06/12/11 William Martin

Century of Lies

Rice Professor William Martin a fellow at James A. Baker Institute & Jerry Epstein, Pres of Drug Policy Forum of Texas take "A New Look at the Drug War" at Democratic gathering + Terry Nelson of LEAP re 40 Anniv of Nixon's war

Audio file


Century of Lies June 12, 2011

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.


DEAN BECKER: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Century of Lies. This weekend, recognition of the 40-year anniversary of Nixon’s war on drugs, the 50-year anniversary of the UN’s war on drugs and the recent Global Commission on Drugs Report.

The Sugarland Democrats Club, a major subdivision of Houston, held a seminar titled, “A New Look at the Drug War.” Among those speaking was Professor William Martin, of the James A. Baker Institute, and Jerry Epstein, the President of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas. We’ll begin with the thoughts of Mr. Jerry Epstein.


JERRY EPSTEIN: My parents were born when heroin, cocaine and marijuana could be found in medicine cabinets legally all around the country. The system worked actually pretty well. At any rate, I’ll skip through that and the disasters of alcohol prohibition—which of course they lived through, and which is very pertinent to what we’re doing today.

And I wanna pick up sort of in background of the ‘70s, when I happened to be going back to graduate school while I was in my 30’s and thus about 10 years older than the other students. And somehow, after 3 years as an officer in the Marine Corps, and all the events of the 60s, I had never seen marijuana in my life. Seen all the pictures, all the films, but I had never seen marijuana.

Okay, now I was dropped into a culture called the University of Houston Grad School, where for all practical purposes, marijuana was legal and had replaced—to a large extent—alcohol as the social drug. And when I went to study some psychology at the University of St. Thomas a few years later, it was exactly the same. So it’s been an interesting experience to see what would happen in an experimental sub-culture.

But at any rate, the point of the ‘70s is that that was the year—years that the 1972 National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse made its first report on marijuana in 1972—and then a follow-up report in 1973—on the drug situation as a whole. And it was largely picked by Richard Nixon, expected to rubber-stamp his policies and it did not at all.

And the essence of the report was that we had been making mistakes and they said that in essence, the American public had been conditioned by so much—conditioned is their word, brainwashed, whatever, that was a word for that era too. But at any rate, by myth and misinformation, that public policy decisions were being based on incorrect assumptions.

And my short term summary of that, is I say well, what they said was our policy is rooted in B.S. And so—B.S. of course, stands for Bad Science, okay. So, at any rate, the report that they issued in 1973 said—the title of it was “The Problem in Perspective.” Trying to get more accurate information out. Chapter 1 was, “Defining the Issue” and my function today is to try to define the issue better for you in different terms than you have ever heard before. Maybe it will be helpful.

First order of business is that the key thing that we’re gonna be looking at here is substance abuse and dependence; they happen to be psychologically, technically defined terms, doesn’t matter. You know, dependence is also addictions and other vital [intelligible], okay. But they are so similar in terms of the harm that they do to the user in society that the government chooses to combine them under a single term, often called “substance use disorders.”

The key point here is the question of how you define this function and purpose of our drug policies. Because you have a choice to define it in terms of use, or in terms of—as they suggested in 1973—its impact on society, it’ s negative impact on society.

We’re talking about percentages of the American population who are adults. We’re going to find out that in fact, the government—quite reasonably—divides lot of its reports into 3 age groups: before 18, 18-25, and this is the group—26 and over. This is adult abuse and dependence in the United States. You are a part of this large green segment right here, okay?

And what is characteristic of you is that you do not have a drug problem, and you are never going to have one of these drug problems in your lives. Statistically, it’s highly improbable that this will happen to any of you.

Alright, therefore we have 7% of the population that is a problem. So let’s take a look at them. 5 of those 7 people, who have a problem, have a problem with one drug, and one drug only. Do y’all—how many know clearly what drug it is?

