Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Teenagers In Northern Ireland Are Experimenting With Cocaine

ScienceDaily (June 30, 2009)

A study by Queen’s University Belfast has confirmed that some Northern Ireland teenagers are experimenting with cocaine.

Research conducted by the Institute of Child Care Research at Queen’s School of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work has found that 7.5% of young people who took part in the Belfast Youth Development Survey had tried cocaine at least once by the age of 16.

The survey involves 4,000 teenagers in 43 schools in Northern Ireland, who have taken part in the study each year since entering post-primary education. Funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland, it is one of the largest schools-based surveys of its kind in the UK or Ireland.

Dr Patrick McCrystal, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute or Child Care Research, said: "A small number of those who took part in the survey told us they had tried cocaine at least once. Of those who had taken cocaine, only one in ten used it on a weekly basis. This indicates that while some teenagers have experimented with the drug, few continue to use it regularly.

“While cocaine has only recently emerged on to the Northern Ireland drug scene, this study suggests that it may be making its way into the adolescent drug scene quite quickly. It also indicates that the profile of cocaine users may be changing.

“In the 1990’s the typical cocaine user was single, in their twenties, well-educated, and in a well-paid professional job. In this study, however, more than half of those who had experimented with the drug were females, and one third had experienced social deprivation. They were more likely to live within a disrupted family with just one parent, have poor levels of communication with parents or guardians, and have low levels of motivation to do well at school. Most of those who had taken cocaine also regularly got drunk, smoked tobacco daily, and used cannabis on a weekly basis. Two thirds had also used inhalants.

“This study shows that young people are able to get hold of cocaine for their own personal use. Oder friends were the most popular source for obtaining the drug, followed by a dealer and friends of the same age. When we began this study, outside in the street or at a party were the most popular places for taking cocaine. By the end of the study period the most common place was at a friend’s house, where just under half of those who had taken cocaine reported doing so.

“These findings highlight the need to educate young people about the risks and health and social implications of cocaine use while they are still in compulsory education and under the age of 16. Children and young people must be empowered to refuse an offer of drugs. If and when the opportunity to experiment with cocaine presents itself, they must be well-equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions on drug use.

“The study also highlights the need for a well-planned strategy to monitor trends of illicit drug use among young people, to help inform policy to deal with its impact. If the age of first use of cocaine is becoming younger, or the levels of cocaine use are increasing, the number of users who are likely to develop problems and place demands on drug treatment centres will increase in the future. This is something that health, social care, and education policy makers should take note of."

Journal reference:
McCrystal et al. A profile of adolescent cocaine use in Northern Ireland. International Journal of Drug Policy, 2009; 20 (4): 357 DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2008.09.005
Adapted from materials provided by Queen's University, Belfast, via AlphaGalileo.

Are you Ready? Reform Conference 2009

2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference

The moment is here: we've officially opened registration for the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. Secure your place now to attend this important gathering.

There are so many reasons to join us November 12-14 in Albuquerque. First, as I mentioned in my email last week, this may be the best opportunity to continue the unprecedented momentum toward positive change. If you're working in any area of drug policy reform, or want to be, you have to be part of this conversation.

Second, there is, simply stated, no better crash course in drug policy than this three-day event. Many hundreds of people have described past meetings as transformative experiences in their lives. This one promises to be the best yet.

And finally, your participation in the conference will ensure the amazing diversity that makes this meeting what it is. We've also worked hard to make it affordable for you. We offer members, New Mexico residents, students and all early-bird registrants a significant discount off our regular non-member registration rate:

The energy of this gathering is like no other. You will meet people who challenge you, who inspire you and who could be partners in your reform efforts. Register now to attend the Reform Conference and experience all of this in person.

Thanks for all you do.


Ethan Nadelmann
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance

P.S. Don't forget to tell your friends to come. The Reform Conference is a great introduction to the world of drug policy reform, and your personal invite will help build our movement.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Brain Functions That Can Prevent Relapse Improve After A Year Of Methamphetamine Abstinence

ScienceDaily (June 29, 2009)

In a study published online by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, UC Davis researchers report that it takes at least a year for former methamphetamine users to regain impulse control. The results tell recovering substance abusers, their families and drug-treatment specialists that it can take an extended period of time for the brain functions critical to recovery to improve.

"Recovery from meth abuse does not happen overnight," said Ruth Salo, lead author of the study and a UC Davis assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. "It may take a year — or even longer — for cognitive processes such as impulse control and attentional focus to improve. Treatment programs need to consider this when monitoring recovering addicts' progress during their early periods of abstinence."

Salo specializes in the behavioral, neuropsychiatric and cognitive outcomes of methamphetamine addiction — a particularly difficult condition to treat, primarily due to prolonged, intense cravings for the drug. During her career, she has worked with hundreds of methamphetamine addicts.

