10/11/21 Allan Clear

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Allan Clear
Harm Reduction Coalition

Allan Clear was for decades the Executive Director of the massive drug reform organization the Harm Reduction Coalition. Allan is now the Director of the New York State Department of Health, AIDS Institute's Office of Drug User Health where he is responsible for program planning, design and implementation related to drug user health, including HIV and HCV prevention and access to care.

Audio file

11/07/18 Shannon Riley

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Shannon Riley
Harm Reduction Coalition

Shannon Riley of Vancouver Coastal Health, Shiloh Murphy of Natl Drug Users Union, Lynell Clancy of Harm Reduction Svc, Elizabeth Macintosh of HIPS, Greg May of Indiana & Jasmine Budnella of Vocal NY. Recorded at Harm Reduction Conference New Orleans.

Audio file


NOVEMBER 7, 2018


DEAN BECKER: Hello folks, this is Cultural Baggage, and I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High. We've got a lot of great stuff coming to you this week from New Orleans and the harm reduction conference. Let's go.

SHANNON RILEY: My name is Shannon Riley, the last name is Riley.

DEAN BECKER: And, you're here representing Insite, which as I understand it is a Canadian harm reduction outfit that allows for safe injection and safe consumption. I understand that they've gone beyond just injection at this point. Correct?

SHANNON RILEY: That's right, and just a little correction. So, I work for Vancouver Coastal Health, and there's two organizations that work with Insite, and that's the Portland Hotel Society and Vancouver Coastal Health, they collaborate with Insite. And so I was front line at Insite a few years ago, and currently I'm working more on expansion of places to consume drugs.

And so yeah, it has changed from only injection, and it's not only injection anymore. We allow oral and snorting, which is still not addressing the need for all the people that are smoking. Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Well, now, you know, I find it interesting that you guys have been in existence since, for how long now?

SHANNON RILEY: Well, Insite's having its fifteenth anniversary this year. Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: And, thus far, there's been how many overdose deaths in the facility?




DEAN BECKER: Okeh. And tell us why that is, what's -- what makes the difference?

SHANNON RILEY: You know, it really is having people there to observe you, right when you use. Right? Just to see that exact moment of use, because people can overdose within seconds.


SHANNON RILEY: And so, to have someone to observe you when you're using prevents death. It's that simple.

DEAN BECKER: Well now, here in the United States, we've had cities, Ithaca, New York, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and even my city of Houston has dabbled in the idea of a safe consumption facility. Thus far, everybody's afraid of the federal government coming down upon them. From my perspective, it seems that it is a lack of compassion that's preventing us here. What is your thought in that regard?

SHANNON RILEY: Compassion? I'm not -- you know, I don't know if it's -- I don't know what my thoughts are on compassion, but I would say, in our overdose emergency, we've been able to expand our supervised consumption spaces because of the emergency.

We have been able to use our provincial emergency to open up spaces that we now call overdose prevention sites, which essentially provides a space for people to be observed, and it doesn't have all the regulations that a federal exemption requires, like Insite, or the other ones that are called basically supervised consumption spaces.

Those are federally exempted sites, and so, now we have a lot of overdose prevention sites across the country, which, honestly, doesn't even have to have a sink. It just has to be a room, it has to be a place where people can come to to be observed and not be in the alley, and to have somebody there to watch them and to be able to respond with either naloxone or oxygen if they're to overdose.

So we have so many of those, and we have actually, in Vancouver, we have 22 in housing. Yeah. It's incredible.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that is something. Now, my recollection of Insite, it was a fairly large space with several cubicles, very clean, sterile looking, and then I guess a couple of observation rooms where they could see all of this going on. Right?

SHANNON RILEY: Yeah, that's true. Great lighting, it's a really -- it's a really established space, and it's really medicalized, and that works for some people, but not all people, and all the overdose prevention sites that we have are non-medical, so they are run by people with lived experience or current lived experience. So it's nice to have a variety of different models to appeal to people that need different things.



DEAN BECKER: Now, you know, it's been my hope over the now decades that the United States would recognize what you guys have done at Insite, what has been accomplished, the saving I guess of thousands of potential lives over those decades.

SHANNON RILEY: Yeah, you know, when Insite won its victory against the Supreme Court in 2003, I thought it was going to happen really fast, too. In Canada, I thought it was just going to blow up and we were going to have so many sites, and it took at least another ten years to have one more.

And now we're growing, so this is many years later for Canada to even like establish more, since that hearing, so I don't expect the States to be on it as fast as that. But I hope that with all of the movement in Canada that it will eventually just have to happen. Right? But, it has been slow, it really has been slower than I thought. It has been slower than I thought, considering how advanced Europe is in this area.

DEAN BECKER: Right, and let's address that for a second. I spent part of this year in Lisbon and Bern, in Switzerland, and, I talked to the drug czar of Portugal.


DEAN BECKER: He seemed to so open to this need for respect to drug users.


DEAN BECKER: To not push them further underground, so to speak, and that's what we do in the United States, is disrespect people who use drugs, to consider their lives less than worthy. Your thought there.

SHANNON RILEY: Yeah, there's so much work we have to do on stigma, and valuing the lives of people that are using illicit substances, and considering that treating medical needs that are not being treated by the system that we currently have. So, we have so much work to do in that area. But I think stigma and I think that is -- that is where the work is.

DEAN BECKER: All right, once again we've been speaking with Shannon Riley, she works with Vancouver Coastal Health and supports the Insite safe consumption facility up there. Any closing thoughts, a website you might want to share, Shannon?

SHANNON RILEY: You know, I think the things that I would share are some of the work that I'm specifically doing, is working on safer washrooms. People die in washrooms all the time, and we've developed a checksheet that can really help people assess the safety of their washroom.

And that's available online, if you just search Vancouver Coastal Health and washroom checklist or checksheet, you'll find this checklist, and it will help you make some simple decisions, just even by getting a master key that's available for all of your staff, or even the way your doors swing for your bathroom stalls. If they swing in, then someone can fall against that door and can delay response time if someone's overdosed.

So, check out that sheet for, you know, the other space where people are using now, you know, especially when they don't have other options.

DEAN BECKER: All right, I'm here at the harm reduction conference. They tell me there's two thousand people, and I'm not meeting too many that I know as of yet, but I just ran into one I certainly have known for years now, Mister Shiloh Murphy. How are you doing?

SHILOH MURPHY: Hi. I'm doing great.

DEAN BECKER: Shiloh, you're based in Seattle, right?

SHILOH MURPHY: Yeah, I'm based in Seattle, but I work a national drug user union that's all over the country. I'm with the Urban Survivors Union, and they do -- and they have chapters in Seattle, San Francisco, Greensboro, and affiliates all over the country.

DEAN BECKER: And we're hoping someday you guys can come to Houston and help us down there, because we sure need the help. Something just happened in San Francisco, where they were going to open up a safe consumption room, basically, and the governor shut it down because he was afraid of the feds. Your thoughts in that regard, please.

SHILOH MURPHY: Well, I am really disappointed, and I feel like he had an opportunity to save the lives of his citizens, and he's chosen not to, and I think, to be perfectly honest, every single death of overdose that happens from here until now, until they open, it's really on Jerry Brown's head.

And I think, you know, I congratulate San Francisco and I congratulate many other cities who've stepped out and said, you know, what we want, we really want to do these things. We need to save lives, and these are based on science, and, you know, I really get frustrated with people who are just, bigotry, anti-science, when it comes to saving people's lives.

And these, because these are people's mothers, their daughters, they're their brothers, they're their uncles, and these lives matter. And 72,000 people died last year, you know, and we go on and on about how bad the Vietnam War was and the death toll, but, you know, we're ignoring people in our own country that are like right here now.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and talk about a drug war, that's a lot of damned casualties, isn't it?

SHILOH MURPHY: Yeah, and it's -- it's a war that was declared on its own citizens. I mean, think about that. I think people don't really take that into consideration. We declared war on Americans. You know, we talk about how much we didn't want the war in Afghanistan, or how much it costs, the war in Iraq, but, you know, we declared war on ourselves. Right?

