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AlterNet Is Leading the Fight for Drug Reform: Will You Help?

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 09:50
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As a subscriber to AlterNet's drugs newsletter, you know that independent media is a key ingredient for social change when it comes to reform. Whether the issue is legalization or ending mass incarceration, the journey starts with educating people, changing minds, inspiring people to become activists, and breaking through social taboos, racist mind-sets and powerful government agencies and business interests that stand in the way of progress. And media needs to be there every step of the way as reforms and changes begin to happen. 

AlterNet has been a media leader for almost two decades on drug reform issues. Can you make a generous contribution to support our work?

Every day, we push back against the massive onslaught of corporate propaganda that dominates the airwaves. With unique, original reporting, in-depth analysis and editorials, and a curated mix of the best content from select publishers and grassroots organizations around the globe, AlterNet is recognized as one of the best on this issue. 

We are a great bang for your buck. But we simply can't do it without your supportCan you help?

In solidarity,

Phil Smith, AlterNet Drugs Editor

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Because of the Drug War, There Is Virtually No Heroin Without Fentanyl in Many Places

Wed, 08/30/2017 - 09:22
Click here for reuse options! Prohibition doesn’t work, and a wall on the border will do nothing to stop the flow of drugs.

August 31 is Overdose Awareness Day, and there is a huge disconnect happening right now. Without doing any real analysis of the problem, some lawmakers are rushing to pass harsh new penalties against people who provided fentanyl-laced heroin to someone who then died from it, even if they were unaware that their supply of heroin contained fentanyl. If these lawmakers looked closely at the issue, they might realize their approach will do nothing to reduce opioid-related deaths.

For starters, they’d see that fentanyl is virtually ubiquitous in the heroin supply in parts of the Northeast and Midwest. People who use heroin have very little control over whether it has been adulterated, so if we don’t address the root causes of problematic drug use, fentanyl-related overdose deaths will persist.

Fentanyl is a legal synthetic opioid used to treat serious pain. Discovered in the 1960s, fentanyl was only used for surgery, but its clinical use expanded in the '90s when an extended release skin patch was developed to treat chronic pain. When fentanyl is prescribed it’s a safe and effective pain reliever as long as the recommended dosage is followed. 

So why is it becoming harder to find heroin without fentanyl? Where is the fentanyl coming from? Why is it being added to heroin? I used to imagine people who sold heroin at lower levels of the chain would add fentanyl to their heroin to try to spice up their product to make it more attractive, but that’s not the case at all.

Most of the fentanyl on the black market isn’t from medical supply, it’s produced illicitly. It’s important to know that virtually none of the heroin being consumed in the U.S. is actually produced in the U.S. It’s almost entirely produced in Colombia and then shipped to Mexico, where fentanyl is being added before it comes to the U.S. Not only does fentanyl make the product stronger, until very recently it was imported cheaply in bulk from China. This provides financial incentive for suppliers to stretch their product further.

This adulterated heroin enters the U.S., giving people who then sell it no choice of what kind of heroin to supply their customers; their seller likely only carries fentanyl-laced heroin and is unaware of this fact.

Most users don’t appear to be seeking fentanyl, and they aren’t prepared to protect themselves from its risks. It’s hard to test for fentanyl, but in some limited places, syringe access programs are making attempts. Additionally, because of drug-induced homicide laws, if users share with a friend who overdoses they can be charged with manslaughter. So how are these new laws solving anything or keeping people safe?

If we really want to reduce opioid dependence and overdoses we should look at the concrete policy steps outlined in the Drug Policy Alliance’s opioid response plan.

We need to expand access to treatment, including methadone, and to make sure the GOP doesn’t pass a healthcare bill that takes away these options. The overdose-reversal drugnaloxone should be more available. We need supervised consumption services, where people can use pre-obtained drugs in controlled settings, potentially have them checked for adulterants like fentanyl using high-level drug checking technology, and consume the drug under the supervision of trained staff with access to sterile injecting equipment, health care, counseling, and referrals to health and social services, including drug treatment. There has never been a single overdose death at current sites like these.

