10/17/10 - Allan Clear

Century of Lies

Allan Clear, Dir of Harm Reduction Coalition re forthcoming conference in Austin, MJ Borden with Drug War Facts

Audio file


Century of Lies / October 17, 2010

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.


Alright my friends, welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. Here in just a moment we hope to bring in our guest, Mister Allan Clear. He’s the Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. They’re going to have a big conference in about a month from now in Austin, Texas. We’re hoping that you can participate. I’ll be reporting on it, if you can’t but we’ll have Allen on here in just a minute.

I wanted to kind of address a couple of things. We recently just spoke with Mister Terrence Poppa, author of Drug Lord. It’s a true story about Pablo Acosta and his situation when he ran one of the drug corridors in Mexico.

I want to talk about the fact that all of these horrors that exist because of prohibition are unnecessary. They don’t need to exist. They exist because of your fear. They exist because of your trepidation that you or your children might get caught up in drug addiction or that somehow you’ll be out on the streets whoring and stealing and killing because of this drug use.

It doesn’t have to be that way and that’s what the Harm Reduction Coalition is all about, to try to help people that are caught up in addiction, sex work or otherwise out there on the fringes of our society.

There is a way to bring them back and it shouldn’t cost us a trillion dollars and it shouldn’t fill our prisons. So, with that, I’d like to go ahead and bring in our guest. Mister Allan Clear, are you with us sir?

Allan Clear: Yes, I am. How are you doing?

Dean Becker: I’m good. Allan, thank you for being here. I was telling the folks that the Harm Reduction Coalition is having a conference coming up in November. Do you want to start the discussion and tell them all about that?

Allan Clear: Sure, that’s right. We’re going to be in Austin at the Renaissance Hotel from the 18th to the 21st of November. It’s our eighth conference – our eighth national conference. We do them every other year. So, it’s three and a half days. We have Sonya Son from The Wire, doing a special appearance and doing the questions and answers.

Apart from that, it’s pretty much the community talking about what interventions people are doing. There will be drug user activists talking about how to respond to the war on drugs. It’s a harm reduction conference. It’s really about accepting that there is a certain level of drug use in our society and how we can best handle some of the problems that drugs cause.

Dean Becker: Right and you were kind of outlining that. Now, there are Harm Reduction efforts that are going on in Latin America, African Ameri– Africa – excuse me and in America, in Native American communities because in many ways, they are impacted perhaps more so than the mainstream. Your thoughts?

Allan Clear: Yeah, I don’t know that harm reduction is being integrated that much into Native American culture in the US. I do know that a few years ago that we worked with a Native American Work Team drug treatment and he said, “Why don’t we know much about harm reduction?” He’s right, he didn’t.

His presentation was a lot drug treatment and working with Natives Americans prison. When he talked about his Native American philosophies, it was pure harm reduction. So, I think that certainly harm reduction is not foreign to the Native American community. The only needle exchange programs I know of are in Montana and Arizona. Of course, spiritual Native Americans spiritual retreats and sweat lodges tie right into harm reduction.

Dean Becker: Ok, now once again, we’re speaking with Mister Allan Clear. He’s Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. Now Allan, I wanted to talk about the fact that the last conference that I attended – where was that Salt Lake? I don’t know.

Allan Clear: That was the crystal methamphetamine conference in Salt Lake City?

Dean Becker: Yeah, that’s where I saw you last.

Allan Clear: Yeah, that’s right.

Dean Becker: I found it really amazing, if you will, the diversity, the avenues, the various means by which people were trying to create or enhance that harm reduction. Do you want to give us kind of a snapshot of what all is involved in harm reduction?

Allan Clear: Yeah, I think what you picked up on was the energy in the harm reduction community because it’s kind of – it’s sort of in the opposition’s to a lot dominant approaches to drugs and the war on drugs, which is based on the criminal justice and punitive response and people with drug problems are going to be somehow cured by miraculously going through drug treatment.

