Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 29, 2009


Time - Following the lead of Switzerland and a handful of other countries, Britain recently concluded a four-year trial in which longtime addicts were given daily heroin injections as part of a treatment program to eventually wean them off the drug. Now, with results showing the trial succeeded in reducing street-drug use and crime among participants, Britain could soon become only the second country in Europe to institutionalize the program. That would mean permanent, state-funded heroin clinics would be set up across the country to treat the most heavily addicted people. . .

In the trial, which was conducted in the cities of London, Darlington and Brighton, researchers divided the 127 participants into three groups, giving one group heroin and giving the other two intravenous methadone and oral methadone. Although all three groups showed improved physical and mental health thanks to the counseling and social services offered by the clinics, the heroin-using group fared much better than the others. After half a year, three-quarters had largely stopped taking street heroin. And the number of crimes committed by those in the group dropped from 1,700 in the 30 days before the program began to 547 in the first six months of the trial. . . .

Britain has long permitted doctors to prescribe heroin for a small number of hard-to-treat patients, but in the 1970s and 1980s doctors became reluctant to prescribe doses high enough to actually work, fearing patients would sell them on the black market. "It was a lose-lose situation," says Strang. Then, in the early 1990s, researchers from Switzerland, which was witnessing a dizzying spike in heroin use, came knocking. "They saw what we were doing and said, 'We can do better,' " Strang says. . . .

Among the researchers was Ambros Uchtenhagen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Zurich, who set up clinics in Switzerland where drug users injected heroin under doctor supervision and received counseling. "We found highly persistent improvement [among the patients]," says Uchtenhagen. Today, there are 23 clinics across the country that treat roughly 2,200 drug users, or about 6% of the nation's heroin addicts. The average stay is three years - a quick stint for users who average 15 years of heroin use. Less than 15% relapse into daily use. . .

Recovered history

Progressive Review, 1997 - Two leading German police officials -- the prefect of Koeln and the vice prefect of Frankfurt -- have told the European Parliament that the monitored distribution of heroin can give drug addicts better life conditions and prevent them from becoming criminals. . . .A Swiss experiment with just such a monitored program has slashed crime, misery and death, report authorities.

Sam Smith, Utne Reader, 2000 - The surge in urban violence has its roots in the mid-80s. Drug use in America had actually peaked in 1979 according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Marijuana use was one-half what it had been in the late 70s and heroin deaths were down by 25% from 1975. During the Carter years, in fact, drug treatment efforts had been so successful that heroin overdose deaths dropped by two thirds.

But by 1985, with Reagan cutbacks in publicly-funded drug facilities, that figure started climbing back up. Those who could not afford private treatment were being hurt most and drug overdose deaths in major cities were up 18% over the previous decade. It was enough of an excuse for President Reagan to declare a war on drugs. There was no subtlety in this. The Washington Times reported: "President Reagan yesterday declared drug dealers a greater national security threat than terrorists" and the US News & World Report flatly declared that narcotics had turned "into a national security threat. Headlines, police blotters, death certificates testify to a nation on a binge."

Ironically, the renewed growth in urban drug use was being fueled by steps already undertaken by the Reaganites. The administration had early gone after marijuana, the easiest target and the hardest drug to hide. That it was also the most benign, causing less harm than either tobacco or alcohol, was ignored. As pressure was placed on the marijuana trade, prices rose and quantities declined. An economic vacumn for a cheap street drug was created and soon filled.

The first accomplishment of the Reagan war on drugs thus became the ready availability of a new and less expensive form of cocaine: crack. It was not an auspicious beginning. The war was quickly accompanied by a murder rate that rose with drug arrests. The number of murders in DC, for example, mounted 50% in two years. It is hard, in fact, to think of another domestic policy that has caused so much mayhem in such a short period as the war on drugs. Yet a decade later, only a tiny handful of politicians would publicly admit what Minneapolis Police Chief Anthony Bouza had said back in September 1988: "All of the action, in Minneapolis or elsewhere, is just spinning a wheel and chasing our own tails. It ain't working."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for reprinting that info. Hadn't realized there had been such a crackdown on pot ahead of the crack epidemic. The bulky bags of pot wouldn't have been as easy for Reagan's Contra buddies to smuggle in either.

September 29, 2009 8:24 PM  
Blogger 77Meridian said...

Drugs should be legalized at the federal level, and let the states experiment with sane public health drug policies.
If hard core addicts could spend $10 a week instead of $500, that would greatly reduce robberies and burglaries often committed to fund drug habits.
The problem with having drugs illegal everywhere, except a few spots in the US, would cause drug addicts to flock to those locations, what we need is for drugs to be legal all over so we can spread the junkies and whores around more evenly.
It would be nice to see the president show some leadership on this one, but he was put in place to keep the war machine going and give more power to the banks, so don't hold your breath

September 30, 2009 1:43 PM  

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