Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Galveston Beachcomber Finds $2M worth of Cocaine

Houston Chronicle

A woman out for a morning stroll on Galveston's East Beach stumbled onto a washed-up bag with 16 bricks of cocaine worth an estimated $2.1 million, police said Tuesday.

The woman, whose name was not in the police report, was walking on the beach near the Beachtown subdivision when she saw a backpack rolling in the surf about 11 a.m. on May 22, Galveston police spokesman Jeff Heyse said.

She used her cell phone to call police, who discovered a black bag containing the cocaine bricks that weighed a total of 37 pounds 2 ounces. Each brick was marked with bar codes and wrapped in a rubber sheet, a large balloon and another plastic layer, Heyse said.

“There were barnacles growing on the bag so you know it was probably in the water a long time,” he said. He said the bricks were so wrapped so well that only four of the bricks had been contaminated by seawater.

The bag contained the first large quantity of drugs washed up on Galveston beaches in at least a decade Heyse said.

No one knows how or where the drugs got in the water, but typically they are thrown overboard when law enforcement attempts to board a smuggler's vessel, he said.

Occasionally drugs wash ashore and the police keep quiet about it in hopes of finding the owner, Heyse said. “Unfortunately there was nothing in the bag that would lead them anywhere,” he said.

Although the amount found was large, it amounts to a fraction of the cocaine brought into the United States, Heyse said. Heyse recalled an entire ship loaded with cocaine being seized several years ago.

Dealers typically dilute the cocaine with baby formula or some other odorless, flavorless material, he said.

The 37 pounds would probably have been turned into 100 pounds of street product, Heyse said, or processed into highly addictive crack cocaine in home laboratories.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

David Lewis, 54, Dies

The Washington Post

Ex-convict pioneered Drug Rehab programs known nationwide

David Lewis, 54, an ex-convict turned social activist who co-founded a substance abuse treatment and prisoner rehabilitation program that gained national recognition, died June 9 of a bullet wound to the abdomen, said his mother, Cora. Mr. Lewis was shot outside a mall in San Mateo, Calif., in what police are calling a targeted attack.

Mr. Lewis started Free at Last in East Palo Alto, Calif., with a Stanford University student in 1992. The organization helps more than 4,200 people annually and has become a model of community-based treatment, said Lara Galinksy of Echoing Green, a nonprofit group that provided seed money to Free at Last.

Born Nov. 23, 1955, in San Francisco, Mr. Lewis was a high school dropout in East Palo Alto who became involved in gangs and drugs. A victim of heroin addiction at 15, he was in prison at 19 and spent most of the next 17 years behind bars.

He was serving time in San Quentin State Prison when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989. He felt powerless and "vowed to never feel powerless again," Mr. Lewis told the Sacramento Observer in 2003.

Released from prison shortly after the quake, he eventually entered a California drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and joined a black men's support group, Circle of Recovery, that was featured in the 1991 Bill Moyers documentary of the same name.

Mr. Lewis co-founded Free at Last the same year that East Palo Alto recorded the highest murder rate in the nation. The program has been credited with greatly reducing area crime.

He also pioneered a program aimed at East Palo Alto residents who are returning to the community from prison. Run by the local police department, it provides life-skills training and temporary jobs with the California Department of Transportation.

More recently, Mr. Lewis had been working with Pasadena police officials to set up a similar program and had completed projects with New York correctional systems and Michigan drug rehab programs.

In 1994, he received the California Wellness Foundation's Peace Prize for his efforts to treat violence as a preventable health issue.

In addition to his mother, Mr. Lewis is survived by three children and three grandchildren.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Prescription Abuse Sending as Many to ER as Illegal Drugs

Associated Press

For the first time, abuse of painkillers and other medication is sending as many people to the emergency room as the use of illegal drugs.

In 2008, ERS saw an estimated 1 million visits from people abusing prescription or over-the-counter medicines — mostly painkillers and sedatives. That was about the same number of visits from those overdosing on heroin, cocaine and other illegal drugs, according to a government report released Thursday.

