Monday, December 22, 2008

Press Release: Possible Obama Pick for “Drug Czar” or head of SAMHSA Criticized by Hundreds of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Professiona

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Andrew Tatarsky, PhD (212) 633-8157
Monday, December 22, 2008

Possible Obama Pick for “Drug Czar” or head of SAMHSA Criticized by Hundreds of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Professionals, Researchers and

Ramstad’s Positions on Syringe Exchange, Sentencing Reform, Medical Marijuana and other Issues Unscientific and Harmful Say Experts

Leading Substance Abuse and Mental Health Experts Suggest Six Positions that Leaders of ONDC and SAMHSA Should Support

A growing number of professionals have expressed concern about reports in the media that President-elect Obama may be considering appointing Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN) either as the next “Drug Czar”, director of the Office of National Drug Control, or as director of SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In a letter to President-elect Obama released today, over 250 clinicians working with patients with substance use problems and nearly 150 researchers, academics and other concerned citizens warn that Ramstad is not the man for either of these jobs because his record suggests that his perspective is ideologically based and at odds with science.

The letter applauds Rep. Ramstad’s support for expanding access to drug treatment and improving addiction awareness and it honors his own personal triumph over addiction. However, in spite of these contributions, Ramstad has supported unscientific faith-based treatment while opposing evidence-based practices such as methadone maintenance and syringe exchange, two of the most effective interventions for addiction and transmission of infectious disease that save lives. He has also consistently opposed congressional efforts to stop the arrest of patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other illnesses who use prescribed medical marijuana in states where it is legal and he has failed to co-sponsor legislation that would eliminate sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, despite the fact that there were three different crack/powder reform bills in the 110th Congress. These positions clearly conflict with President-elect Obama’s stated positions on these issues.

These professionals call for President-elect Obama to select leaders for these critically important positions who are committed to reducing the harms associated with both drugs and punitive drug laws and who will base their decisions on science rather than politics or ideology.

They call for leaders who will support evidence-based treatment across the spectrum including:
  1. Non-abstinence based interventions like Motivational Interviewing, opiate substitution treatment and abstinence oriented treatment for appropriately matched patients
  2. Integrated treatment for patients with co-occurring disorders
  3. Syringe exchange programs to halt the spread of HIV and hepatitis-C

They also call for leaders who will treat substance abuse and dependence as health issues rather than as criminal issues and be committed to:
  1. Sentencing reform

  2. Better educating criminal justice professionals associated with drug courts in the complexities of substance use problems and their treatment and

  3. More fully involving clinical staff in decisions about individuals mandated by drug courts to treatment

The letter concludes, “There are many roads to recovery and recovery can take different paths…these views are in the best interests of individuals struggling with substance use disorders and all Americans”.

Click here for a copy of the letter and a complete list of signatories

New York Times
The Tierney Lab: Putting Ideas in Science to the Test
Drug Czar Controversy

December 8, 2008, 12:23 pm

— Updated: 12:23 pm --
By John Tierney

Some researchers in substance-abuse treatment and advocates for the medical use of marijuana are alarmed at reports that Representative Jim Ramstad, a Republican from Minnesota, is a candidate to become the next drug czar — the director of the office of National Drug Control Policy. In a joint letter to President-elect Barack Obama, coordinated by Andrew Tatarsky, the past president of the division of addictions of the New York State Psychological Association, dozens of academics and other professionals in substance-abuse treatment write:

This country needs a drug czar who supports evidence-based policies and one who will make decisions based on science, not politics or ideology. We strongly believe that Congressman Ramstad is not that person.

Rep. Ramstad voted in 1998 in favor of making permanent the federal funding ban on syringe exchange. In 2000, he voted to prohibit the District of Columbia from spending its own locally-raised funds on syringe exchange programs, and in 2007, he voted against lifting the same DC ban, despite decades of research showing that syringe exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, save lives, save money, and do not increase drug use. Representative Ramstad has also c onsistently opposed congressional efforts to stop the arrest of patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other illnesses who use medical marijuana to ease their pain and suffering in states where it is legal.

Similar concerns have been raised in another joint letter, coordinated by the Drug Policy Alliance endorsed by more than three dozen other public-health, criminal-justice and drug-treatment organizations. They write to Mr. Obama:

You showed strong leadership on the campaign trail by pledging to lift the federal funding ban on syringe exchange programs, end the excessive federal law enforcement raids aimed at medical marijuana patients, and eliminate the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. . .

We urge you to nominate for drug czar someone with a public health background, who is committed to reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases, open to systematic drug policy reform, and able to show strong leadership on the issues you believe in.

The costs of the war on drugs are summed up by Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed article celebrating the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. After noting that that the repeal was popular not just among drinkers but also non-drinkers worried about the rise in organized crime and other consequences of Prohibition, Mr. Nadelmann writes:

They saw what most Americans still fail to see today: That a failed drug prohibition can cause greater harm than the drug it was intended to banish.

Consider the consequences of drug prohibition today: 500,000 people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails for nonviolent drug-law violations; 1.8 million drug arrests last year; tens of billions of taxpayer dollars expended annually to fund a drug war that 76% of Americans say has failed; millions now marked for life as former drug felons; many thousands dying each year from drug overdoses that have more to do with prohibitionist policies than the drugs themselv es, and tens of thousands more needlessly infected with AIDS and Hepatitis C because those same policies undermine and block responsible public-health policies.

And look abroad. At Afghanistan, where a third or more of the national economy is both beneficiary and victim of the failed global drug prohibition regime. At Mexico, which makes Chicago under Al Capone look like a day in the park. And elsewhere in Latin America, where prohibition-related crime, violence and corruption undermine civil authority and public safety, and mindless drug eradication campaigns wreak environmental havoc.

The joint letter to Mr. Obama organized by Dr. Tatarsky suggests a different approach: "We need a new bottom line for U.S. drug policy so that treatment is more available and addiction is treated like a health issue, not a criminal issue. To paraphrase former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, we need a surgeon general, not a military general or police officer."

What do you think of Mr. Ramstad as drug czar? Do you have any other nominees for the job? Or other advice for Mr. Obama on drug policy?

1 comment:

eltone said...

I believe that something happens to the President-Elect when they become President. After they become president they forget about the people, their campaign promises and do as they please. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Obama didn't change a thing regarding federal and state marijuana law conflicts. I'd be real disappointed and angry though.