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CRS — Synthetic Drugs: Overview and Issues for Congress

September 23, 2013 Comments off

Synthetic Drugs: Overview and Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service

Synthetic drugs, as opposed to natural drugs, are chemically produced in a laboratory. Their chemical structure can be either identical to or different from naturally occurring drugs, and their effects are designed to mimic or even enhance those of natural drugs. When produced clandestinely, they are not typically controlled pharmaceutical substances intended for legitimate medical use. Designer drugs are a form of synt hetic drugs. They contain slightly modified molecular structures of illegal or controlled substances, and they are modified in order to circumvent existing drug laws. While the issue of synthetic drugs and their abuse is not new, Congress has demonstrated a renewed concern with the issue.

From 2009-2011, synthetic drug abuse was reported to have dramatically increased. During this time period, calls to poison control centers for incidents relating to harmful effects of synthetic cannabinoids (such as “K2” and “Spice”) and stimulants (such as “bath salts”) increased at what some considered to be an alarming rate. The number of hospital emergency department visits involving synthetic cannabinoids more than doubled from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, however, the number of calls to poison control centers for incidents relating to harmful effects of synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic stimulants decreased. The Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results from 2012 indicate that annual prevalence rates for use of “bath salts” among college students and adults ages 18-50 was “very low.” In contrast, MTF reports that, among 12th graders, synthetic marijuana is the “second most widely used class of illicit drug after marijuana.” Media reports indicate that a synthetic substance known as “molly,” a psychoactive drug that may be similar or identical to MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), appears to be gaining popularity among youth. In the summer of 2013, seve ral deaths and drug overdoses have been attributed to molly.

The reported harmful effects of synthetic substances range from nausea to drug-induced psychosis. Due to the unpredictable nature of sy nthetic drugs and of human consumption of these drugs, the true effects of many of these drugs are unknown. Many states have responded to the synthetic drug abuse issue by passing synthetic drug laws banning certain synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants.

In 2011, the Attorney General—through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—used his temporary scheduling authority to place five synthetic cannabinoids and three synthetic stimulants on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Concern over the reported increase in use of certain synthetic cannabinoids and stimulants resulted in legislative action to schedule specific substances. The Synthetic Dr ug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012—Subtitle D of Title XI of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act (P.L. 112-144)—added five structural classes of substances in synthetic cannabinoids (and their analogues) as well as 11 synthetic stimulants and hallucinogens to Schedule I of the CSA. In addition, the act extended the DEA’s authority to temporarily schedule substances. In April 2013, Attorney General Holder— through the DEA and in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—took administrative action to permanently place methylone on Schedule I of the CSA. Most recently in May 2013, Attorney General Holder—again through the DEA—used his temporary scheduling authority to place three additional synthetic cannabinoids on Schedule I of the CSA.

In considering permanent placement of synthetic substances on Schedule I of the CSA, there are several issues on which Congress may deliberate. Policymakers may consider the implications on the federal criminal justice system of scheduling certain synthetic substances. Another issue up for debate is whether Congress should schedule certain synthetic substances or whether these substances merit Attorney General (in consultation with the Secretary of HHS) scheduling based on qualifications specified in the CSA. Congress may also consider whether placing additional synthetic drugs on Schedule I may hinder future medical research. In addition, policymakers may consider whether it is more efficient to place these drugs on Schedule I of the CSA or to treat them as analogue controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Analogue Enforcement Act. In considering enforcement challenges id entified by the DEA, Congress may consider whether to amend the CSA to better facilitate enforcement action against the illicit synthetic drug market.

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Cannabis production rises in Afghanistan despite decline in cultivation – UN report

September 18, 2013 Comments off

Cannabis production rises in Afghanistan despite decline in cultivation – UN report
Source: UN Office on Drugs and Crime

While the total area of Afghan farmland used for cannabis cultivation fell by 17 percent in 2012, there was still an eight per cent rise in the overall production of cannabis compared to 2011, according to a report released today by the United Nations drug and crime agency and the country’s Ministry of Counter-Narcotics.

The report, Afghanistan: Survey of Commercial Cannabis Cultivation and Production 2012, released today in the Afghan capital, Kabul, noted that the main reason for the increase in production despite the decline in cultivation was better yields by the cannabis, locally known as ‘garda,’ compared to the previous year.