[Audience participation – unintelligible]

Okay, I got a couple—you got—well, you make an interesting point. The answer is that it is alcohol. Okay? It is the one drug that causes nearly all the problems in the United States. Because Don Send is over here, I need to point out to you that they have a separate section for tobacco; one is not included in these particular things.

And I’ll also make the side observation that most experts regard tobacco as our most addictive drug. It is certainly the drug that kills more people than all people put together. It is also the only drug in my lifetime with which we have made a major success. Because as bad as the problem may be today, it is less than half of what it was when I was much younger. So we’ve made a huge—and we have locked up not one person, and we have not made one single effort to stop the supply of the drug to the adult population.

Alright, so we have this—we’ve got two people left. We’re down to a drug policy that does not affect 98% of the United States. Has nothing to do with 98%. And any of you—just can’t construe it any other way. Alright, the next 1% is very, very interesting, and important person. This person also has an alcohol problem. Okay? But he has added something to the agenda.

And what this essentially means is that half of all problems with all illegal drugs are combined with alcohol at the same time. I’m sure everybody remembers Dennis Hopper. Dennis Hopper was famous for consuming all drugs, and in one of his interviews, he said, “The reason that I use so much cocaine, is so that I can stay awake so that I will have more time to drink more alcohol.”

Okay, and you will begin to understand the interrelationship between these drugs because it’s absolutely critical. And it is particularly critical—what we’re gonna find out in a second—‘ cause we’ve only got these 2% to cover—is that 98% of this problem is confined to 4 drugs, and 4 drugs only. Despite all the drugs you’ve ever heard of, alcohol constitutes the vast bulk of it, and the rest of it is first marijuana, second prescription pain pills, alright? And last, cocaine—including crack. All the other drugs—barely a thin line, one-fifth the side of that blue segment—represent all the other drugs in the world numerically, and the problems.

All of these drugs that we’ve just talked about, you’ve used at least two and maybe three. Possibly all 4 of the drugs that cause 98% of addiction; but you don’t have a problem.

Alright, now going back to these 3 main drugs, cocaine is particularly important from a lot of standpoints. First of all, if you begin to worry about the harm done and you start to talk about things in terms of use, 37 million people have used cocaine, of which 9 million are crack users. And you may think to yourself, “Well how many of these people are represented in this segment?” and the answer is that out of those 37 million, currently the number’s a little over 1 million. Usually about 1.5 million.

So there is a huge discrepancy between how much energy and effort you apply to a drug user who does not present significant problems, and to the one million people who are major, major problems. But, we’ve already talked about the fact that—for instance with Dennis Hopper, he compare—he has combined his use with cocaine and alcohol. They are co-morbid problems.

The particular case of cocaine is unusual in that 80% roughly of the people who have a major cocaine problem, have a simultaneous alcohol problem.


DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Jerry Epstein, the President of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas; their website, dpft.org. We’ll have more of Jerry’s thoughts on this week’s 4:20 Report. We’ll be back in just a moment with the thoughts of Professor William Martin. But first…


TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson speaking on behalf of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the war on drugs, and a lot has changed. The prohibitive drugs have increased in potency; they’re cheaper, much easier to get than in 1971.

There are millions of more users and teenagers dealing to other teens. There’s much more violence connected to the drug trade now than then. Then, it was mostly friendship groups and peaceniks distributing the cannabis and LSD, speed, etc. We really had not heard that much about cocaine back then. Now, dangerous criminal gangs, drug cartels and street thugs are in the distribution business, and cocaine, crack, heroin, and a cornucopia of other drugs are distributed on our street corners and schools.

40 years ago, police departments did not have huge narcotics squads roaming the streets and raiding houses dressed like stormtroopers. 40 years ago, police officer were more respected by their citizens than today; and our city, county, state and federal jails and prisons were not bulging at the seams with non-violent citizens charged with drug crimes. The jails were actually for people that committed crimes against others, and not merely charged for possession of a flowering plant.