"All of them want to know if there is hope," Salo said. "We used to think most, if not all, effects of meth addiction were permanent. This study adds to the growing evidence that this assumption is not true. I can confidently tell patients that the longer they stay in a structured rehabilitation program and remain drug free, the more likely it is that they will recover some important brain functions."

For the current study, Salo used the widely-validated, computer-based Stroop attention test to measure the abilities of 65 recovering methamphetamine abusers to use cognitive control — or direct their attention to specific tasks while ignoring distractors. Study participants had been abstinent for a minimum of three weeks and a maximum of 10 years, and they had previously used the drug for periods ranging from 24 months to 28 years. The data for the 65 individuals were compared to Stroop attention test data from 33 participants who had never used methamphetamine.

"The test taps into something people do in everyday life: make choices in the face of conflicting impulses that can promote a strong but detrimental tendency," Salo explained. "For meth users, impairments in this decision-making ability might make them more likely to spend a paycheck on the immediate satisfaction of getting high rather than on the longer-term satisfaction gained by paying rent or buying groceries."

The study analyzed cognitive control in terms of the amount of time since methamphetamine was last used as well as total time spent using the drug. The researchers found that those who were recently abstinent (three weeks to six months) performed significantly worse on the Stroop test than those who had been abstinent one year or longer. In addition, there was no statistical difference between test results for those abstinent at least one year and non-drug using controls. Longer-term methamphetamine use was associated with worse test scores. Similarly, longer-term abstinence was connected to improved test performance.

According to Salo, the new study mirrors previous magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies she and her colleagues published in 2005 showing a partial normalization of chemicals in selected brain regions after one year of methamphetamine abstinence.

"Together, the studies provide strong evidence that, eventually, meth abusers in recovery may be able to make better decisions and regain the impulse control that was lost during their drug use period," she said.

Salo said that more research is needed to determine just how the brain recovers from methamphetamine addiction and if behavioral treatments can hasten that recovery. She plans to continue neuroimaging studies to further define the brain functions affected by the drug. Her ultimate goal is to provide information essential to refining treatment programs for this population of drug users.

"Meth use worldwide is pandemic," she said, referring to the estimated 35 million people who have used the neurotoxic stimulant or similar drugs. "Recovery is difficult, but possible. The point of my research is to better understand the neural and behavioral consequences of this toxic drug along with the brain and behavior changes that are possible with long-term abstinence."

Other authors of "Drug Abstinence and Cognitive Control in Methamphetamine-dependent Individuals" include Thomas Nordahl, Martin Leamon and Charles Moore of UC Davis; and Gantt Galloway and Christy Waters of St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco. Moore is also affiliated with the Kaiser Chemical Dependence Recovery Program in Sacramento.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

One In 25 Deaths Worldwide Attributable To Alcohol

ScienceDaily (June 27, 2009)

Research from Canada's own Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) featured in this week's edition of the Lancet shows that worldwide, 1 in 25 deaths are directly attributable to alcohol consumption. This rise since 2000 is mainly due to increases in the number of women drinking.

CAMH's Dr Jürgen Rehm and his colleagues found that alcohol-attributable disorders are among the most disabling disease categories within the global burden of disease, especially for men. And in contrast to other traditional risk factors for disease, the burden attributable to alcohol lies more with younger people than with the older population.

Dr. Rehm still takes an optimistic 'glass half full' response to this large and increasing alcohol-attributable burden. "Today, we know more than ever about which strategies can effectively and cost-effectively control alcohol-related harms," Dr. Rehm said today. "Provided that our public policy makers act on these practical strategies expeditiously, we could see an enormous impact in reducing damage."

The study showed that Europe had a high proportion of deaths related to alcohol, with 1 in 10 deaths directly attributable (up to 15% in the former Soviet Union). Average alcohol consumption in Europe in the adult population is somewhat higher than in North America: 13 standard drinks per person per week (1 standard drink = 13.6 grams of pure ethanol and corresponds to a can of beer, one glass or wine and one shot of spirits) compared to North America's 10 to 11 standard drinks. The recent Canadian consumption rate is equivalent of almost 9 standard drinks per person per week age 15 plus, and has been going up, as has high risk drinking. Globally, the average is around 7 standard drinks per person per week (despite the fact that most of the adult population worldwide actually abstains from drinking alcohol).
Most of the deaths caused by alcohol were through injuries, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and liver cirrhosis.

"Globally, the effect of alcohol on burden of disease is about the same size as that of smoking in 2000, but it is relatively greatest in emerging economies. Global consumption is increasing, especially in the most populous countries of India and China."