These are people who no longer are going to be able to, they've died, they went to prison, they can't be part of our society. They won't be the artists, the engineers of tomorrow, because we've declared war on them.

We're doing everything we can to destroy our own country, and our own spirit, and I feel like it's the most anti-American thing you could ever do.

DEAN BECKER: No, I, you nailed it, buddy. I tell you what, we have here these two thousand people that we're attending this conference with. Hope. We've got a chance to change this, do we not?

SHILOH MURPHY: Yeah, I think we have to change it, and I think it's really going to be around building people's self worth. And I think we need to start talking to people in our community, and we need to stop the shaming, and we need to start reminding people that we love them, and we care for them, and we want the best for them.

And we really need to stop talking about how people should go to treatment, and start building those treatment centers and start building those access points for folks, and we need to get away from the old system of, you know, pick yourself up by your bootstraps, because that doesn't necessarily work for folks, because if you're caught in so much trauma and you create this cycle of trauma, you know.

And I also think, you know, this is something that I've been really hitting more and more, is, a lot of people in legal states of marijuana have been using marijuana to get off opiates, and using like dabs, specifically, for folks who are smoking heroin, to slowly detox off of heroin, and it's been really successful. And I think we need to start investing in any possible treatment for folks.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I've been speaking with Mister Shiloh Murphy, based in Seattle but going national with his efforts. Shiloh, a website you might want to recommend?

SHILOH MURPHY: I would say, the, is the organization that's in the northwest and, I think the Harm Reduction Coalition has a great website, but if you really want to fight and make real change, there's the Drug Policy Alliance website, and they are really, really stepping up and fighting the great fights.

LYNELL CLANCY: It's Lynell Clancy, like the author, with no money. I work for an organization called Harm Reduction Services, and I volunteer with a needle exchange called Safer Alternatives Through Networking And Education.

DEAN BECKER: And, you told me you're based in Sacramento?

LYNELL CLANCY: Yes, Sacramento, California.

DEAN BECKER: So much variance in what's actually being done for drug users around the country, would you agree with that thought?

LYNELL CLANCY: I agree with that thought, but that's what harm reduction is, it's helping each person reduce their own harm, which there's no cookie cutter model for. Different in different states, cities, counties, it's what works from where you are.

DEAN BECKER: Right, but then, we have states like Texas, where they voted in a needle exchange program, but then the mayor of the city where it was going to be allowed said hell, not in my back yard, and it's just never happened as of yet.

We do have some underground, if you will, needle exchanges going on in the big cities, but it's not given the same largess, it's not giving the -- given the respect, and utilization, like in cities like yours.

LYNELL CLANCY: Well, we ran an underground needle exchange for, it's been going now for 25 years and most of it was underground. We just now, in the state of California, in the actually the capitol of the state of California, we just a few days ago made it, or they voted to make it legal in the county. It's been legal in the city for years, but it just now became legal in the county of Sacramento.

DEAN BECKER: So I guess that underscores what I was saying, you never know.

LYNELL CLANCY: We did it anyway.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and, that's the hell of it is, I think very few politicians, very few officials, are willing to be that ogre, to be that monster that would stop such an effort. What's your thought there.

LYNELL CLANCY: Oh, that's *****. They don't mind being that at all. They, especially in our state capitol, we have a lot of Republicans, and they're -- and they really don't give a **** one way or another. Promotes drug use is the way that they state it.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, and again, I've got a daytime show, most of this, or those words will not make it. But -- no, it's good to express yourself, I do appreciate that, I often wish I could use those words on air, to be honest.

LYNELL CLANCY: Part of who I am.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. No, no, I understand. Now, you've been doing this work for how long?

LYNELL CLANCY: Twenty-five years.

DEAN BECKER: Twenty-five years. And tell us about the progress that was made over those 25 years, what was it like in the beginning. What caused the change, what enabled you to move further?

LYNELL CLANCY: Well, at the beginning, we were told point blank that if we were caught doing syringe exchange, we would be arrested, we would be prosecuted, and we would be put in jail.


LYNELL CLANCY: And, actually that did happen.


LYNELL CLANCY: But, what we did was we started a model that got the syringes out in the same network that the drugs got out, and that's how we -- we work from a model where we distribute to people who distribute syringes to people that they know. We have to visit less people. We train the people that we exchange with on many different harm reduction items, I guess you could say.

And that's how our model works, and it's different than other people's models, different models work in different areas.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Like, my city of Houston, I'm aware of a couple of drop offs, or whatever you want to call it, where they show up, under a bridge, under an overpass, to make those needle exchanges, and the cops look the other way. They really don't want to interfere. The word is getting out that it is of benefit.

LYNELL CLANCY: It's definite -- you're going to spend a couple of cents on a syringe, and you're going to save thousands and thousands of dollars on people not transmitting hepatitis C or HIV. You can pay for it up front, or you can pay for it at the back.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. All right, well, I'll tell you what, I do appreciate you taking time to talk with us. Is there a website, some closing thoughts you'd want to relay?

LYNELL CLANCY: You can go to, and you can see we do quite a few different things. You can -- you can go to Sacramento needle exchange, and both sites will come up because one of them is a site base, where people come onto them, and then we have our mobile, where we go out and -- people call us and we go out and we exchange with them and with their friends. So, different models. In the same city.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Frequent, prolonged, or bothersome erections, birth defects, enlarged genitals, premature pubic hair, increased libido, aggressive behavior, male pattern baldness, increased acne, prostate cancer, and, time's up! The answer, from Cerner Multum Incorporated: Axiron, for muscle gain and boners.

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: Elizabeth Macintosh.

DEAN BECKER: Elizabeth, who do you work for, what brings you to this conference?

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: I work for HIPS in Washington, DC. We started as a sex worker outreach organization in 1993. Since then we evolved to work with everybody involved in street economies, so people who trade sex, people who use and sell drugs, even that guy at the intersection selling DVDs and oils. Anybody who may need our help.

We were one of the first harm reduction agencies in DC, and we've been coming to this conference since the beginning, for years and years and years.

DEAN BECKER: No, I've seen you guys's booth, and probably had an interview or two over those years I've been, I don't know, it's my seventh or eighth conference. You know, it occurs to me that many times, drug users are compelled to become sex workers, and or the reverse of that. It just seems to coincide many times over. Would you agree with that thought?

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: I definitely agree, and, you know, that's one of the reasons why we put street economies in our mission statement. A lot of the people we see don't identify as sex workers or drug users, they're just saying they've got to do what they've got to do to survive.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And that's becoming more contagious, or certainly happening more these days, with, you know, the fat cats are getting richer but the rest of us are not really doing that well. Your thought there, please.

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: I agree, and we're definitely seeing that in Washington, DC, especially, I don't know, I've been in DC now for 15 years. DC is now more white than black. It's more affluent, young white people moving in, and the people of color, specifically the black people, are getting pushed out. They've been there for generations and generations and you can't afford to live there anymore.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's becoming, even my city of Houston, you know, the, my house has damn near doubled in value in the last ten years, not that I did any improvements, mind you, but it's just the way it's going. People are being priced out of the economy.

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: They're being priced out, and they're also being politically pushed out. A lot of these people moving into DC are not from DC. They're not part of the culture. As they're moving in, a lot of the corner stores, family owned businesses, are shutting down, and it's just -- it's a different place. It's a different place that's pushing our population out.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Elizabeth, we've got two thousand people here. What has been the response during this conference to your efforts? What are you hearing from folks?

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: I mean, HIPS has been coming to these conferences since the beginning. We're seeing a lot of people that we've been seeing for the last 25 years. This conference in particular, we're seeing a lot more younger people, a lot more people doing research, a lot more people doing community organizing and advocacy, so it's been interesting to kind of see the harm reduction world evolve.