Only five years earlier, illegal drug visits outnumbered those from legal medications by a 2-to-1 margin.

In other words, the number of ER visits from medication abuse doubled, said Peter Delany of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"It's a pretty startling jump," Delany said. He led a team that worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the report.

Painkillers and sedatives clearly drove the trend. ER visits for the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone more than doubled from 2004 to 2008. And cases from one kind of tranquilizer nearly doubled.

The estimates are based on emergency room data from more than 200 U.S. hospitals. Many of the cases may be overdoses, but some may come from mixing drugs or combining them with alcohol, Delany said.

Health officials are not sure why painkiller abuse rose so dramatically. But the number of prescriptions has been increasing, so some of those who ended up in ERs may have gotten their medicine legally.

The authors did not estimate how many of the ER patients died. A CDC report last year found that the rate of drug-related deaths roughly doubled from the late 1990s to 2006, and most of the increase was attributed to prescription opiates such as the painkillers methadone, Oxycontin and Vicodin addiction.

"The abuse of prescription drugs is our nation's fastest-growing drug problem," Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in a statement.

The use of painkillers has grown in recent years as doctors tried to correct the traditional undertreatment of pain, and pharmaceutical companies ramped up marketing of new pain medications.

But many doctors and patients don't fully recognize the medications' dangers, said Susan Foster, a vice president at Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

"People believe they're safer because they're prescribed by doctors and approved by the FDA," she said.

The report is being published this week in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Prescription Heroin Helps Addicts off Street Drugs

Prescribing heroin to addicts who can't kick their habit helps them stay off street drugs, British researchers said Friday.

So far, doctors have had little hope of treating the 10 percent or more of heroin users who don't respond to methadone, the standard anti-addiction medication. Fueled by drug cravings, those users often spiral downward into crime and diseases spread by dirty needles and unhealthy living.

Short of actually getting addicts off the drug, "heroin clinics" can at least get them off the streets.

"What we are dealing with here is a very severe group of heroin addicts, where all of the treatments have been tried and have failed," said Dr. John Strang, an addiction expert at King's College London, who led the new study.

"They are like oil tankers heading for disaster," he added. "The question we were asking was, 'Can we change the trajectory of these tankers?' And the answer was, 'Yes we can.'"

To test how prescription heroin would work for this group, Strang and his colleagues invited 127 addicts into supervised injecting clinics. The researchers then randomly chose who would get heroin, injected methadone or typical swallowed methadone.

After six months, 101 addicts had stuck with their treatment. More than two-thirds of those on heroin had no sign of street heroin in their urine at least half the time they were tested; before the study, they had been using the street drug almost every day.

In comparison, less than a third of the addicts on either type of methadone had a similar number of "clean" tests.

At this point, said Strang, several users have continued in the program for more than two years. He did not have exact numbers, but told Reuters Health that some had been able to get jobs and reconnect with their families.

"These sorts of changes are typical of what we are seeing," he said. "People are not only physically getting better, but they're getting back into society."

The researchers had to treat about two addicts for each one who get off of street drugs at least half of the time.

An estimated 3.7 million people in the US have used heroin at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Of current users, studies suggest that some 200,000 spend time in jails each year.

The most common drug treatment for heroin users is methadone, a synthetic drug related to heroin. Although methadone decreases the cravings for its chemical cousin, it doesn't produce the same high, according to experts. This could help explain why a substantial proportion of addicts in treatment backslide.

Before the new study, a handful of other reports had indicated that prescription heroin could help these people. But the scientific community wasn't completely convinced, in part because earlier urine tests weren't very sophisticated.

"What this study did is that it used a very novel urine test that can differentiate between street heroin and prescription heroin," said Thomas Kerr, director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Street heroin contains papaverine, a remnant of the opium poppy that can be detected in the urine.

Now, he said, "the evidence is quite clear that there is a place for prescription heroin for the treatment of individuals who do not respond to methadone."