CAMH is known for its pioneering research in the most effective ways of reducing the burden of alcohol. For example, CAMH endorsed the legislative change implemented this year requiring young Ontario drivers to maintain a 0% blood alcohol content; in many jurisdictions this measure has reduced alcohol-related crashes and saved lives.

Other evidence-based policies proven to reduce harms include better controls on access to alcohol through pricing interventions and outlet density restrictions as well as more focused strategies such as violence reduction programs in licensed premises. Within health care, provision of screening and brief interventions for high risk drinkers has enormous potential to reduce the contribution of alcohol to the onset of cancer and other chronic diseases.

"There are significant social, health and economic problems caused by alcohol," said Gail Czukar, CAMH's executive vice-president, Policy, Education and Health Promotion. "But research gives us sound, proven interventions that governments and health providers can use to address these problems."

Adapted from materials provided by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Alcohol blamed for half of ’90s Russian deaths

Social and economic shocks of Soviet collapse decimated population

Associated Press
updated 7:04 p.m. ET, Thurs., June 25, 2009

MOSCOW - A new study by an international team of public health researchers documents the devastating impact of alcohol abuse on Russia — showing that drinking caused more than half of deaths among Russians aged 15 to 54 in the turbulent era following the Soviet collapse.

The 52 percent figure compares to estimates that less than 4 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by alcohol abuse, according to the study by Russian, British and French researchers published in Friday's edition of the British medical journal The Lancet.

The Russian findings were based on a survey of almost 49,000 deaths between 1990 and 2001 among young adult and middle-aged Russians in three industrial towns in western Siberia, which had typical 1990s Russian mortality patterns.

Professor David Zaridze, head of the Russian Cancer Research Center and lead author of the study, estimated that the increase in alcohol consumption since 1987, the year when then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's restrictions on alcohol sales collapsed, cost the lives of 3 million Russians who would otherwise be alive today. "This loss is similar to that of a war," Zaridze said.

Dr. Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars and a leading expert on Russian public health, called the study "very impressive, very substantive" and the overall methodologically sound. He was not part of the research team.

Tragic die-off
The tragic die-off was largely invisible outside of Russia, but devastated Russian society — claiming the lives of millions during what should have been their most productive years. The study is part of a long-running debate among public health scientists as to the causes of an unprecedented spike in mortality among Russians in the post-Soviet era.

Some researchers have blamed the crumbling of the Soviet health care system, increased smoking, changes in diet or a loss of jobs that raised stress levels for the mysterious rise in deaths.

Many others, like Zaridze and his team, pin the blame squarely on increased drinking, which the report says roughly doubled in Russia between 1987 and 1994 — from the equivalent of about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of pure alcohol annually to about 10.5 liters (2.8 gallons).

"If you look at the dynamics of death and the dynamics of alcohol consumption in Russia, it is obvious that all these sharp increases and decreases of the mortality level are caused by increases and decreases in alcohol consumption," Zaridze said.

The scientist argued that the social and economic shocks of the late 1980s and 1990s drove people to drink.

"Alcohol consumption is always connected with poverty," he said. "It's been associated with social crisis. If we take our mortality statistics, it will be obvious that it's parallel to our social crisis, to our social instability."

Russia and some of its Eastern European neighbors still have the world's highest levels of alcohol consumption, according to another study also published in the Lancet on Friday as part of series on alcohol and global health.

Two other papers in the series called for stronger government policies worldwide to reduce the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Double the global average
Russians currently consume almost twice the global average, the equivalent of 6.2 liters (1.64 gallons) of pure ethanol alcohol per year, the global report found.

Although life expectancy here has risen slightly in recent years, Russia still has one of the lowest in Europe.

According to the most recent U.N. National Human Development Report on Russia, males born in Russia in 2006 could only expect to live to just over 60 years, while a woman born that year could expect to live on average about 73 years. By comparison, the average western European man could expect to live to be 77, about 17 years longer than his Russian counterpart.

The average western European woman could expect to live to be 82, about nine years longer than the average Russian woman.

The Lancet's Russian study was based on a long-term, large-scale study of drinking patterns and deaths in three industrial cities in western Siberia: Barnaul, Biysk and Omsk.

Researchers conducted tens of thousands of personal interviews and mined death records in gathering data for the report. They reported finding a strong link between heavy drinking and causes of death associated with high alcohol abuse, including alcohol poisoning, trauma, pneumonia and liver disease.

The link between life expectancy and alcohol in Russia has long been the subject of study. Mortality rates fell sharply in Russia from late 1985 to 1987, when then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev imposed strict limits on alcohol sales. During the period of political and social revolution that followed, death rates soared to levels unprecedented in modern industrialized nations.