The survey, which covered 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces where commercial cannabis cultivation had been observed or reported in past surveys, estimated that most of the cannabis cultivation concentrated in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, accounting for some 54 per cent, and, to a lesser extent, in the east and north of the country.

In 2012, the national average of garda yield was 136 kilograms per hectare, an increase of 21 per cent compared to 2011, which experienced a yield of 112 kilograms per hectare. The 2012 yield levels came close to the high experienced in 2009 of 145 kilograms per hectare.

Quick Facts — Marijuana Trafficking Offenses

September 11, 2013 Comments off

Quick Facts — Marijuana Trafficking Offenses (PDF)
Source: United States Sentencing Commission

The Commission presents a new publication series called “Quick Facts.” These publications will give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format. The fourth release in this series presents data on marijuana trafficking offenses.

CRS — Mexico’s Peña Nieto Administration: Priorities and Key Issues in U.S.-Mexican Relations

September 3, 2013 Comments off

Mexico’s Peña Nieto Administration: Priorities and Key Issues in U.S.-Mexican Relations (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Congress has maintained significant interest in neighboring Mexico, a close ally and top trade partner that shares a nearly 2,000-mile border with the United States. On December 1, 2012, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) retook the Mexican presidency after 12 years in opposition, leaving analysts wondering how differ ently PRI President Enrique Peña Nieto will govern than his PRI predecessors, who ruled Me xico from 1929 to 2000. Supporters maintain that Peña Nieto heads a “new PRI” government that is free from the corruption that characterized the party in the past and is enacting bold reforms that proved elusive for the last two National Action Party (PAN) administrations. Skeptics question how Peña Nieto will remain independent from old-time PRI power brokers and how he will challenge PRI interest groups resistant to change.

President Peña Nieto has announced a reformist agenda with specific proposals under five pillars: reducing violence; combating poverty; boosting grow th; reforming education; and fostering social responsibility. He signed a “Pact for Mexico” with the leaders of the PAN and leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) that has paved the way for the enactment of education and telecommunications reforms. The Peña Nieto government has just introduced an energy reform proposal that would allow Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) to form profit-sharing partnerships with private companies. Fiscal reforms to increase tax revenues are to follow. Both proposals could test the Pact’s ability to prevent legislative gridlock.

U.S.-Mexican relations are evolving. During his May 2013 visit to Mex ico, President Obama embraced President Peña Nieto’s desire to bolster economic ties and focus on new issues, including education. U.S.-Mexican security cooperation has continued; future efforts may increasingly focus on crime prevention and judicial reform. Bilateral cooperation may have contributed to the July capture of the leader of Los Zetas. However, there has been friction caused by limits Mexico has placed on U.S. involvement in law enforcement and intelligence operations and the recent release of a drug kingpin imprisoned in Mexico for killing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent. If implemented, the Trans-boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement signed in February 2012 on managing oil resources in the Gulf of Mexico could create opportunities for energy cooperation. The Peña Nieto government has supported efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, but urged U.S. policymakers not to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border.

CRS — International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses

September 3, 2013 Comments off

International Drug Control Policy: Background and U.S. Responses (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The global illegal drug trade represents a multi-dimensional challenge that has implications for U.S. national interests as well as the international community. Common illegal drugs trafficked internationally include cocaine, heroin, and meth amphetamine. According to the U.S. intelligence community, international drug trafficking can undermine political and regional stability and bolster the role and capabilities of transnational criminal organizations in the drug trade. Key regions of concern include Latin America and Afghanistan, which are focal points in U.S. efforts to combat the production and transit of cocaine and heroin, respectively. Drug use and addiction have the potential to negatively affect the social fabric of communities, hinder economic development, and place an additional burden on national public health infrastructures.

