The Hell of Addiction 

The Hell of Addiction 
Posted by FoM on February 06, 2001 at 08:21:18 PT
By Susan H. Greenberg, Newsweek International
Source: Newsweek
In the new U.S. thriller “Traffic,” just opening on international screens, Michael Douglas plays Ohio judge Robert Wakefield, a Scotch-drinking conservative who is named the new U.S. drug czar. During an information-gathering trip to the Mexican border, he begins to see how complex and intractable the illegal-drug trade really is.   Local honest cops like Javier Rodriguez Rodriguez (Benicio Del Toro) might be able to withstand the temptation of taking bribes, but they are powerless to stop corruption among those around—and above—them. 
Wakefield’s misgivings about his appointment parallel the growing realization that his own teenage daughter is addicted to crack. Near the end of the movie, during his first official press conference, the drug czar deviates from his prepared text and launches into an impromptu speech about the futility of the fight against drugs. “I don’t see how you wage war on your own family,” he says, effectively resigning his post. A few scenes later, he and his wife are shown beside their daughter at a meeting for substance abusers. “We’re here to listen,” he says.    That’s hardly the attitude the world has come to expect from the American drug czar. After all, U.S. prisons are filled with drug offenders; the number of inmates tripled over the past 20 years to nearly 2 million, with 60 to 70 percent testing positive for substance abuse on arrest. The country has spent billions of dollars attacking the problem at its roots: coca growers in Latin America, poppy cultivators in Asia, even domestic marijuana farmers. But there is a growing consensus that the “war on drugs” has been lost; the United States is still the world’s largest consumer of illegal substances; cocaine continues to pour over the border from Mexico. “Traffic” taps into the national frustration, depicting the horrors of both drugs and the drug war. Without taking sides, the film illuminates the national debate and poses an alternative that Americans seem increasingly willing to consider: finding new ways to treat, rather than merely punish, drug abuse.  Wasted Money?    Policy revolutions—like legalizing narcotics—remain a distant dream. But there is growing public awareness that the money and energy wasted on trying to stanch the flow of drugs into the United States might be better spent on trying to curb demand instead. Voters in several states are far ahead of the politicians, approving ballot initiatives that offer more treatment options. “Drug courts” that allow judges to use carrots and sticks to compel substance-abuse treatment have grown fiftyfold since the mid-1990s, part of a new understanding that, even with frequent relapses, treatment is much less expensive for society than jail and interdiction. Each of the former drug czars as well as the man rumored to be President Bush’s choice for the job, retired Col. James McDonough, stress treatment and demand-side reduction as their first priority.      Drug addiction is increasingly being viewed more as a disease than a crime. Science is yielding clues about the “hedonic region” of the brain, while breakthrough medications and greater understanding of the mental-health problems that underlie many addictions are giving therapists new tools (following stories). California approved Proposition 36 last fall, a landmark referendum that offers treatment options in place of jail. New York is rewriting its draconian Rockefeller-era drug laws. The outgoing drug czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, says the phrase “drug war” should be retired in favor of “drug cancer.” His No. 1 recommendation on leaving office last month was that insurance companies offer “parity” coverage for mental-health and drug disorders. Even hard-liners like to say that Americans can no longer incarcerate their way out of the problem.    All this is a way of saying that American views are coming into line with Europe’s. The allies’ drug-use patterns are similar: marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance, and while cocaine is more prevalent in the United States, its use is rising across Europe. Amphetamines and ecstasy are the second and third most commonly consumed drugs in Europe, and their use—especially of ecstasy—is growing rapidly in America as well. In both places, heroin addiction remains the most deeply entrenched—and costly—public-health crisis. In a dozen major American cities, men ages 20 to 54 are more likely to die of a heroin overdose than in a car accident. And according to the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, of the EU’s 1.5 million estimated “problem” drug users, most are heroin addicts.    Shifting Focus:     Officials across the continent have already begun shifting their focus from repressing drug flow to rehabilitating drug users. The new European Union Drugs Strategy for 2000-2004 makes a commitment to increasing the number of successfully treated addicts. Germany, Italy and Luxembourg have transferred responsibility for drug policy from their Ministries of the Interior to the Ministries of Health or Social Affairs. In Britain, Tony Blair’s government has set up a National Treatment Agency to coordinate the efforts of social-service agencies and the Department of Health. And drug-prevention and support agencies there are getting about 30 percent more funding this year.    