06/14/15 Doug McVay

This week: we hear from the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction about the new European Drug Report 2015, and we look ahead to theJune 26th Global Day of Action for Drug Policy Reform.

Century of Lies
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon COL061415.mp3



JUNE 14, 2015


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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you. And now, on with the show.

June 26th is the Global Day of Action For Drug Policy Reform. It's an event, really a series of events, organized by the Support Don't Punish campaign. In the US, there will be events in Oakland, San Francisco, and probably in New York City on that day. According to the organizers:

On Friday June 26th, thousands of activists in 100 cities around the world will make their voices heard as part of the global Support. Don’t Punish campaign. The campaign calls on governments to put an end to the expensive and counter-productive war on drugs. This war has failed to reduce drug use or supply, it costs in excess of $100 billion each year to enforce, it has led to the mass incarceration of the vulnerable and the poor, and it fuels human rights violations and HIV epidemics.

June 26th is also the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking -- a day which has traditionally been used by governments to ‘celebrate’ drug arrests, seizures and even executions. The Support, Don’t Punish “Global Day of Action” aims to change the narrative, and to highlight the need for a better approach.

In April 2016, governments will come together in New York for a major drugs summit – the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs, or UNGASS. This is a rare opportunity for high-level, open debate about the world drug problem, and what is -- and what is not -- working.

In the build-up to this summit, the “Global Day of Action” is a public show of force for better drug policies. A series of high-profile photo and video opportunities, meetings and seminars, concerts and publicity stunts will take place simultaneously around the world. On this day last year, events were held in 100 cities -- including street performances, street art, protests, music events, football tournaments, processions, and even a boat show in the Nile!

The Support, Don’t Punish campaign is a global initiative being led by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), the International Network of People who Use Drugs, Harm Reduction International, and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. It calls for investments in proven effective and cost-effective harm reduction responses for people who use drugs, and for the decriminalization of people who use drugs and the removal of other laws that impede public health services. For more information and resources about the campaign, visit www.supportdontpunish.org.

The campaign is also organizing to demonstrate support through social media, for those of us who can't make it to one of the public events. You can help expand the reach of the campaign by signing up for their thunderclap on twitter and facebook, there are links for that on the website at supportdontpunish.org.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction recently released its European Drug Report 2015. That report is a a top-level analysis of the latest trends across the 28 EU Member States, Turkey and Norway. In print and online in 24 languages, the report examines drug supply and the market; drug use and drug-related problems; and health and social responses to drug problems.

Right now, let's listen to the news conference on the release of the European Drug Report. The first voice you hear will be that of EMCDDA director Wolfgang Gotz. He does a short introduction and overview of the report, that's followed by questions from the audience. Those will be answered by Gotz along with the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Mr. Dimitris Avramopoulos, and also some technical experts and analysts including Paul Griffiths from the EMCDDA.

WOLFGANG GOTZ: In 1995, when we started working with just 15 member states, at the time the European drug policies was doing, was being driven by a heroin epidemic. The need to tackle heroin problems and reduce HIV transmission and AIDS-related deaths were paramount. Also these problems persist today. The responses needed are largely in place, and other emergencies -- emerging issues demand now our attention.

While heroin is still responsible for a major share of drug-related problems in Europe, recent trends in this area have been relatively positive. Declines in new recruitment into heroin use are illustrated by the fact that the number of people seeking treatment has more than halved since 2007. Heroin injection is in decline too, as well as new HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs.

One of the big success stories of the last 20 years has been the extension of treatment provision to drug users in need, with over half of Europe's 1.3 million opioid users now in substitution treatment. Nevertheless, providing an appropriate response for this group is still a challenge. Heroin dependence is a chronic condition, and thus we have warned for some years already, services must adapt to the needs of aging heroin users. Responses for this group are complicated by the consequences of long-term poly-substance use. For example, the misuse of benzodiazepines in combination with opioids creates a greater risk of overdose, and mortality rates continue to be unacceptably high for this group.