Allowing heroin-assisted treatment (HAT) for those whom have a long and protracted history of problematic drug use is another sensible approach. Every published evaluation of HAT has shown extremely positive outcomes and more than a half dozen countries in Europe and Canada that have implemented such programs.

Overdose deaths are preventable, and we need to raise awareness for these proven harm reduction strategies this August 31. Prohibition doesn’t work, and a wall on the border will do nothing to stop the flow of drugs. Until we fundamentally change our approach, the problem in the U.S. will only get worse.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog.

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Will California Be the First State to Provide Addicts a Clean, Well-Lit Place to Shoot Dope?

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 23:11
Click here for reuse options! It sounds whack, but safe injection sites are a proven public health intervention.

As we mark International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, California is on the verge of taking a serious, yet controversial, step to cut down on drug deaths. A bill that would allow a number of counties in the state to set up supervised drug consumption sites—Assembly Bill 186—is now only a Senate floor vote away from landing on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

Such facilities, also known as safe injection sites, typically allow drug users to inject their own drugs under medical supervision on premises with needles and related equipment provided by the site. The sites also serve as a point of contact between injection drug users and social service and treatment providers. But they infuriate social conservatives, who see them as coddling or condoning illicit drug use.

Although such facilities operate in a number of European countries, as well as Australia and Canada, and have been shown to provide numerous public health benefits, including a reduction in overdose deaths, no sanctioned supervised drug consumption sites are operating in the U.S.

Which is not to say there are none operating: Earlier this month, two researchers published a report on an unsanctioned—and potentially illegal—supervised drug consumption site operating since 2014 in an unnamed U.S. city. They offered little data, but their main finding was that no one had died injecting drugs at the site. Two people overdosed, but were revived with naloxone administered by on-site medical staff.

And efforts are well underway in Seattle and surrounding King County, Washington, to get sites up and operating there. But no state has passed a law authorizing the widespread use of the facilities. California came close last year, and of the six states where such legislation has been filed this year, it's the nearest to victory.

That's only somewhat consoling to Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), the author of the bills both this year and last. In a Tuesday conference call, she decried the legislature's blocking of this proven public health policy intervention in 2016 and pointed to the cost of a year's delay.

"The studies show they work. Treatment goes up, overdoses go down, and we also see a reduction in street use around facilities, as well as reductions in HIV and Hep C," Eggman noted. "But that doesn't always make sence in politics. Some 3,600 Californians have died of drug overdoses since we couldn't pass this last year."

The bill allows eight counties—Alameda, Fresno, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Mendocino, San Francisco, San Joaquin, and Santa Cruz—or cities within those counties to establish safe injection sites under a pilot program that would expire in January 2022. Sites would be required to do the sorts of things sites are supposed to do: "provide a hygienic space supervised by health care professionals, as specified, where people who use drugs can consume pre-obtained drugs, and provide sterile consumption supplies;" administer needed medical treatment; provide access to referrals for drug treatment, mental health, medical, and social services; and provide education on overdose and infectious disease prevention.

The bill also bars safe injection workers and clients from being charged with drug-related crimes for actions within a safe injection site program.

"I'm a social worker," Eggman explained. "During the 1980s, I did drug and alcohol counseling, and I saw the epidemic go from heroin to crack to meth. And now we're seeing more and more suffer from addiction. I had to ask myself what made sense from a public policy perspective."

Safe drug consumption sites are one response that do make sense from a public policy perspective, but they can be a hard sell, and not just with social conservatives. In laid-back Santa Cruz, a preemptive NIMBY campaign has appeared.

"Santa Cruz is known as a progressive place, willing to try new things, so I was surprised at the pushback," Eggman confessed. "I think some activists found out about it early and were very vocal, but we've been working very carefully with them since then. We've had to explain the bill doesn't force them to do anything, that there has to be a lot of input before anything happens, that there has to be public hearings and a vote by an elected body."

But before any of that happens, the bill needs to actually pass the Senate, where its prospects are good, and then be signed into law by Gov. Brown, who has not pronounced one way or the other on it.

