Cultural Baggage / November 21, 2010
Allan Clear: I want us to scream until we are satiated...Scream!
Dean Becker: And thus began the eighth annual Harm Reduction Conference in Austin, Texas. The gentleman you heard was Mister Allan Clear, the Director of the HRC [Harm Reduction Coalition] and this is Cultural Baggage, the Unvarnished Truth, about the Drug War.
Allan Clear: Thank you I needed that.
Allan Clear: Hello, My name is Allan Clear and I work for the Harm Reduction Coalition.
Dean Becker: Allan, we’re here at the conference in Austin, a gathering of hundreds of people from around America and some from around the world. Talking about their analysis and their – how their moving forward to curtail some of these harms that prohibition has created. Give us kind of a snapshot or an overview of who’s here.
Allan Clear: We have a wide array of people here of people here from the United States and from all over the world. We have people from Afghanistan, from Australia, the UK a lot of people from Canada, a lot of people from East African and Eastern Europe too. We have people from Ukraine, Lithuania, and Russia. A lot of the people from other countries from other countries are coming to learn from what we are doing in the United States.
A lot of people from the US are exchanging ideas with each other about they approach working with people who use drugs. For example, we have people who have come across injectors who inject into their groin, which you don’t see very much in other parts in the country. So, their exchanging strategies in what their education needs are for drug users that do that and how you address it.
We have people with looking at how you approach people who use crack. We’ve done a lot about crack use in this country and people who use crack. Clearly, we have problems associated with crack use but there are things you can do to undo some of the damage as – as if you are continuing to use crack.
So, it’s really an exchange point in some ways. It’s a networking opportunity. It’s a way of building camaraderie and in a sense, we’re a tight, small little community but what we here is train ourselves, support each other and then you go to wider world and our messages are disseminated that way. So, it’s a big seeding process in some ways.
Dean Becker: You have, over the years, through this sharing of information, created progress and given courage to many folks to step into the fray, so to speak, to do their part to undo these harms, right?
Allan Clear: Yeah, if you look at we’ve done around HIV transmission, for example, the work we’ve dome, which is very often against federal in some ways because we’ve gone through some very conservative times. The work we’ve done around syringe exchange has reversed HI epidemics in places like New York City, which at one point was a drug injection HIV epicenter of the globe. We’ve completely reversed that through the work we’ve done. On the other hand, in places like California and Washington State and Oregon, we’ve prevented epidemics from ever occurring. So, we’ve been doing this for a while now.
So, look at what happens amongst young injectors and new injectors and you’re seeing a lot less of Hepatitis C transmission, which is a very transmissible virus. It used to be that 80% drug injectors had Hepatitis C within six months of injecting. Now what we’re seeing is that with younger injectors, it’s a lot longer than that and it takes a lot longer to get the virus. This is a result of our work and this is the lives that are saved.
You look at drug overdose prevention, we are training drug users. We’re training service providers. We are putting tools in their hands of drug users who use opiates to prevent an overdose fatality. A lot of drug users are on-site when another drug user overdoes. In the past, what they did was panic in some cases or try street law remedies such as injecting people with milk or soap or putting ice down their pants. Now we have, we teach, people how to do rescue breathing and we give people Naloxone which is an antidote drug for heroin overdose. So, his is very directly saving people’s lives and we‘ve kind of done that within our own communities.
We’ve taught people this and they’ve gone out and done it. A byproduct of that is you see places like the New York Department of Health and New York City Department of Health, San Francisco Department of Health, Massachusetts Health Commission; they’ve all taken these ideas on. They have adopted these ideas and have now disseminated them and they’re funding them. They give us recognition of what we have learned and what we taught ourselves is worth doing.
What we are trying to do is get the Federal Government to also take notice and with the lifting of the federal ban on the funding of needle exchange, they’ve begun to do that. So, we’ve made a lot of progress over the years.
I think we know from HIV figures in this country that the epidemic hasn’t gone down. It’s remained pretty much stable EXCEPT amongst people who use drugs. That’s because the work that we do and because drug users are incredibly receptive to information about reducing HIV risk and they practice it. Drug users really do care about their health and that’s the kind of messages we want to put out there too.
A lot of what this conference is about is anti-stigma messages. We have a massive propaganda exercise that’s been taking place for decades now in the form of the war on drugs, which is really stigmatizing people who use drugs andstigmatizing the communities they come from.