The harm reduction community is really about working with people who do use drugs. So, given the fact that there is not a lot of support or there hasn’t been a lot of support for that in the past, people get very creative around it. So, the obvious examples aroung the major harm reduction is syringe exchange, which is a way of stopping the spread of viral hepatitis and HIV.

You have very, very large programs on the East Coast, California and Chicago and then you have really small underground programs in other parts of the country where people are funding their work through bake sales and sales of T-shirts. There are lots of varieties different ways in which people do this. People, the drug users themselves, exchange syringes through their networks. It’s done in vans. It’s done in storefronts. It’s done in organizations. There’s home delivery. There’s all kinds of street based programs. So, it’s very flexible in dimension. It’s very open to the varieties of delivering syringes.

There’s overdose prevention, which again, is something that the communities started themselves. Overdose is a major problem for people who use opiates and there’s a very simple tool that you can use to use to reverse an opiate overdose. That’s Naloxone or Narcan.

People began to put Narcan into the hands of people who were witnessing drug overdose deaths. So, there’s about 150 of those programs around the country now giving out and training drug users how to use Naloxone and how to deliverer rescue breathing for people and then getting people to call 911 on the event of – you can manage an overdose but it’s always better to get 911 there, as well.

There’s people who do wound care and abscess care at needle exchange programs and harm reduction programs. The medical system is incredibly difficult for drug users because it’s useless to navigate. It’s just not friendly towards drug users. There’s a great deal of suspicion amongst the medical community around the stigma associated with being a drug user.

So, something like abscesses, which is much more common West of the Rockies than they are here on the East Coast, basically street based people, doctors – well, I would say doctors but doctors can but volunteers can learn how to lance large abscesses and take care of people with skin infections. It’s very much a do-it-yourself attitude which I think that’s what you picked up on in Salt Lake City.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Allan Clear: It’s really people taking care of themselves.

Dean Becker: I wanted to go back to the thought of needle exchange for a moment. Recently, within the last year I think, the federal government changed it’s stance in that regard and yet there are states like Texas where we actually have a law to allow for needle exchange but they were doing a test program, I think, in San Antonio and the mayor said, “Not in my city you won’t.” Her morals got in the way. Talk about that, will you?

Allan Clear: Yeah. It’s finally after twenty years of having a federal ban on the funding of syringe exchange. Congress lifted the ban last December, I think. Yet, we still have a whole bunch of different places that still hasn’t endorsed it as an approach. I think Texas might be one of the next states to endorse it. I know we’re pretty optimistic about that.

You’re right, that San Antonio was moving forward with it and then it got stuck again. You in Texas have Republican leaders that support syringe exchange, which is a big thing compared to some other places. So, I think that there been some great groundwork that has taken place in Texas and you might be finding yourself legitimizing some of the programs down there. There has been a program in Austin for quite a while but it’s, you know, underground.

Dean Becker: Well, yeah but again, tolerated.

Allan Clear: Yes.

Dean Becker: Yes, I want to show the – I don’t even know – the ridiculousness of some of these local official’s interpretations.

The state legislature signed a bill – passed a bill that the governor signed, Governor Perry, signed a bill that said it’s no longer necessary to arrest people for less than four ounces of weed. You don’t have to put them in jail. Yet, only one district attorney in this state has taken advantage of that. That kind of shows that it’s like people say, politics is local and that’s a prime example, right?

Allan Clear: That’s right, yeah. I think it’s, I’ve mentioned the war on drugs a couple of times and obviously that’s what your show focuses on in great part. It’s the propaganda of thirty years of the war on drugs that makes people think that they want to be tough on drugs and drug users. It’s so overblown and so disproportionate to what’s really happening.

Drugs cause real problems for people and affects their loved one and communities. Yet, our response is just way out of proportion. So, yeah, if we’re looking at California where they might actually vote to legalize marijuana now, which is an interesting development.