DEAN BECKER: Right. All right, well, let's close it out here. What would you like to relay, is there a website you'd want to point folks toward?

ELIZABETH MACINTOSH: Yeah, definitely. If you want to learn more about HIPS, you should go to, or you can join us on Facebook,, and my final words to people out there are to be nice to sex workers and be nice to drug users.

GREG MAY: Greg May. It's my first harm reduction conference, I'm just here to see what I can learn and take back to Indiana and share with folks at the county government, and then, I work for a community mental health center, so see how we can better integrate harm reduction practices into the day to day work.

DEAN BECKER: Well, tell me about the work you do there, sir.

GREG MAY: So, I have two roles. One role is I'm a commissioner on the opioid awareness commission, which is a commission that was created in the county that I live in by county commissioners to like bring a plan of action to help address the opioid issue in our community.

And then I'm the director of administration for Centerstone, which is a community mental health center, providing services to adults with severe and chronic mental illness and substance use disorders. So, we just provide all kinds of services related to that.

DEAN BECKER: Well, that's a very worthy endeavor to be involved in. I see it like this, that we have drugs that are not what they are purported to be, you know, heroin's not even heroin anymore, the opiates are quite often these days fentanyl, carfentanyl, even more deadly. Have you encountered that situation?

GREG MAY: I've heard of those situations in our community, where people think they're buying something, they use it, and then they find out that it's something else.

DEAN BECKER: Do you find that the drugs are a complicator of the mental health disturbance?

GREG MAY: I think it depends on the condition. I think if it's more of an organic psychiatric condition that may have been there, I think drugs certainly exacerbate it, but then I think there are times where people take some kind of synthetic drug that's been mixed with something, they don't know what it is, and then it creates a psychosis that they usually have to live with it for the rest of their life, because it typically -- it's not resolving in most cases.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I know, it's no probably your bailiwick, but in Houston, where I'm from, they have large problems with this stuff called synthetic marijuana, has nothing to do with marijuana, but it causes them to pass out. Some of them get paralyzed and a few have even died. Do you run into that in your environs?

GREG MAY: Yeah, in our community it's called Spice, and it was probably two years ago, it was a big problem in the downtown area, and people were, like, overdosing and passing out, and vomiting, and it -- yeah. So, we've seen that.

DEAN BECKER: Did you see that the current methodology, this belief in drug war, is it helping your efforts or is it hindering your efforts?

GREG MAY: I think that it hinders the efforts, because the attention becomes on the drug war and not getting people access to care and getting them connected to the things that would allow them to live their life differently, should they want to.

DEAN BECKER: Advice you might give to parents?

GREG MAY: I think the advice is to remember that at the end of the day, they're your kid, and this is a, you know, medical condition that people need treatment for, and there's treatment that works, and, you know, hate the disease, not the person.

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Jasmine Budnella from VOCAL New York.

DEAN BECKER: Now, we've talked in the past on the Drug Truth Network about your efforts up that way. What is this year bringing, what's unfolding as we speak?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: So, we are still waiting for the governor to sign off on the overdose prevention center pilots, so, we have been signaled that that would happen after the elections, and now that it's right around the corner, we're really looking forward to either continuing the pressure or moving forward on the pilots.

Another thing that we're really working on this year is, we, are the End Overdose New York Coalition, so we want to look at all the different ways that we can end overdose. So now that we have a pilot program perhaps coming out, with the governor signing off, hopefully, we are also looking at expanding universal access to medication assisted treatment.

And so we're looking at multiple different access points where folks can get involved in medication assisted treatment. So one thing we're pushing this year with our colleagues at Drug Policy Alliance is medication assisted treatment in prisons and jails throughout the state.

One thing we're really excited to work with one of our council members in New York City, is getting buprenorphine providers and linkage to methadone clinics in New York City shelters across the city. Overdose is the leading cause of death for people who live in shelters, so this will be a really great opportunity to engage folks.

And then the other thing that we're looking at is like how to model really great models of buprenorphine providers that are throughout the state. So there's this wonderful model in Ithaca, run by Doctor Justine Waldman, who's doing really great, so we're looking at if there's a regulatory, a financial, or a legislative change or shift that we need to do that we can expand access all across the state.

DEAN BECKER: We've both heard the sad news coming out of California, Governor Brown in essence vetoed the safe consumption facility, for fear of federal interference. But I hear good things coming out of Ithaca, in particular that they -- they're standing boldly as they possibly can. What's happening there? Any chance of that safe consumption room occurring there?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yes, both Ithaca's mayor and New York City's mayor, both have said we continue to stand in support of these, and we continue to want to move this forward. I think what -- the devastating news of Governor Brown kind of signaled that, one, he is not standing up against Trump for drug users, and so here, we're really looking at Governor Cuomo, who, in his debate against Cynthia Nixon, continually repeated that he would always stand up to Trump, and Trump's policies.

So now we're saying, you're going to stand up to Trump and Trump's policies, and you have to do it and make it inclusive, including the lives and voices of drug users.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it's, statistics, 72,000 dead last year, that seems to be awakening our, swinging that cat, so to speak, somehow, that people are more willing to get off the high center that they once occupied and to begin at least discussing the possibility for change. Your thought there, please.

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yeah, I think it's more of a wake up call that we're losing somebody every eight minutes and it's devastating. I think that now we're opening conversations of what that looks like today. CNN, as I was getting ready this morning, there was a poll of how many Americans believe that safer consumption spaces should be implemented, and I believe it was like 76 percent or 78 percent, and obviously it was a quick Tweet poll, but it's opening conversation.

I think now, especially with midterms coming up and elections next year, is that we have an opportunity as a movement to really push electeds as well as candidates to say that if you're going to come out as somebody who is supposedly going to help shape our nation, either our city or country, you know, or state, then you are not going to get elected unless you make that -- unless you make the overdose crisis a priority.

And so we have an opportunity to do that. The political will of the movement is there, the energy of the movement is there, the political will of some of our ally electeds. I think right now it's our opportunity to really shape that narrative, and put the pressure on.

DEAN BECKER: I considered going before my city council, my county commissioners, to, not pressure them, but just to awaken them to this need for change, that this change is happening, and that history will not be kind to those who waited too long to begin to recognize those possibilities. Your thought.

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yeah, that's exactly right. That is exactly right, and VOCAL New York, you know, we're a membership led organization, so, we have our users union, and we're angry. Like, we cannot wait any longer, and you're right that history will not be kind to those folks.

And so what we're saying now, as a users union, as VOCAL New York, as Drug Policy Alliance, Harm Reduction Coalition, you know, all of our allies, is that we are literally taking it to their offices and we will do whatever it takes. I think we have the great legacy and we're kind of standing on the shoulders of AIDS activism, and what happened there, and now we can utilize strategies and wisdom from a lot of folks who are still here who were in ACT UP!, to see like how they did it, but also, you know, revolutionize kind of the way we talk about it when we go to electeds offices.

And like, we cannot be kind anymore, like, we need to be aggressive in really, exactly what you said, that history will not be kind, and no moments we can spare. Like, we have to do this now, and we have to be aggressive. Yeah.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we've been speaking with Jasmine Budnella of VOCAL New York. Any closing thoughts, a website you might want to share?

JASMINE BUDNELLA: Yeah, just follow us on Twitter, and sending a lot of love and hugs to everybody, and keep up the good fight.

DEAN BECKER: It was a sad tale on election night, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Cruz and Beto going head to head again for president in 2020, and again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

10/24/18 Monique Tula

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Monique Tula
Harm Reduction Coalition

From New Orleans, Harm Reduction Conference with HRC Exec Dir Monique Tula, Gary Langis, John Koch & Denise Cullen from GRASP

Audio file


OCTOBER 24, 2018


DEAN BECKER: We open with the sound of the calliope on the steamship Natchez. This is Cultural Baggage, I am Dean Becker, and this week we go to New Orleans to attend the Twelfth National Harm Reduction Conference.

GARY LANGIS: I'm Gary Langis, I'm from Gloucester, Massachusetts.