People internalize that stigma. They begin to believe that they don’t care about their health or they are incompetent and they don’t care about their health or their incompetent and they can’t look after themselves and their loved ones. That’s just not true. They can with the right support and the right education. It can work miracles.
Alexandra Goldman: My name is Alexandra Goldman, I am the organizer and project coordinator for the San Francisco Drug Users Union. We are a fairly new group. We started meeting in February of this year, so February 2010. Obviously, there’s always been some form of drug user organizing going on in San Francisco, like any place that there are drug users. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that we’ve gotten money to do it. We – I’m paid to do it luckily. We have some money for food for meetings, for renting a space and all this stuff.
We’re are a democratic membership organization made up of mostly of low-income drug users in San Francisco, so people who are homeless or living in single room occupancy hotels, most of the people who face, like I was talking about earlier, a lot of stigma as a result of their drug use.
So, we’re working on our first campaign right now. We sort of choose it thought a process – a democratic process. We’re working on decreasing the stigma that drug users face at the emergency room at San Francisco General, which is the hospital that most people who are uninsured or under insured are brought to. If you’re found overdosing, that’s where they are going to bring you.
A lot of people bring themselves there for psychiatric emergencies and people have experiences that prevent them from going back and seeking care until it’s really too late. They feel stigmatized. They feel that they are not treating the same way once a staff person finds out they have a history of drug use or they are currently using or they are currently high. So, we’re working with the hospital to create some sort of training or protocol so that drug users are treated the way that they would like to be treated.
Dean Becker: I use a phrase on my radio shows that in many ways, drug users are just considered to be “indiscriminately exterminable”.
Alexandra Goldman: Yeah, sometimes you have to ask yourself, “What people want to happen to drug users. Really. Where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do?” They’re robbed of the control to take care of themselves but you know I generally believe knows what’s best for themselves and that’s sort of what’s motivating my interest in doing this is that people really have the right to determine what they need for themselves and people are taken away, whether it is through the legal system whether it’s just thought facing stigma all the time or whether it’s discriminating housing. People are just robbed of the controls to take care themselves. So, is supposed to happen to them? So, that’s really how it seems. No, do you just want people just want people to die. Really, where are they going to go? What are they going to do? How are they supposed to take care of themselves? Yeah.
So, that’s sort of why dealing with emergent room, we think, is a good first step because it’s a very sort of like – it’s a base level. You know? It’s sort of, no one ever wants to go to the ER because it sucks but it’s like something that might happen to anyone at any point. We need to have those emergency services available to people.
Dean Becker: Is there a website where folks can learn about the work you do?
Alexandra Goldman: Yeah, our website is www.sfdrugusersunion.org. We have our meeting notes up there, upcoming stuff, a statement of purpose and contact information. Yeah. We’d love to hear from people.
Dean Becker: You are listening to Cultural Baggage on Pacifica Radio and the Drug Truth Network. We’re at the Harm Reduction Conference in Austin. The next gentleman we’re speaking with, I’m going to call him “Taz” because, I lost the recorder the first part of the discussion but he’s from Afghanistan.
Dean Becker: Is the government in support of your work?
Taz: There’s two kinds of people in the government. One, Minister of Public Health is supporting harm reduction and working withdrug users and HIV/AIDS. But the Ministry of Counternarcotics, on paper are supportive. Basically, the people involved in it are not supportive. For example, we have Methadone in the country since February 2010 but now we have three months more left in of Methadone but the Counternarcotics Ministries who is supposed to import our second Methadone they’re not allowing it and they’re blocking it.
Dean Becker: Now in Afghanistan, I’m told that now produces 92% of the world’s opium supply and heroin for that matter. It has impacted your country powerfully, has it not?
Taz: Absolutely, because they’re what report says that 90 out of 92% of worse opium that is produced inside the county, in Afghanistan. 10% is used inside the country, which means a lot. For example, at the earliest, 250 tons of opium produced and 10% of federal is huge amount, which is used inside the country.
Then people in the north of the country are like hard laborers. They’re weaving carpets, ladies and men – mostly ladies. Ladies, they give their kids, like one year old, three year old kids, a little opium every day so that one sleeping all the day, so they are quiet. So, the mothers can work easily.
Dean Becker: People would continue to use the opium as they grow older?