"We're trying to provide data for the governor to get a signature for this pilot program," Eggman said. "It's not for everybody, but it is a tool for saving lives and reducing addiction."

Will California actually get it done this year? Stay tuned. 


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Can Drug Checking Help Solve the Overdose Crisis?

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 13:43
Click here for reuse options! It's a crucial and potentially life-saving harm reduction intervention already well known in nightlife settings.

The opioid overdose crisis is a multi-layered and complex problem, and one that won’t be solved by any single solution. In addition to efforts that support naloxone and syringe access, as well as expansion of on-demand treatment, a new tool that deserves more attention is emerging: drug checking.

Drug checking,” or testing a substance in order to provide information about contents and purity, is a crucial and potentially life-saving harm reduction intervention already well known in nightlife and festival settings.  But until very recently, those trying to keep people who use heroin and other opioids safe didn’t consider it one of their top tools. That may be starting to change.

The main reason why? Fentanyl.

Fentanyl has changed the landscape of opioid, and particularly heroin, use. Although approved and used as a pain-reliever in many settings, when produced illicitly, this highly potent whitish powder can be cut into heroin (as long as it’s also powder form and not tar) or even added to counterfeit pills made to look like Oxycontin and other prescription opioids. And because it takes far less fentanyl than it does heroin or other opioid to trigger an overdose, it has caused deaths to surge in several areas all over the U.S. and Canada.

The proliferation of fentanyl has pushed those in the opioid-using community to think far more urgently about how they might test a substance. But it hasn’t been easy – fentanyl doesn’t show up on reagent drug tests, the most common drug checking method available to the public, and those used most often by people in nightlife or festival settings.

They say necessity is the mother of invention: it was the Canadian supervised injection facility, Insite that first began experimenting with repurposing fentanyl test strips designed for urine testing and instead using them to test heroin before use. The idea has since spread to syringe exchanges and drop-in centers in the U.S. 

The worry has crossed over between communities. The western Canadian festival Shambhala, known for its long-running onsite drug checking, recently found alarming results showing fentanyl in substances they checked at their event. Reflecting this growing concern that fentanyl could show up in any substance, the festival-oriented harm reduction organization DanceSafe is now selling these test strips as well as reagent kits on their website.

Questions remain about the efficacy of the fentanyl test strips, how realistic it is to expect heroin and other opioid users to use them, and what resources exist to support expanded distribution of the strips in any case. Despite these questions, the underlying promise of drug checking’s role in reversing the overdose crisis is growing clearer to both the opioid and nightlife harm reduction communities.

Interested in hearing more about this issue? The conversation will continue at DPA’s Reform Conference in Atlanta this year, on a roundtable sessionChecking Out Drug Checking: Can It Solve the Overdose Crisis? to be held on Friday, October 13 from 4:30 – 6 p.m.

If you haven’t yet, consider joining other reformers from around the world at this meeting. Early bird registration ends on Friday, September 8.

And if you can’t join, keep in mind that although drug checking won’t solve the overdose crisis on its own, we should be loudly advocating for everything that has a chance of helping reduce the number of these tragic and often preventable deaths.

This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance Blog


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The FDA Says MDMA is a ‘Breakthrough’ Drug for PTSD Patients

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 11:38
It's not quite ready for a therapist near you, but the FDA move means clinical trials will be put on a fast track.


The FDA says MDMA is a ‘breakthrough’ drug for PTSD patients

It's a big step forward for a controversial treatment. 'Molly' tablets often don't contain much MDMA, because they're packed with fillers. The purest way to get MDMA is in crystal form. Depositphotos Ecstasy doesn’t sound like something you do in a doctor’s office. But the Food and Drug Administration wants that to change. The FDA just…

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How the War on Drugs Fueled the Fentanyl Crisis

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 11:23
The campaign to cut off heroin supplies has encouraged the growth of labs producing the opioid. We need to instead embrace a public health approach.

A staggering 59,000 people died of drug overdose in 2016 according to a recent New York Times analysis. Annual overdose deaths in the US have already surpassed those inflicted by Aids at its peak.