Dean Becker: Yeah, well, there are those sheriffs and other politicians out there banding together to say, “Oh, it’s a horrible idea.” Even Attorney General Holder is saying something to the effect of it’s not going to make any difference in the federal enforcement on these laws, thought there’s no way in heck they can keep up with whatever, 10,000,000 marijuana users in California.

Once again, we’re speaking with Mister Allan Clear. He’s Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. They’re going to have a major conference, this coming November in Austin, Texas.

You know, Allan, I think about, you know I used to inject a few drugs in my youth. I don’t say that with any great pride or anything but I did manage to get through it, as do most users, if they have a little bit of help or a little bit of hope. Am I right?

Allan Clear: Yeah, absolutely and I think that the majority of people that use drugs in any fashion, whether it’s smoking or injecting or swallowing, they kind of handle it on their own and either age out of it or ease their drugs, which doesn’t cause them many problems.

Then, like you said, those that have more problematic use, there’s – with some support they can get through it. That’s kind of where the harm reduction movement came from in some ways. People who do begin to address their drug problems and what is tragic is that people can end up with HIV or hepatitis C or die of a drug overdose before they get to the place where they’ve either stopped using or learned how to manage their drug use and that’s what we are trying to avoid.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Allan Clear: It’s not unusual. So many Americans have used drugs. So many around the world have used drugs and as you say, most people don’t develop a problem.

Dean Becker: Well, I think about it like this, you know I think it was Doctor Stanton Peel, I believe, who wrote a book, Seven Ways To Beat Addiction. Within that book he talked about the fact that most people, they don’t go to treatment. They don’t go to a psychiatrist or need to go to jail. They grow out of that mindset, if you will. Do you fond that to be true?

Allan Clear: Yeah, absolutely. You end up with – the major drug problems in this country, end up being a few hundred thousand people who have pretty serious health problems related to their drug use.

Yet, most people it does not become the dominant thing in their lives. IT something thay do, sometimes for pleasure. Sometimes it’s for relief. Sometimes it’s a chemical vacation of a kind. It’s a phase that people go through and it can be risky but so then can driving a fast car when you’re a teenager.

Dean Becker: Sure, texting and driving or any of that, yes.

Allan Clear: Yeah.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Allan Clear: Yeah and I think that Irving Welch said that drug users are our last great explorers.

Dean Becker: (Laughs) I think there’s some truth to that.

Allan Clear: Yeah.

Dean Becker: Well, Ok, we’re speaking with Allan Clear. Allan, I wanted to ask you about this. In the last few years, the arrest rates have actually diminished slightly for drug use but contained within that number is a larger number that heretofore for women who get caught up as kind of the underling, if you will, of boyfriends or husbands that are involved in it, right?

Allan Clear: Yeah, yeah, I think that the arrest patterns in this country have been horrible for everyone over the last, fifteen, since the eighties really. Now we incarcerate more, it’s said that the greater [unintelligible] of Americans percentage wise of the population of any other country in the world. If other countries can in turn, figure out how not to put their people’s population in prisons, now why can’t the US?

I think we should actually be reducing people and the impact and the gender discrepancies in jail, as you say, increased in the arrests for women, it’s – why are we – why are we experiencing that trend when everything else is going down? Actually, I don’t know the answer.

Do you have a theory?

Dean Becker: Well, I do, I think it was inherent in the question that they are the “underlings”. They might answer the phone. They might make a small delivery. They might hand off a message and not really know of the total – the RICO statute that everybody involved in everything they’ve done is all tied together and then –

Allan Clear: But, you are also stuck with if the lower you are down the rung; you’ve got no one to roll over on. So, the higher up you are, you can get other people arrested. The further you’re down, in the case with women, that doesn’t actually happen, so they are kind of just caught up in the system.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Well, Allan, you hear the stories and it’s fairly frequent or constant that once you do meth, you’re stuck. You can’t ever get off of meth. It’s a terrible drug. I guess for a lot of people, it certainly is but again, that injection I was doing, back some thirty years ago, was methamphetamine, Desoxyn. You know, high-grade pharmaceutical stuff and I was able to walk away from it once I decided that was the way I wanted to go.