CRS — Reauthorizing the Office of National Drug Control Policy: Issues for Consideration

September 3, 2013 Comments off

Reauthorizing the Office of National Drug Control Policy: Issues for Consideration (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is located in the Executive Office of the President and has the responsibility for creating policies, priorities, and objectives for the federal Drug Control Program. This national program is aimed at reducing the use, manufacturing, and trafficking of illicit drugs and the reduction of drug-related crime and violence and of drug- related health consequences. The director of ONDCP has primary responsibilities of developing a comprehensive National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy) to direct the nation’s anti-drug efforts; developing a National Drug Control Budget (B udget) to implement the National Drug Control Strategy, including determining the adequacy of the drug control budgets submitted by contributing federal Drug Control Program agencies; and evaluating the effectiveness of the National Drug Control Strategy implementation by the various agencies contributing to the Drug Control Program. Authorization for ONDCP expired at the end of FY2010, but it has continued to receive appropriations. Congress, while continuously charged with ONDCP’s oversight, is now faced with its possible reauthorization.

In May 2009, Director R. Gil Kerlikowske called for an end to use of the term “war on drugs.” This is in part because while drug use was previously considered a law enforcement or criminal justice problem, it has transitioned to being viewed more as a public health problem. Indeed, the Obama Administration has indicated that a comprehensive strategy should include a range of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement elements. The 2013 National Drug Control Strategy outlines seven core areas—ranging from strengthening international partnerships to focusing on intervention and treatment efforts in health care—aimed at reducing both illicit drug use and its consequences. The overall goal is to achieve a 15% reduction in the rate of drug use and its consequences over a five-year period (2010-2015).

In creating the National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP consults with the various federal Drug Control Program agencies. ONDCP then reviews th eir respective drug budgets and incorporates them into the National Drug Control Budget (Budget), which is submitted to Congress as part of the annual appropriations process. As requeste d by Congress in the ONDCP Reauthorization Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-469), the Budget was restructur ed in FY2012, incorporating the activities and budgets of 19 additional federal agencies/programs, to reflect a more complete range of federal drug control spending. The FY2013 Budget incorporated four additional federal agencies/programs, and the FY2014 Budget incorporates one additional federal program. In the FY2014 Budget, there are five priorities for which resources are requested across agencies: substance abuse prevention and substance abuse treatment (both of which are considered demand- reduction areas), and drug interdiction, domestic law enforcement, and international partnerships (the three of which are considered supply-reduc tion areas). The FY2014 Budget proposes to use 58.0% of the funds ($14.723 billion) for supply-side functions and 42.0% of the funds ($10.670 billion) for demand-side functions. Federal drug control activities were appropriated $24.536 billion for FY2013 (P.L. 113-6).

In considering ONDCP’s reauthorization, there are several issues on which policymakers may deliberate. Congress may consider whether to authorize specific supply-reduction or demand- reduction programs. Congress may also exercise oversight regarding ONDCP’s implementation of evidenced-based activities. Another issue that might be debated is whether the revised Budget structure captures the full scope of the nation’s anti-drug activities. Further, ONDCP has created a new Performance Reporting System (PRS) to eval uate annual progress toward each of the Drug Control Program’s strategic goals. Congress ma y exercise oversight regarding the new PRS.

CRS — Drug Testing and Crime-Related Restrictions in TANF, SNAP, and Housing Assistance

August 13, 2013 Comments off

Drug Testing and Crime-Related Restrictions in TANF, SNAP, and Housing Assistance (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Throughout the history of social assistance programs, administrators have attempted to limit access only to those families considered “worthy” of assistance. Policies about worthiness have included both judgments about need—generally tied to income, demographic characteristics, or family circumstances—and judgments about moral character, often as evidenced by behavior. Past policies evaluating moral character based on family structure have been replaced by today’s policies, which focus on criminal activity, particularly drug-related criminal activity. The existing crime and drug-related restrictions were established in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, when crime rates, especially drug-related violent crime rates, were at peak levels. While crime rates have since declined, interest in expanding these policies has continued.

The three programs examined in this report—the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), and federal housing assistance programs (public housing and Section 8 tenant and project-based assistance)—are similar, in that they are administered at the state or local level. They are different in the forms of assistance they provide. TANF provides cash assistance and other supports to low-income parents and their children, with a specific focus on promoting work. SNAP provides food assistance to a broader set of poor households including families with children, elderly households, and persons with disabilities. The housing assistance programs offer subsidized rental housing to all types of poor families, like SNAP.