The first step in confronting addiction is understanding the addicted population. And often that means facing up to some uncomfortable facts. In most places, drug users are getting younger and younger. So some countries all over the world have begun targeting their efforts directly at young people. In tough areas of Greece and Finland, flashy new late-night cafes offer alternatives to doing drugs on the streets. One British rehab project, the Ley Community, joined forces with Earthwatch to allow recovering addicts to go on scientific field trips, where they might study dinosaur footprints in north Yorkshire or birds on the Isle of Mull. Last year Hong Kong, alarmed by the number of teenagers crossing into southern China for raves in Shenzhen, announced plans for a new counseling center aimed exclusively at teenage abusers of psychotropic drugs, including ecstasy. The government has also allocated $45 million to find new approaches for treating psychotropic drug abuse.    Addicts are increasingly being given a voice in formulating drug policy. In Britain, the National Treatment Agency has consulted users’ groups, and drug czars Keith Hellawell and Mike Trace often listen to the tales of users. “We’re very much being brought into the debate in an interesting way,” says Bell Nelles, general secretary of the Methadone Alliance, a users’ lobby group. “We’ve cracked the credibility thing. Now [users] are involved as part of the strategy.”    The European Approach:    Some countries have no doubt gone further than America probably ever will. Needle exchanges are common all over the EU, as are “substitution treatment” programs, where users can exchange, say, a bag of heroin for a dose of methadone. In France and Spain, pharmacists are allowed to distribute syringes and methadone. Belgium recently decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use, following similar moves by Spain, Portugal and Italy. Last year Germany legalized the use of sanitary “injection rooms,” arguing that drug-related deaths have declined in cities like Frankfurt, where they are available. The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland also provide injection centers as a way to get users off the street and to reduce the spread of diseases through needle-sharing. Peter Cohen, director of the University of Amsterdam’s Centre for Drug Research, maintains that cultural acceptance of drug use is growing so rapidly that soon it will be considered as unremarkable as “homosexuality, which [decades ago] was seen as an illness, but is now totally normal behavior.”    That’s pretty radical even for many Europeans. In America, old habits die harder. Washington still directs two thirds of the federal drug budget (including $1.3 billion in military assistance to Colombia) to law enforcement, while state legislatures—leery of seeming to coddle criminals—lag behind public opinion on funding treatment. So-called “harm reduction” strategies like needle exchanges have a tough time winning approval, despite many studies proving that they save lives. The new U.S. attorney general, John Ashcroft, has opposed not just needle exchanges and increased federal funding for treatment, but a taxpayer-supported media campaign aimed at teens. Courts—including many drug courts—won’t often authorize methadone treatment, and junkies routinely fail to report overdoses to the authorities for fear of being arrested. In “Traffic,” the kids leave their overdosed friend at the hospital and run away—a common response.    But there are small signs of change all over the country. In New Mexico, where GOP Gov. Gary Johnson is an outspoken drug reformer, the authorities are trying a new harm-reduction strategy to fight overdoses. Last month New Mexico doctors were authorized to give addicts syringes full of Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, an easy-to-inject medication that immediately counteracts the heroin and saves the life of the overdosing addict. One test of the new public mood on drug enforcement will be if other states follow suit. New York is beginning to reassess it’s tough drug laws, which date from the 1970s and the governorship of Nelson Rockefeller. Last month Gov. George Pataki, once a major hard-liner, proposed cutting the minimum sentences for serious drug felons from 15 years to eight and giving judges more discretion. “It was clear when we went through the clemency process that there were people who were caught up in the drug laws in ways that resulted in dramatically unfair sentences—people sentenced to 15 years when their involvement was minimal,” Pataki says.      