More than 6,000 overdose deaths were reported in the EU during 2013, but widespread responses to these problems are now being implemented, including overdose training for drug users and professionals, take-home naloxone programs, and in some countries the use of supervised drug consumption rooms. Despite outbreaks increased in Romania three years ago, the Commissioner mentioned them already, our estimate of 1,500 new HIV diagnoses is the lowest for a decade, and this is due, to a large extent, to the impact of targeted services and their continued provision is essential. However, high rates of hepatitis C infection among injecting drug users persist, new and effective anti-viral medications are now becoming available but treatment costs can be prohibitively high, and access to testing remains a concern.

If we now turn to the heroin market, the picture is mixed. Since 2009, the number of EU seizures shows a marked decline. The 5.6 tonnes of heroin seized in 2013 is among the lowest reported in the last 10 years. Nonetheless, we have a number of concerns here. First, recent UN estimates suggest substantial increase of Afghanistan's opium production. As you know, this is the country supplying most of Europe's heroin, and there are potential knock-on effects in terms of future availability. And second, there is also innovation in the supply of heroin to markets in Europe, shown for example in the detection of two heroin processing laboratories inside Europe, in Spain, as well as changes to trafficking routes.

While there are declines in heroin treatment entrance, I mentioned them, the numbers being treated for cannabis problems are increasing. Over 60,000 people entered treatment for cannabis problems for the first time in 2013, and cannabis remains Europe's most widely consumed illicit drug, with some 20 millions adults using it in the last year. Around 1 percent of European adults are daily cannabis users.

For some years now, the cannabis policy debate has assumed an international dimension, with initiatives to regulate the sale of cannabis in the Americas drawing global interest. In Europe, discussion largely remains focused on the potential health costs of cannabis. While cannabis-related emergencies are rare, data from emergency settings show these to be increasing.

And just as the drug is -- sorry, and just as the drug is -- sorry, just as the drug is consuming a growing share of treatment resources, cannabis remains the focus of Europe's law enforcement activity. Currently, cannabis accounts for 80 percent of all drug seizures, while cannabis use or possession for personal use accounts for 63 percent of Europe's 1.25 million drug law offenses. Sentencing practices for cannabis-related supply offenses indicate considerable diversity between countries, with penalties for a first-time supply offense of 1 kilo of cannabis ranging from 1 to 10 years in prison.

Europe's stimulant market is defined by several competing products, including cocaine, amphetamine, ecstasy, and a growing number of new drugs. Cocaine remains Europe's most commonly used stimulant, used by around 2.3 million young adults in the last year. Young adults means 34 or younger. An estimated 1.8 million used ecstasy, and 1.3 million used amphetamines. Trends in the medium term for these stimulants include an -- indicate overall stabilization or decline, but new patterns of use, as well as high potency products, are of concern. The injection of methamphetamine and synthetic cathonones, such as mephedrone or MTPV, are evolving localized problems in groups of high-risk, high-risk drug users in some countries.

Increases in purity for most of the commonly used drugs, including cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin, these increases are evident. This raises concerns for the health of users who knowingly or not are consuming stronger products. With cannabis, we have seen domestically produced high potency herbal products take an increasing market share in recent years. Now, the data show an increase for imported resin, which is probably linked to new production practices, for example in Morocco. Similarly, high purity MDMA powder and tablets are now more available. Behind this is probably a deliberate strategy, along with the use of distinctive shapes and logos to make them more attractive to consumers.

Together with Europol, we have issued a number of public health alerts on the risk of consuming such products. And following a series of deaths, alerts were also issued on ecstasy tablets containing other harmful substances, such as for example PMMA. PMMA is an amphetamine type stimulant which is controlled since 2002, thanks to our early warning system and risk assessment mechanism. Technical innovation and market competition are among the factors behind the increasing purity of many illicit drugs. The quality of synthetic drugs is largely driven by the availability of precursor chemicals. And for the first time, we now have data on seizures and stopped shipments of drug precursors. These data confirm that both scheduled and non-scheduled substances are being used for synthetic drug production in the European Union.

With regard to market competition, the availability of new psychoactive substances appears to play a role. In some national markets, high quality synthetic cannabinoids and cathonones represent a real alternative to low-quality and relatively more expensive established drugs. The pace with which new drugs are emerging continues to accelerate, with around two new substances detected every week in the European Union, and the 101 new substances of last year which Commissioner Avramopoulos already mentioned. They include 31 synthetic cathonones and 30 synthetic cannabinoids. These substances are often sold respectively as legal replacements for stimulants and cannabis. Synthetic cathonones and cannabinoids are also the most commonly seized new substances, representing 61 percent of the 35,000 seizures of new psychoactive substances reported in 2013.