By 2000, the reported noted, the chances that a 15 year old Russian male would die before his 35th birthday was one in ten. In Europe, the chances of a 15-year-old male dying by age 35 was one in 50.

Vodka's integral role
Part of the problem may be the important cultural role vodka and alcohol play in Russian society. Moderate drinking is considered healthy by many Russians, and few major events are celebrated without raising a 100-gram glass or two — or three — of vodka.

"If the soul needs it — we drink, if the soul doesn't need it — we don't drink," said Alexei Kitayev, a St. Petersburg cab driver. "Do I drink often? Beer after work to relax, vodka and beer at the weekends with my family at dinner — it's good for me and the soul is happy."

Russians generally blame alcohol deaths on the consumption of adulterated or industrial alcohol. Maxim Vdovin, an unemployed St. Petersburg resident, voiced the commonly-held view here that many Russians die because the state does not control the sale of adulterated spirits.

"No one gives a damn," Vdovin said. "So many people are dying because of this raw vodka and they don't give a damn, everybody is drinking and so many people die," he said.

A previous study carried out by British and Russian researchers and published in the Lancet in 2007 estimated that drinking alcohol not meant for consumption like cologne and antiseptics was responsible for nearly half of all deaths among working-age Russian men.

A recent government crackdown on the sale of alcohol not intended for human consumption appears to have significantly cut those deaths, experts say.

But there is relatively little recognition here that excessive drinking of alcohol in any form, including beer and wine, can lead to serious health problems.

Groups Put Pressure on Governments to Reform Harmful Drug Policies

For Immediate Release

Groups Put Pressure on Governments to Reform Harmful Drug Policies

Contacts: Paul Silva, +1 212.548.0309, +1 917.478.8403, psilva@sorosny.org (United States)
Jon Lidén, +41 58.791.1723, +41 79.244.6006, jon.liden@theglobalfund.org (Europe)


25 June 2009

As the United Nations launches the 2009 World Drug Report this week, more than 40 international groups and experts worldwide today issued a call to action that presses governments to adopt a humane approach to drug policy.

The call to action, signed by the Open Society Institute, former president of Brazil Fernando Cardoso, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, urges governments to enact policies that are based on scientific and medical research rather than politics.

“In many regions, particularly Asia and Eastern Europe, the AIDS epidemic is largely dependent on HIV transmission through injection drug use,” said Dr. Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “Criminalizing individual possession of drugs undermines HIV prevention by marginalizing users, forcing them to hide from services and healthcare that could help them and keep others safe.”

Rather than being reached with harm reduction services—care and treatment that can stem the spread of HIV—millions of nonviolent drug users languish in prisons around the globe or live as outcasts from society as a result of current drug policies. As a result, HIV and other infectious diseases spread uncontrolled and threaten whole societies.

Criminalization does not ease the global problem of drugs. The drug trade continues to grow while families are torn apart by the global war on drugs. Instead of continuing with these ineffective and harmful policies, today’s call to action urges governments to focus on reducing the harms of drug trade and use. This involves providing services such as clean needle exchange and substitution treatment to help reduce the health risks associated with drug use. The groups also call on governments to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use—a step which has been credited with reducing drug use and HIV infections in Portugal.
“In too many countries, the war on drugs has become a war on people,” said Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch, Director of the Open Society Institute’s Global Drug Policy Program. “We need to stop the spiral of drug-related violence by approaching this from a health and human rights perspective.”

In addition to criminalization, anti-drug measures such as crop destruction have had a devastating impact on peoples’ lives, according to the groups. In many regions, aerial eradication of coca and poppy fields have destroyed thousands of farms, while doing nothing to alleviate the poverty that causes many farmers to grow illicit crops. Yet, numerous studies have shown that crop eradication is the least effective method for controlling drug supply, and treatment and prevention programs are better suited to reduce the demand for drugs.

The call to action, along with full list of signatories, is available online at: www.soros.org/initiatives/drugpolicy

The Open Society Institute’s Global Drug Policy Program aims to broaden, diversify, and consolidate the network of like-minded organizations that are actively challenging the current state of international drug policy. The program strives to engage and support drug policy experts, economists, and other professionals as they analyze and publicize the effects of drug policy on public health, human rights, national20security, and the economy.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is an international financing institution that invests the world’s money to save lives. To date, it has committed US$ 16 billion in 140 countries to support large-scale prevention, treatment and care programs against the three diseases. www.theglobalfund.org

Sunday, June 21, 2009

2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference

Registration for the 2009 International Drug Policy Reform Conference is officially open. The conference, November 12-14 will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As an attendee of the 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference you are receiving this notice for registration. Please take a minute to visit the Reform Conference website at http://www.reformconference.org.