Sparked by big pharma’s criminal mismarketing of opioid painkillers, the overdose epidemic rages to new heights with the increasing street presence of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a fully synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than heroin. Without an immediate massive investment in harm reduction and treatment, this toll will only worsen, even if the specter of carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 100 times more powerful than fentanyl, is held at bay.

As a medical student I have seen addiction wreak havoc on my patients’ lives even when it does not kill them. One of the first surgeries I assisted was for a patient whose heroin addiction had, for years, interfered with his diabetes care. Diabetes impairs healing and so when my patient ignored a misplaced snip from a toenail clipper it spiraled into a festering foot sore and then a spreading bone infection. We had to amputate at the knee to save his life.

Before medical school, I had an even closer look at addiction while, as an ethnographic researcher, I lived for more than four years on an open-air heroin selling corner in Philadelphia interviewing dealers, users and their families.

Over those years, even before the growing presence of fentanyl, dozens of people died of overdoses in the garbage-filled train tracks immediately adjacent to my block. Now those tracks have turned into a veritable mass grave as the body count in Philadelphia continues its precipitous rise, as it does across the country.

Sadly, a month ago, Paul Yabor, a friend and committed harm reduction and HIV/Aids activist, added his life to the tragic count. He was found face down among hundreds of discarded syringes, next to the same tracks that we had so many times walked by together. Struggling for decades with addiction, Paul faced historically unprecedented risk in his last relapse because of the fentanyl increasingly flooding the streets.

But there is no mystery to why fentanyl is taking over. It is the direct consequence of market pressures produced by the war on drugs. Eradication efforts targeting acres of South American poppy fields aiming to cut off the heroin supply have instead encouraged the growth of fentanyl-producing labs with much smaller footprints in China and Mexico.

A few grams of fentanyl can earn smugglers the same money as kilograms of heroin. Drugs have become stronger and more frequently synthetic because they are easier to smuggle and easier to produce. Imperfect dilutions of these ultra-concentrated synthetic opioids for street consumption lead to dramatic variability in the potency of each dose driving the grim statistics.

This is a pattern that we have seen before. It is sometimes referred to as the “iron law of prohibition” – more interdiction, stronger drugs. In the 1920s alcohol prohibition drove down the consumption of relatively weak beer and drove up the consumption of stronger wine and spirits.

In the 1980s, energetic marijuana interdiction led to a repurposing of trafficking routes towards less bulky and more lucrative cocaine. Even before widespread fentanyl, the potency of street heroin had already been steadily increasing. Each pyrrhic victory of the war on drugs has left us with stronger and more harmful drugs.

A tragic irony of Paul’s death is that he was in the middle of advocating for a supervised injection facility in the neighborhood to replace the filthy, dangerous spaces where hundreds of doses of heroin are injected daily.

Supervised injection facilities are an evidence-based way to keep people alive by allowing them to inject drugs under medical supervision during this uniquely dangerous time to struggle with addiction. There are already more than 100 of these facilities in 66 cities across nine countries including Canada. None of these countries is facing the scale of the crisis that we in the US face and yet they rightly eschew moralizing for the sake of public health. A facility like this in the US would start saving lives the day it opens.

While pursuing necessary emergency measures, like supervised injection facilities, we need to also make every investment to achieve treatment on demand. Currently, only 10% of those in need of addiction treatment receive it. Buprenorphine and methadone are two evidence-based options for opioid agonist therapy that have repeatedly been shown to reduce death and support recovery and yet we drag our feet in matching access to need.

A crisis of this magnitude demands an energetic, open and scientifically-grounded consideration of every available tool at our disposal and the political will to follow where the science leads. The moralizing punitive logic of the war on drugs helped lead us into this crisis. Only a public health approach can lead us out.