Work to determine the level of use of these new drugs is progressing and several countries now incorporate the prevalence of new psychoactive substances in their national drug surveys, in their regular surveys. The results from the Flash Eurobarometer survey of over 13,000 young people, young means here 24 and younger, report that overall 8 percent of young people have tried a so-called legal high at some point in their life.

In most EU countries, the prevalence of use of these substances appears to be low. However, due to the severe toxicity of some new psychoactive substances, even limited use can be a concern. Health and social responses to new psychoactive substances are now gaining momentum. They mirror the full range of responses to the more established drugs and include for example drug education, internet-based interventions, and needle and syringe exchange programs.

Ladies and gentlemen, The upcoming new European Agenda on Security 2015–2020 acknowledges the dynamic character of the drugs problem. In particular, its connections to organised crime and the evolving threat of market innovation in the production and sale of drugs. As drug-related threats develop, monitoring systems must evolve to keep pace with these changes. Effective monitoring lies at the core of robust information for decision making.

Over the last two decades, European drug policy has been moving in constant progression from ideology to evidence. And the European Union and its Member States have been particularly successful in introducing their unifying values -- freedom, democracy, rights -- they have introduced it into drug policy in Europe and the member states. But many parts of the world have not yet followed such an approach. The Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drugs Problem, the UNGASS 2016, Commissioner Avramopoulos has mentioned it already, it is fast approaching and I too believe that the European Union has a crucial role there -- to speak with a unified and loud voice, to bring more Europe into world drugs policy.

I believe that all regions of the world need to let science and objective and reliable information inform the political debate and contribute to political decisions -- just as the European Monitoring Centre has been doing in Europe for the last 20 years. Ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply convinced that for a more effective drug policy approach in the future, we need more faith in evidence and more Europe internationally. I thank you very much for your attention.

KATHRYN ROBERTSON: Thank you very much, Wolfgang. I'd now like to open the floor for the question and answer session. Technical and specialized questions around the report will be taken by the EMCDDA's staff. If you have a question, if you could just state your name and your, your news entity, and who the question is for. Okeh? Thank you. The floor's open. Inda?

INDA RUGINE [sic]: Yes, my name is Inda Rugine [sic], I'm a journalist from Mexico, from Reforma Newspaper. Mr. Wolfgang Gotz, 20 years your organization has been monitoring drug use. Have you ever found a death related, a death related to cannabis use? Have you ever in these 20 years? If not, we see that 60 percent of the, all reported drug law offenses are related to cannabis. Why not to legalize cannabis if we cannot pose so much problem? And Commissioner, you mentioned the summit next year. Which will be the position of the European Commission, are you open to listen to the scientific community and the professors that are calling for legalization of some drugs?

WOLFGANG GOTZ: Yeah, thank you very much for this question. I know quite a lot of emergencies, emergency cases of cannabis. I do not know any deaths where it was just cannabis indicated, but we have to see that drug related deaths and, I would say the standard consumption patterns today in Europe is poly-drug use, and in many poly-drug use cases and deaths, poly-drug use deaths, cannabis played a role.

The question of legalization is a question I think I'm not really the one who can say we should do that or not do that, or how to do it. You know, our agency is an agency that is committed to objective and reliable comparable information, but what's happening in the world regarding legalization or regulation of cannabis is our job to follow that, and to describe and analyze and see what's happening in the world. What we see today is a situation that the discussion is largely driven by the Americas, Americas means as well United States as Latin America.

In the United States, you have a certain number of states where you have already for some time, and it's going further and further, where you have quite easy access to medical cannabis, like California is possibly the most prominent one, and you have in recent years or year, in last year, you had some states that allow cannabis distribution under some rules for sure, like tobacco or other substances, and I think the most known case might be Colorado, with, where this is very much market-driven, a lot of business involved. You have Washington state, and I think now what's coming up is Massachusetts, Ariz -- Alaska, there might be other ones.