Every two years drug policy reformers from across the United States and around the world come together to listen, learn, network and strategize. If you're working to bring about drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights, you can't afford to miss this extraordinary gathering.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NAPW helps Immigrant Pregnant Woman Win Release from prison

Dear Friends and Allies:

NAPW is pleased to announce that yesterday morning a federal District Court judge, responding to a motion for bail and our emergency amicus brief, released Quinta Tuleh, a 28 year-old pregnant woman, from federal custody.

Ms. Tuleh, a woman from Cameroon, had already served 114 days in jail for allegedly having false immigration documents. Shortly after her arrest, she learned she was both pregnant and HIV positive. On May 14, 2009, instead of releasing her, a US District Court Judge extended Ms. Tuleh's sentence to ensure that she remain incarcerated for the duration of her pregnancy. (Judge Jails Pregnant Woman Until Baby is Born and Behind Bars for Being Pregnant and HIV-Positive.)

At the sentencing hearing, Judge Woodcock stated: "My obligation is to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, and that public, it seems to me at this point, should include the child she's carrying...I don't think the transfer of HIV to an unborn child is a crime technically under the law, but it is as direct and as likely as an ongoing assault."

As is often the situation in cases involving pregnant women, Courts make decisions without the benefit of full briefing or input from experts. Indeed, uncertain of Ms. Tuleh's due date and how long he would need to extend the sentence to ensure she was imprisoned through her due date, the Judge looked out over the courtroom and said "So maybe we ought to consult with the women here. Any sense of what a safe range would be?"

Yesterday morning, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, the Center for HIV Law and Policy and attorneys Elizabeth Frankel and Valerie Wright of the Maine firm Verrill Dana, LLP filed an emergency amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief on behalf of 28 public health experts, advocates, and organizations, as well as a declaration from prison health expert Dr. Robert L. Cohen. The brief and expert testimony provided legal and public health information challenging the incarceration of a pregnant woman in order to protect an "innocent" "unborn child."

The judge called the brief "articulate and helpful" during yesterday's hearing where he released Ms. Tuleh on bail pending an appeal of her sentence to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Tuleh will now be receiving medical, housing, and other support coordinated by the Frannie Peabody Center, a Portland, Maine community-based HIV resource center. Ms. Tuleh has expressed that she is deeply touched by all of the support she has received. The picture of her yesterday, smiling from ear to ear speaks volumes.

Ms. Tuleh is being represented on her appeal by Zachary L. Heiden of the Maine ACLU.

NAPW and Center for HIV Law and Policy are grateful to Laura McTighe, Director of Project UNSHACKLE, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), for her extraordinary help in this effort.

Your continued support of NAPW makes this kind of effective, cross issue collaboration possible. Please contribute what you can to NAPW so that we can continue our collaborative and successful advocacy on behalf of all pregnant women.

Yours Truly,
Lynn M. Paltrow
Executive Director
National Advocates for Pregnant Women

College Drinking Problems, Deaths On The Rise

ScienceDaily (June 16, 2009)

Alcohol-related deaths, heavy drinking episodes and drunk driving have all been on the rise on college campuses over the past decade, a new government study shows.

Using figures from government databases and national surveys on alcohol use, researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that drinking-related accidental deaths among 18- to 24-year-old students have been creeping upward -- from 1,440 in 1998 to 1,825 in 2005.

At the same time, the proportion of students who reported recent heavy episodic drinking (sometimes called "binge drinking") rose from roughly 42 percent to 45 percent, and the proportion who admitted to drinking and driving in the past year increased from 26.5 percent to 29 percent.

"The fact that we're not making progress is very concerning," says lead researcher Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., M.P.H., director of the NIAAA's division of epidemiology and prevention research.

"The irony," he adds, "is that during this same time period, our knowledge of what works as far as intervention in this age group has increased. That knowledge isn't yet being put into place."
Hingson and his colleagues report the findings in a special supplemental issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs devoted to college drinking problems. Fourteen studies in the issue report the results of projects funded by the NIAAA's Rapid Response to College Drinking Problems initiative -- which, between 2004 and 2005, selected 15 college campuses with serious student-drinking issues to work with the agency and other experts in developing programs to combat the problem.

The resulting programs ranged from the individual level -- like counseling for students found to have drinking problems -- to community-level efforts that involved law enforcement and residents of neighborhoods surrounding college campuses. All showed their own benefits.
It's likely, according to Hingson, that a mix of programs at these different levels is needed to best address problem drinking on college campuses.

"There's no silver bullet for this," he says, "but the more levels at which we try to intervene, the more effective we'll be. Colleges and communities need to work together, because neither can do it alone."