Taz: Exactly, but eventually they are addicted. They don’t know what’s the effect of opium. Actually, they don’t know any drugs affect because most of 90% of Afghanistan is illiterate. So, they think that opium is good for a pain killer and remaining calm. Yes, potentially they are becoming addicted and as soon as they grow up, they have opium available, so they use it.
Dean Becker: I hear that now that Afghanistan is once again the world’s largest producer of marijuana, cannabis. Is that correct?
Yes, it is. One of the famous marijuanas, besides Nepal, Afghanistan has one of the best marijuana in the world and we have produced a lot. Part of our importation, not illegal importation of drugs, apart from opium, marijuana is one of it.
Dean Becker: Ok, I hear stories that the “US troops often set up camp right in the middle of a marijuana or an opium field and they don’t tear it down. Is that correct?
Taz: Yeah, I – people are used to – armies are quite different, on this picture they do something different and inside they do something different.
Dean Becker: Right.
Taz: For example, people believe most of the people believe that most of opium produced in the county like everyday trucks of opium are entering US bases and I think they are importing it.
Dean Becker: Well, it happened during the Afghan – Vietnam War. It wouldn’t surprise me. I’m hearing stories that US soldiers were using, getting caught using. Can you tell me what the average street price is for a dose of heroin in Afghanistan?
Taz: A dose of heroin 1 gram is $5 which 250 afghanis.
Dean Becker: I want to talk a little bit about more about the cannabis use. It’s been my understanding that the elders, that in the past, that cannabis was accepted and in fact a part of life in Afghanistan. Is that true?
Taz: Yes, that is true and even using cannabis is not even that much stigmatized. For example, to drink alcohol is Islamically forbidden but there’s no rule on cannabis. You can smoke cannabis and nobody can put a crime or something bad in it from religion.
Dean Becker: Do those who grow huge fields, do they sometimes get in trouble if they don’t pay the right people?
Taz: Yeah, yeah of course. Planting cannabis is illegal. It is part of drug war that they diminish the fields but they do it and they have to pay.
Dean Becker: Now here in America for high grade cannabis, the price up into $2000, $3000, $4000 per pound. How much does it sell for in Afghanistan for a pound or a kilo?
Taz: A kilo of hashish it is like, let me see, $300 for one kilo of high quality.
Dean Becker: High quality.
Dean Becker: The following question was posted to Taz by Assistant Producer of the Drug Truth Network Pam Graham.
Pam Graham: In Afghanistan what type of laws do you have in regard to personal use. Is that allowed or do you go to jail? Or what happens?
Taz: Well, if you – there’s a law. If you’re a drug user and it’s proved that you’re addicted so you carry up to 10 grams of hashish and the police don’t catch you – if you’re a drug user.
If you’re a normal guy and you’re addicted to it, so more than ten grams is like a minor crime and which puts you in jail for three months and less than ten grams you are fined for almost from 3000-10,0000 afghanis, which is $200.
Dean Becker: this is in stark contrast what happens in the United Satest for ten grams and oft times people can in most of these United States, people can go to jail for quite some time. I don’t even have the answer to that it’s just crazy.
A.T. Martin: Hello, this A.T. Martin of Project NEON in Seattle, Washington a program of the Seattle Counseling Service.
Dean Becker: Martin, as I looked at one of the brochures that from NEON, it talked about – you know, the government always says, don’t do marijuana, it leads to hard drugs and complicates your life. They don’t even mention much about the mixing of alcohol with downers or soothing and how they can kill you.
The brochure from NEON was talking about, don’t mix three items together for the dangers that could occur. Do you want to tell us about those mixtures and what might happen.
A.T. Martin: It‘s a mixture of, oh, just about any, really, any substance, whether, it’s illicit or legal. It’s the mixing of different substances and what it can do to your body if you mix different items together, it can be fatal or at the very least, it can affect your body, your heart rate, your blood pressure and these can be fatal reactions to really any substance.
But with crystal meth it’s a constrictor, so then you’re limiting blood to different parts your body of your system, and then you mix alcohol or you mix it with a popper or any of these things. We’re not saying that you should. Obviously not, we’re saying don’t but if you the idea is that we inform people of the harms and say don’t do it and if you really are intent on doing it, do it the safest possible way.