DEAN BECKER: Okeh, now, Gary, we're here at this Harm Reduction Conference. There's apparently they said two thousand or so people showing up for this, from around the country, some from around the world. What's your first impression, what are you learning here?

GARY LANGIS: I knew there were a lot of folks going to be here this year, a lot of young folks that are, you know, just coming into, you know, the movement, and I saw it as an opportunity, really, to, you know, like, leave some kind of message for, you know, meet some of the new folks, meet them, let them, you know, understand where we really, you know, where we came from, and, with the syringe exchange, took a long, long time, it's still taking a long time because we have so much, you know, we have so much further to go.

With the naloxone, it worked a little faster, and I honestly, honestly believe that it's because of the population that's being impacted by a lot of the overdose, being white, suburban kids, you know. And now that you have, you know, parents and loved ones going to their legislators, demanding stuff, you know, we didn't have that -- that voice, you know, like, other than the voice of the drug user, who really didn't have a big say in how they're treated, how they're, you know, medically treated, how they're treated in society, how they've been demonized for friggin' eighty, a hundred years, since the 1870s, right?

And, so, we have -- we still have a long way to go, and I just want people to realize what the foundation is about, and what the foundation was built on by folks like, you know, Allan Clear and Edith Springer and Imani Wood, and, you know, Dan Bigg, and Dave Purchase, you know, like, those are folks that like, you know what, I mean, I still see Allan around, but for one reason or another, some of them can't be here, some of them are not with us any longer.

You know, there were so, so many, you know, like George Kenney, that we just, we don't have any longer, and it's, you know, this didn't happen overnight, it wasn't, it really wasn't an initiative pushed by public health officials, by law enforcement, by treatment providers, and as a matter of fact, it was like really hindered by that whole population, that whole crew of public health officials, treatment providers, and law enforcement, you know, those were the folks that fought harm reduction tooth and nail for years and years and years.

And now that we have, now, it's becoming recognized as, like, the, you know, an issue, the opioid crisis, overdose, losing so many people every year to fatal overdose. You know, we have programs starting around the country, and it sort of feels like harm reduction is being hijacked a little bit by some of these groups that have been, you know, that have really, you know, fought us through the year, like, treatment folks, that said, you know, like, that really, really, you know, talked down on us, for years, and decades.

And law enforcement, who used, like, who have arrested I don't know how many of us in here, that they've just, they've arrested like, you know, we've been put on trial and jury trial, and not only did it, like, it cost us time and effort and money, you know, it cost society money to prosecute us, but for what? For giving someone a clean, sterile syringe, so they wouldn't become infected?

And what I see going on around the country is a lot of these state coalitions being formed to combat this, the opioid crisis, or the overdose crisis, and our community folks are looking for the experts, and the experts are disguised as, like, law enforcement and treatment people who say we're the experts in harm reduction, when, like, you know, they're just coming on board, and why are they coming on board? Is it because of the, like, the hundreds of millions of dollars that, or the billions of dollars, that are being put toward, you know, put out there now?

That's the way it looks, you know, and the voice of harm reduction is, like, pushed away, not, they're not invited to the table. You know? I've heard so many times that, like, the experts in Narcan distribution and working with drug users is law enforcement. That's such bulls**t. All right?

Treatment providers that, like, you know what? They have their agenda, and that, and they continue to push their agenda in harm reduction.

Support the drug users' agenda, what, where they want to go, and how they want to get there, and be a voice in -- being a voice in what is out there for them. You know, there's no voice, there's no, a lot of the states are not inviting the real deal folks to the table, and to honest, like, we are the closest thing to the voice of the drug user, other than the drug users themselves, who should be sitting at the table, but that's not going to happen, it's just not going to happen right now.

It might happen, in small, like, little areas, little pockets, and that's what we try to do, is, like, get that voice to the table and get those folks that are being impacted, impacted by this, at the table, because they're the most important person to, like, address this issue. Like, they're the ones that are the first responders, you know, they're right on the front lines.

So, again, you know, I hate to see a movement watered down by a bunch of bureaucrats that, like, that have fought us for years and years and years, and now that there's money on the table, we want some of the money and that's why all of a sudden they're experts.

DEAN BECKER: You know, it's good that you're here, it's good that I'm here, to teach these young kids that it hasn't always been this good, not that it's perfect yet, mind you, but that it's taken a hell of a lot of work to get to this point, and as you say, we now have the treatment providers and law enforcement wanting to get in front of that new pile of cash they see on the horizon.

They want to take the forefront. They want to be the one who decide what is appropriate, mostly so they can get their share, the cut. Closing thoughts, there, Gary.

GARY LANGIS: I talked about the importance of coming down to, you know, to meet some of our new, brilliant, brilliant young folks. They're coming in with masses of, you know, public health, they're coming in with these degrees, they, you know, when we started this, we were a bunch of scruffy, you know, guys, that ran around.

You know what? I'm down here with my nineteen year old grandson, and I have other grandchildren, and I see -- and I work with a lot of young folks in this movement, and I learn more from them than I could ever teach. You know what I mean?


GARY LANGIS: And they can -- and they can refine it, and they can make it better. And that's it.

JOHN KOCH: My name is John Koch. K-O-C-H. And my title -- I work for an opiate treatment program called Community Medical Services, and my title is Director of Community Impact.

DEAN BECKER: Now, where are y'all based?

JOHN KOCH: We're based out of Phoenix, but we're in -- also in North Dakota, Montana, Alaska, Tucson, Arizona, and then we have recently acquired a couple of other companies that are in other states.

DEAN BECKER: Well, give us more of the nature of the work. What are some of the specifics, the -- what do you do for your clients?

JOHN KOCH: So, we provide MAT services, medication assisted treatment, along with counseling, peer support, nursing, I mean, the whole nine yards when it comes to an opiate treatment program.

Another thing we do is we provide every single one of our clients that walk through our doors with naloxone, so that they can help save a life, or have their lives saved if they need to, because we are very pro-harm reduction. We don't believe -- part of our mission statement is to reduce the consequences of drugs and alcohol for the person, so, with that, you know, meeting the person where they're at, helping them, allowing them to be able -- to feel safe, at the place they're going, and not like they're being judged.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, that's very important, you're so right there. You know, I look at it that, over the decades, the perspectives have changed so much, haven't they? That, twenty years ago, there was not one law enforcement group, not one medical group, that approved much of the type of work you're doing. They thought it was enabling addiction. Talk to that change, if you will.

JOHN KOCH: Oh, well, we still deal with a huge amount of stigma, but I think what's coming is, and what's here is, that people are dying, and you have to understand that a lot of the -- that this is individualized treatment, and a lot of people, you know, are starting to realize that, hey, what we're doing is not working. We need to try some other stuff, or try this stuff that's proven to work instead of just, like, bringing our own opinions or beliefs into it.

Let's look at the science and the data behind it, just like with harm reduction. But we still receive a ton of stigma. But that's, like, my job, is to go into the community and break that stigma. Talk with the people. I'm a person in long term recovery myself, and you couldn't tell by talking to me that, you know, I was homeless, that I was in prison, and that's what we try to show people in the community, that there is no face to this.

There's no, like -- addiction and, you know, poverty doesn't look like one thing or the other. People need help, and we need to support them, and not judge them.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's -- that is the case. I mean, the number, 72,000 dead last year, right here in these United States. That is resonating, that is starting to ring the bell, so to speak, it is starting to help others realize there is a definite need for change. Would you agree?

JOHN KOCH: Yeah. I mean, if you look at it, so, 72,000 people, that's almost like a huge airliner going down every single day, and crashing, and everyone's dying, and if in this country that was to happen with anything else, that we would, I mean, we would be on the -- doing everything we can to change it.

But, due to, in the past, there was, with addiction and other things, and the stigma that relies upon it, they think people are making those choices just to harm themselves, when they're not. Everybody's a good person, and we need to try to help them, so I think it's bringing light and attention to it. It's just that we can't stop and even after a common opiates go out of the limelight, like, we still need to focus on helping people with that.