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America's Lucrative New Weed Industry Should Compensate the Black Victims of the County's War on Drugs

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 09:45
It was state-sponsored racial terrorism, so reparations should be paid from the profits of the newly legal – and mostly white-owned – cannabis economy

America has long been high on its own endless supply of hypocrisy. The “land of the free” has the largest prison population in the world; the “home of the brave” has elected a coward to the White House. The United States, it has become clear, is still a divided country with different rules for its different coloured citizens. And, arguably, nowhere are those double standards more bluntly black and white than when it comes to the corporatisation of cannabis.

In recent years, the US establishment has gone from piously advising people to Just Say No to drugs, to saying “yes, please” to profiting from pot. To date, eight states have legalised recreational cannabis. Some colleges, such as the University of Denver, have introduced Business of Marijuana courses into their curriculums. Hordes of bright, mainly white, young things have launched lucrative cannabis startups and there’s an interminable stream of trend pieces in the US media about everything from cannabis-kale to how “bud bars” are the fashionable new fixtureat white weddings.

Blue-chip companies are also benefiting from the green rush: Scotts Miracle-Gro, a lawn-care company, saw its shares rise 31% last year, after buying up lots of companies that provide supplies for hydroponics, the favoured method of cultivating cannabis. Guess how many people of colour are on the Scotts leadership team? None.

So while legal marijuana money has started pouring into the US economy, there’s ample evidence that it’s largely white people profiting. A Buzzfeed investigationlast year, for example, estimated only about 1% of the storefront marijuana dispensaries in the US are owned by black people.\The racial inequities in the new marijuana economy are particularly egregious considering the US’s decades-long war on drugs, which disproportionately punished African Americans for petty drug crimes. A 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found black people are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite similar usage rates. The war on drugs has always been sanitised shorthand for: The War on Non-White People, With a Particular Emphasis on Black People.

The US’s racist approach to marijuana – both past and present – is hardly news. But what do we do about it? Well, I’ve got an idea: reparations. Every business now exploiting the legalisation of marijuana should forfeit at least 50% of their pot-based profits to a fund that gives reparations to people whose lives were destroyed by the US’s discriminatory war on drugs.

If this sounds fanciful, it shouldn’t. There is a longstanding debate in the US aboutwhether the government should compensate African Americans for the legacy of slavery – and the war on drugs is very much part of that legacy. Indeed, slavery was never entirely abolished in the US, it simply evolved, as white America found less overt ways to beat down its black population. Slavery 2.0 was the Jim Crow laws, that segregated and disenfranchised black people from around 1890 to the early 1950s. Slavery 3.0 took the form of what has been described as the “new Jim Crow”: the mass incarceration of black people. In her highly influential 2010 book, The New Jim Crow, legal scholar Michelle Alexander explains that “rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of colour ‘criminals’ and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind … employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity … are suddenly legal ... We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

There has been a lot of pushback against the idea of reparations for slavery. In a poll conducted last year, 81% of white people opposed the idea. Arguments against reparations for slavery tend to focus on the fact that slavery is a long time past. A National Review article entitled The Case Against Reparations argues, for example, that: “The people to whom reparations were owed are long dead; our duty is to the living, and to generations yet to come, and their interests are best served by liberty and prosperity, not by moral theatre.”

You can’t argue any of these counterpoints when it comes to the case for marijuana reparations, however. Many of the people whose lives were ruined by disproportionally harsh punishment for petty drug crimes are still alive and suffering the consequences. What’s more, it’s hard to talk about moral theatre when you’re taking money from people who are currently profiting from drugs and giving it to people who were incarcerated for attempting to profit from drugs.

Reparations only seem to be contentious when the people receiving money aren’t white. In 2015, for example, a bill signed by Barack Obama established the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund. This uncontroversial fund seizes assets from terrorist financiers and uses the money to compensate US victims of terrorism by state sponsors of terrorism. Much of the money for the fund has come from French bank BNP Paribas, which was fined $9bn in 2014 for violating US sanctions against Iran, Cuba and Sudan. Earlier this year the criminal division announced that more than $800m (£621m) had been paid out from the fund to individuals such as the Iran hostages held from 1979 to 1981.