Dean Becker: Right and one of those ingredients, if you will, in the three listed on the brochure was the “boner” pills, I guess Viagra and Cialis and you hear the warnings, if you have an erection for more than four hours call a doctor. How does this complicate things, by mixing these things?
A.T. Martin: Well, sure. Viagra or Cialis, again another constrictor, so it concentrates your blood flow to a certain part of your body and it’s like the same with alcohol, five shots is worse than taking two shots. You’re maximizing. You’re putting way too much stuff into your system, into your body.
People don’t often look into the biology of things. People don’t often look into at the chemistry of things. People use because they want to feel good. That’s really the bottom line. Our goal is to educate people, but not to talk science about it but really just talking in laymen’s terms, like, hey, this is bad for you, in general terms to summarize, it’s bad for you, don’t mix and match things.
Dean Becker: Ok, now Martin, if folks would like to learn more about the work you guys do, is there a website that you could point people to?
A.T. Martin: Yeah, sure our official is: www. projectneon.org
Dean Becker: You’re listing to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. This is Dean Becker and we’re at the Harm Reduction Conference in Austin TX. We’ll be back in a moment with more.
(Game show music)
It’s time to play: Name That Drug By It’s Side Effects
Works directly on the brain by interfering neurotransmitters and dopamine levels, because of drug prohibition, this product is made with over the counter cold medicines, matchbook covers, hydrochloric acid, drain cleaner, battery acid, lye, lantern fuel and antifreeze.
The answer: Tina, chalk, go fast, zip, Christie, crank, speed, meth amphetamine hydrochloride.
Dean Becker: Alright, once again, reporting from the Harm Reduction Conference. This is an interview I did with Russ Jones with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Russ Jones: I speak across the nation at our colleges and universities and public service organizations such as Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis Clubs.
Dean Becker: Ok, now Russ, you have a lengthy history in service to this country and law enforcement. Give us a brief summary.
Russ Jones: 1970, at the beginning of the war on drugs is when I started law enforcement. So for ten years, I was in the CSNSA as a police officer, a narcotics detective and with the DEA task force. I then worked for the federal government in intelligence in Central America on narcotics trafficking by our government operatives.
I was in private practice as a forensic expert on the psychological and psychological effect of narcotics. I would testify in court, in rape cases or homicide cases on how drugs may or may not have affected the defendant in that case or the victim.
I traveled throughout the Soviet Union and Red China working with their law enforcement agencies. For example, in the Soviet Union I witnessed drug dealing on the streets and went with them on a search warrant for overseas methamphetamine lab. I went to rehabilitation programs and interview many of their rehabilitation clients.
Dean Becker: Hey Russ, let me interrupt you here. I mean, this is again a very lengthy, extensive involvement and it gives you the ability to analyze the application of this Drug War. What has been you observation of that application and the results from it?
Russ Jones: The war on drugs is a failure, since the beginning of the war on drugs to the current, present. Drugs are cheaper. They’re more plentiful. They’re more available. We have more deaths, diseases, crime, corruption. The war is just a failure. What we’re doing is wrong. We need to fight the war smarter. We need to be more successful and to do that we have to fight the war more economically, instead of through law enforcement.
Dean Becker: Now we’re here at the Harm Reduction conference in Austin. It’s a gathering of people all around the nation and some from around the world that work on altering, I guess, the application again, of this drug war, to create less harm, to find a better way to go about all this. What’s been your observation?
Russ Jones: Well, my observation is we need to, again, fight the war economically. We need to end this war of drugs from a law enforcement standpoint. Lessen the harms by treating the war on drugs and fighting drug abuse as a health issue, as a social issue. Using the blunt tool of law enforcement is just counterproductive. We are destroying more lives in the war on drugs than drugs have ever done.
Dean Becker: You mentioned earlier, that you speak to various organizations, Rotaries, Lions and college classes and others who invite LEAP to give our side of things. I speak for LEAP as well and it’s been my observation, over the last two years particularly the last year or so, that more and more out with us before we even being that speech. Your thoughts?
Russ Jones: I think so. I tend to speak to, especially with the civic service associations such as Rotary or Lions. I tend to speak to rather conservative groups. More and more are coming up to me after the talk and saying, “I’ve been feeling this it’s just great to hear someone come out and publically talk about this.”
Dean Becker: Ok, once again we’ve been speaking with Mister Russ Jones of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Their website: leap.cc.