Only a few European countries prescribe heroin to addicts, and in the US this practice has been illegal since before World War I.

Many argue that giving addicts more of the substance they abuse makes little sense, and would be like treating an alcoholic with whiskey.

But Kerr said that analogy wasn't apt. "I would argue it's completely immoral and unethical to fail to treat those individuals and to allow them to suffer and allow the community around them to suffer," Kerr said.

Strang said he supported the UK Government's 2008 Drug Strategy, which proposes rolling out prescription heroin.

"Now that we know that it works, we have to debate whether or not we should use it," he said.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

WHO to Tackle Binge Drinking

Health ministers adopt global strategy at WHO meeting;  Recommend higher taxes and marketing regulations

Health ministers agreed on Thursday to try to curb binge drinking and other growing forms of excessive alcohol use through higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and tighter marketing regulations.

The global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol was adopted by consensus at the annual assembly of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Its 10 main policy recommendations, drawn up after two years of negotiation, are not binding but serve as guidance to WHO's 193 member states.

"Alcohol contributes to accidents, mental health problems, social problems and harms third parties," said Bernt Bull, a senior advisor in Norway's health ministry. Nordic countries, many of which already have tight restrictions on alcohol sales, spearheaded the initiative at the United Nations agency.

A relatively high excise tax on alcoholic beverages and regulations limiting their availability was helping to reduce alcohol-related diseases in Norway, he said.

The WHO estimates that risks linked to alcohol cause 2.5 million deaths a year from heart and liver disease, road accidents, suicides and various cancers -- 3.8 percent of all deaths. It is the third leading risk factor for premature deaths and disabilities worldwide.

"Alcohol is usually not perceived as a killer, though it is," Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department of mental health and substance abuse, told a news briefing.

Despite growing abuse and youth drinking at an earlier age in many countries, half of WHO members do not have a national alcohol policy, according to WHO expert Vladimir Poznyak.

"The biggest changes might happen in those countries which have no alcohol control institutions or regulatory framework for alcohol consumption," he told reporters.


The Global Alcohol Producers Group noted the strategy recognised the importance of self-regulation by industry in helping to address alcohol abuse.

Its members recognised "the harmful effects of irresponsible drinking patterns" and would continue efforts to promote self-regulation of advertising as well as curbs on drink driving and illegal underage and excessive drinking, a statement said.

Britain's Diageo (DGE.L), the world's largest alcoholic drinks group, and Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world's largest brewer and maker of Budweiser, are among its members.

In a separate statement, brewing giant SABMiller (SAB.L) gave a cautious welcome to the plan, but warned:

"SABMiller is unconvinced there is sufficient evidence to support policy options such as minimum pricing and high excise taxes that may result in unintended, negative public health consequences which stem from the growth of the illicit alcohol market."

The WTO strategy document says the harmful use of alcohol has a serious effect on public health and is one of the main risk factors for poor health globally.

There is strong evidence that a low limit for blood alcohol concentration (0.02 to 0.05 percent) is effective in reducing drink-driving casualties, it says.

It underlined the importance of a legal framework for restricting the sale and serving of alcohol, a minimum age for buying drinks and "mandated health warnings" on alcohol labels.

Setting a minimum price per unit gram of alcohol has been shown to reduce consumption and alcohol-related harm, it said.

But overly tight restrictions on alcohol availability may promote the development of a parallel illicit market, it warned.

The Global Alcohol Policy Alliance -- a coalition of medical professionals, researchers and non-governmental organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous -- welcomed the WHO decision as historic and "long overdue".

"The strategy highlights the effectiveness of focusing on policies regarding pricing, availability and marketing of alcohol," it said in statement.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Overflowing Prisons Spur Call for Reform Commissions


Senator Jim Webb, Virginia

Despite the lacklustre performance of so-called "blue ribbon commissions" in the United States over the years, sponsors of the latest proposal - the National Criminal Justice Commission - are optimistic that it will become a reality and that its recommendations will be taken seriously by the president, Congress and the U.S. public.