All three programs feature some form of drug- and other crime-related restrictions and all three leave discretion in applying those restrictions to state and local administrators. Both TANF and SNAP are subject to the statutory “drug felon ban,” which bars states from providing assistance to persons convicted of a drug-related felony, but also gives states the ability to opt-out of or modify the ban, which most states have done. Housing assistance programs are not subject to the drug felon ban, but they are subject to a set of policies that allows local program administrators to deny or terminate assistance to persons involved in drug-related or other criminal activity. Housing law also includes mandatory restrictions related to specific crimes, including sex offenses and methamphetamine production. All three programs also have specific restrictions related to fugitive felons.

Recently, the issue of drug testing in federal assistance programs has risen in prominence. In the case of TANF, states are permitted to drug-test recipients; however, state policies involving suspicionless drug testing of TANF applicants and recipients are currently being challenged in courts. SNAP law does not explicitly address drug testing, but given the way that SNAP and TANF law interact, state TANF drug testing policies may affect SNAP participants. The laws governing housing assistance programs are silent on the topic of drug testing.

The current set of crime- and drug-related restrictions in federal assistance programs is not consistent across programs, meaning that similarly situated persons may have different experiences based on where they live and what assistance they are seeking. This variation may be considered important, in that it reflects a stated policy goal of local discretion. However, the variation may also be considered problematic if it leads to confusion among eligible recipients as to what assistance they are eligible for or if the variation is seen as inequitable. Proposals to modify these policies also highlight a tension that exists between the desire to use these policies as a deterrent or punishment and the desire to support the neediest families, including those that have ex-offenders in the household.

CRS — State Marijuana Legalization Initiatives: Implications for Federal Law Enforcement

August 5, 2013 Comments off

State Marijuana Legalization Initiatives: Implications for Federal Law Enforcement (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

arijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug across the world, including in the United States. In 2011, an estimated 18.1 million individuals in the United States aged 12 or older (7% of this population) had used marijuana in the past month. Th e rate of reported marijuana use in 2011 was significantly higher than those rates reported prior to 2009. Mirroring this increase in use, marijuana availability in the United States has also increased. This growth has been linked to factors such as rising marijuana production in Mexico, decreasing marijuana eradication in Mexico, and increasing marijuana cultivation in the United States led by criminal networks including Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

Along with the uptick in the availability and use of marijuana in the United States, there has been a general shift in public attitudes toward the substance. In 1969, 12% of the surveyed population supported legalizing marijuana; today, more than half (52%) of surveyed adults have expressed opinions that marijuana should be legalized. And, 60% indicate that the federal government should not enforce its marijuana laws in states that allow the use of marijuana.

The federal government—through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA; P.L. 91-513; 21 U.S.C. §801 et. seq.)—prohibits the manufacture, distribution, dispensation, and possession of marijuana. Over the last few decades, some states have deviated from an across-the-board prohibition of marijuana. Evolving state-level positions on marijuana include decriminalization initiatives, legal exceptions for medical use, and legalization of certain quantities for recreational use. Notably, in the November 2012 elections, voters in Washington State and Colorado voted to legalize, regulate, and tax the recreational use of small amounts of marijuana. These latest moves have spurred a number of questions regarding their potential implications for related federal law enforcement activities and for the nation’s drug policies on the whole. Among these questions is whether or to what extent state initiatives to decr iminalize, or even legalize, the use of marijuana conflict with federal law.

In general, federal law enforcement has tailored its efforts to target criminal networks rather than individual criminals; its stance regarding marijuana offenders appears consistent with this position. While drug-related investigations and prosecutions remain a priority for federal law enforcement, the Obama Administration has suggested that efforts will be harnessed against large-scale trafficking organizations rather than on recreational users of marijuana. Some may question whether state-level laws and regulations regarding marijuana prohibition—in particular those that clash with federal laws—may adversely impact collaborative law enforcement efforts and relationships. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that the operation of these collaborative bodies will be impacted by current state-level marijuana decriminalization or legalization initiatives. Data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission seem to indicate a federal law enforcement focus on trafficking as opposed to possession offenses. Of the federal drug cases with marijuana listed as the primary drug type (28% of total drug cases sentenced), over 98% involved a sentence for drug trafficking in 2012.

