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CRS — Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations (August 7, 2014)

August 22, 2014 Comments off

Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Since the 1980s, Guatemala, the most populous country in Central America with a population of 15.5 million, has continued its transition from centuries of mostly autocratic rule toward representative government. A democratic constitution was adopted in 1985, and a democratically elected government was inaugurated in 1986. A violent 36-year civil war ended in 1996.

This report provides an overview of Guatemala’s current political and economic conditions, relations with the United States, and several issues likely to figure in future decisions by Congress and the Administration regarding Guatemala. With respect to continued cooperation and foreign assistance, these issues include security and governance; protection of human rights and human rights conditions on some U.S. military aid to Guatemala; support for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala; combating narcotics trafficking and organized crime; trade relations; intercountry adoption; and unaccompanied children at the U.S. border.

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Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding

August 12, 2014 Comments off

Colorado’s Rollout of Legal Marijuana Is Succeeding
Source: Brookings Institution

In November 2012, Colorado voters decided to experiment with marijuana, passing a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational cannabis. It was a bold move, but it also required quick, bold, and unprecedented action on the part of the state government to implement the policy. Colorado needed to set up a legal, regulatory, and tax system so that product would be available in dispensaries by January 1, 2014. As part of an examination of Colorado’s implementation and rollout, Brookings’ John Hudak spent a week in Denver interviewing elected officials, regulators, industry officials, and others playing a variety of roles and including supporters and opponents of legalization policy.

Hudak reports that the state of Colorado has largely succeeded in rolling out a legal marijuana system, and its early implementation efforts have been impressive. This report details what has been successful, how Colorado has achieved an effective rollout, and what challenges remain.

CRS Insights — District of Columbia: Marijuana Decriminalization and Enforcement; Issues of Home Rule and Congressional Oversight

July 25, 2014 Comments off

CRS Insights — District of Columbia: Marijuana Decriminalization and Enforcement; Issues of Home Rule and Congressional Oversight (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Decriminalization of marijuana in the District is one of several issues that have engendered controversy and congressional intervention. Like the controversies surrounding the District’s medical marijuana initiative, needle exchange, and abortion services, the District’s marijuana decriminalization act pits the principle of home rule against Congress’s constitutional authority and prerogative to intervene in District affairs.

Supporters of the law point to the shift in public opinion surrounding the legalization of marijuana use; noting that the majority of the country favors legalization. They also note that the act is intended to address the racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates in the District. According to a committee report accompanying the legislation, blacks accounted for 90% of the marijuana arrests in the District despite evidence that they use marijuana at a rate comparable to use by whites. Supporters note that a single arrest for marijuana possession has a significant impact on future employment and career prospects.

Opponents of the law argue that enforcement will be problematic given the unique status of the District as the Nation’s Capital. On the one hand, possession of a small quantity of marijuana on non-federal lands would be reduced to a misdemeanor punishable by a small fine. On the other hand, possession of that same quantity of marijuana on federal lands, including the Mall, the National Zoo, and Rock Creek Park could be prosecuted, at the discretion of the Department of Justice, as a federal offense and subject the offender to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine, given that marijuana is defined as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. §811). The matter of enforcement is further complicated by the presence of 32 federal law enforcement agencies that provide assistance to the District’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) through cooperative agreements that expand the area of jurisdiction an agency’s law enforcement personnel may patrol with the power to arrest.

U.S. Sentencing Commission Authorizes Delayed Retroactive Sentence Reductions for Drug Offenders

July 19, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Sentencing Commission Authorizes Delayed Retroactive Sentence Reductions for Drug Offenders (PDF)
Source: United States Sentencing Commission

On July 18, 2014, the Commission voted unanimously to apply a reduction in the sentencing guideline levels applicable to most federal drug trafficking offenders retroactively. Unless Congress disapproves the amendment, beginning November 1, 2014, eligible offenders can ask courts to reduce their sentences. Offenders whose requests are granted by the courts can be released no earlier than November 1, 2015.