Broader legislation may also make a difference. Hingson and his colleagues found that although drinking and driving was more common among college students in 2005 than in 1998, the trend actually began to reverse course during that time: in 2002, just over 31 percent of students had driven under the influence in previous year; in 2005, that figure was 29 percent.

Hingson points out that in 2000, only 17 U.S. states had made it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or higher; by 2005, all had adopted that limit. That, he says, may at least partially account for the dip in college students' drinking and driving.

Similarly, state laws that set the legal drinking age at 21 have been credited with reducing alcohol-related road deaths. An "interesting" finding from this study, Hingson notes, is that the increases in heavy episodic drinking, drinking and driving, and alcohol-related deaths were seen among 21- to 24-year-olds, and not 18- to 20-year-olds.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Legalize pot movement gains steam

Violence in Mexico, crumbling budgets build momentum for debate

Associated Press
updated 4:47 p.m. ET, Mon., June 15, 2009

NEW YORK - The savage drug war in Mexico. Crumbling state budgets. Weariness with current drug policy. The election of a president who said, "Yes — I inhaled."

These developments and others are kindling unprecedented optimism among the many Americans who want to see marijuana legalized.

Doing so, they contend to an ever-more-receptive audience, could weaken the Mexican cartels now profiting from U.S. pot sales, save billions in law enforcement costs, and generate billions more in tax revenue from one of the nation's biggest cash crops.

Said a veteran of the movement, Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance: "This is the first time I feel like the wind is at my back and not in my face."

Foes of legalization argue that already-rampant pot use by adolescents would worsen if adults could smoke at will.

Even the most hopeful marijuana activists doubt nationwide decriminalization is imminent, but they see the debate evolving dramatically and anticipate fast-paced change on the state level.

"For the most part, what we've seen over the past 20 years has been incremental," said Norm Stamper, a former Seattle police chief now active with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "What we've seen in the past six months is an explosion of activity, fresh thinking, bold statements and penetrating questions."

Some examples:

* Numerous prominent political leaders, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Mexican presidents, have suggested it is time for open debate on legalization.
* Lawmakers in at least three states are considering joining the 13 states that have legalized pot for medical purposes. Massachusetts voters last fall decided to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of pot; there are now a dozen states that have taken such steps.
* In Congress, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., are among several lawmakers contending that marijuana decriminalization should be studied in re-examining what they deem to be failed U.S. drug policy. "Nothing should be off the table," Webb said.
* National polls show close to half of American adults are now open to legalizing pot — a constituency encompassing today's college students and the 60-something baby boomers who popularized the drug in their own youth. In California last month, a statewide Field Poll for the first time found 56 percent of voters supporting legalization.

That poll pleased California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat who introduced a bill in February to legalize marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol — taxing sales to adults while barring possession by anyone under 21. Ammiano hopes for a vote by early next year and contends the bill would generate up to $1.3 billion in revenue for his deficit-plagued state.

Ammiano, 67, said he has been heartened by cross-generational and bipartisan support.

"People who initially were very skeptical — as the polls come in, as the budget situation gets worse — are having a second look," he said. "Maybe these issues that have been treated as wedge issues aren't anymore. People know the drug war has failed."

New tone
A new tone on drug reform also has sounded more frequently in Congress.

At a House hearing last month, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., challenged FBI Director Robert Mueller when Mueller spoke of parents losing their lives to drugs.

"Name me a couple of parents who have lost their lives to marijuana," Cohen said.

"Can't," Mueller replied.

"Exactly. You can't, because that hasn't happened," Cohen said. "Is there some time we're going to see that we ought to prioritize meth, crack, cocaine and heroin, and deal with the drugs that the American culture is really being affected by?"

In a telephone interview, Kucinich noted that both Obama and former President Bill Clinton acknowledged trying marijuana.

"Apparently that didn't stop them from achieving their goals in life," Kucinich said. "We need to come at this from a point of science and research and not from mythologies or fears."

Gil Kerlikowske, chief of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has not endorsed the idea of an all-options review of drug policy, but he has suggested scrapping the "war on drugs" label and placing more emphasis on treatment and prevention. Attorney General Eric Holder has said federal authorities will no longer raid medical marijuana facilities in California.

Nonetheless, many opponents of pot legalization remain firm in their convictions.

Mixed message
"We're opposed to legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. We think it's the wrong message to send our youth," said Russell Laine, police chief in Algonquin, Ill., and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Marijuana — though considered one of the least harmful illegal drugs — consumes a vast amount of time and money on the part of law enforcement, accounting for more than 40 percent of drug arrests nationally even though relatively few pot-only offenders go to prison.

According to estimates by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron, legalization of marijuana could save the country at least $7.7 billion in law enforcement costs and generate more than $6 billion in revenue if it were taxed like cigarettes and alcohol.