Denise Drayton: My name is Denise Drayton we’re at Exponents, which is located in New York City. The ARRIVE training program is the flagship program of the Exponents organization. We deal with people that are recently incarcerated, coming out and transitioning back into society. We deal with substance users and people who are living with HIV and AIDS.
Dean Becker: Yeah, over the years I have observed and heard about various treatment organizations and many of them I’ve felt were… hmmm, hypocritical in that they demonized marijuana users. They tended to and again, on a very commercial bases, overcharged patients until their insurance ran out. What makes Exponents different?
Denise Drayton: Exponents leaves people where they’re at, it’s client centered. A lot of the program staff has come though substance abuse and prison and Exponents is the type of agency that has a open non-judgmental atmosphere.
We find that most of the graduates of people that come through our programs find a safe environment. There’s no mandate to be there. People come voluntarily. They get involved in our programs based on maybe just watching other people because of the peer support that they have there. Primarily we come from just a client focus, where the client is the most important person and work that we do is all about the client.
Dean Becker: Ok. Alright, is there a website for Exponents where folks can learn more about the work you do?
Denise Drayton: Yes, the Exponents website is: www.exponents.org
Dean Becker: Alright thank you very much.
Kyle House: My name Kyle House and I’m an outreach counselor at Homeless Youth Alliance in San Francisco in California, in the Haight-Ashbury District. We’re essentially a drop-in for homeless youth, although we actually take people up to the age of twenty-nine which is uncommon there.
We actually work with people up to the age of thirty-five, if they’ve been coming for a while because there are no other adult services in the Haight-Ashbury area for homeless people.
We’ve got food, couches, bathrooms. We just got a shower. We get people IDs, birth certificates and if people want to try and get into treatment or housing we help them. We do groups, health group, sex group. I run a group called “dudes group” and then there’s a girls group.
There’s a ‘zine art group. Kids can like write and draw, make stories, poetry and then we make a little fan ‘zine out of it, which is like a homemade style, “Coffee Machine” magazine.
Actually, we just got, we’re doing a photo group right now where were giving out free disposable digital cameras to the kids. Then we’re going to take all the pictures and make a coffee table style book out of it and hopefully, if it works out, that will fund itself and keep it going.
We only make rules in the drop-in when things happen and they need to be addressed. We try to have as little amount of rules as possible. Most of the kids go to our drop-in because they won’t go to other service because there are too many rules.
We allow dogs in our space or any animals and most kids up there have dogs, so they can’t go anywhere without their dogs. They can’t leave then and dogs are like their family and we actually, just recently got a – we have two therapists and a psychiatrist, four days a week now between them which is really cool.
I’ve been noticing a lot of mental health – the more, I’ve been there about three years and really in the last year, either I’m picking up on it more or there’s been an increase in kids with mental health, like very young and younger with mental health issues, like undiagnosed.
Dean Becker: Right. Can I, you know, I’m looking at you here and you’re a burly guy, tabooed, you’ve got the vest on.
Kyle House: Yeah.
Dean Becker: And I think it’s important in many ways that the folks that they meet, coming to your center, they can relate to in some fashion or another. Does this not help you to make progress with these kids?
Kyle House: For sure. In fact, the person who started it, Mary Howell, who is my boss. The whole idea is that it would be, that people would be hired who would come from the same population and know exactly where the kids are at, so they could actually really be of service to them. The model is supposed to be and has been and actually people that work there used to be participants there.
People, if they could get off the streets or get in a place and then they want to work there, they could work there. So, it’s really cool in that way. I do come – I never went there, when I was – it didn’t exist when I was on the streets but I come from the same population of being homeless and drugs and alcohol and all that.
Dean Becker: This is great work and so necessary to change the equation and to hopefully bring us to a better future right? Is there a website where folks can learn more about the work you do?
Kyle House: homelessyouthalliance.org
Here’s hoping you’ll listen to this week’s Century of Lies program, which follows next on many of the Drug Truth Network stations. We’re going to hear from Mister Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and a host of others that attended this eighth annual Harm Reduction Conference. Please be sure to check out the website of the Harm Reduction Coalition and that is harmreduction.org.
Now, more than ever it’s important to realize that because of prohibition, only because of prohibition, you’d don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.
To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.
This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.
Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.