I mean, I would love to, in two years, not have a job for what I'm doing because everybody's doing better, but it's -- that's not the fact of it. It's just not going to happen like that. But, keep doing what we're doing.

DEAN BECKER: There's going to be new generations that are going to think they know it all, and will start down that long, dark path, without knowing the repercussion. Right?


DEAN BECKER: John, I really appreciate you taking the time. Is there a website, some closing thoughts you'd like to share?

JOHN KOCH: Yeah, I mean, you can look us up on, and reach out through there. And it just -- if you know somebody that needs some help, look, find the resources, and also look into those resources, because not every resource is a great one, and a lot of people are taking advantage of this epidemic to also become rich, which is not exactly -- it's not the right thing to do, but look into what you're referring people to, and, you know, don't judge the person, and support them in what they're going through, no matter what it takes.

DEAN BECKER: Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Cheech Marin.

CHEECH MARIN: This is America. You get to criticize the government in this country. You get to say, I think these guys are ridiculous. It's guaranteed in the very First Amendment to the Constitution. It's what this country was founded on. You get to do that by being an American.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Yellow eyes, vomiting, black tarry stools, cloudy urine, fever with chills, sores, ulcers, or white spots on lips and mouth, unusual bleeding. Time's up! The answer: another FDA approved product: acetaminophen.

DENISE CULLEN: Denise Cullen.

DEAN BECKER: What is your organization, please?

DENISE CULLEN: Broken No More, and GRASP: Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing.

DEAN BECKER: Now, we're here at the this harm reduction conference in New Orleans. I missed the first day or two. What's your take? What are we learning here?

DENISE CULLEN: Well, there's a lot of new people here, that's a good thing. There's many, many more people that I don't know and haven't ever met than there are people that are the regulars and the oldtimers.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I think that's indicative that this issue's not dying, this need for human rights, this need for respect, this need for change, is gaining strength, is it not?

DENISE CULLEN: It definitely is, because this problem, and in particular the opioid epidemic, or crisis, or whatever you choose to call it, is just getting much, much worse every day.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and that's very much in the -- in the ball park, or the bailiwick of what you guys are all about, that you have been about, overdose epidemics that have taken so many of us, that have taken our youngsters, right?

DENISE CULLEN: Exactly. And we're talking much more these days about appropriate and science based treatment for people who are addicted to opioids, and that will obviously cut down on the death rates, and getting people help when they need it and want it.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, I often talk lately about, they've got these new drugs that are, you know, symbiotic [sic: synthetic] or whatever you want to call it, heroin, carfentanyl, five thousand times stronger than heroin. Nobody knows what's in that bag and it's killing our kids, is it not?

DENISE CULLEN: You've been saying that since I met you, as long as there's prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, so be careful out there.


DENISE CULLEN: And it's more true today than it ever was.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. Yeah. I put a meme up on Facebook, a little one packet -- one gram sugar packet worth of carfentanyl equals five kilograms of heroin. Fifty thousand doses can be in that one gram bag. It is so dangerous now.

DENISE CULLEN: Right. It really is, and when you don't know what you're taking, I mean, they cracked down on the pills and so what are people supposed to do? Go, oh, okeh, I guess I won't use anymore? No, they're going to get what they can get, and what they're getting, they don't know what it is.

And so people are dying left and right, at such a high rate, and we have to do something about it, and there's a lot of talk, and little action, and not a lot of money going towards it. And that's what's wrong.

DEAN BECKER: Well, I know your organization's not exactly, you know, replete with cash. You have a lot of interested and concerned members and supporters of the work you do. Tell us the, I don't want to say average, or typical, but, who gets involved with your work?

DENISE CULLEN: Well, with GRASP, it's always somebody that knows somebody who's died from either drug use or overdose, typically overdose, and their families, and, but with Broken No More, it's the wider community of people that just care, like people that are here, it's not just overdose that they're interested in, it's changing drug policy and improving what we're doing.

And still after, you know, it seems like forever, but it's been nine years I've been doing this, and we're still having to address the stigma, and language, and how people, you know, appreciate this problem, because it, if you don't know somebody, there's still a lot of ignorance out there.

These days, it seems like almost everybody knows somebody.


DENISE CULLEN: So that's changing, but we just have to keep being loud, and louder, and keep talking, and we're now fighting against this -- this group of families that, I was told when I started this I had the moral authority because I was the mother of a child who died. Well now we have lots and lots of mothers out there who want to put people in prison for the rest of their life because they happened to be with their child or their loved one when they took that last dose of something they didn't know they were taking.

You know, the dealer issue, and that, that's something that we, at Broken No More, fight very hard against and have been for years. And so, it's -- that problem's getting worse, with the introduction of a lot of drug induced homicide laws and prosecutions.

So we have to be even louder than the families that are new coming into this, because they haven't -- they're newly bereaved, and they're angry, and trying to find blame. So we have to just push back on that even harder than we did before.

DEAN BECKER: You know, to me, it really boils down to the ignorance that's been kind of ingrained into people, that's been force fed over the decades. It's really hard to remove, it's like plaque or something that you've got to clear out to get a free flow of new and useful information. Your thought there.

DENISE CULLEN: Yeah, I feel like that too. And, every single day, you see another, you know, Vice show or HBO show or some kind of, what you would think is credible news, about the opioid epidemic and the drug policies, and the sentencing laws, and how we need to get harder on it. It's like we're taking, you know, two steps forward and ten back. That's how it feels to me. It's discouraging, but we have to keep having hope.

DEAN BECKER: No, too much television is just -- just still spouting propaganda, still recycling the old, in essence, reefer madness. Reefer madness is attached to every drug, as far as I'm concerned. It has leached over over the decades.

DENISE CULLEN: Yeah. I can't watch those shows, because they're just -- even when they try to do their best, there's still misinformation and stigmatization and that. And every time you talk to a reporter these days, someone wants to interview you about the issue because you're involved in it, you have to be extra careful now, because they, you know how some reporters are, they twist what you say and -- to fit with what they want it to fit with.

And so, it's -- we just had our fourth biennial conference, I don't know if you know that.

DEAN BECKER: I was aware.

DENISE CULLEN: And, we had Tony Newman from Drug Policy Alliance come to teach new people about dealing with the media, and how to get what you want, and acknowledge that they want what they want, and try to, you know, accomplish what you're doing, and not make the problem worse.


DENISE CULLEN: Especially with the grieving part of the work that I do, because those people are vulnerable, and they're a lot of times new to this, and it can go -- it can go sideways real easy.

So, we try, at our conference we try to educate, not just about how to cope with the loss of someone you loved, you know, sometimes more than anyone in the whole world, and, but how to get involved in doing this work to make change, to make that person's death mean something.

Their life did mean something, we know that, but their death has to mean something. And so getting involved in any way, and teaching reality based education in schools is a good way, if you want to just do something more neutral and less scary, or getting involved in syringe exchange, or testifying for your legislature to get bills passed for safe injection facilities.

And people are hungry for that. Not everybody, but a lot of people are. They need a goal, and it can be a healing mechanism to get involved.

DEAN BECKER: Well, if folks would like to get involved with the work you do, please point them to your website, how they can reach your organization.

DENISE CULLEN: Okeh. For, we have two. GRASP is,, and then for the advocacy and policy and harm reduction portion of what we do, it's

MONIQUE TULA: Monique Tula, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition.

DEAN BECKER: Monique, I want to commend you. This is an amazing event. The diversity, the enthusiasm, the people. It's really something. Thank you for this.

MONIQUE TULA: Oh, you're welcome. You know, we've got two thousand people here this weekend. It's the largest event that we've ever had, and in fact it's the largest harm reduction conference in the world.

DEAN BECKER: No, I've been to many of them, and this one is something else. I tell you what, the courage, the knowledge, that the people I've been interviewing, is really amazing. It's -- it's grown over the years. People are not afraid to do more, to speak out, to challenge the old ways.