Pot usage is pervasive. The latest federal survey indicates that more than 100 million Americans have tried it at some point and more than 14 million used it in the previous month.

Testifying recently before Congress, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said U.S. demand for pot is a key factor in the Mexican drug war.

"The violence that we see in Mexico is fueled 65 percent to 70 percent by the trade in one drug: marijuana," he said. "I've called for at least a rational discussion as to what our country can do to take the profit out of that."

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency remains on record against legalization and medical marijuana, which it contends has no scientific justification.

"Legalization of marijuana, no matter how it begins, will come at the expense of our children and public safety," says a DEA document. "It will create dependency and treatment issues, and open the door to use of other drugs, impaired health, delinquent behavior, and drugged drivers."

The DEA also says marijuana is now at its most potent, in part because of refinements in cultivation.

Even in liberal Vermont, with the nation's highest rates of marijuana usage, many substance-abuse specialists are wary of legalization.

Two bigger wars going on
Annie Ramniceanu, clinical director at Spectrum Youth and Family Services in Burlington, Vt., said her agency deals with scores of youths each year whose social development has been hurt by early and frequent pot smoking.

"They don't deal with anything," she said. "They never learned how to have fun without smoking pot, never learned how to deal with conflict."

Legalization proponents acknowledge that pot use by adolescents is a major problem, but contend that decriminalizing and regulating the drug would improve matters by shifting efforts away from criminal gangs.

"The notion that we have to keep something completely banned for adults to keep it away from kids doesn't hold up," said Bruce Mirken, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

As for Obama, the activists don't expect him to embrace the cause at this point.

"Obama's got two wars, an economic disaster. We have to realize they're not going to put this on the front burner right now," said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "But every measurable metric out there is swinging our way."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives. Drug Policy Alliance; June 2009.

This report examines the nationwide opioid overdose epidemic and calls for immediate action to address this public health crisis. As “Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives,” details, evidence-based strategies already exist that can reduce overdose risk, protect Good Samaritans and medical professionals, streamline government response systems, and save lives. A national overdose prevention effort is urgently needed, and this report provides a clear way forward for policymakers seeking a public health approach to the overdose emergency.

View the full-screen version or download the PDF.

Announcement: Today is a BIG DAY for Overdose Prevention!

Dear Friends,

Today is such an exciting, important day for all of us who care about overdose prevention! I’m thrilled to announce two significant things:
  1. The Drug Policy Alliance released a landmark report on the national overdose crisis, “Preventing Overdose, Saving Lives.” This report assesses the crisis, examines policy solutions available and how such policies have been successfully implemented across the country. The report recommends a range of solutions, including expanded access to naloxone and “Good Samaritan” immunity laws.

    To read or download the report, visit http://www.drugpolicy.org/homepage.cfm

  2. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) introduced the groundbreaking Drug Overdose Reduction Act of 2009. This bill—the first of its kind—will allocate resources to community groups and public health agencies to implement overdose prevention and education programs, including expanded naloxone distribution.

This is an exciting time to be an overdose prevention supporter. There is fantastic progress on the horizon. I personally invite you to read this terrific report and share the information and ideas with your friends and local legislators.

Drug Policy Alliance remains committed to the fight to save lives from being lost to accidental overdose. Working together, we can all make a difference. The national dialogue about preventing overdose fatalities starts with all of us, right now, today.

-Meghan Ralston
Purple Ribbons for Overdose Prevention, creator

P.S. Thank you, each and every one of you, for so incredibly quickly growing Purple Ribbons for Overdose Prevention to over 5,000 people from around the world. Amazing. Thank you.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Smoking-cessation Research Highlights Importance Of Keeping Teens From Smoking

ScienceDaily (June 7, 2009)

Despite the efforts of college students to quit smoking, recent research conducted by Joyce M. Wolburg at Marquette University suggests that an extended trial and error period is necessary. Given that most college students begin smoking in high school, another study by faculty at HEC Montreal and University of Texas at San Antonio provides insights into how graphic cigarette warning labels impact intentions of American and Canadian teens. Both studies appear in the Summer 2009 issue of the Journal of Consumer Affairs.

The Wolburg study reveals that, despite good intentions to quit smoking after college, multiple strategies (and multiple attempts) are typically necessary to be successful at smoking cessation. Despite the best efforts to prevent teens from smoking, some ignore the risks and become smokers. By the time they are college students smokers, many want to quit but need strategies that get results. Programs that incorporate the real stories and experiences of those who failed early on but didn’t give up offer hope to a group of people who may be among the best candidates for quitting. Future research will continue to refine those strategies.