You have on the other side, cases like Uruguay, where I think with a lot of scientific backing and thinking and also scientifically accompany the issue, where they are going to have another model, a more state-controlled model of cannabis distribution, but also easy access for the population. In Europe, I think, I do not know any government or parliamentary majority backing a government that is currently seriously discussing cannabis legalization or regulation in a different way.

What you see in Europe, very much, is the discussion in the civil society, you see it in some minority factions in parliaments, but I think the main case and the main discussion we have in Europe is, what are the costs through cannabis, mainly the health costs but also law enforcement costs, I gave you a few figures and you mentioned some of them. And the other discussion is, which is I think in Europe quite accepted everywhere, is that a drug consumer and I would say a cannabis consumer in particular, should not be criminalized, and I think that is very much where we are in Europe. I don't see a discussion for the moment coming up, as it is for, at the level of the Americas. But we have among us here today a delegation of members of the Irish parliament, and we will talk tomorrow about cannabis with them, and I can tell you this is not the first delegation we have, we had many parliamentarians who come to us in recent times and want to see a bit, what's the discussion and they follow their travel to the Americas. But currently it has not reached a level where I see that really a country is changing its approach.

DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS: Well, what should I add to what Mr. Gotz said? He is the specialist. As I said in my introduction, all issues will be discussed in New York. But, let me tell you something about the European Union's position on that. You know that cannabis is considered as an illicit drug. According to European treaties, it is within the competence of member states, the European Union compliments and supports member states, to talk of this issue. But so far, no European Union action is foreseen in that respect. Medical use of cannabis herb and medicines containing cannabis substances are legal, it is true in several EU countries, but on a European level, it is what I told before.

KATHRYN ROBERTSON: Paul, would you like to add something?

PAUL GRIFFITHS: I won't add on the policy issue because I think that's been well elaborated. But just to say that the EMCDDA participated in a WHO expert review of the health consequences of cannabis use recently, and although that report is still forthcoming, I think you're correct in saying that cannabis is not associated at a high risk of overdose deaths, but that there now is convincing case literature on a small number of deaths related to cannabis use, usually these are related to cardiovascular issues, and it's an increasingly, it's a rare but well-documented phenomenon.

I'd also note one of the concerns of that meeting and certainly a concern of our report, is increasing potency of many of the strains of cannabis now available in the market. And we also see this as a big policy concern in the US, where they've tried to develop now a regulated market. And certainly some of these very high potency forms of cannabis we're concerned about, both their acute and possible long-term implications, and would note from our report this year on the fact that cannabis is now the major drug reported in new entrance to drug treatment across Europe, so I think member states are looking very carefully cost and benefits of different policy approaches, and again our report highlights the huge cost to the criminal justice system of having a large, unregulated market, which includes violent and other forms of crime, within the European, but at the same time I think our understanding of the health consequences of this drug are growing, so it's a very nuanced and complicated policy question, and I think you'll see that if you look within our report.

KATHRYN ROBERTSON: Thank you, Paul. Can I take the next question? Yes, Alan.

ALAN TRAVIS: Alan Travis from the Guardian newspaper. Commissioner, I was interested in your comments about legal highs, new psychoactive substances and the booming trade in them, and you mentioned that you believed a strong and coherent response was needed at the European level. Your EU legislation on this issue has not yet appeared for some time now, I wondered if it was possible to say why that was the case, it being so delayed, and when it might come? Thank you.

DIMITRIS AVRAMOPOULOS: Maybe now that we have proposed the legislative package on new psychoactive substances already in September 2013, while the European Parliament fully supported and backed our proposals, the Commission's proposals, the file did not move forwards, did not advance in the Council. It is true to say that some member states raised the concerns in relation to the choice of a concrete legal basis. I'm committed to work closely with the Council and of course with the Parliament to find a solution. So, this is the framework within which we work right now. For us, in the European Commission, the three main priorities are: Terrorism, organized crime, and cybercrime. But we believe that they constitute security threats with the cross-border dimension. So, the framework set out in this agenda is also adaptable to other major issues that might evolve in the future.

DOUG MCVAY: That was a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal, to announce the release of the 2015 European Drug Report by the EU's drug monitoring agency, the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction. The European Drug Report and annual national reports from all the various EU member nations are available through their website at emcdda.europa.eu.

Now that's really all the time we have today. I want to thank you for listening. This is Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. We come to you once a week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and the fight to end it.

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We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.