Judges had quite a bit of latitude on how to sentence an offender. This was before mandatory minimum sentences and three-strikes laws. So you did not go to prison for 10 years for stealing a pizza, or possession of a few ounces of cannabis.

Just about anyone with working brain cells knows that the drug war has failed. But our Drug Czar is bound by law to continue supporting this failed policy. Some polls show that over 75% of our citizens believe the war on drugs has failed. And just last week, the Global Commission on Drugs released a report saying that the war on drugs has failed in every way. The Commission reports that opiate use is up 34.5%, to 17.35 million users; cocaine up to 27%, to 17 million users and cannabis up 8.5%, for 160 million users.

Yet the policy makers still insist they’re winning. They ignore the fact that more opium is produced than ever before. The U.N. Reports 3600 metric tons this year, which is down significantly from last year due to a weather blight. Reports are that the Taliban are still hoarding opium to drive the price up, since there’s an oversupply on the market. Cocaine production still runs in the 800 metric ton range, although there is a slight drop in Colombia. It has picked up in Peru, Bolivia, and in other places. Cannabis production is reported to be at 10 million pounds domestically, and foreign supply is unlimited.

I will be in D.C. next week, when LEAP holds a press conference at the National Press Club to commemorate the 40 years of drug war failure. Stay safe. This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, at www.copsssaylegalizedrugs.com signing off.


DEAN BECKER: Alright, you are listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We’re tuning into a recent seminar at the Sugarland Democrats Club; the title of the seminar, “A New Look at the Drug War.” Next up, we hear from Professor William Martin from Rice University, and a Fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.


WILLIAM MARTIN: Jerry and I are in agreement on these things—we’ve talked about many of these same things together. And so, what I wanna do is talk about several key topics regarding drug use and drug policy as well as some of the alternatives that—to a prohibitionist approach that has characterized U.S. drug policy for the better part of a century.

And, this has been a bi-partisan effort, by the way. Democrats have been just as active as Republicans in trying to say who can be the toughest. So this—we can be bi-partisan in that—in talking about prohibition.

As I hope is now clear, the whole idea of a drug-free American, or zero-tolerance is really not—is not very realistic. But it does—what makes sense to try to reduce the harms that are associated with drug use, and with drug policy. And those of us who are involved in drug policy reform often speak of the harm reduction movement.

And what I wanna talk about is several specific kinds of things, and they don’t all just lead one into another, but to give you some examples. And in most of these cases, I’ll be talking about how other countries, other states, other cities have done things differently and successfully, and that we ought to use our heads and pay attention to those.

It—first of all, let me talk about needle exchange programs. In the early 1980s—and this something that I have worked on it a bit, and if you go on the bakerinstitute.org, and look up Drug Policy and look at things that I’ve written, you’ll see that this has been a hobby of mine. Namely because it seems to be such a no-brainer. It really—it really ought to be done.

But anyway, public health officials realized in the early to mid 1980s that infected drug users were spreading HIV and Hepatitis— particularly Hepatitis C by sharing needles to inject heroin and other drugs as well. In the United States, about 30% of AIDS and 60% of Hepatitis is spread by injecting drug users.

Governments in Australia and in Europe began to tell drug users about the risks of needle sharing, and to make sterile syringes available, and to correct—collect dirty needles through pharmacies, needle exchange and methadone programs, and public health services.

In some European cities, addicts can exchange used syringes for clean ones at local police stations—pilot-lighted, open all night—without any fear of being apprehended or harassed. In Australia—


I need some codeine


In Australia, needle exchange machines are available in the restrooms in the Parliament Building. And in Sydney, St. Vincent Hospital –which is one of the first hospitals to—one of the first needle exchange programs in that country—nuns run the program. And even in Iran, hyper-conservative Mullahs have approved a needle exchange programs because of a serious AIDS epidemic, caused primarily there by drug users.