MONIQUE TULA: Yeah, indeed, you know, and I think, you know, there's a double edged sword to this growing movement. Right? We've got more and more people who are embracing this philosophy, this very humane approach to working with people who use drugs, people who have been affected by the war on drugs.

But the other side of this, we're growing because we have so many deaths related to opioid fatalities, you know, and so we've got communities that are sort of filling the ranks of the harm reduction -- harm reduction community, you know, friends and family members who are joining us because they've lost people.

DEAN BECKER: And that tends to give people courage, enables them to speak a little louder, a little more boldly.

MONIQUE TULA: Yeah, absolutely. We've got at least two, maybe three different what I would call mothers groups who are here, GRASP and Broken No More, who have found their voices and use this conference as an opportunity to share their experience, to prevent more children from overdosing from opioids.

DEAN BECKER: It comes back to the futility of the drug war, the inability of it to ever accomplish any of its stated goals. We, for decades, turned it over to law enforcement to fix this medical problem, and it did not pan out.

MONIQUE TULA: No, it absolutely did not, instead we filled up our jails and prisons with people, we have commodified black and brown families, families have been broken apart, and, you know, we are not seeing a decreased incidence of drug use, in fact we're seeing more drug use than ever before.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I think the economy has something to do with that, but the economy of a drug user is many times in a spiral downwards because of the complications in life, the arrests and then the inability to get a job, and so on, and so forth, leads to, now we have record numbers of people that are homeless here in America, and a large part of that has to do with that spiral I'm speaking of, does it not?

MONIQUE TULA: Yeah, indeed, you know, there were some researchers that figured out, they were looking at the decline of American life expectancy, and found correlates between what they're calling sort of deaths of despair, or diseases of despair, so they were looking at rates of suicide and overdose -- overdose and overdose, fatal overdoses, and, you know, they were really indicators that people, because of stressors, are really acting in ways that quite frankly are, you know, out of desperation, because we don't know -- we haven't been given the tools to manage this increasingly complicated world that we're living in.



DEAN BECKER: In some ways we have become more callous, and in other ways we've become more compassionate. It kind of depends on which side of this coin you were on in the beginning, to bring us to this point. What am I trying to say -- I'm trying not to talk about Republicans, but --

MONIQUE TULA: We talked about being grouchy before, we talked about the fact that there are two thousand people here who would probably agree that we're all feeling pretty grouchy, pretty raw, like almost in a place of desperation when we look at our administration.


MONIQUE TULA: Right? If there's nothing else that binds this community, it's that. We're incredibly disappointed, and in fact, even Harm Reduction Coalition, we have done a lot of federal advocacy and federal policy making, but quite frankly, we're reinvesting at the state level. We're turning our attention to the state level because we think that that's where we're going to get the most traction in the next, certainly in the next two years, and potentially the next six years, which is a really scary thing.

And I just want to say one more thing. So we're here in New Orleans, and we received word earlier this morning that the Proud Boys are here, which is a white pride, alt-right group, and we are, you know, we're really concerned. They're here in New Orleans. We're really concerned about our people, you know, and so when we -- when I think about how far we've come as a community, that we're seeing the rehumanization of people who use drugs, that it's going to be -- you know, if we get there, then we've got this whole other contention, you know contingent to deal with.

We've got a lot further to go, and what's right outside the hotel door is a clear -- is a prime example of that. They literally drove by in a truck that said Trump Unity.

DEAN BECKER: Y'all's website.


DEAN BECKER: The following is a Drug Truth Network editorial.

As Monique and I were discussing, there's a lot of tension, hatred, building up on the left leaning side here. I've been trying to discern what the right's love of Trump is all about. And I've figured it's just greed, a lot of forgiveness of greed. His lies don't register with his minions because they give him all the slack he needs, figuring he's a billionaire, a tv star, a huge success, because he is an ass-hat, a manipulator, a winner.

So you've got to forgive rich fatcats for being massive sinners, deviants, liars, thieves, because that's what made them a success and some of that luck may rub off on his minions, and on the US, so forgiveness abounds.

Besides, they already made their bones when they voted for this ass-hat, and cannot now back down without admitting they are a herd of doofi, the multiple of doofus, and that's a hell of a lot like being a lifelong supporter of drug war, where you cannot now admit that the death, disease, empowering of terrorist cartels and gangs, along with fifty million arrests and squandering of trillions of dollars, could have ever been avoided.

Well, that's going to wrap it up for this week, and once again I want to remind you that because of prohibition you do not know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute, more than seven thousand radio programs are at, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.

09/26/18 Monique Tula

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Monique Tula
Hannah Hetzer
Harm Reduction Coalition

Monique Tula, the Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition re forthcoming conference Oct 18-21 & need to refocus US efforts on drug addiction + Hannah Hetzer of Drug Policy Alliance re Trumps "taking charge" of drug problem at UN + UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, Donald Trump & Dallas Pastor George Mason re shooting of Botham Shem Jean.

Audio file


SEPTEMBER 26, 2018


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi folks, I am Dean Becker, the Reverend Most High, thank you for being with us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We're on a new day of the week here on KPFT, the mothership of the Drug Truth Network. Shouldn't make much difference to the rest of the affiliates, so let's get going.

Next month I'm going to New Orleans. I'm going to attend the Harm Reduction Coalition conference. It's a major event. They seek ways to, as the name would indicate, reduce the harms of the drug war. I'm real glad that we have with us at this time the executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, Monique Tula. Hello, Monique.

MONIQUE TULA: Well hello, thank you for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Monique, the recognition of the harms of the drug war, I think, seems to be growing, expanding, folks are starting to realize that we've been doing this wrong for decades on end. Would you agree with that thought?

MONIQUE TULA: Well, I certainly would. I think that's really spot-on. You know, it's a pretty complex conversation, but you know, I go around the country, talking about the ways in which this fifty-year-long drug war has harmed communities, you know, I feel like there -- our communities are not better off than when Nixon started his drug war, you know, five decades ago.

Sometimes I say I've come to believe that we've replaced nooses with bullets, and plantations with prisons, when we look at the number of people who are incarcerated, more -- almost forty percent of them are there for drug related offenses [sic]. It's the direction that we're heading in, that we've been heading in, is, you know, not about helping people, but really pulling people out of society that could use support in different ways.

DEAN BECKER: You bet, that's so true, Monique. You know, I think about the situation that there are more and more politicians willing to speak more boldly, more and more media outlets willing to speak more boldly, but they all kind of bite their tongue, they hold back a little bit, especially the politicians, in joining together, in banding together, to write better laws and to move them forward. It's not as taboo as it once was, but it's still -- keeps people at a bit of a distance. Your thought there.

MONIQUE TULA: You know, the zero tolerance policies of this war on drugs were based on the assumption that strict enforcement and punishment reduces personal drug use, and consequently demand for drugs.

But you and I know that despite decades of, you know, a decades-long massive display of force in communities across the US, we're still the largest consumer of narcotics in the world, and your listeners probably have heard this statistic before, almost thirty million Americans report using an illicit substance in the past month. That doesn't include alcohol or legitimate prescriptions for pain medication.

You know, what happens to those figures when you include legal drugs. You know, it's far easier to judge people who use drugs than to see them as human beings that are deserving of connection and care.

So one thing that happened in the recent few years with the opioid crisis and the ensuing overdose epidemic is that we have communities of people, families, who either are -- who've been directly impacted and have some access and some influence on our legislators, and so it's been, you know, an arduous -- the reason, what brings them to legislative halls and offices, you know, is pretty horrific.

But they've been able to move, there's been a shift in terms of the way folks are seen, the way people who use drugs are seen, that they're less of a, you know, scourge on humanity, but really people who are often trying to mitigate the previous or concomitant stress and impact of trauma or mental health issues.

So yeah, we are starting to see some movement, it's refreshing, and certainly a very different stance than we've seen over the past thirty, forty, fifty years.