How does the rest of the world view America’s new tack? Most Europeans think it’s about time that their puritanical cousins got with the program. Indeed, a few critics in London have faulted “Traffic,” which opened there to generally positive buzz on Jan. 26, for not going far enough in support of legalization. Hong Kong police fear that an increase in funding for treatment will mean a decrease in U.S. drug-enforcement help; in November, the then President Clinton asked Congress to remove Hong Kong from the list of major drug-transit territories. And while Mexican analysts are encouraged by America’s new attention to demand reduction, they remain skeptical about Washington’s true intentions. “The Americans have to fill all of those jails with [people] caught smoking a joint,” says Haydee Rosovsky, who until recently headed Mexico’s national anti-addiction program. Changing the main national strategy from attacking drug pushers to rehabilitating addicts won’t come easy. But slowly, steadily, Americans seem determined to try. Note: An American Epiphany: Perhaps the only way to win the drug war is to do more to treat its victims.    With Jonathan Alter in New York and Carla Power in London, Alan Zarembo in Mexico City and Mahlon Meyer in Hong Kong. Source: Newsweek (US) Author: Sharon Begley, NewsweekPublished: February 12, 2001Address: 251 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019 Copyright: 2001 Newsweek, Inc. Contact: letters Website: Complete Series:Newsweek's Special Report on Addiction • The War on Addiction:• The Origins of Dependence: How It All Starts Inside Your Brain:• Treatment: New Ways to Stay Clean:• Schools: Rethinking Zero Tolerance:• Alcoholism: Can This Pill Stop You From Hitting the Bottle?:• Ads: The War On Drugs Goes to the Air:• Waging a Public Battle: Robert Downey Jr. Takes One Day at a Time:• 'Traffic's' Screenwriter on Addiction: The Enemy is Every One of Us:• Addiction and Genius: From Kubla Khan to Kurt Cobain:• International: The Hell of Addiction: 
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Comment #4 posted by dis-enter on February 06, 2001 at 12:48:10 PT
"gosh, pictures of naked ladies in france!"
>Wakefield’s misgivings about his appointment parallel the growing realization that his own teenage daughter is addicted to crack.Really? But she was shown as a catatonic prostitute in the movie. Heroin, crack, what's the diff when there's a sensation to feel?> Addicts are increasingly being given a voice in formulating drug policy. This is like a Victorian era news-weakly saying "sex fiends are inceasingly being givin a voice in formulating sex policy"> Some countries have no doubt gone further than America probably ever will. "America" now speaks for Canada, Mexico and South America too? Typical NewsWeak chauvanism. "To go far" is to institute sesible policy, something we "never will". The usual American puritanical moses-from-the-burning-bush pronouncements. NewsWeak left-leaning? Compared to the American Spectator, maybe! To those who see the tide turning...suuuuuuure.
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Comment #3 posted by Kevin Hebert on February 06, 2001 at 09:53:28 PT:
The tide is turning
For a major publication like Newsweek to run a story like this is fantastic. Until the majority of Americans learn the truth about the drug war and its unacceptable consequences, change is impossible. I know feel that the time is coming, and sooner rather than later, where we will abandon the strategy of imprisoning users and instead focus on problematic use and addiction prevention. And that is great news for everybody.
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Comment #2 posted by Dr. Ganj on February 06, 2001 at 09:16:57 PT
Polymer Cocaine
"Looks just like plastic, and even the drug sniffing dogs at the border can't detect it".That folks, is a quote from this realistic movie. The point is, coke is even cheaper and more available than ever. I thought the other day if we all just said;"Nah, coke is lame, I don't do that any more" we wouldn't have a drug war. It's that simple. But, since Americans DO enjoy their fair share of drug ingestion, we DO have a problem. The problem is not Mexico, Colombia, or Peru's fault, it's OURS, and we should face that fact. We can't eradicate all the drug producing plants out in the jungles-no matter what we do.The only way out of this mess is to accept the fact that people like to do drugs, and DECRIMINALIZE their use. Of course we should have strict laws in place for the people on these drugs that affect the innocent-like drivers under the influence.We do not live in a perfect world, that's obvious. But, we can reduce the harm these drug laws have created. Remove the severe penalties, and we'll all see things will be a lot better than they have been.Don't forget, our prohibition of alcohol lasted from 1920-1933, and was a complete failure. This prohibition has lasted for decades, and is also a complete failure.It is time to let people use their drugs at home, and focus our attention on more serious problems our planet, and its people have. (see link below)Dr. Ganj
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on February 06, 2001 at 08:52:16 PT:
I have read Newsweek for some 40 years (yeah, I was that nerdy kid at age 8), and although I have generally liked their slightly leftward tilt in comparison to other news magazines, I have always been shocked by their silence on clinical cannabis, and their seeming acquiescence in the War on Drugs. Apparently that it changing. Media of all types are now speaking uniformly of the need for drug policy reform. The real question is, will the legislators listen? They must. The cry is deafening.
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