The reason, says its sponsor, Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, is that "America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace".

He added, "We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives. We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration."

Given the chequered history of blue ribbon commissions in the nation's capital, a spokesman for Sen. Webb told IPS that "with nearly 40 Democratic and Republican cosponsors, there is a strong likelihood of success".

In the past, Congressionally-appointed commissions are typically set up, staffed, complete their investigative and analytical work, make recommendations that are received by a senior official, a press release is issued, and then the commission's report is consigned to a shelf where it gathers dust.

Throughout U.S. history, there have been relatively few bodies that have gained the notoriety, media coverage, and attention from Congress and the president as the 9/11 Commission, established in the wake of the terrorist attacks if Sep. 11, 2001.

Over time, most of its recommendations were implemented. One reason was the severity of the issue - almost 3,000 deaths. Another was ongoing, well-organised, effective support from the families of the 9/11 victims.

A prison commission has none of those attributes - and prisoners can't vote. So the political incentive appears minimal.

But the issue is not. Statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service begin to tell the story.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate on the planet - five times the world's average. A total of 2,380,000 people are now in prison. The U.S. has five percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the world's prison population.

Minorities make up a disproportionately large share of inmates. Black males have a 32 percent chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives; Hispanic males have a 17 percent chance; white males have a six percent chance.

African American men and boys are grossly over-represented at every stage of the judicial process. Although African Americans make up just over 12 percent of the national population, 42 percent of those currently on death row are African American.

African American women have the highest rate of incarceration among women in the U.S. - four times higher than that of white women.

Initial contacts with police officers are often driven by racial profiling and other racially tainted practices, and the disparities exist through the sentencing phase: African Americans routinely receive more jail time and harsher punishments.

Cocaine laws in particular disproportionately affect African Americans, who account for 25 percent of total crack cocaine abusers, yet who comprised 81 percent of those convicted of federal crack cocaine offences in 2007.

Drug offenders in prisons and jails have increased 1200 percent since 1980. Nearly a half million persons are in federal or state prison or local jail for a drug offence, compared to an estimated 41,100 in 1980. A significant percentage of these offenders have no history of violence or high-level drug selling activity.

As a result, spending on corrections rose 127 percent at the state level while higher education expenditures rose just 21 percent.

Prisons and jails have also become holding facilities for the mentally ill. There are an estimated 350,000 men and women prisoners with serious mental disorders - four times the number in mental health hospitals.

It is against this background that Sen. Webb introduced the National Criminal Justice Act, authorising the Commission. There has been no in-depth or comprehensive study of the entire criminal justice system since The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration and Justice, impaneled in 1965.

A companion to the Webb bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives with bipartisan sponsorship. The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the proposal with strong bipartisan support. The legislation is now awaiting action by the full Senate and is pending in the House.

The Commission would carry out a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, and make reform recommendations to improve public safety, cost-effectiveness, overall prison administration, and fairness in the implementation of the criminal justice system.

It "would also be charged with looking at how we have arrived at this convoluted mess, how many of our problems are interrelated and often feed off of one another, and how we can correct a system that is badly in need of a new course," Sen. Webb said.

Other powerful actors agree. Among them is Hilary O. Shelton, director of the Washington Bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

In a telephone interview, Shelton told IPS, "At every stage of the criminal justice process serious problems undermine basic tenets of fairness and equity, as well as the public's expectations for safety."

"Perhaps the most glaring problem inherent in today's system is the number of racial and ethnic minorities who are disproportionately treated more harshly and more often by our nation's criminal justice system," he noted. "From initial contact to sentencing to the challenges facing those reentering the community after incarceration, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in the number of people stopped, arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated."

The Commission would include members appointed by the president and by federal and state politicians, as well as private sector specialists in law enforcement, criminal justice, national security, prison administration, prisoner reentry, public health, including drug addiction and mental health, victims' rights, and social services.