DEAN BECKER: Oh yeah, that's very true, Monique. You know, I think about, I'm looking at y'all's website, by the way, dear listener, is I'm looking at the issues page, and I'm going to just kind of go down this list. One of the things it's showing at the top is syringe access, and you know, there are states and cities around the country where that is available, they have the syringe exchange and they help people avoid sharing needles, and thus avoid the sharing of diseases as well.

And at the same time, they offer help if people need it, and to look for treatment, and so forth, and my state of Texas passed a law, it's been, I don't know, 12 years ago, they were going to allow the city of San Antonio to be an experiment, to do needle exchange, and yet, the mayor said not in my town, and it's not happened as of yet. And, you know, there is a not in my back yard syndrome that goes around. Talk about that and how that's changing, if you will.

MONIQUE TULA: Well, it's this, you know, there's a slow movement. We have, we're launching a new initiative called Getting To Fifty. It's a little bit of a riff, if you're familiar with the HIV world, there's an initiative called Getting To Zero. So the idea there is no more, no new HIV cases. Right? So zero HIV cases.

Well, our spin on this particular initiative, Getting To Fifty, is ensuring that every state in the union, and the territories, have robust, sustainable policies that allow for the access -- excuse me, the expansion of syringe access programs.

So, to your point, there are about a third of the states, Texas being one of them, that do not have policies that allow syringe service programs or syringe access programs to open up, and, you know, what we find is that because of the opioid crisis and again the ensuing overdose epidemic, more and more communities are becoming vulnerable to chronic illnesses like HIV or hepatitis C, and certainly overdoses.

And so, you know, there's a level of geographic isolation, so if you don't -- if you live in an area that doesn't have a legal syringe service program, then you struggle to find sterile equipment to use, and until someone is ready to stop using, they're going to continue doing, you know, what we -- what we hope, you know, they're going to continue to behave in manners that we want them, you know, we want them to change. Right?

And so what harm reduction does, what my organization is, we'll come into communities, we'll work with local legislators or municipal leaders, we'll work with direct service providers, so people working directly with people who use drugs, and help them to shift their mindset so that they understand that until somebody is ready to stop using, they still have a right to, you know, health and wellbeing.

And so the Getting To Fifty initiative is really just that, expanding, really sort of a culture shift, getting people to think differently about people who use drugs. You know, they say that, and I don't like to use this term, but, you know, the saying is a dead junkie can never recover. Right?


MONIQUE TULA: So our whole -- our whole focus is making sure that people have the tools and resources that they need to keep themselves alive until they're ready to make different choices.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Again folks, we're speaking with Monique Tula. She's executive director, Harm Reduction Coalition. Monique, kind tied in with the syringe exchange, or step beyond that if you will, are the safe injection facilities. The idea that cities or counties within these United States would set up facilities where drug users could come in and safely use their drugs with a medical supervisor, or monitor, on hand, should them overdose.

It hasn't happened yet. It's certainly succeeded, I've visited Insite in Vancouver, they've -- it is an amazing facility. It's happening in cities around the world, but as yet it's not happening here in these United States, though San Francisco may be our first. Is that correct?

MONIQUE TULA: It may be. We have the support of the mayor. It's been a long journey, but we definitely have the support of the mayor, the city council, the city department of health.

As you mentioned, you know, there are, we call them safe consumption spaces, recognizing that not everybody uses a needle. Right?


MONIQUE TULA: And so if they are using some other mode of administration like smoking, for example, they still run the risk of overdose, and so, anyway, that's just a little bit of a twist on the name, safe consumption spaces rather than focusing exclusively on syringe or injection.

But yeah, there's, you know, about a hundred programs like these operating around the world. There's hundreds of scientific articles and reports about safe consumption spaces, you know, they're evidence based and peer reviewed studies that demonstrate the positive impact for both individual and the public health.

You know, they're cost effective -- excuse me, they're cost effective, they increase uptake into drug treatment programs, which can lead to cessation. They reduce public drug use and other social order programs, including discarded syringes and other litter. You know, the folks who attend these programs have access to medical providers or prevention information and tools to reduce infectious diseases like HIV and hep C.

And of course, they eliminate drug overdose deaths due to immediate access to medical care, to naloxone, which is the antidote to an opioid overdose. And they've also been found to not actually lead to increased injection drug use, not to lead to increased crime, and I think, you know, lastly, and probably the most important thing, is that they engage typically hard to reach populations.

So folks who have lost trust in health care systems, who are targeted by law enforcement, walk into these places and have immediate access to medical professionals, mental health and social service professionals.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Monique, as we're wrapping this up, I want to bring forward this thought, that what's changing, what's influencing many of these politicians, what's influencing many within the media, is a recognition, an awareness, that we had 72,000 Americans die last year because they didn't know what was in the bag, they didn't know what they were taking.

It reaches back to the early days of this, when, you know, they were talking about the street corner vendors that were selling the crap that was killing people. Well, we have just expanded that problem, we have exacerbated, when carfentanyl, a gram of it is equivalent to five thousand doses of heroin.

MONIQUE TULA: That's right.

DEAN BECKER: We don't know what in the heck we're doing insofar as trying to control these supposed controlled substances. We are a complete failure at that, are we not?

MONIQUE TULA: Well, yeah, I would agree, you know, the current regime doesn't appear to be drastically different from, you know, those of fifty or even a hundred years ago when we first started seeing drug policy in this country.

You know, there's this belief that our borders are the reason behind the opioid crisis, you know, and so the answer is to build the wall or lock up or you know incarcerate or put to death people who don't or can't conform to society's rules, deprive people of the basic right to human, you know, to affordable healthcare, while prescribing us a pill to fix every little thing that ails us, you know?

We're living in an era where more and more people are experiencing inner-generational trauma and poverty and social isolation, which leads to homelessness, increased drug use, you know, and so, they're turning to drugs to cope, and the drug supply is more dangerous than ever, you know, your listeners I'm sure can't watch the news or scroll through their social media feed without seeing another death to drug related overdose, and I think, you know, just the last piece is that while drug policy historically has targeted black and brown people, we have a whole group of folks who are now coming online, who are not black and brown, who are disproportionately affected by these racialized drug policies.

You know, what -- the life expectancy for white American men, for example, is, without a college education, is declining, and for the first time in decades, what's killing the white working class isn't diabetes or heart disease, it's alcohol induced liver failure and opioid addiction.

So we need a fresh evidence based approach, to rethinking the way that we engage with people who use drugs, and that begins with our policy makers.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Wow. Thank you, Monique, for that. Well, as we're wrapping it up here, as I indicated at the beginning here, we're, or I will be there, and I'm sure you will too, at the Harm Reduction Coalition conference taking place in October in the city of New Orleans. Give us some details, when is it, and who's going to be there?

MONIQUE TULA: Well, sure. So, it is the largest harm reduction conference in the country. It happens every two years. This is our twelfth conference. As you mentioned, it's in New Orleans, taking place October 18 through the 21. We are just about sold out of hotel rooms, so if you're interested in coming, please register now. If you've never been, I can tell you you've never experienced a conference quite like it.

Our program is purely abstract driven, so what that means is everyone who comes to the conference who wants to submit an abstract, because they've got something to say, some strategy that they want to share, they get to really help drive the content and the feel of the program.

So, it's a wonderful group of people, some of which have been coming to the conference for the last twenty years that we've been doing it. We've got people who are effected by the drug war, you know, coming directly from communities that have been effected by the drug war. We've got people who use drugs themselves who come to this conference, and share center stage with researchers.

You know, sometimes we've got legislators there, and certainly practitioners, and media as well, so it's a really grand collection of people, you know, it spans from, you know, the soccer mom to the local anarchist, fighting, you know, fighting for, raging against the machine. It's a great group.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, it is. I don't know, this is going to be my fifth or sixth one to attend. I'm really --


DEAN BECKER: -- really looking forward to it. All right, friends, as we're wrapping it up here, I want to remind you once again we've been speaking with Monique Tula, she's the executive director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, and they're out there on the web at Please check it out.