The second study, conducted by Lalla Ilhame Sabbane and Jean-Charles Chebat, both at HEC Montreal, and Tina M. Lowrey at the University of Texas at San Antonio, reveals that graphic cigarette warning labels are most effective for Canadian participants, leading to negative attitudes and lower smoking intentions, but the graphic label was least effective at lowering smoking intentions for US participants.

"These results suggest that American teens were negatively impacted by the graphic label, perhaps because of its novelty," Lowrey said.

Additional research should be conducted to determine whether the positive impact for Canadian teens is, indeed, due to their level of familiarity with the graphics that have been used for the past decade in Canada. If more teens can be convinced not to begin smoking, then fewer college students will need to struggle with the cessation attempts studied by Wolburg.

Journal references:
Wolburg et al. Misguided Optimism Among College Student Smokers: Leveraging Their Quit-Smoking Strategies for Smoking Cessation Campaigns. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 2009; 43 (2): 305 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6606.2009.01141.x
Sabbane et al. The Effectiveness of Cigarette Warning Label Threats on Nonsmoking Adolescents. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 2009; 43 (2): 332 DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6606.2009.01142.x
Adapted from materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Former drug addicts find new fixation on triathlons

updated 9:34 a.m. EDT, Fri June 5, 2009

By Madison Park

(CNN) -- When rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings didn't work for Eddie Freas, he sought another way to kick his 20-year drug and alcohol addiction.

Eddie Freas fights drug addiction by putting all his energy into training for triathlons.

He swam 2.4 miles. He biked 112 miles. He ran 26.2 miles. The Pennsville, New Jersey, resident found relief in triathlons.

"I feel better when I'm working out," said Freas, 33. "It does wonders for the mind. The reason I started running -- it was a switch that went off in my head. I started feeling positive and feeling great about myself."

Freas spent his youth in pursuit of drugs. At the age of 13, he snuck bottles of Amaretto and rum from his mother's liquor cabinet. He also developed a taste for marijuana and cocaine. By his senior year of high school, Freas was kicked off the wrestling and football teams after failing a drug test.

Then in 2007, after a three-day binge, "I came home and was crying," Freas said. "I was so depressed. I turned on the TV." The set was tuned to ESPN, which was airing a story about a former drug addict who competed in triathlons.

The program's subject was Todd Crandell, who had lost a college hockey scholarship because of a drug addiction. After 13 years of using drugs, Crandell started competing in Ironman races and championed finding positive ways to fight addiction through his program called Racing for Recovery.

"Having an athletic background, I was drawn to getting back in shape," Crandell said. "It makes you turn intellectually and spiritually fit. Exercise is essential. It decreases addiction, depression and you use it as part of the recovery."

Freas was entranced by the parallels.

"His whole story seemed like mine," Freas said. "That's why it hit me so much. It was my story but it happened to somebody else. I knew I had to get back into fitness."

He took a bus to Racing for Recovery's office in Sylvania, Ohio. There, Freas said he learned to "stay clean and use other things -- fitness, instead of drugs." On his first day, Freas pushed himself to run 10 miles.

"It killed me," Freas said. "I was just motivated. I was sore for a week and I gradually got into it. As soon as I started including fitness into my everyday lifestyle, it made it so much easier. It kept me busy and because of the physical fitness, it was making me feel better about myself."
He pushed himself to run farther and raced in his first Ironman competition in 2008.

"It's different when you use drugs, you temporarily feel good and afterwards, you feel like doing more drugs," Freas said. "When you go for a long run and do physical fitness, you feel good doing it."

Research in animals and humans show that exercise can be a mild antidepressant.

"It isn't a huge surprise when you consider many positive effects exercise can have with regards to the brain chemistry: dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, epinephrine -- these are all associated with mood altering effects," said Dr. Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. "If they're able to get this natural high, through a natural endeavor such as exercise, it allows them to replace the means to achieve that high with a more positive approach."

One study showed that women trying to quit smoking were more successful when they exercised. And the National Institute on Drug Abuse held a conference last year to explore the possible role of physical activity in substance abuse prevention.

"The thought centers around the release of mood-altering brain chemical, mainly endorphins," Bryant said. "It gives you euphoria or what you call 'runner's high.' "

Crandell said some people who battle drug addiction "want something more than sitting in support groups filled with smoke, complaining about drinking."

"I've had some of my naysayers from other programs who say you've taken one addiction and replaced it for another," Crandell said. "I've taken addiction and put into a new focus that includes exercise. Exercise for me is essential to my recovery and well-being."

The purpose of Racing for Recovery is not to turn everyone into an athlete, but to focus on positive pursuits in a person's life.

"Whatever you lost during your addiction, that should be your Ironman, not just running," Crandell said. "If your goal is to become a teacher, let that be your Ironman."