The bill has also been endorsed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest organisation of police executives.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Many People on Methadone Abusing Cocaine as Well

Telegram - St. John's

A St. John's mother says her son's situation is putting her through hell. He's being treated for methadone, but appears to be getting high on cocaine.

"He's going to die one of these days," she says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's not going to wake up. I see him coming home stoned. I know my son."

He is in his early 20s and was addicted to OxyContin and Percocet.

It's the mother's understanding her son is among many people battling an opiate addiction with methadone, but using coke to get high.

The word on the street, she says, is that methadone users believe it won't show up in a urine sample or that doctors don't screen for cocaine because it's too expensive.

"They're all doing (coke), the majority," she said.

The mother's worries about cocaine appear warranted.

Ron Fitzpatrick is with Turnings, an organization that supports offenders and ex-offenders and helped with the setup of methadone treatment in the province.

He figures about 50 per cent of the people on methadone are using coke, too. He explained how they fly under the drug test radar.

"You get your methadone and, say Sunday, you say you do coke for three days or five days, and then for three days you won't. You drink lots of water and liquid and everything else, and when you got to get tested, there's nothing in your system. You're clean, but then you go back using coke for four days."

Dr. Jeff White is one of few doctors administering methadone treatment in the St. John's area.

Of the people he removes from the program, he says 95 per cent are doing coke.

"I'll give a patient a chance or two, but at some point, you gotta say, 'What's going on?'"

The worried mother fears the toll that mixing drugs might take on her son.

"It's very, very dangerous," she says.

Fitzpatrick agrees it's a recipe for disaster.

"You're working on two addictions then," he says. "You've got one going on in your muscles, in your body ... destroying your circulatory system, and now you're screwing with your head and also your major organs. You're really looking for trouble."

White says using coke while undergoing methadone treatment defeats the purpose.

"The point of being in a rehab program is to rehabilitate, whether it's from oxycodone, heroine or coke. If you just substitute one drug for another, how much better are you, really?"

As for doctors not checking for cocaine due to the expense, or the drug not showing up in urine tests, those who work in the field say that's not the case.

White requires patients to submit weekly urine tests for drugs, including cocaine. So does Eastern Health's methadone clinic in Pleasantville.

The other doctor in the St. John's area that offers public methadone treatment, Dr. Syed Rizvi, did not return phone messages from The Telegram. However, Fitzpatrick understands Rizvi asks for weekly tests as well.

The concerned mother says she hasn't heard of her son being screened since he began undergoing methadone treatment.

White explains that his patients are informed up front if there is cocaine or something else in their urine, he'll know.

"You have to throw it back on them - 'This is your program.' I don't have an addiction. I don't have any addiction. It's not my problem. I'm just here to show you what to do. Do you want to do it? Fine, but if you don't, well, eventually I'm going to say, 'Sorry, but there's 40 other people who want your spot.'"

The presence of cocaine, White points out, is detected easily and accurately.

"If they are even around it and handling it with their fingers and somehow ingest it on their lips or something, it'll probably show up."

Still, the doctor admits he can sit down for three hours and talk about how people alter their urine.

He notes you can even buy pee on the street in St. John's.

"That's the flaw with the system we have, in the sense that I ask you to go down to the hospital and do a urine sample, I get your urine test back (and) I can only assume it's your urine. If it's your uncle's, I don't know that."

White acknowledges weekly urine testing places a tremendous strain on the Eastern Health's lab.

Fitzpatrick realizes this, too, but he says the only way to prevent people from using cocaine while taking methadone is to test urine every day.

He doesn't think that'll happen.

"You're not going to see it every day, and that's how the guys can get away with it," he says.

The concerned mother wishes there was a solution to help her son.

She says he was doing well on methadone but has started going downhill since he began doing cocaine.

It's a constant worry for her. She says her son has lost weight, has a drawn face and is living an unhealthy lifestyle that involves being up all night and in bed all day.

She says he hasn't been in trouble with the law, but she worries that might happen.

"He has no life," she says.