June 19, 2001
The Great Debate
Experts Give U.S.
to Mexico a Tour
of the Facts
"Another fallacy among
the arguments in favor of legalization is the idea that decriminalization programs have
been successful in other nations. The liberal laws of Holland
on drugs are an issue of much discussion in the media. However,
what is not well known is the fact that in this country, whose
size is a little bit smaller than the state of Jalisco, has more
than 50 clinics that give methadone to heroin addicts, and those
who abuse drugs constitute a great percentage of the prisoners
in Dutch prisons. Beyond that, the number of people who use marijuana
has grown in that country since its use was decriminalized."
"England ended its
experiment of a decade with respect to giving heroin to addicts,
after seeing their number grow. Switzerland had a similar experience.
After liberalizing the use and sale of drugs in part of the city
of Zurich, called "Needle Park," it attracted drug
addicts from all of Europe. The Swiss authorities finally closed
the park in 1992, after a rise in violence and deaths. It is
calculated that the number of users of drugs had grown from a
few hundred to as many as 20,000. A little tolerance toward drugs
brings many undesired visitors."
- U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey
Publisher's Note: Among the gross errors and distortions
in Ambassador Davidow's speech were his characterizations of
the drug policies and their effects in various European nations.
Today, experts from around
the world join The Great Debate, bring Davidow on a tour of the
policies of the countries he mentioned - Great Britain, Switzerland
and the Netherlands - and correct the record...
Alex Wodak Responds:
The speech on drug policy on June 1 by
His Excellency, the United States Ambassador to Mexico, Mr. Jeffrey
Davidow, was riddled with errors and bold assertions of unsupported
Mr. Davidow claims that "England
ended its experiment of a decade with respect to giving heroin
to addicts, after seeing their number grow". This bold statement
is incorrect in several ways. The United Kingdom has permitted
some medical practitioners to prescribe heroin to selected heroin
dependent patients since 1926, not just in the last decade. This
practice has not been stopped as, Mr. Davidow claims, but continues
to this day. The experience in Britain stimulated research on
heroin prescription for treatment refractory patients which was
carried out in Switzerland from 1994 to 1997. In September 1997,
71% of voters in a national referendum in Switzerland supported
the continuation of heroin prescription with majorities in all
26 of the country's cantons. Several other European countries
have since commenced or made commitments to commence heroin prescription
Mr. Davidow criticised the Netherlands
because "it has more than 50 clinics that give methadone
to heroin addicts". Yet the US Institute of Medicine noted
in 1995 that "Current policy puts too much emphasis on protecting
society from methadone, and not enough on protecting society
from the epidemic of addiction, violence and infections that
methadone can help reduce." Mr. Davidow quotes Secretary
of State Colin Powell approvingly who stated that "we must
make sure that we are ... supporting the treatment of this
horrible problem." Why does Mr. Davidow not support a treatment
which has been endorsed by the US Institute of Medicine? No wonder
the international community recently replaced the United States
with the Netherlands on the International Narcotics Control Board.
His Excellency argues that the United
States has not lost the War Against Drugs because consumption
of some illicit drugs has declined according to some data. Why
does Mr. Davidow regard data on consumption as more important
than the data on the consequences of drug use? Drug overdose
deaths have increased alarmingly in the US in recent deaths.
In contrast, drug overdose deaths halved in Switzerland between
1992 and 1998. More than a third of new AIDS cases in the US
result from injecting drug use yet there is still no Federal
funding for needle syringe programmes because of opposition from
the War Against Drugs. The purity and availability of street
drugs has increased and the price of street drugs has fallen
in the US in recent years. If this is success, what would failure
Dr. Alex Wodak
Director, Alcohol and Drug Service
St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, Australia
facts presented by Mr. Davidow are
entirely incorrect. Prescribing of heroin in the UK was dramatically
limited at the end of the 1960's. Since this change in policy
heroine use has risen by almost 2000%, HIV and hepatitis infections
amongst injectors has reached epidemic levels, and 50% of all
property crime is now committed to feed an illegal habit (rising
from almost zero). Injected heroin is still available from some
specialist doctors and the government is considering expanding
the prescribing programme, following sucesses in other European
cities. The Swiss prescribing programme - which has dramatically
reduced crime, illness, and street dealing - now has widespread
public support and is being expanded to other cities following
a public vote.
