11/18/12 Doug McVay

Harm Reduction Conference II, Doug McVay of CSDP reports feat: Drug User Panel, Ruth Kanatser, Terry Nelson of LEAP & MORE

Century of Lies
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Doug McVay
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Download: Audio icon COL_111812.mp3



Century of Lies / November 18, 2012


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


DEAN BECKER: Thank you for joining us on this edition of the Century of Lies. This week we’re tuning in to the recent Harm Reduction Conference in Portland, Oregon. Our reporter on the ground is Doug McVay of Common Sense for Drug Policy.


DOUG McVAY: This year’s Harm Reduction Conference was a landmark. In the past mere mention of the words harm reduction was enough to make the feds withdraw their support. We still have a long way to go and yet how the times have changed.

One reason harm reduction has in the past been regarded as controversial is that harm reduction doesn’t judge. Drug users, sex workers – they all have one thing in common – they’re all people just like you and me, dear listener.

Drug user and sex worker organizing has always been a part of harm reduction. It’s inspiring to see people overcome stigma and work together to organize and advocate for themselves. Nothing for us without us as the saying goes.


DEAN BECKER: The following segment from the Drug Users Panel at the Harm Reduction Conference in Portland.


BOBBY TALBURN: Not to be redundant but I am Bobby Talburn and I am a board member for VOCAL New York. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here. I’d like to thank a few people for me being here. First of all I’d like to thank Allen Clear who had the insight to invite me here personally even though he knew that I would talk trash for 15 minutes. I’d like to thank my VOCAL colleagues because they’ve been through thick and thin with me and continue to fight strong and we take no prisoners.

It’s been a pretty active season for all activists. I know we’ve been very busy fighting for social justice. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t even had time to get high. As a result I got in 350 of clean time.

That is until I checked in the other night. I was standing at the check in desk and some guy walked up to me and said, “Oh, Bobby, I saw you last year in L.A. You were awesome, man. I saw you a couple years ago in Austin and when you spoke it just blew me away, dude. Here, try one of these.”

So if I start leaning to the right just push me back over to the left because that’s where I work the best, alright?

I don’t think you heard me. I said when I lean to the right push me back over to the left, activists, because that’s where I do my best work.

VOCAL New York is a membership-led organization to help empower people who are infected by HIV and AIDS, mass incarceration and this so-called drug war. In that effect we go about building power among drug users to give them esteem and to play an important role in advocating for social justice for drug users.

I’m glad that Commissioner Kawalski finally got the memo that drug use is health issue and not a legal issue. We’ve been trying to tell him this for years. We’re thankful to the Obama administration for recognizing the fact that drug users are people first before they are drug users.

We want to be able to meaningfully participate in policy making and efforts that affect our lives with real improvements while building toward a longer term vision of ending drug prohibition and the stigma surrounding drug users.

We organize and recruit drug users in syringe exchange programs, in methadone clinics, in SROs and we do some street outreach also – hand to hand knowledge to gather our participants some of whom are represented here today.

At VOCAL we believe that people who have been most negatively affected by the stigma of drug use are the drug users themselves particularly the poor and people of color. We want to put them at the head of the fight for social justice.

We need to have lived experience of being a drug user who also needs to challenge the stigma and assumptions and stereotypes that say drug users don’t really care about themselves or their communities. I beg to differ on that. Harm reductionists know that it is not true on an individual level and it’s only true on a community level.

We also know that the solution to ending the drug war isn’t just more facts and figures. If all we needed was science and data to win national appeals then the drug war would have been over years ago however the stigma still lives.

We also need to build on a collective. We know that usually when VOCAL is on the headlines from doing some radical actions because we are the bastard children of Act Up. Our actions are pretty radical. That even though we are on the front page a lot of times we don’t do this alone. It is a collective that involves a lot of the organizations that are represented in this room today and other organizations throughout the country that help us get our point across. We depend on that.

I wanted to get all of that out before I tell you about some of the policy changes that we won recently.

We went to Washington, D.C. for the International AIDS conference in July. We brought about 5,000 to march on our day of action and it was very successful. People from all over the country and all over the world recognize that drug use is a major issue throughout the world. We came to realize that just when we thought we had it bad we looked at some of the problems in Taiwan, Korea, Africa and in Russia and we don’t have it half as bad as they do.

It is important that we get our own backyard cleaned up before we can take care of the rest of the world and make sure that everyone is on the same page as far as drug users.

As you can see there are overdose which is a main issue that we’re trying to reach now which we passed a law on by the way. Hepatitis C treatment, Methadone…Peer services which is really important because a lot of peers are doing some work now that the administrative people want to be credentialized but they’re already doing it so we’re trying to get peers on the forefront also as navigators to help people get through treatment if they want or counseling if they want.