It’s a lie that meth is a – impossible to break that habit, right?

Allan Clear: Yeah, I mean that was – I mean, so many people that have recovered from meth additions or people that have never actually given up their meth addition. I don’t know. I was the same way. I didn’t inject but I certain grew up in England during the seventies and speed was our drug of choice.

There was – so, this is the contradiction in the rhetoric which people say have difficult – which it is. Meth is not a great drug necessarily but people talk about how hard it is to get off.

There’s hundreds and hundred of thousands of people who got STEP support or other forms of drug treatment that have happily recovered from their meth addiction. What the report back on really is that the pain it caused them and it’s not quite true that you can’t recover from it.

So, depending on who you are and what you make up is and what your family support and social supports are. Some people can walk away from it others need more structured help and some people suffer for a lot longer.

That’s the thing. We make these blanket statements about drugs without taking into account people’s personal histories, social history, issues of addiction in their family and their economic status and stuff like that. Drugs are just not that black and white, even thought that’s how they are painted.

Dean Becker: Ok and this kind of brings up one of the subjects that will be addressed at that harm reduction convention, “redefining the user: advocacy and programs that combat sigma and remove barriers that create harm” because the stigma itself is a barrier. It slows progress, doesn’t it?

Allan Clear: Yeah, it most certainly does. It works on so many different levels the federal ban on some many things, like the needle exchange that we talked about before, that stigma is being legislated because we know that syringe exchange works to stop the spread of blood born diseases. Yet people have been denied access to those sterile syringes. That, with the federal ban, sends messages down into the states and the cities not to support it. That’s legislative stigma.

We have internalized stigma where drug users feel less than or less worthy than everyone else because they’re failures because their drug problems are hard to handle and people internalize that. I’ve heard it time and time again when I’ve worked with drug users, how unworthy they feel and how worthless they feel.

Then there’s the stigma that’s associated – like I mentioned before around medical care. People who tend to go to their doctors or emergency rooms or hospital are very often criticized or categorized as people seeking drugs or not there for legitimate reasons. Drug users respond by exaggerating what’s wrong with them because they’re so used to the fact that they’re not going to get served properly.

Stigma plays a massive role in the lives for drug users. So our conference is really about having drug users at times self-represent, talk about what’s going on in their lives and for us to begin to think about how we can actually undo stigma so that we don’t perpetuate the same problems as we’re trying to address. We do have a plenary on stigma. There’s a number of drug users that are going to be speaking throughout the conference.

It’s about kind of leading by example. You know, it’s not easy being a drug user in our society. So, for people to come out and say, “Yes, I am a drug user” is a big step actually. It’s a funny thing because many of us, many of us are drug users. Yet, somehow the drug user is someone else. So, we try to undo that a little bit.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Allan Clear: We try to have people inspire others to step out and talk about their own personal stories and the ways that they’re addressing, whether it’s healthcare or social justice issues or undoing stigma.

Dean Becker: Yeah and speaking of stigma, one of the – much of the discussion at this harm reduction conference, I believe, will revolve around the fact of destigmatizing or making it possible for sex workers to have a better life, to provide services and safety for them as well, right?

Allan Clear: Yeah, that’s right. Again, they are very closely aligned to the sex worker movement too. Most people don’t get involved in sex work through choice or to stave off economic strident, though some people obviously, well, yeah they choose to become sex workers because there is some money in it for them.

So, again, we’re looking at ways in which people can get themselves represented and talk about what goes on around sex work and street based sex work. We tend to work with the most marginalized drug users and sex workers that is pretty much who we focus on.

So, sex worker going on about how they are in the criminal justice system and talking about the ways that stigma affects sex workers also, basically highlighting what goes on in the sex work community. We can go back to wherever we come from and begin to be more conscious about how we can make change there.

Dean Becker: Ok. I you will, Allan, tell them a little bit more. Summarize this forthcoming convention there in Austin.