The US’s war against drugs, I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say, was state-sponsored racial terrorism. The only reason it’s not widely recognised as such, and there isn’t a compensation fund, is because racism is one hell of a drug.


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The Opioid Epidemic is Finally a National Emergency -- Eight Years Too Late

Mon, 08/28/2017 - 08:48
Addiction scientists know what needs to be done to turn the tide. Politicians should ask them.

“It has been many long, hard, agonizing battles for the last few years and you fought like a warrior every step of the way. Addiction, however, won the war. To the person who doesn’t understand addiction, she is just another statistic who chose to make a bad decision.”

Despite working nearly two decades as an addiction scientist, I cannot read Kelsey Grace Endicott’s mother’s eulogy without crying. The opioid epidemic has turned those who lost their lives to addiction into statistics, while leaving their families in sorrow.

Overdose deaths in the U.S. have tripled since 2000, with 52,404 deaths in 2015 as the highest ever recorded. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to release official statistics for 2016, early estimates put the number of deaths at as many as 65,000.

On August 10, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency. Nearly a decade into this epidemic, this national emergency was declared at least eight years too late. Policymakers have missed opportunities to implement strategies scientifically demonstrated to reduce overdose deaths and help people recover.

Declaring a national emergency is important, but it’s not clear what steps the administration will take or how much funding will be committed to these strategies. We have proven prevention and treatment services that we need to significantly expand, and we need the money to do this.

The right treatments

Declaring the opioid epidemic a national emergency expands the availability of federal funding; frees up public health workers to address the issue; and makes it possible to remove regulatory barriers to lifesaving medications.

In a speech on May 11, Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested that tools like “Just Say No” and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) can help fight the opioid epidemic.

However, addiction science has repeatedly proven that such drug prevention programs are ineffective. Some would argue that we are biologically wired to try new things, so education alone is not sufficient to prevent repeated drug use.

Prevention efforts are part of the solution, but we need more immediate solutions for people already ensnared by addiction. Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, is usually the only thing that can prevent death when someone has overdosed on opioids. Science has unequivocally demonstrated that naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose, if administered in time and in an adequate dose.

When patients with opioid use disorders are treated with FDA-approved medications like methadone and buprenorphine, they not only reduce their use of opioids but they are also less likely to overdose. When these drugs are used to treat addiction, they are referred to as medication-assisted treatment. Medication-assisted treatment helps many people, particularly early in recovery, when otherwise their brains seem to focus only on using more drugs. In fact, a National Institute on Drug Abuse study found that only about 7 percent of patients can stop using opioids without buprenorphine.

We need drugs like naloxone and buprenorphine to prevent deaths and help people recover from addiction. In the past few years, state governments have taken significant steps to remove regulatory barriers and expand community access to naloxone.

But policies are infrequently aligned with addiction science. In 2015, only 11 percent of people who needed addiction treatment received it. There are not enough medication-assisted treatment treatment slots available: A recent study estimated that the U.S. was short 1.3 million treatment slots for medication-assisted treatment in 2012. Demand has only increased since then.

There is an entrenched belief that people choose to use drugs and that this choice reflects a moral failing. Even the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources – which cites medication-assisted treatment as part of its strategy – has been quoted saying: “If we’re just substituting one opioid for another, we’re not moving the dial much.”

Moving too slowly

Early on, everyone believed that the epidemic was fueled by widely available prescription pain relievers. Books like “American Pain” by John Temple described “drug tourists” routinely traveling from states like Kentucky and West Virginia to Florida, where millions of prescription pills were dispensed at “pill mills.”

Such overprescribing and doctor-shopping did contribute to the current epidemic. States have been successful at dispensing fewer prescription opioids, but this doesn’t help the nearly 2.6 million Americans already addicted, or the 329,000 who report currently using heroin.

And, since 2014, it has become clear that the epidemic is no longer just about prescription opioids. In addition, heroin is frequently mixed or substituted with powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl or carfentanil. They require far more of the overdose reversal drug naloxone than is routinely dispensed in communities.

Meanwhile, in poor and rural areas, community resources for public services are being exhausted by the costs of the epidemic.