The National Academy of Science, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association, the American Pharmaceutical Association, the American Public Health Association, and every independent commission to look at this issue—looking at hundreds of studies—have all concluded that providing sterile syringes to drug addicts reduces the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis without increasing drug usage. In fact, a common result is that a significant minority—about 20%--voluntarily seek treatment as a result of regular contact with health workers who direct them to that.

Well-run syringe exchanges can dramatically reduce the spread of these diseases. A Johns Hopkins study of the Baltimore City Exchange—which is one of the most successful in the country—after six years of operation, found that the incidents of HIV in Baltimore decreased by 35% overall and by 70% among the 10,000 approximate participants in that program.

Even more striking, I recently talked to a major researcher in New York, and in New York City, HI—new HIV infections among injecting drug users has dropped to under 1%. That’s in a city of approximately 100,000 injecting drug users. They’ve virtually wiped out HIV spread through needles in that city.

In Texas, which has the 4th highest number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country—we have 56,000—we are the only state that still prohibits any form of –thank you—still prohibits any form of needle exchange programs. Now even if you had no sympathy whatever for drug users, this is costing you—us real money.

A joint study by the Johns Hopkins and Cornell Medical Schools estimated that every case of HIV prevented saves $303,000. Between 2002 and 2007, Texas Medicaid paid more than $476 Million for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and the treatment of Hepatitis C reached nearly $160 Million. That did not include—that’s just those public funds. That did not include funds by private payers, insurance companies, local hospital districts, several programs such as Medicare and Veteran’s Administration. A well-run system of syringe exchange could reduce that cost by at least one-third.

Now, despite the evidence of this—the clear scientific evidence, many politicians—often reflecting the views of their constituents—fall back on the argument, “Well it sends the wrong message to provide clean needles to drug users.”

Well think about the message we now send. We know a way that can dramatically reduce the chances that you will get this drug—this disease and spread it to others, including your unborn children. It will also dramatically reduce the amount of money we’re going to have to spend on you. But because drug—we believe and what you are doing is illegal, sinful, immoral, we are not going to do what we know works. You are social lepers, and because—as upright, moral, righteous, deeply religious people, we’re not—we prefer that you and your social circuit die. Is that the message we want to send?

No responsible person wants to encourage—financially responsible person wants to encourage drug abuse. No fiscally prudent person wants to waste money simply by satisfying a sense of self-righteousness. And no compassionate person wants to consign people to a living hell. Fortunately, providing injecting drug users with access to sterile syringes allows us to be responsible, prudent and compassionate, and those are good criteria for prudent—for good public policy.

Now, needle exchange is primarily a public health measure. Second thing I want to talk about has a strong health dimension, but it aims more at reducing the crime committed by addicts—in fact, a major harm—and helping them to assume personal responsibility for their lives and undercutting the profits of drug dealers.

A common estimate is that 20% of heroin addicts use about 80% of the drug in this country. Therefore, it makes sense to concentrate on that 20%. Many of the others—as Jerry has pointed out—have matured out. They say, “nah, I’m not really interested in that.” Our goal should be to cut the profits from the sales to those hardcore users.

And one way to do that would be to provide heroin addicts with heroin of known quality at rock-bottom prices, to lower their involvement in crime, to improve their health, and lead them into treatment that could help them kick the habit altogether. Now does that sound like a pipe dream? Well not really, it’s already being done.

In 1994, the Swiss Government began a nationwide trial program in which some 1,000 hardcore addicts were allowed to use as much heroin as they wanted with clean needles in a supervised setting with health professionals there. After 3 years, that experiment was declared a great success. Criminal offenses and the number of criminal offenders dropped 60%, and later 80%. The percentage of income from illegal and semi-legal activities fell from 69% to 10%.

Doctor Francois van der Linde, the head of the Swiss Federal Narcotics Commission, spoke at the Baker Institute at a conference that I organized several years ago. People said, “well, what about that other 20%, that other 30%?” He said, “They are criminals. These are just addicts. They had to commit the crimes in order to pay for their crime.”