The DEA's the joker,
The FDA's a joke.
The joke is on the USA
So why not take a toke?

The following is the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley.

NIKKI HALEY: None of us would be here today without the leadership of the man it is now my honor to introduce. As president of the United States, donald trump has taken on the challenge and felt the weight of leading a nation in pain and grief over the abuse of illegal drugs.

Now he is taking this leadership worldwide. He is relentlessly committed to building a global coalition to fight the global problem of drug abuse. We are grateful for his leadership in this event. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to introduce my boss, president donald j. trump.

DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, Nikki. Thank you very much.

The scourge of drug addiction continues to claim too many lives in the United States and in nations around the world. Today we commit to fighting the drug epidemic together.

As the 2018 World Drug Report highlights, cocaine and opium production have hit record highs and global deaths cause by drug use has increased by sixty percent from the year 2000 to 2015, so in fifteen years it's gone up sixty percent, which is absolutely terrible.

As we know, illicit drugs are linked to organized crime, illegal financial flows, corruption, and terrorism. It's vital for public health and national security that we fight drug addiction and stop all forms of trafficking and smuggling that provide the financial life blood for vicious transnational cartels.

Newly elected president Duque of Colombia campaigned on an anti-drug platform and won. We look forward to partnering with his new administration to eradicate cocoa production in his country.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Nervousness, increased urination, sleeplessness, fast heart beat, allergies, constipation, headaches. Time's up! The answer:

VOICEOVER: Nestle Quik chocolate flavor.

DONALD TRUMP: Cocoa production.

VOICEOVER: No one can say no to Quik.

DEAN BECKER: We just heard a little bit of Trump's thoughts given to the UN. We now have Hannah Hetzer with the Drug Policy Alliance. She focuses on the international aspects. But, she's got some thoughts I think she wants to share with us about that, of Trump calling for an escalation of the global drug war, and I want to welcome her to the program. Hello, Hannah.

HANNAH HETZER: Hi, thanks for having me.

DEAN BECKER: Hannah, just your initial response to Trump's presentation yesterday.

HANNAH HETZER: I think Trump is just using this stage at the UN to fake leadership on drug policy. He convened this gathering to kick off the General Assembly at the UN, in which he said he's going to talk about the world drug problem, and at that event, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley praised Trump for his leadership domestically and says he now want to take this leadership worldwide, and then in his speech Trump, you know, used outdated drug war language like drug free future and eradication of supply and curbing the scourge of addiction, really sort of outdated language.

But I think he's using this as an opportunity to pretend that he is leading on an issue in which he has provided no real solutions for. He talks about the opioid crisis, the overdose crisis, all the time, and yet he doesn't listen to any of the scientific or medical evidence, or listen to advocates that are pushing for public health and harm reduction interventions that have really worked elsewhere.

He ignores all of that and just uses more drug war mentality and rhetoric, talking about locking people up and even the death penalty for people who sell drugs. So I really think that this is kind of just Trump, you know, trying to have a flashy photo-op with leaders of other countries standing behind him so it looks like he has support and it looks like he's engaged in action on this issue, when really he has done little to nothing at all to help the problem.

DEAN BECKER: No, I'm with you, Hannah, and at this time it's also, in fact, necessary for him to deflect and distract from a lot of other situations that are chewing on his ankles as we speak.

I was startled to hear the same verbiage, the same concepts, the same dreams and fables being put forward that we've heard for the last fifty or a hundred years, that somehow the use of these words one more time will get it done. Your response to that.

HANNAH HETZER: Right. I mean, we just know that drug prohibition does not work. The war on drugs does not work. We've tried it for decades. All that it has done is, you know, it fails even on its own terms of decreasing drug use and production, and is just [inaudible] enormous harms. We know it doesn't work, and no amount of money that you pour into it or law enforcement efforts that you pour into it, will eliminate drug use and supply, and all it's doing is, you know, violating human rights and development and livelihoods and criminalizing people and stigmatizing people.

It doesn't work, and yet, and there are things that have been proven to work elsewhere and there are other leaders that are talking about reform. I mean, it's -- it's actually ironic that on the same day as drug, as Trump had this world drug problem event, a group of leaders, ex-presidents, ex-prime ministers from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, were launching their new report on the exact same day that called for an end to the war on drugs, an end to prohibition, and calls for the regulation, responsible regulation, of all drugs.

So it really was this huge contrast between, you know, these leaders who are forward looking and looking for, you know, innovative, health based approaches, and Trump's outdated drug war mentality, and I mean he surrounded himself by a person like Sessions, who, you know, is so mired in the '80s and '90s approaches to drug policy, and they just don't want to let that go and they still use it as a rhetorical tool to stigmatize people, oppress people, and close their eyes to the suffering that it's caused.

DEAN BECKER: Your mention of the drug commission calling for legalization and, you know, regulation, actually control of these so-called controlled substances, you know, on that same stage yesterday, with Trump, was the UN Secretary-General António Guterres from Portugal, a nation who has gone another direction, who is using treatment, who hardly ever arrests anybody for personal amounts of drugs, and yet that seems to have been overlooked.

HANNAH HETZER: That's right. I mean, Guterres was the leader in Portugal at the time that they decriminalized, and he even referred to that in his address yesterday. He didn't use the word decriminalization, but he talked about the Portuguese strategy, and he said that people need treatment, not punishment, and I think he could have pushed a little harder, under some diplomatic pressure and he's sitting next to the president of the United States, the UN's largest donor.

But, you know, he has on other occasions, the Secretary-General has on other occasions talked a lot more forcefully about the need to remove criminal penalties and to decriminalize and provide health options and treatment options to people that are based in human rights.

So there was a contrast between what Trump was saying and what the Secretary-General was saying.

DEAN BECKER: And, when they opened up these proceedings, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, to put it the way she toadied up to him. Your response there, please.

HANNAH HETZER: Right. She opened up the conversation just praising Trump. She did a few strange things. I mean, first she talked about this too much initially as like an American problem. She said, what brings us here today is the opioid crisis in America, it's an American problem, not really taking into account that she's in a room full of global leaders, and then eventually started talking about the international dimensions.

And then, she just went on to heap praise on Trump, undue praise, saying, you know, none of us would be here without the president, president donald trump, and praised his leadership on this issue, which just is completely false, because as I have said, he has demonstrated no leadership on this issue and he should be the last person who should be leading the global debate on drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: All right, folks, once again we've been speaking with Hannah Hetzer of the Drug Policy Alliance. I wanted to throw in this one last thought, that heretofore, I think those in charge of responsibility for the drug problem have been his son, donald junior, and Kellyanne Conway, hardly knowledgeable on this subject. Your closing thoughts, there, Hannah.

HANNAH HETZER: Well, president trump has demonstrated continuously that for every position he intends to fill, he selects the person either least qualified to fill that, or who directly is antagonistic to the cause, or the mission, which they are meant to be leading. So it's no surprise that he would surround himself with advisers on drug policy who knew nothing about drug policy and just cater to self image and his own ideas on drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, real good. Friends, once again, we've been speaking with Hannah Hetzer of the Drug Policy Alliance. Their website:

DEAN BECKER: This is George Mason, a white pastor in the city of Dallas.

GEORGE MASON: It's been a hard week in Dallas. The fatal shooting of a young and impressive professional man named Botham Jean by an off-duty police officer, Amber Guyger. This police officer shot an unarmed citizen in his own home. The victim was black, the officer white.

The preferential treatment of the officer by the criminal justice system reminds us that justice in this city, in this country, is still not color blind, whether you are white or black or brown or blue.

And then the smear campaign of the dead man's character started immediately after his funeral, which is a long and nasty practice used against people of color to gain sympathy for the defendant.

Lord, have mercy.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed, lord, have mercy. Once again we're out of time and I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica Radio Network, archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.