A number of criminal networks rely heavily on profits generated from the sale of illegal drugs— including marijuana—in the United States. As such, scholars and policymakers have questioned whether or how any changes in state or federal marijuana policy in the United States might impact organized crime proceeds and levels of drug trafficking-related violence, particularly in Mexico. In short, there are no definitive answers to these questions; without clear understanding of (1) actual proceeds generated by the sale of illicit drugs in the United States, (2) the proportion of total proceeds attributable to the sale of marijuana, and (3) the proportion of marijuana sales controlled by criminal organizations and affiliated gangs, any estimates of how marijuana legalization might impact the drug trafficking organizations are purely speculative.

Given the differences between federal marijuana policies and those of states including Colorado and Washington, Congress may choose to address state legalization initiatives in a number of ways, or choose to take no action. Among the host of options, policymakers may choose to amend or affirm federal marijuana policy, exercise oversight over federal law enforcement activities, or incentivize state policies through the provision or denial of certain funds.

2013 World Drug Report: stability in use of traditional drugs, alarming rise in new psychoactive substances

July 18, 2013 Comments off

2013 World Drug Report: stability in use of traditional drugs, alarming rise in new psychoactive substances
Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The 2013 World Drug Report released today in Vienna shows that, while the use of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine seems to be declining in some parts of the world, prescription drug abuse and new psychoactive substance abuse is growing. In a special high-level event of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov urged concerted action to prevent the manufacture, trafficking and abuse of these substances.

Marketed as ‘legal highs’ and ‘designer drugs’, NPS are proliferating at an unprecedented rate and posing unforeseen public health challenges. The report shows that the number of NPS reported to UNODC rose from 166 at the end of 2009 to 251 by mid-2012, an increase of more than 50 per cent. For the first time, the number of NPS exceeded the total number of substances under international control (234). Since new harmful substances have been emerging with unfailing regularity on the drug scene, the international drug control system is now challenged by the speed and creativity of the NPS phenomenon.

This is an alarming drug problem – but the drugs are legal. Sold openly, including via the internet, NPS, which have not been tested for safety, can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs. Street names, such as “spice”, “meow-meow” and “bath salts” mislead young people into believing that they are indulging in low-risk fun. Given the almost infinite scope to alter the chemical structure of NPS, new formulations are outpacing efforts to impose international control. While law enforcement lags behind, criminals have been quick to tap into this lucrative market. The adverse effects and addictive potential of most of these uncontrolled substances are at best poorly understood.

The global picture for the use of traditional drugs such as heroin and cocaine shows some stability. In Europe, heroin use seems to be declining. Meanwhile, the cocaine market seems to be expanding in South America and in the emerging economies in Asia. Use of opiates (heroin and opium), on the other hand, remains stable (around 16 million people, or 0.4 per cent of the population aged 15-64), although a high prevalence of opiate use has been reported from South-West and Central Asia, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and North America.

National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy

July 9, 2013 Comments off

National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy (PDF)
Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy (White House)

Strategic Goal:
Substantially reduce the flow of illicit drugs, drug proceeds, and associated instruments of vio­lence across the Southwest border

Strategic Objectives:
1. Enhance criminal intelligence and information sharing capabilities and processes associ­ated with the Southwest border
2. Interdict drugs, drug proceeds, and associated instruments of violence at the ports of entry along the Southwest border
3. Interdict drugs, drug proceeds, and associated instruments of violence between the ports of entry along the Southwest border
4. Interdict drugs, drug proceeds, and associated illicit activities in the air and maritime domains along the Southwest border
5. Disrupt and dismantle drug trafficking organizations operating along the Southwest border by increasing investigations and prosecutions
6. Stem the flow of illicit proceeds across the Southwest border into Mexico
7. Stem the flow of illegal weapons across the Southwest border into Mexico
8. Develop strong and resilient communities that resist criminal activity and promote healthy lifestyles
9. Enhance U.S.–Mexico cooperation on joint counterdrug efforts

AU — New psychoactive substances: Key challenges and responses

July 9, 2013 Comments off

New psychoactive substances: Key challenges and responses
Source: Parliamentary Library of Australia

As outlined in an earlier FlagPost, the availability and use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) have increased globally over the past decade. This has created new public health and law enforcement challenges that existing frameworks have failed to address, prompting a search for workable alternatives.