Policing which is a major problem – harassment by the police officers for syringe possession and also other crimes associated with that. Housing which is a major issue for people living with HIV and AIDS. We’re trying to get a standardized policy for housing people living with HIV and AIDS….and syringe access which we also won a fight on.

Moving right along I’m going to talk about the syringe access law. VOCAL New York helped lead a successful campaign to change the New York State criminal code for the first time since the beginning of the epidemic to allow the possession of new and used syringes which became law in 2010.

In cooperation with the DPA which gave us some good fact analysis to back up our fight. This was put into law not by a pro-bono lawyer or any high visual elected official – it was done by drug users themselves. So there goes the stigma.

By the way, when did the stigma start anyway? It’s crazy. I believe it began when Cro-Magnon man in an attempt to expand his horizon tripped over a poppy plant in east Europe and when he work up two days later he invented fire and the wheel. That’s when the stigma started back in the dark ages.

Transposing back into present time. We work with a lot of folks in this room to make it happen and the Drug Policy Alliance and the Department of Health were very beneficial in helping us advocate. We lobbied, we bird-dogged, we testified and it was all done by a band of drug users and not the administrators.

We won this fight and that validates the point that drug users are important. They do care about their society, their community and themselves and if they want to make a policy change we can do that anytime we get ready.

For nearly 20 years New York’s public health law and some local law enforcement agencies allowed drug users to carry syringes. However the police even though we passed a law continue to harass people carrying syringes around even if they have adequate identification and documentation to prove that they are part of a syringe exchange program.

This is a copy of a report that we did where we interviewed over 100 drug users to get their opinions on how policing has stopped them from practicing harm reduction. As you can see 7 of 10 people surveyed had been arrested for syringe possession. Of those arrested 80% of them were carrying documentation showing that they were enrolled in a legal syringe exchange program. Duh?!

1 out of 5 people reported being charged with possession of a controlled substance because they had used syringes containing trace amounts of residue. Damn…now I’m confused now. How can you trade in for new ones if you bring back your old ones and your old ones are definitely going to be having residue in them.

1 in 3 stopped going to SEPs or went less often so that they wouldn’t be arrested by the police. Everybody here knows that that ain’t right. That is not right at all.

In an attempt to make our communities safer so people didn’t share needles, so that they didn’t discard them on the streets where our kids can find them we reconciled a health code that says you can carry syringes with a penal code that says you can’t and came up with the syringe access law.

I want to give you at least one quote from that report. “No one should be locked up for trying to protect themselves and the community. Who wants to do the right thing and keep getting the wrong results?”

It doesn’t take rocket science to tell that it doesn’t make any sense to have a law that’s not going to be implemented correctly. The governor, Ben Patterson, invited VOCAL New York to come up and have a face to face meeting with him and some people from the Department of Justice and law enforcement itself to make recommendations on how we can implement this law.

You know, sometimes the fight never ends because even though we passed the law, we’re trying to make recommendations for implementation police still take matters into their own hands. We have to address an even bigger problem with notifying our police officers and law enforcement in general to amend their operation orders so that we’ll have safer communities and people will be more willing to practice harm reduction.

This is our rally for the syringe access bill. That’s me standing there with a megaphone in my hand. I like to talk so they always give me a megaphone.

Here’s some of the publications of printed stories that we made the headlines. They included the New York Times, the Buffalo News and Huffington Post also blog regularly about some of our actions.

Unfortunately it’s been about 2 years since the law passed and we can’t seem to drop the arrests for syringe possessions. A recent action that we did at Chuck Shumer’s office where we advised him to get a spine.

Sometimes we have to back away from our normal campaigns to work on bigger picture issues like financial disparity in the United States. Chuck Shumer made a statement on that same day that he’s in favor of taxing the rich but then again he said that he’s willing to put our social safety net on the chopping block.

That didn’t sit well with us at all. We went to his office and told him to grow a spine because we cannot afford him to lay down to an agenda that would destroy our social safety net and decrease our capability of surviving on a day to day basis.

Another law that we got passed is the 911 Good Samaritan Law. People were afraid to call the police in the case of an accidental overdose because they feared that they would be implicated in a crime. At one time that was possible. It happened to me one time.

Years ago I called 911 because my friend was overdosing and I needed help. Before the ambulance got there a police car came. I was confused because he started asking me all kinds of questions and I’m saying, “What about my friend? He’s standing there dying and you’re trying to arrest me. What is the deal?”

He kept on insisting that he had to do this investigation and that it was very important to the investigation that we find out exactly what happened to him. I said, “Well, if you’re finding out what happened to him why are you talking to me?”

