Archive for the ‘USA’ Tag

America, Land of the Brown

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

I warned about a resurgence of heroin use, following this year’s bumper opium crop in Afghanistan, in Smacktastic Britain, and unfortunately this may be already starting to come true, with reports of presentations of new heroin users at services (too young to remember the stigma of the last wave) and increased purity levels of the drug. But, given that there has been an international drought for the last three years, I guess this could just be business getting back to normal. And it will be another few months, possibly into early next year, before that crop reaches our shores and heroin use becomes a tempting prospect again – and people like the drug so much they start dying all over the place.

There has, however, been somewhat more of a significant increase in America. Fox News report that heroin use is “on the rise: cheap, available and out of control”, and the Wall Street Journal state that “heroin use in the U.S. is soaring, especially in rural areas”.

Fox’s Dr Manny Alvarez makes the claim that this increase is due to the last decade of prescription drug abuse, as painkillers such as Vicodin and oxycodone have been dished out like sweets and created large numbers of opiate addicts. The report also spells heroin with an ‘e’ on the end, claims that it causes miscarriage, and demands that America starts another War On Drugs – so I’m guessing we can take its contents with a pinch of salt – but it remains however an interesting suggestion that America’s increase is heroin use may be self-created. This claim is supported by other reports, which claim that OxyContin (the market name for oxycodone) has been refomulated to make it less abusable (by making it harder to crush and pastey, so that snorting or injecting is more difficult), and that, compared to the price of buying prescription meds, heroin is by far the cheaper option for those who find themselves dependent.

The Wall Street Journal, who also support the idea of a vast shift from prescribed opiates to painkillers, give some insightful and scary facts on the country’s growing heroin problem – seizures from the Mexico border have quadrupled between 2008 and 2012, and overdoses are going through the roof. Some of the rural communities are heroin-naive, most of them have no service provision, and heroin purity is at its highest in years, making overdose an inevitable consequence. Even more headline-grabbing – these medicated kids are white and middle-class.

So maybe we haven’t got as much to worry about in the UK as we first thought. The US market is prepped, desperate, and think that heroin is a bargain. If I was a drugs baron, I know where I’d be taking my bumper crop. Something tells me that the horrendous US drug overdose death rate of someone every nineteen minutes might be about to get a lot, lot worse…

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Texas fights the War On Drugs (no, really)

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

A bizarrely sensible change to US drug policy appears to have been made this week – based on a model trialled in Texas. In what seems to me to be a primarily fiscal move spun into a moral one by the Obama administration, the ideas from the conservative Bible Belt state are being rolled out to the rest of the country. Described as ‘a major shift in criminal justice policy’ by The New York Times, the changes are being implemented without the agreement of Congress, in order to bypass Republican opposition. Instead of changing legislation, alterations are being made to criminal justice directives, or the guidelines which inform federal prosecutors. The changes will stop the amount of the drug possessed from being declared in court, to avoid minimum sentencing requirements being triggered, and instead allow shorter sentencing or community orders where there is no violence, no sales to minors, no significant criminal history, and no links to organised crime and gangs.

This, in principle, seems like a positive move. However, when we consider the model originated in Texas, where millions of dollars were saved by avoiding building new prisons, and potential inmates were diverted into treatment and work programmes, we can be fairly confident the reasoning is financial rather than compassionate. It remains open to prosecutors’ discretion, which may well not reduce the race gap in prison populations (80% of those incarcerated for drug-related crime are black, which equates to one in three, yes that’s ONE IN THREE, young black males), and could in fact increase the racial discrepancy should prosecutors use their discretion biasedly. As the decriminalisation movement in America point out, this “tepid new directive.. smacks of… good spin and no spine”.

But Attorney General, Eric Holder, who unveiled the new plans this week to The Washington Post, offered some reassurance of the administration’s good intentions and understanding, saying “A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities… many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate these problems rather than alleviate them”.

Only time will tell whether this will have the intended impact. But whatever the motive for the changes, the outcome will be fewer non-violent drug users incarcerated, the release of older inmates who were imprisoned for what would now be considered more minor drug offences, and hopefully a social shift in the perceived criminality and dangerousness of drug users in the US. A vast reduction the criminal justice budget is another good outcome – especially for a country which apparently now houses 25% of the world’s prisoners – and if the move is supported with an increased access to work and housing for these people, they should soon be contributing positively to tax figures instead of eating away at the other end.

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