False sense of safety associated with use NPS are often marketed as ‘legal highs’ and professionally packaged, which can give the impression that they are safer to use than illicit drugs with similar effects. However, very little is known about their health impacts, partly due to the dynamic nature of the market and because the content and concentration of different batches of the same branded product may vary. A NSW Parliamentary inquiry was advised that synthetic cannabis products could actually be more harmful than cannabis itself, and that NPS may present a higher risk of overdose.

Number of NPS entering the market The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) observed in June 2013 that ‘the multitude of new psychoactive substances and the speed with which they have emerged in all regions of the world is one of the most notable trends in drug markets over the past five years’. In a submission to the NSW inquiry, one forensic science facility stated that new products claiming to be legal highs were submitted for testing every week. The NZ Ministry of Health advised that it had classified 31 NPS, but knew of around 2,000 cannabis mimics, ‘with the potential for there to be tens of thousands more’. Ease of evading prohibitions To date, measures to address NPS internationally and in individual countries have mainly involved their listing as prohibited substances. This has proven ineffective. A 2011 UK report outlines a typical example:

Despite the broad chemical generic ban on psychoactive cathinones imposed in April 2010, suppliers were able to find some loopholes, and within days a naphthyl derivative, Naphthylpyrovalerone (commonly referred as NRG-1) which lay outside the generic scope was offered for sale by internet retailers – advertised as “the legal alternative to mephedrone”.

When NSW prohibited seven synthetic cannabinoids in July 2011, ‘manufacturers quickly re-synthesised their products, replacing banned compounds with other synthetic cannabinoids not covered by the ban’. WA had the same experience in June 2011, with alternative synthetic cannabinoids on the market within days of its ban. Availability NPS are widely available through tobacconists, adult stores and online. In a UNODC survey, 88% of countries with a domestic NPS market indicated that the internet was a key source for NPS. Monitoring by an EU agency identified 693 online stores in 2012 selling NPS within Europe (up from 314 in January 2011 and 170 in January 2010). Between July 2011-July 2012, Australian researchers similarly identified:

+ 43 unique online stores selling stimulant/psychedelic NPS to Australian consumers • 212 unique products with purported stimulant/psychedelic effects and • 86 unique chemical substances.

Recent and proposed Australian responses Recent measures at the national level include:

+ the decision in February 2012 to create a group entry in Schedule 9 (Prohibited Substances) of the Poisons Standard, covering all synthetic cannabinomimetics except those separately specified (the Standard represents recommendations to States/Territories on the level of control that should apply to a substance)

+ moving the list of substances to which the Commonwealth’s serious drug offences apply from the Act to regulations in May 2013 to facilitate faster listing of NPS and • on 18 June 2013, a national interim ban under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 on 19 named products and products that contain any of 20 substances already prohibited under the Poisons Standard (following interim bans on the same products in NSW and SA).

On 16 June 2013, the Government announced plans to ban the importation of NPS based on a ‘reverse onus of proof’ under which ‘new drugs coming onto the market are presumed to be illegal until the authorities know what they are and clear them as safe and legal’. The announcement states such a system already operates in Ireland and is due to begin in NZ in August 2013, but the Irish and proposed NZ systems are actually quite different. The NZ Bill would allow psychoactive substances to be legally sold where the manufacturer can demonstrate they present no more than a low risk to users. The Irish system instead represents a prohibitionist approach. Advocates for a public health-based response, including representatives of the Australian National Council on Drugs, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre and the Greens health spokesperson, are hoping Australia’s response will resemble NZ’s. The Government also announced a national drug monitoring system that will ‘[make] use of existing intelligence sharing networks and information sources from around Australia and internationally’. This sounds like a more modest version of the EU’s Early Warning System, which the NSW Parliamentary inquiry recommended be replicated in Australia.

