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March 2007
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Califano and CASA just won’t die

I haven’t had to bring up this liar for awhile. Joseph Califano, and Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), you may recall, is known primarily for falsifying numbers about teenage drinking. They’re ba-ack.
In the Daily Tar Heel, we see Report: Half In College Abuse Drugs Or Alcohol:

Experts Find the trend alarming
Drug and alcohol use is a chronic problem for college students across the country, a recent report found, and one that UNC students and officials say needs to be addressed.
Nearly half of all full-time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs, according to a study released March 15 by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The report is Wasting the Best and the Brightest: Substance Abuse at AmericaČs Colleges and Universities (pdf). The actual report (even if you could believe the numbers, which I don’t, given that CASA is promoting this), is actually more alarmist than alarming.
And check out Califano’s statement:

Accepting as
inevitable this college culture of alcohol and
other drug abuse threatens not only the present
well being of millions of college students, but
also the future capacity of our nation to maintain
its leadership in the fiercely competitive global
economy.

What nonsense!
Not only is there very little in the report to support some major shift, what’s really intellectually dishonest is that the report, while claiming that the problem is binge drinking and drug abuse spends pages upon pages pushing for abstinence and enforcement efforts (which, of course, have no impact on bingeing or abusing). Not once do they mention the notion of managing use.
I went to college in the 1970’s and I work at a University now. College students experiment with drugs and try out their limits with alcohol. In any time and any place.
When I was in college, my roommate and I decided to find out what it was like to get drunk, so we loaded up with Bacardi 151, Sloe Gin, and Boone’s Farm Apple and got puking drunk (yes, we were idiots, but mostly in terms of our lack of knowledge of good drink choices). However, after that one bad night, we rarely did any binge drinking, for one simple reason. We did most of our drinking in bars (the drinking age was lower) and they stopped serving you when you got drunk (and we learned to make better choices — today I stick with good single-malt Scotch).
These days, the students in college do all their drinking at unsupervised parties because the drinking age is 21. Drug use occurs, but is driven further underground, where people who might have problems are less likely to seek out help.
There are potential lessons to be learned from analyzing college alcohol and drug use patterns, but not with Califano and CASA distorting the numbers and the message.

Why drug warriors won’t debate us.

thehim, over at Blog Reload eviscerates a poor San Diego State University student drug warrior. Come on, Lee, isn’t it unfair to use facts and logic and stuff?

The War on Drugs’ War on Minorities

In today’s Los Angeles Times is a blistering OpEd by Arianna Huffington

Democratic presidential candidates crave the Latino and black vote, but ignore the Drug War’s unfair toll on people of color. […]
The silence coming from Clinton and Obama is particularly deafening.
Obama has written eloquently about his own struggle with drugs but has not addressed the tragic effect the war on drugs is having on African American communities.
As for Clinton, she flew into Selma, Ala., to reinforce her image as the wife of the black community’s most beloved politician and has made much of her plan to attract female voters, but she has ignored the suffering of poor, black women right in her own backyard. […]
Avoidance of this issue comes at a very stiff price (and not just the more than $50 billion a year we’re spending on the failed drug war). The toll is paid in shattered families, devastated inner cities and wasted lives (with no apologies for using that term). […]
Maybe the president will suddenly wake up and decide to take on the issue five days before he leaves office. That’s what Bill Clinton did, writing a 2001 New York Times Op-Ed article in which he trumpeted the need to “immediately reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences” ÷ conveniently ignoring the fact that he had the power to solve it for eight years and did nothing. […]
A 2000 study found that 1.4 million African American men ÷ 13% of the total black male population ÷ were unable to vote in the 2000 election because of state laws barring felons access to the polls. In Florida, one in three black men is permanently disqualified from voting. Think that might have made a difference in the 2000 race? Our shortsighted drug laws have become the 21st century manifestation of Jim Crow.
Shouldn’t this be an issue Democratic presidential candidates deem worthy of their attention?

Really powerful stuff. Read the whole thing. Print it out and mail it to the Presidential candidates.

Ranking drugs in Great Britain

If you haven’t been following recent developments in the UK, there’s been quite an upheaval and controversy over drug policy (the best coverage is at Transform Drug Policy Foundation blog).
Actual new and creative ideas are being discussed (although that is also causing backlash from the prohibitionists, who are attacking with renewed vigor).
And studies that actually trash entrenched thinking are not only being published, but reported in the media. In reporting the Lancet study published yesterday, the Associated Press and the Globe and Mail even shouted in the headline: Booze, smokes worse than some illegal drugs: study.

New člandmarkä research finds that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than some illegal drugs like marijuana or Ecstasy and should be classified as such in legal systems, according to a new British study. […]
Heroin and cocaine were ranked most dangerous, followed by barbiturates and street methadone. Alcohol was the fifth most harmful drug and tobacco the ninth most harmful. Cannabis came in 11th, and near the bottom of the list was Ecstasy.
According to existing British and U.S. drug policy, alcohol and tobacco are legal, while cannabis and Ecstasy are both illegal. Previous reports, including a study from a parliamentary committee last year, have questioned the scientific rationale for Britain’s drug classification system.

To me, the interesting thing here is the discussion — the fact that conventional wisdom about the relative dangers of drugs is being questioned — not the specific rankings. The methodology, though interesting, is subjective and can’t really control completely for the effects of a drug’s legal status.

Prof. Nutt and his colleagues used three factors to determine the harm associated with any drug: the physical harm to the user, the drug’s potential for addiction, and the impact on society of drug use. The researchers asked two groups of experts ÷ psychiatrists specializing in addiction and legal or police officials with scientific or medical expertise ÷ to assign scores to 20 different drugs, including heroin, cocaine, Ecstasy, amphetamines and LSD.

Still, this is a great opportunity for dialogue, and even the U.S. press is carrying the story.
Update: Of course, the notion that illegal drugs can be less dangerous than legal drugs is not anything even remotely new, and is, in fact, a big yawn to drug policy reformers. However, it’s something that is still a bit of a surprise to many of those uneducated about drugs and drug policy.