+ Retroactivity Amendment and Synopsis (PDF)
+ Chair’s Remarks on Retroactivity Vote (PDF)
+ Public Comment on Retroactivity
+ Impact Analysis: Retroactive Application of 2014 Drug Guidelines Amendment (PDF)
+ Recidivism Analysis: Offenders Receiving Retroactive Sentence Reductions (PDF)

Decline in Drug Overdose Deaths After State Policy Changes — Florida, 2010–2012

July 15, 2014 Comments off

Decline in Drug Overdose Deaths After State Policy Changes — Florida, 2010–2012
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

During 2003–2009, the number of deaths caused by drug overdose in Florida increased 61.0%, from 1,804 to 2,905, with especially large increases in deaths caused by the opioid pain reliever oxycodone and the benzodiazepine alprazolam (1). In response, Florida implemented various laws and enforcement actions as part of a comprehensive effort to reverse the trend. This report describes changes in overdose deaths for prescription and illicit drugs and changes in the prescribing of drugs frequently associated with these deaths in Florida after these policy changes. During 2010–2012, the number of drug overdose deaths decreased 16.7%, from 3,201 to 2,666, and the deaths per 100,000 persons decreased 17.7%, from 17.0 to 14.0. Death rates for prescription drugs overall decreased 23.2%, from 14.5 to 11.1 per 100,000 persons. The decline in the overdose deaths from oxycodone (52.1%) exceeded the decline for other opioid pain relievers, and the decline in deaths for alprazolam (35.6%) exceeded the decline for other benzodiazepines. Similar declines occurred in prescribing rates for these drugs during this period. The temporal association between the legislative and enforcement actions and the substantial declines in prescribing and overdose deaths, especially for drugs favored by pain clinics, suggests that the initiatives in Florida reduced prescription drug overdose fatalities.

CRS — Domestic Federal Law Enforcement Coordination: Through the Lens of the Southwest Border

July 8, 2014 Comments off

Domestic Federal Law Enforcement Coordination: Through the Lens of the Southwest Border (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Federally led law enforcement task forces and intelligence information sharing centers are ubiquitous in domestic policing. They are launched at the local, state, and national levels and respond to a variety of challenges such as violent crime, criminal gangs, terrorism, white-collar crime, public corruption, even intelligence sharing. This report focuses on those task forces and information sharing efforts that respond to federal counterdrug and counterterrorism priorities in the Southwest border region. More generally, the report also offers context for examining law enforcement coordination. It delineates how this coordination is vital to 21st century federal policing and traces some of the roots of recent cooperative police endeavors.

Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing of Opioid Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines — United States, 2012

July 3, 2014 Comments off

Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing of Opioid Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines — United States, 2012
Source: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (CDC)

Background:
Overprescribing of opioid pain relievers (OPR) can result in multiple adverse health outcomes, including fatal overdoses. Interstate variation in rates of prescribing OPR and other prescription drugs prone to abuse, such as benzodiazepines, might indicate areas where prescribing patterns need further evaluation.

Methods:
CDC analyzed a commercial database (IMS Health) to assess the potential for improved prescribing of OPR and other drugs. CDC calculated state rates and measures of variation for OPR, long-acting/extended-release (LA/ER) OPR, high-dose OPR, and benzodiazepines.
Results: In 2012, prescribers wrote 82.5 OPR and 37.6 benzodiazepine prescriptions per 100 persons in the United States. State rates varied 2.7-fold for OPR and 3.7-fold for benzodiazepines. For both OPR and benzodiazepines, rates were higher in the South census region, and three Southern states were two or more standard deviations above the mean. Rates for LA/ER and high-dose OPR were highest in the Northeast. Rates varied 22-fold for one type of OPR, oxymorphone.

Conclusions:
Factors accounting for the regional variation are unknown. Such wide variations are unlikely to be attributable to underlying differences in the health status of the population. High rates indicate the need to identify prescribing practices that might not appropriately balance pain relief and patient safety.

Implications for Public Health:
State policy makers might reduce the harms associated with abuse of prescription drugs by implementing changes that will make the prescribing of these drugs more cautious and more consistent with clinical recommendations.

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