Transform, the campaign for effective drug policy.
closing the "Needle Park",
which permitted the black market to operate in a small area of
Zurich, Switzerland selected some 1,100 heroin addicts and supplied
them with clinical grade heroin to be injected under medical
supervision in clinics established for this purpose at a cost
of 15.00 Swiss Francs per addict per week.
This has resulted in improvements in health,
employment, housing and social conditions of those addicts.
It has resulted in a dramatic reduction
in crime, street nuisance, discarded needles, and has resulted
in a net saving to the community of some 45.00 Swiss Francs per
week per addict in the program.
The death rate from heroin overdose is
now falling in Switzerland, whereas it is still rising in USA,
Australia, and Mexico.
Regulated supply closes the black market
that was created by prohibition and reduces consumption.
The Swiss Federal
of Public Health
Facts on Swiss drug policy from the Swiss
Federal Office of Public Health:
The Swiss drug policy.
A fourfold approach with special consideration
of the medical prescription of narcotics.
Bern, Switzerland (1999).
Experience with illicit drugs:
There was a slight increase in the use
of hallucinogenic substances and cocaine between 1992 and 1997.
Slightly over 2% of those questioned said that they had used
ecstasy at least once. There has been no statistically significant
change in the use of heroin, its substitute methadone and amphetamines.
Deaths due to drugs
The number of deaths due to drugs, usually
heroin overdoses, rose from 13 in 1974 to 419 in 1992. The systematic
expansion of support facilities for drug users and specific measures
aimed at harm reduction succeeded in bringing the figure down
to 181 by 1999.
Deaths due to alcohol and smoking
It is estimated that in Switzerland around
3,500 people die every year as the direct or indirect result
of alcohol consumption. Smoking is a causative or contributing
factor in an estimated 8,700 deaths every year- 14% of all deaths
Switzerland has made remarkable progress
in reducing the problems associated with drug consumption in
the last couple of years.
Jeffrey also states that Holland has been
unsuccessful in their efforts to control drugs and drug users.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does Holland
allow sales of marijuana, but after many years of experience
they just recently voted to allow even more marijuana sales outlets.
Their experience has shown a small spike of increased usage after
legalization, which quickly ebbed back down to the point that
they now have the lowest usage rate of any Western country.
Dean Becker, DPFT
from The Netherlands
As a citizen of the Netherlands &
medical user of cannabis I'm very interested in the debate.
Although English is not my first language I will bring my contribution
to all readers of Narco News.
We have had coffee shops in the Netherlands and it works fine.
If you want to smoke marijuana, you can go to your local shop
and buy it
Compared to other European countries (and the US of A) we have
less problems with the consumption of cannabis and other drugs.
We can therefore say that good education and information to parents
and children has led to this result.
Erik van der Burgh
Spijkenisse- The Netherlands:
Estimado Narco News,
Ambassador Davidow conveniently ended
the history of Switzerland in 1992.
Since then they have employed a number
of harm reduction measures, including treatment on demand. The
Swiss Heroin Maintenance Program is now 6 years in operation
and an overwhelming success. Even the Swiss police now enthusiastically
support the reforms.
Howard J. Wooldridge
Retired Police Officer
Fort Worth, Texas
Clark Brittain Responds:
Mr. Davidow certainly makes an impassioned
plea. Unfortunately passion and facts don't always mix. U.S.
Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), is one of the leading drug warriors
on capitol hill. He states that not only is drug use not going
down, but that between 1993-98 heroin use among 8th-12th graders
in the USA increased by 50%.
Regarding drug use in The Netherlands,
they saw a dramatic decrease in youthful mairjuana use (30%),
and saw an overall decrease of almost 50% in heroin use. Their
overall percent of adult use is about the same as the US. And
of course they have only 10% the prison population per capita
we have (not more, as Mr. Davidow exhorts).
We in the United States have more people
in prison than any other country on the planet: Over 500,000
people in jail for nonviolent drug use/possession convictions.
Over 20% will suffer the further insult of prison rape while
incarcerated. We arrest 1,500,000 people per year just on marijuana
charges alone. None of those convicted will be able to obtain
federally guaranteed loans for college (which must be paid back).
Yet people like Paula Cooper (who was once the most notorious
of all prisoners on Indiana for stabbing to death her elderly
neighbor and stealing her car and $10- her death penalty was
commuted to life in prison) who at tax payers expense now has
a college degree!
In 1988 (with Republican-run government),
Chief DEA administrative judge Francis Young heard two years
of testimony both for and against marijuana use, poured over
15 volumes of material and proclaimed: "The evidence in
this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as
capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill
people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision.