Allan Clear: Yes. I mean, we like to see our conference as something that’s going to inspire people. A lot of people in our community work in isolation. You know, they are a little bit outsiders and not the norm in the way that the way they approach drugs and drug use.

So, to network with people doing the same work in other parts of the country is a big thing for people. We want people to go back and replicate programs that are successful in New York or Austin or New Orleans and go back to their own cities and towns to recreate those things.

Basically, what we’re really looking at is social justice for some of the most marginalized people in out society and we’re looking for some positive change. You know, people don’t need to suffer the way they do. We’re trying to undo some of the damage that’s being done over the last thirty years.

Dean Becker: Aright, Allan, thank you so much. Oh, your website! One more time.

Allan Clear: It’s www.harmreduction.org.

Dean Becker: Alright, thank you.

Allan Clear: And the conference information is there.


Mary Jane Borden: Hello Drug Policy Aficionados, I’m Mary Jane Borden, editor of Drug War Facts.

This week’s question asks: How accurate is government data?

This is an interesting question since we covered drug use and arrests estimates during the last few Drug Truth Network shows. While government statisticians attempt to calculate the best estimates and even through they may represent the only numbers on the subject, several reports suggests that readers should be mindful of the data limitations and skeptical of the results.

Recall that the 2009 National Survey of Drug Use and Health contained the caveat, “2002 and later data should not be compared with 2001 and earlier data from the survey series to survey changes over time.”

A recent report from the Rand Corporation used the following quote from 2006 National Drug Control Strategy, published by the office of National Drug Control Policy as an example of questionable data. “Mexican drug traffickers receive more than $13.8 billion in revenue from illicit drug sales to United States. 61% of that revenue or $8.5 billion is directly tied to marijuana export sales.”

After analyzing these numbers, Rand research has concluded, “We are not aware of any publicly available documents that provide empirical support for these figures. It also makes it difficult to understand what these figures actually cover.”

A 2003 report called The Numbers Game from the Transnational Institute summarized one of the main problems with data related to illegal drugs, “the obstacles to statistical data collection are daunting because the legal nature of the industry precludes direct measurements.” The report also noted that, “Morals and ideology tend to play an extremely strong role in those debates. For these reasons all illicit drug data can be manipulated for political gain.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Drug Use and US Policy chapters of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org. If you have a question for which you need facts, please email it to me at mjborden@drugwarfacts.org.

I’ll try to answer your question in an upcoming show. So, remember when you need facts about drugs and drug policy you can get the facts at Drug War Facts.


(Barber quartet music)

Pfizer and Merck kill more of us
Than the cartels’ crap ever could
They thank us for our silence
Each year’s hundred billion dollars
And a chance to do it forever more

Drugs, the first Eternal War.


(Detective music)

You are listening to the Unvarnished Truth about the Drug War on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. Teaching the choir to sing solos since 2001.

(The fine print)

Warning: Adherence to the ideas presented therein will lead to the death of Bin Laden’s fattest cash cow and the destruction of the Mexican drug cartels, elimination of the reason for US street gangs to exist, as well as less death, disease, crime and addiction.



(Slow music)

It’s a nuanced swing
An incremental thing
The way you change the law in America

First you spread the fear
What they don’t want to hear
And you smear it all around with your media

Keep pumping up the lies
Don’t let hysteria die
Confusion must abound one shift storm after another


Aw yes, keep pumping up the fear my friends. Keep pumping up the fear. That’s what this Drug War is all about. The Drug War, you know, depends on fear to make it’s living. It needs you to be frightened, worried, not to focused on the fact that the Drug War is much worse than the drug use.

I want to thank Allan Clear of the Harm Reduction Coalition for being with us. I hope you’ll take the time to visit our website and check out what you can do there. One of the things I want you to do is check out our petition. We want to invite the Drug Czar and Czarina to come on the air and speak to us right here on the airwaves.

As always, I remind you, there’s no truth, justice, logic or no reason for this Drug War to exist. Please, visit our website: endprohibition.org

Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com