan is only 1/3 the size of Mexico, Afghan cannabis cultivation now exceeds Mexican by at least a factor of eight.

This is Glenn Greenway reporting for the Drug Truth Network.


Dean Becker: Terry Nelson spent at 32-years working for the U.S. government working as a customs, border and air interdiction officer. He retired as a GS 14, the equivalent of a bird colonel.

Terry Nelson: This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

It all sounds so familiar. Do you recall the news last month, all that we saw about Mexican President Calderone cracking down on the drug cartels? Well, The Indianapolis Star reported on March 24 the bloody battle for control of Mexican drug traffic in the U.S. and a subsequent government crackdown have already claimed about 500 lives this year. Mexican President Phillipe Calderone recently sent federal troops to the states of Guerrero and Michoacan and the border cities of Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo to force the crackdown, but critics say the campaign has more to do with generating media coverage than confronting drug cartels. Or perhaps, appear to be doing something for the $747 million, or another $170 million annually for the next five years that Representatives Sylvester Reyes and Cuellar want to send to Mexico. Yet in retaliation last week the cartels delivered some additional messages in the horrific form of severed heads in sacks to police stations and they recently attempted to assassinate a retired Mexican General. Alfredo Corchado of the Dallas Morning News reports out of DC: “Once encouraged by Mexico's assault on drug traffickers, U.S. officials now worry that the cartels' growing geographic reach and the recent killing of a judge and police officials are signs that the government may be losing control of the drug fight. The powerful cartels are securing smuggling routes through Central America and are recruiting gunmen from there, say senior U.S. officials in Washington and Mexico City.” A few months ago, Mexico almost passed a law minimizing some penalties for drug possession and the United States went ballistic and put enough pressure on the previous president that he did not sign the bill. Why does the United States administration remain to support the cartels? Prohibition of drugs is not working any better than the previous prohibition of alcohol did. The difference is that we learned the prohibition of alcohol lesson in about thirteen years but after more than three decades they’ve not figured out that the policy of drug prohibition does not work either in the U.S. The good news about repeating this prohibition is that it will not take 3/4 of the States to ratify, it will only take legislators, our elected representatives with intestinal fortitude to do the right thing: allow for an honest and open discussion about the War on Drugs. Then, and only then, will it be obvious that the War on Drugs is a sham. It is an over-funded yet failing public policy. LEAP believes that the drug trafficking causes so much more crime and violence and unintended consequences that the approach must be to regulate and control them. Let’s put the money into education, research and treatment instead of jails and prisons. We all want a better future for ourselves and our children. This is Terry Nelson at www.leap.cc signing off.


Doug McVay: Yes, thank you, our drug really is better than your drug. Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Two newly released analyses underscore this fact. First, late last month the respected English medical journal, The Lancet, published a report by scientists who developed a rational scale to assess the harms from different drugs. Two separate groups of experts in addiction, medicine, law and other disciplines were convened to rank 14 different drugs according to their potential for physical harm, dependence and social harm. Both groups concluded that alcohol and tobacco were not only more dangerous than cannabis, they were even more dangerous than heroin. Shortly afterward the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse released an analysis of the cost to Canada from alcohol and other drug use. They found, not surprisingly, that “the total social costs associated with alcohol are more than twice those for all other illicit drugs.” Healthcare costs and law enforcement costs, direct and indirect, alcohol is the bad guy. In a rational world cannabis would be legally regulated and controlled in a manner similar to alcohol. One should add that hopefully, with 70 years of experience with legal alcohol, we could come up with a better system for regulation of cannabis. One could even hope that those lessons could then be applied to alcohol in order to de-glamorize it and reduce abuse. Unfortunately, the CCSA also found that “Canadians have an exaggerated view of the harms associated with illegal drug use but consistently underestimate the serious negative impact of alcohol on society and the economy.” This may explain why prohibition of some drugs still persists in Canada as well as the U.S.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, editor of drugwarfacts.org.


Dean Becker: Well, it looks like the April 10 panel “Are we winning the war on drugs?” at the Houston Community College is going to come off. I think I learned something from my discussions with Donald Vereen, that in an adversarial situation I best be a little better prepared, don’t you think? Not that Dr. Vereen was an adversary but I think I’ll be ready come April 10. You can learn more about this event by visiting my website which is drugtruth.net and it’ll be the subject of next week’s program.

As per my discussion with the doctor, I remind you, once again, that because of drug prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. And I’m not talking just marijuana so, please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, on behalf of engineer Philip Guffy, 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 of an abyss.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net