Areas that have been disproportionately impacted by the epidemic, like West Virginia, have woefully inadequate access to harm-reduction services like syringe exchange programs and specialty addiction treatment. A clinic at our university that dispenses buprenorphine has more than 600 people on its waiting list. We will soon open a second clinic that will help reduce but not eliminate the waiting list.

A bill passed by President Obama, the 21st Century Cures Act, is making approximately US$1 billion in funding available to help states combat the opioid epidemic. But, as Dr. Keith Humphreys at Stanford University has said: This is not enough. We likely need 50 times that, as Ohio spent $1 billion in 2016 on the opioid epidemic.

Fighting back

It can be hard to grasp the devastation of the opioid epidemic. As the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has described it, in the scale of deaths, it’s like the September 11 terrorist attacks happening every three weeks. A national emergency would have been declared 10 years ago if such a disaster occurred every three weeks. And it can be even harder to imagine the emotional turmoil and the depth of sorrow felt by the families who’ve lost their daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.

I think it’s fair to say that we all want a simple solution – something that we can wrap our arms around. Something that can be done in one legislative session. But that has not worked and it will not work, just as declaring a national emergency is not enough.

Addiction scientists know what needs to be done to turn the tide. While we may not understand every aspect of the epidemic and certainly need more research to understand these deaths of despair, we are eager to collaborate with communities to find empirically informed solutions, such as medication-assisted treatment. The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis consists of four politicians and one addiction scientist. It might help to start by asking an expert, rather than politicians, what should be done.

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California Could Become the First State to Legalize Magic Mushrooms

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 11:49
Click here for reuse options! A voter initiative to do just that has been filed with state officials.

It could be up to California voters to make the state the first in the nation to allow for the use and sale of psilocybin, the mind-altering component of magic mushrooms.

On Friday, Kevin Saunders, a candidate for mayor in the Monterey County town of Marina, filed the California Psilocybin Legalization Initiative with the state attorney general's office. The initiative would exempt people 21 and over from state criminal penalties for using, possessing, cultivating, transporting, and selling psilocybin.

Filing an initiative is just the first step. The measure must be submitted for public comment for 30 days and then given a circulating title and summary by the attorney general's office before it is approved for signature gathering. If and when it is approved, campaigners then have to gather some 365,880 valid voter signatures to be placed on the November 2018 ballot.

Saunders told the Los Angeles Times that psilocybin helped him get over an addiction to heroin a decade ago. "I think we're seeing something that could literally heal our brothers and sisters," he said. "We're talking about real cutting-edge stuff."

Using the initiative process, California became the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. And while it wasn't the first state to legalize marijuana via the initiative process—Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012—the state legalized recreational marijuana via an initiative last year.

The initiative and referendum process has been criticized as inflexible, circumventing planning, and relying on an uninformed electorate, and it is also open to criticism as a tool for corporate interests. But it has proven invaluable for advancing the cause of drug reform in the face of state legislatures resistant to change.

All eight states that pioneered pot legalization did it through the initiative process. No state has yet legalized marijuana through the legislative process. And the pioneering medical marijuana states all did it through the initiative process as well. After California approved it in 1996, it was five years before Hawaii became the first state to okay it legislatively.

California is now poised to once again break down the walls of prohibition—this time with natural psychedelics.


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I Toke Thee to Be My Wife: Inside a Cannabis Wedding in California

Sat, 08/26/2017 - 11:15
From a pot sommelier to cannabis buds in the bouquets, Zak Walton and Dani Geen’s ceremony was not Carmel’s typical nuptials.

It was a picture postcard California beach wedding. The bride wore white. The Pacific Ocean lapped at the altar. The violinist played Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love.

Then, upon being declared husband and wife, Zak Walton and Dani Geen inclined their heads, puckered their lips, closed their eyes and took long, deep puffs of potent cannabis.

A table by the altar had all the accoutrements: pots of cannabis concentrate, a torch lighter to heat it up, and glass vessels known as rigs, through which they inhaled the vapour.