It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for DEA to
continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of
this substance... There is no record in the extensive medical
literature describing a proven cannabis-related fatality...In
strict medical terms, marijuana is far safer than many foods
we commonly consume...There are those who, in all sincerity,
argue that the transfer of marijuana to "status as medicine"
will "wend a signal" that marijuana is "OK"
generally for recreational use. This argument is specious.
It presents no valid reason for taking an action required by
law in light of the evidence."
This legal opinion was delivered on the
heels of a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to
allow marijuana as medicine. The DEA ignored it. Congress in
all its wisdom ruled in 1970 that marijuana has no useful medical
purpose and placed it in schedule I.
Also in 1905 The Pure Food and Drug Act
mandated labeling of patent medicines. Until that time marijuana,
heroin cocaine and opium were the most commonly dispensed substances
(and could be purchased over the counter simply upon request).
The overall addiction rate in the USA was 0.28%...addiction,
drug use and abuse declined rapidly with proper labeling. In
1914 with the passage of the Harrison Drug act, those drugs became
illegal. Since that time our national addiction rate has climbed
to over 0.96- almost quadruple.
Finally, a black market can only exist
in the presence of prohibition. Should civil society or well-armed
criminals control drug sales? After all the distributors (pushers)
are already killing each other for distribution rights.
Mr. Davidow, we appreciate your passion.
Please stick to the facts. When people twist and distort information,
it serves only to discredit the speaker.
1010 S Highland
Bloomington, IN 47401
812 327 0252
Common Sense on Drug Policy
Publisher's Note: Ambassador Davidow is not the first United States
official to distort the facts about European drug policies and
In 1999, then-drug czar of the U.S., Barry
McCaffrey, was embarrassed internationally by citing similar
untrue claims about the European situation.
He was taken to task in the following
letter signed by respected experts from across the United States.
And then by an advertisement by CSDP,
citing the true facts that compare U.S. and Dutch drug policies.
Thus, it is doubly embarrassing that Davidow
spins the same discredited "facts" when he and his
government have already been informed of the true statistics....
Letter to the Drug Czar
February 24, 1999
General Barry McCaffrey
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Dear General McCaffrey,
As academics, journalists, public health
experts, and community leaders, we are deeply troubled by a series
of inaccurate and misleading statements you have made as Drug
In particular, we are concerned by statements
you have made on the following...
On July 24, 1998 the Chicago Tribune quoted
you as saying: "The murder rate in Holland is double that
in the United States...That's drugs."
In fact, the Dutch homicide rate is only
one-fourth that of the United States. The Dutch rate has never
approached, much less exceeded, that of the United States.
When you claimed that the Dutch murder
rate was higher, you blamed Holland's drug policies. Yet when
confronted with the facts, you did not suggest that U.S. drug
policies are the cause of our higher homicide rate.
The media and the public rely on your
office to avoid unfounded speculation, to recognize and disseminate
scientific consensus when it exists, and to provide, when available,
material facts that could help us deal realistically and effectively
with our very real problems of addiction. Therefore we urge you
and other national leaders to provide the news media and the
public with the most accurate scientific findings available.
We realize that speaking forthrightly requires leadership and
courage in the current ideological atmosphere but, given your
distinguished record in the military, the public has reason to
expect nothing less.
· Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Chair
of Afro-American Studies, Harvard University
· Willie L. Brown Jr., Mayor of San Francisco
· Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
· Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Professor of Endocrinology, Arkansas
Children's Hospital, former Surgeon General
· Orlando Patterson, Professor, Harvard University
· William Julius Wilson, Professor, Harvard University
· Dr. David Duncan, Clinical Associate Professor, Brown
University Medical School and Chair, Council on Illicit Drugs,
National Association for Public Health Policy
· Ira Glasser, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties
· Rebecca Isaacs, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
· Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, Lindesmith Center
· Kevin Zeese, President, Common Sense for Drug Policy
· Kathleen Stoll, Center for Women's Policy Studies
· Dr. Patricia D. Hawkins, Associate Executive Director,
· Glenn C. Loury, Director, The Institute on Race and
· Ronald E. Hampton, Executive Director, National Black
· Eva Patterson, Executive Director, Layers Committee
for Civil Rights
· Daniel Maccallair, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
· Pat Christen, Executive Director, SF AIDS Foundation
· Regina Aragón, Public Policy Director, SF AIDS
· Cynthia Pearson, Executive Director, National Women's
· Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, Co-Director, Pacific Institute
for Women's Health
· Trish Moylan Torruella, Executive Director, Mothers'
Voices : United to End AIDS
· Craig E. Thompson, Executive Director, AIDS Project
- Los Angeles
· Duane Poe, Executive Director, Black Coalition on AIDS,
· R. Keith Stroup, Executive Director, National Organization
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
· Martin Waukazoo, Executive Director, Native American
· Ron Rowell, MPH, Executive Director, National Native
American AIDS Prevention Center
· Loras Ojeda, Community Relations Director, Mobilization
· Dennis deLeon, Executive Director, Latino Commission
· Lupe Lopez, Executive Director, People of Color Against
· Rob Kampia, Exectuve Director, Marijuana Policy Project
· Margaret Batchelor White, President, Black Women's Agenda,
· Dr. James T. Black, President, 100 Black Men of Los
· Luz Alvarez Martinez, Executive Director, National Latina
· Alvan Quamina, Executive Director, African American
AIDS Support Services and Survival Institute
Comparing U.S. and
Use of marijuana by older teens (1994)
United States: 38% Netherlands: 30%
Use of marijuana by 15-year-olds (in 1995)
United States: 34% Netherlands: 29%
Heroin addicts (in 1995) United States:
430 per 100,000 Netherlands: 160 per 100,000
Murder rate (in 1996) United States: 8.22 per
100,000 Netherlands: 1.8 per 100,000
Crime-related deaths United States: 8.2 per
100,000 (1995) Netherlands: 1.2 per 100,000 (1994)
Incarceration rate (1997) United States:
645 per 100,000 Netherlands: 73 per 100,000
Per capita spending on drug-related law
States: $81 Netherlands: $27
Statistics on Teen Drug Use
Teens In US More Likely To Use Drugs Than Teens In Europe
Youth More Likely To Use Alcohol, Tobacco Than US Counterparts
World Health Organization (WHO) held
its European Ministerial Conference on Youth and Alcohol in Stockholm,
Sweden in February 2001.
Highlights from the conference included
a report comparing use of alcohol and other drugs by youth in
Europe with use by youth in the US. The New York Times reports
that "Forty- one percent of 10th graders in the United States
had tried marijuana, compared with 17 percent of those in Europe.
And 23 percent of the students in the United States had used
other illicit drugs, compared with 6 percent of the Europeans."
The study was developed by the Council of Europe with the help
of researchers at the University of Michigan's Monitoring The
Future project, and compared results from the MTF with results
from a European survey, the European School Survey Project on
Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD).
(Results from the ESPAD 1999 can be downloaded
as PDF files from from the World Health Organization European
Youth and Alcohol Conference website, as well as from links found
on this Background Brief.)
The WHO also reported that alcohol is
the number one killer of young men in Europe, according to new
data from their Global Burden of Disease 2000 Study. The release
notes that "One in four deaths of European men in the group
aged 15-29 years is related to alcohol. In parts of eastern Europe,
the figure is as high as one in three."
These reports are issued on the heels
of the release of the new annual report by the UN's International
Narcotics Board. The report, available online in PDF format,
details world consumption and production of both legal and illegal
narcotic drugs and issues cautions based on their analysis.
According to the INCB, the US and many
other nations face a problem of over-use of prescribed drugs.
The BBC reported that according to the INCB, "Benzodiazepines
are a major problem. In Europe, the forms of drug used as a sedative
are used three times as often as in the US. But in the US, the
forms of benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and obesity disorders
are used 10 times more often than in Europe. Loose prescription
regulations, aggressive marketing and unethical prescribing were
highlighted as problems."
The INCB also singled out for criticism
drug policies in both Australia and Canada.
The Australian Associated Press reports
that "The United Nations has criticised Australian states
for challenging the Federal Government's anti-heroin injection
room stance." Also, the AAP story says that "the INCB
also said it was concerned about the high social acceptance of
illicit drugs and the large number of people in favour of the
legalisation of drugs in Australia."
Regarding Canada, the Toronto Star reports
that "The United Nations' International Narcotics Board
has criticized Canada for its lax attitude toward illegal growers
of cannabis and failure to control illicit production of drugs
such as 'ice' and 'ecstasy'."