Firearm Possession Among Adolescents Presenting to an Urban Emergency Department for Assault

July 8, 2013 Comments off

Firearm Possession Among Adolescents Presenting to an Urban Emergency Department for Assault (PDF)
Source: Pediatrics

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Firearm violence is a leading cause of death among youth. The objectives of this study were (1) determine firearm possession rates and associated correlates among youth seeking care for assault in an emergency department (ED); (2) understand differences in risk factors for youth with firearm possession; and (3) identify firearm possession characteristics in this population: type, reason for possession, and source of firearms.

METHODS: Youth (14 to 24 years old) presenting to a Level 1 ED with assault were administered a computerized screening survey. Validated instruments were administered, measuring demographics, firearm rates and characteristics, attitudes toward aggression, substance use, and previous violence history.

RESULTS: Among 689 assault-injured youth, 23% reported firearm possession in the past 6 months. Only 17% of those reporting firearm possession obtained the gun from a legal source; 22% reported ownership of highly lethal automatic/semiautomatic weapons and 37.1% reported having a firearm for protection. Logistic regression analysis identified significant correlates of firearm possession, including male gender, higher socioeconomic status, illicit drug use, recent serious fight, and retaliatory attitudes.

CONCLUSIONS: ED assault-injured youth had high rates of firearm possession (23.1%), most of which were not obtained from legal sources. Youth with firearm possession were more likely to have been in a recent serious fight, and to endorse aggressive attitudes that increase their risk for retaliatory violence. Future prevention efforts should focus on minimizing illegal firearm access among high-risk youth, nonviolent alternatives to retaliatory violence, and substance use prevention.

Spotlight On… Drug Diversion

July 1, 2013 Comments off

Spotlight On… Drug Diversion
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General

It is becoming so pervasive that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has formally labeled it an “epidemic.” It is one of our nation’s fastest growing public health problems, and it takes a hefty toll on individuals, families, taxpayers, and society. What is the crisis? Prescription drug abuse.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Federal Government spent $62 billion on prescription drugs in 2010. Drug diversion, or the redirection of prescription drugs for illegitimate purposes, takes a portion of Medicare and Medicaid funds away from legitimate care. Furthermore, Federal health programs bear the added costs of additional health care as a result of patients misusing prescription drugs.

Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigations of drug diversion are on the rise. A contributing factor may be that this type of fraud can be very lucrative. In Northern California, for example, OIG agents report that a bottle of 30mg Oxycodone tablets are trafficked at a price of $1100 – 2400 a bottle! This is up to 12 times the normal price of a legally filled script. Furthermore, drug diverters may be drawn to prescription drugs because they are more “reliable” than street drugs like heroin or cocaine. Drug users know what they’re getting. Meanwhile, the risk for dealers is lower because trafficking in pharmaceutical drugs is generally less dangerous than with traditional street drugs.

2013 World Drug Report notes stability in use of traditional drugs and points to alarming rise in new psychoactive substances

June 27, 2013 Comments off

2013 World Drug Report notes stability in use of traditional drugs and points to alarming rise in new psychoactive substances
Source: United Nations

At a special high-level event of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today launched in Vienna the 2013 World Drug Report. The special high-level event marks the first step on the road to the 2014 high-level review by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action which will be followed, in 2016, by the UN General Assembly Special Session on the issue.

While drug challenges are emerging from new psychoactive substances (NPS), the 2013 World Drug Report (WDR) is pointing to stability in the use of traditional drugs. The WDR will be a key measuring stick in the lead up to the 2016 Review.

CRS — U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: the Merida Initiative and Beyond

June 18, 2013 Comments off

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: the Merida Initiative and Beyond (PDF)

Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Brazen violence perpetrated by drug trafficking organizations and other criminal groups is threatening citizen security and governance in some parts of Mexico, a country with which the United States shares a nearly 2,000 mile border and $500 billion in annual trade. Although the violence in Mexico has generally declined since late 2011, analysts estimate that it may have claimed more than 60,000 lives between December 2006 and November 2012. The violence has increased U.S. concerns about stability in Mexico, a key political and economic ally, and about the possibility of violence spilling over into the United States.