Their physical health improved enormously. There were no deaths from overdoses. 83 began—of that thousand—began abstinence therapy. Stable employment rose from 14% to 32%. As Rush Limbaugh has shown, it’s possible to work effectively for years while addicted to high-powered opiates.

A cost-benefit analysis found a net economic benefit of $30 per person per day, mainly because it reduced criminal justice and healthcare costs. It was nearly $11 Million for those 1000 people.

Now there are nearly 40 such centers in Switzerland that do this. In 2000 and 2008, there were nationwide referenda that were put forth to end this program, because it sends the wrong message. It was rejected by approximately 70% in both of those elections in all 26 cantons. The Swiss know it works, and they want to keep it.

Other countries have followed their lead. In the Netherlands, in Germany, this is—heroin assistance maintenance treatment has become a standard part of their national health system. The British have had a system of heroin maintenance for—since the 1920s. It was deemphasized in the 1960s through the 1980s, because of U.S. pressure. But in recent years, this—the British are moving again toward heroin treatment as part of the National Health Service.

The only North American heroin maintenance program or projects are now in Vancouver, British Colombia and in Montreal, Quebec. In the U.S., we also have methadone maintenance, which is synthetic opiates—dolophine and other synthetic opiates. This the best available treatment in our country, in terms of reducing heroin use and the crime, disease and death that go with it. Methadone patients can drive safely, hold good jobs, care for their families. With adequate doses, they can be indistinguishable from people who have never had a problem with heroin.

For every ten heroin addicts however, there are only 1 or 2 methadone treatment spots; and that often involves driving long distances. So, what does work is really not available for most. In contrast, thousands of general practitioners in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada regularly pro—are able to provide methadone for their patients.

Now, critics typically charge, “well, it’s just substituting one addiction for another. It doesn’t leave the patient drug-free.” And that’s true. But it’s not a reason to oppose methadone maintenance. It reduces the harm, it protects us from the crimes, it saves enormous sums of money, and it does not enrich criminals.

And as Jerry has been talking about, curing addicts is a very tough—is a very tough thing to do. So it’s much better to try—at least to try to reduce the harms to them and to us, while we’re trying to do this. It ought to be made more widely available. People who’s lives are stable have a much better chance of kicking drugs altogether.


DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Rice Professor William Martin, a Fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy speaking at the Sugarland Democrats Club; the topic, “A New Look at the Drug War.” There’s much more from Professor Martin and Mr. Jerry Epstein on this week’s 4:20 Reports.

By the way, The Baker Institute stores all The Drug Truth Network programs on their website; which is bakerinstitute.org, and you can find our shows there by adding /dtn.

As a side note, yours truly will be a guest this week on Self-Determination, a production of the mothership of the Drug Truth Network; topic of discussion, racial injustice in this drug war. And we’ll have a clip from Ms. Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow.” Here, she speaks at the historic Riverside Church, New York City.



MICHELLE ALEXANDER: This site of so much bold truth-telling. This is the place where the truth can be told. The whole truth; a truth born of deep and abiding love for all of us. Each and every one of us, including especially all those who have been locked up, locked out, ushered into a parallel social universe, stripped of basic civil and human rights, ushered into a permanent second-class status, all with the expectation that they will remain forgotten.

So I wanna thank all of you who are here today; who are here to prove that no one, not one of us, will be forgotten. And to join in this movement for justice—a movement that did not begin today, or yesterday or last year, but a movement that began when the first slave made his run for freedom.

I believe that this movement that has laid dormant in many communities for years; I believe it is a sleeping giant that is about to rise again.


DEAN BECKER: Following the release of the Global Commission’s Report on Drugs, more than 1,000 articles have been written in favor of changing these drug laws. We can only hope; there’s no truth to this drug war.

Prohibido estac evilesco!


DEAN BECKER: 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 the Pacifica studios of KPFT Houston.