We fought for the Syringe Access bill. It’s another law where implementation has been a problem also. People are still afraid. My solution to this is very practical and that is that we need a public endorsement from one of our elected officials like Governor Andrew Cuomo or our police commissioner, Ray Kelly, or our mayor, Mike Bloomberg to publically state in front of all people that it is OK to call 911 and you will not be implicated in any crime. Until they do that people are still going to be afraid and we have an overdose death.

Last week our friend Mario in the Bronx passed away because he overdosed alone in his room and he was not found for a while. It’s important that we understand that we need these kind of laws to help us.

VOCAL was successful twice in getting laws passed and that is the power of drug users.



What will it take to motivate? Please visit drugtruth.net


RUTH KANATSER: Hi, I’m Ruth Kanatser. I’m with the Harm Reduction Action Center.

We are the city’s largest syringe access program. We’re lucky enough through hard work to get started this year in February. We started off with 500 clients. We also provide overdose prevention including Naloxone distribution, on-demand HIV, viral Hepatitis testing, gonorrhea/ chlamydia testing, health education, access to and enrollment in our indigent health care program, referrals to substance abuse and mental health treatment, food, mail – as much one stop shopping as we can provide.

DOUG McVAY: The city, of course, is Denver?

RUTH KANATSER: The city is Denver. We are located in the Arts District and are the largest provider of services in general to the Denver-Metro injection drug using community.

DOUG McVAY: So that’s syringe exchange, Naloxone and everything else. How long have you been Naloxone distribution?

RUTH KANATSER: We actually just started Naloxone in May. I searched for years and years for a provider who would be brave enough because we didn’t need legislation. We didn’t need anything radical. We just needed a doctor who would write prescriptions. It took me a long time. People who you would have thought would have been friendly and such over the years were not immutable to the idea.

We now have an incredible provider on board and she’s very brave and we love her and we’ve been training people now since May. We’ve trained a little over 40 people and have already had 7 reversals.

We’re open Monday through Friday. Client hours are 9 to noon although they kind of pop in and out all day long. Staff is there from 8 to 4 so it’s kind of a 9 to 5 situation which we know is an ideal. But that was part of our good neighbor agreement sort of helping the neighbors in the community to get use to the idea of us, right?

We do a 9 to 5 situation. We’re serving around 500 people right now as a whole although we see in that small, 3-hour period between 15 and 45, 50 people in a 3-hour stint.

DOUG McVAY: You’ve got good relations with the community. How’s your relations with state, local government types.

RUTH KANATSER: We’re very, very lucky. Our founders and our current director have all worked hard over the years to develop and keep good relations. We have good support from our health department, good support from other like-minded agencies and we actually have a really good relationship that we’re very proud of with law enforcement.

There’s no profiling of our clients in our neighborhood. We actually started inviting them to the table a couple years before legislation even was drafted, any syringe exchange efforts or anything else were tried. The law, Senate Bill 189, that eventually gave us syringe access was, I believe, the third effort that was finally successful but we started inviting them to the table well before that.

We just told them that we really felt that this was an opportunity, that this was going to be a mutually beneficial relationship and how can we work together. They kept coming to the table. I’m always really surprised by how grateful they are and how eager they are to be collective. They understand that there’s a problem and what we’re doing isn’t working. They want solutions too.

In a more humane way I think also…because I don’t believe that it can feel good as an officer to see someone who is clearly sick and in need of assistance and instead have to take them to jail. I just don’t think that that can feel good – over and over. So giving them an alternative to that, saying instead get them into services, bring them here, let’s work together – I’m hoping they would say and I think it’s true that they’re finding that to be refreshing and feeling much more practical and empowering for the community as a whole.

That’s been an eye opener for me. I’ve really enjoyed our collaboration with law enforcement and I never thought that that would….it took me a while. You know in my youth I had to let go of that “screw the man” mentality and I started to realize that is not how you make change. You make change from the inside.

It’s not fair but you do have to be taken seriously first. You have to be invited to the table before you can start to change the conversation. So I learned that one the hard way but it didn’t usually include the idea of cops. Now that they are there and we are sitting there together I’m really glad because I feel we have an even better chance of making real impact in our community.

DOUG McVAY: Reporting live from Portland, Oregon for the Drug Truth Network this is Doug McVay with Common Sense for Drug Policy. Find us online at http://www.drugtruth.net.


DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Doug. Be sure to tune in next week. We’ll have much more from the Harm Reduction Conference.


TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Legal cannabis and the world did not end.

Well, it’s been a couple weeks since Washington State and Colorado legalized cannabis and the world has not ended so that debunks one myth put out by drug warriors and the DEA has not sent legions of agents out to arrest those pesky citizens yet. In fact it has been strangely silent regarding this issue but what has happened is that Rhode Island and Maine have announced cannabis legalization bills.