A growing divide is developing between
the UN's anti-drug bodies and Europe, Australia and Canada. In
contrast with the INCB's report, the Social, Health and Family
Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe adopted a report that "commends the approach taken
by Switzerland, which has significantly reduced drug-related
deaths since 1994 using controversial prevention and treatment
programmes including needle exchanges, injection rooms, heroin
for severely addicted users, and housing and employment programmes
for reducing "drug harm"
Strasbourg, February 20, 2001 - Legal sanctions against drug
possession and use appear to have no effect whatsoever, says
a report adopted today by the Parliamentary Assembly's Social,
Health and Family Affairs Committee.
The drug policies of Council of Europe
member states should instead concentrate on the achievable goal
of reducing "drug harm" - a broader concept which takes
into account drug-related deaths, diseases and crime.
In a draft recommendation, the committee
commends the approach taken by Switzerland, which has significantly
reduced drug-related deaths since 1994 using controversial prevention
and treatment programmes including needle exchanges, injection
rooms, heroin for severely addicted users, and housing and employment
programmes for addicts.
The United Kingdom and Sweden, on the other hand, rely mainly
on severe legal penalties for drug possession and use, despite
evidence that this approach lacks utility, the committee notes.
The report, by Paul Flynn (United Kingdom,
SOC), concludes that until reliable comparable data are available
for a larger group of countries, an objective assessment of the
success or failure of different European drug policies is almost
impossible - with the result that policy continues to be made
"in a vacuum". Standardisation of research and data
recording methods across Europe is therefore urgently required.
In the meantime, say the parliamentarians,
states should adopt policies which reflect awareness of a likely
causal link between deprivation and drug harm, as suggested by
recent research from the United Kingdom.
The draft recommendation adopted by the
committee will be debated by the Parliamentary Assembly - bringing
together parliamentarians from all 43 Council of Europe member
states - later this year.
Angus Macdonald, Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe
Tel. +33 3 88 41 34 39 - Fax. +33 3 88 41 27 90
Dutch Role Model
Does Not Increase Cannabis Use
Provides Good Model For US
RAND Corporation researchers Peter Reuter
and Robert MacCoun recently published in the British Journal
of Psychiatry the results of their examination of the effects
of cannabis decriminalization in the Netherlands, Australia,
and some US states ("Evaluating Alternative Cannabis Regimes,"
BJP, 2001, 178, 123-128). The authors found, "The Dutch
experience, together, with those of a few other countries with
more modest policy changes, provides a moderately good empirical
case that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession
(decriminalisation) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana
or any other illicit drug; the argument for decriminalisation
is thus strong."
The study looked at prevalence of use,
trends in use rates, and the so-called "gateway" effect.
They found that "Dutch rates are somewhat lower than those
of the USA but somewhat higher than those of some, but not all,
of its neighbors." They also observe that "The fact
that Italy and Spain, which have decriminalised possession for
all psychoactive drugs, have marijuana use rates comparable to
those of neighbouring countries provides further support. This
prohibition inflicts harms directly and is costly."
The authors admit that with decriminalization
or legalization there is a risk of an increase in prevalence
of use. However, they observe "The increase in marijuana
use would have to be weighed against the reduced intrusiveness
of the state, reduction of black markets and possible substitution
of marijuana for alcohol, which might be net health enhancing."
Begin clinical trials of medically
drug maintenance therapy.
one of the most dramatic success stories
in modern addiction treatment, doctors in Switzerland have discovered
that the provision of medically determined doses of heroin to
heroin addicts significantly improves their health, lifestyle
and reduces the amount of crime associated with drug use when
they are permitted to leave the black market environment. The
Swiss researchers concluded that:
· Both the number of criminal offenders
and the number of offenses decreased by about 60% in the first
six months of the program.
· Most illicit drug use, including
cocaine, rapidly and markedly declined.
· The number of participants on
unemployment benefits fell by more than half (from 44% to 20%).
· Participants' housing situation
rapidly improved, ending homelessness among the patients.
· The physical health of participants
· More than half of the patients
who dropped out of the program did so in order to switch to another
form of treatment, including abstinence. 1
The success of this program illustrates
how deeply our current policies are failing to reduce most of
the consequences of drug use in this country. In light of that
failure, our country must be able to learn from the successes
of other nations and experiment with techniques that might improve
living conditions for everyone.
1 Uchtenhagen, A. "Summary of the Synthesis
Report." In Uchtenhagen, A., Gutzwiller, F., and A. Dobler-Mikola
(Eds.), Programme for a Medical Prescription of Narcotics: Final
Report of the Research Representatives (1997). Zurich: Institute
for Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich.
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