The family and friends sat before them minded not a bit. This, after all, was a weed wedding and most of them had also ingested.

Melissa Cunningham, the wedding planner, said: “The psychic effect you get from it is very calming. Dani and Zak want to be on the same spectrum going into their matrimony.”

Everybody seemed to be on the same spectrum during the ceremony on Thursday at Stewart’s Cove, a bucolic beach near Carmel, south of San Francisco.

Walton, 30, savouring his first minutes of married life with a joint alongside bridesmaids and groomsmen, all smoking, said: “I’m feeling good. Nice and relaxed, medicated.”

What had he consumed so far? “I had some dabs at the hotel, a joint, some edibles. Not too much, not too little,” he said.

It was all legal: the cannabis buds in the bouquet and floral arrangements, the goody bags with joints and cannabis vapes, the cannabis-infused munchies (“handcrafted to melt in your mind”) and the dab bar at the reception in nearby Monterey, where a pot sommelier in a three-piece suit offered guests different ways to get lightly, blissfully stoned.

California voters approved recreational marijuana last November, a landmark victory in the fight for legalisation that has paved the way for the largest commercial pot market in the US.

Activists and entrepreneurs have found ways to “weedify” multiple products and services, including weddings.

It was news to the catering guys setting up chairs on the beach before the ceremony. “A cannabis wedding, really?” said one, astonished. “Is it, like, a thing?” asked another.

To evangelists, it’s the future.

Philip Wolf, the co-founder of the Cannabis Wedding Expo, which showcases industry products and services, said: “Down the road, people won’t call it a cannabis wedding, because bud bars will be normalised. Smoking creates a bonding aspect. People did it in ancient times. It enhances conversations.”

Luna Stower, 33, a friend of the bride, said cannabis soothed nerves and made couples more romantic. Stower, the wedding officiant and sales director for a cannabis distribution company, had benefited from munching toffee hours earlier made by a company called Mind Tricks. “It’s very relaxing. An aphrodisiac and a euphoric sedative that lasts a very long time. It has organic sugar so it’s a quality high,” she said.

The high did not addle Stower’s brain. She led the ceremony fluidly, without notes, and made a quip about the the couple loving and honouring each other “till dab do you part”. Dabbing is the term for heating a dose of concentrate on a hot surface and inhaling it through glass.

Cannabis brought the Oakland-based couple together because they started out as smoking buddies, said Walton, who works on cars. “One thing led to another and here we are 12 years later,” he added.

He uses the herb to ease backache and Geen, 31, uses it for fibromyalgia, tumours and other conditions. “Cannabis has been my medicine and my saviour,” she said. Not to mention her employer: she works for Harborside Health Center, a medical cannabis dispensary.

She wanted her wedding to show that cannabis could be classy – integrated into decor and menus, with the reception hosted at Monterey’s Victorian-era Perry House – and safe, with controls to keep it away from children.

Geen laughed off the stereotype of zonked stoners, saying certain strains of pot sharpened concentration. “I’m going to remember my night better than someone who has had a lot of alcohol,” she said.

Steve DeAngelo, her boss and guest, agreed, citing Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as evidence that weed did not engender low functionality.

The drug also did wonders for intimacy, he said. “It opens you to more sensual experiences. It allows men, especially young men, to match their sexual rhythm to a woman’s rhythm,” DeAngelo added.

Geen reckoned that about 60 of the 70 guests were using cannabis.

Some were exultant, like David Nevitt, 34, who dabbed, munched, vaped and toked. “We’re at a weeding! Usually at weddings you have to be discreet, do it in the car park. Doing it here right in front of everybody, it feels revolutionary,” he said.

Others were grateful. Holly Alberti, 34, said: “I’ve taken several concentrated dabs and I could use some more. The ride over was quite stressful, we got lost.”

And some, including a pair of college professors, were coy, saying they might partake. They declined to give their names lest Google for ever link them to pot.

The groom’s mother, Aurea Walton, 55, was one of the few to opt out. “I’m Catholic,” she said. “So no, I won’t partake.” Then she smiled. “Unless it’s by mistake.”

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