The news outlets are all over the legal cannabis thing and I’m hearing very little that is negative. The momentum seems to be growing and good things could happen. We could be on the verge of ending this terribly failed public policy known as the War on Drugs - ending it after 4 decades and tens of millions of lives ruined with arrest records and tens of thousands of people killed and over 1.2 trillion dollars wasted.

The government of Mexico is planning on sending a representative to Washington, D.C. to discuss continuing the failed efforts in Mexico that have resulted in over 50,000 Mexican citizens dead in the last 5 years. Several countries met recently in Costa Rico and openly discussed the way forward in the War on Drugs.

How will this all turn out? That is what everyone is asking and no one really knows the answer yet. This would be a real good opportunity to do the right thing and remove cannabis from Schedule I controlled substance. If they do that and they have the guts to do that then the war on cannabis is over and the rest of the argument is about regulation and control of its manufacture and distribution.

It must be a good feeling for those living in those two states that now have legal cannabis that they can enjoy cannabis without being harassed and arrested by the local police. Colorado has reported that they are disbanding their federal drug task force over lack of funding and those cops will be reassigned to real police work.

They can and will still make arrests if you are packing over an ounce and driving under the influence of any drug that are still illegal so don’t do it.

We at LEAP are going to continue our efforts to expand our organization in Europe and South America and keep up our work on ending prohibition. We know that we are far from winning but we are motivated by the success that the voters have had in the polls this year.

The best way to deal with our drug problems are through education and treatment and not by arrest and incarceration. We can keep millions of people out of jail, save thousands of lives if we can end prohibition and change the way we handle our drug problems.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, http://www.leap.cc signing off. Stay safe.



This pot’s so good that when I smoke it the government freaks out.


DEAN BECKER: Here to close us out is a segment produced by the Travel Channel in Panama.


TONY BORDAIN: We’re going somewhere. I’m not sure where because I gather it’s classified. Bullet proof vests for all of us? OK.

All I know is my new pal Gustavo Perez who used to work with Manny back in the day but is now the face of the new democratic law and order administration is very excited. He says I’m going to have a good time. So what’s with all the soldiers and all the guns? What’s it all about one might be forgiven for wondering.

One minute me and the crew are sitting in the offices of the director of National Security, a little courtesy call, a cup of coffee and then suddenly this…

Holy F*ck! That’s a lot of mother-f*cking cocaine.

GUSTAVO PEREZ: 6 tons right here.

TONY BORDAIN: As director of National Security Gustavo is sending a message. He’s also invited me to do something I thought I’d never find myself doing in a million years – burn 6 freaking tons of pure, uncut cocaine.

(There will be no Lindsay Lohan jokes)

6 tons! Wholesale value?

GUSTAVO PEREZ: This is over 300 to 600 million.

TONY BORDAIN: So these are all kilo blocks.

GUSTAVO PEREZ: Yes, kilo blocks. You can imagine how many lines are in here.

TONY BORDAIN: 15 years ago this would have been what I ask Santa Claus to bring me for Christmas. It looks like Keith Richards bedspread back in the 70s.

Along with world peace and a magical pony that crapped gold Krugerrands.

How long does it take to accumulate 6 tons? I mean a lot of these operations take years.

GUSTAVO PEREZ: We done it in 42 days. We’ve been working. We caught 12 tons.

TONY BORDAIN: 12 tons of cocaine seized in 42 days. That’s like 300 kilos a day for over a month. Someone’s really good at their job.

Is there victory at the end?

GUSTAVO PEREZ: This is like the Red Sox against the Yankees.

TONY BORDAIN: It’s a close game.

GUSTAVO PEREZ: Close game. We sometimes see the light, sometimes don’t see the light.

TONY BORDAIN: I’m feeling a little tweaky like I should open a resturaunt lounge or maybe remake Water World or Top Gun 2 starring Zack Ephron. Yea, awesome and then maybe like make it a musical…great idea.

I like to say this is the first time I’ve cooked cocaine but that’s not exactly true. Smores anyone?

GUSTAVO PEREZ: Thank you very much.

TONY BORDAIN: Thanks for the fun…crack is whack.


DEAN BECKER: Once again I want to thank Doug McVay for his fine reporting. He works for Common Sense for Drug Policy, http://csdp.org He did some great reporting from the Harm Reduction Conference in Portland.

We will have much more for you next week. Be sure to tune in and, as always, I remind you there is no truth, justice, scientific fact, no medical data, no damn reason for this drug war to exist another second. Please do your part to help end this madness. Please visit our website, http://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 the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org