U.S.-Mexican security cooperation increased significantly as a result of the development and implementation of the Mérida Initiative, a counterdrug and anticrime assistance package for Mexico and Central America first funded in FY2008. Whereas U.S. assistance initially focused on training and equipping Mexican counterdrug forces, it now places more emphasis on addressing the weak institutions and underlying societal problems that have allowed the drug trade to flourish in Mexico. The Mérida strategy now focuses on (1) disrupting organized criminal groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) creating a 21st century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities. As part of the Mérida Initiative, the Mexican government pledged to intensify its anticrime efforts and the U.S. government pledged to address drug demand and the illicit trafficking of firearms and bulk currency to Mexico.

Inaugurated on December 1, 2012, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has vowed to continue U.S.-Mexican security cooperation, albeit with a shift in focus toward reducing violent crime in Mexico. Peña Nieto has begun to adjust the process and priorities of U.S.-Mexican efforts, adjustments which President Obama has pledged to support. The Interior Ministry is now the primary entity through which Mérida training and equipment requests are coordinated and intelligence is channeled. The Mexican government is requesting increased assistance for judicial reform and prevention efforts, but limiting U.S. involvement in some law enforcement and intelligence operations. As the Peña Nieto government fleshes out its security strategy, Mérida programs are likely to be adjusted in order to support those efforts that align with U.S. priorities.

The 113th Congress is likely to continue funding and overseeing the Mérida Initiative and related domestic initiatives, but may also consider supporting new programs. From FY2008 to FY2012, Congress appropriated $1.9 billion in Mérida assistance for Mexico, roughly $1.2 billion of which had been delivered as of April 2013. The Obama Administration asked for $234.0 million for Mérida programs in in its FY2013 budget request and $183 million in its FY2014 request.

Congress may wish to examine how well the Mexican government’s security strategy supports U.S. interests in Mexico. Congressional approval will be needed should the State Department seek to reprogram some of the funding already in the pipeline for Mérida, or shift new funding to better align with Mexico’s new priorities. Should disagreements occur between Mexican and U.S. priorities, Congress may weigh in on how those disagreements should be resolved. Congress may also debate how to measure the impact of Mérida Initiative programs, as well as the extent to which Mérida has evolved to respond to changing security conditions in Mexico. Another issue of congressional interest involves whether Mexico is meeting the human rights conditions placed on Mérida Initiative funding.

The War on Marijuana in Black and White

June 4, 2013 Comments off

The War on Marijuana in Black and White

Source: American Civil Liberties Union

The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars. What’s more, it is carried out with staggering racial bias. Despite being a priority for police departments nationwide, the War on Marijuana has failed to reduce marijuana use and availability and diverted resources that could be better invested in our communities.

The New Politics of Marijuana Legalization

May 30, 2013 Comments off

The New Politics of Marijuana Legalization

Source: Brookings Institution

In less than a decade, public opinion has shifted dramatically toward support for the legalization of marijuana. The temptation is to conclude that the trend in favor of marijuana legalization is similar to the flow of opinion in favor of same-sex marriage, but not all hot-button social issues are created equal, according to a new paper from E.J. Dionne and William Galston.

CRS — Haiti Under President Martelly: Current Conditions and Congressional Concerns

May 29, 2013 Comments off

Haiti Under President Martelly: Current Conditions and Congressional Concerns (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. Since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, Haiti has struggled to overcome its centuries-long legacy of authoritarianism, extreme poverty, and underdevelopment. During that time, economic and social stability improved considerably, and many analysts believed Haiti was turning a corner toward sustainable development. Unfortunately, Haiti’s development was set back by a massive earthquake in January 2010 that devastated much of the capital of Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country. Poverty remains massive and deep, and economic disparity is wide: Haiti remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

Haiti is the Obama Administration’s top foreign assistance priority for Latin American and Caribbean countries. Haiti’s developmental needs and priorities are many. The Haitian government and the international donor community are implementing a 10-year recovery plan focusing on territorial, economic, social, and institutional rebuilding. An outbreak of cholera that began in late 2010 has swept across most of the country and further complicated assistance efforts. While some progress has been made in developing democratic institutions, they remain weak. In May 2011, following yet another controversial election, President René Préval was succeeded by Michel Martelly, a popular musician without any previous political experience. President Martelly’s difficulty in forming a government and political gridlock, especially the lengthy and contentious delays in beginning a long overdue elections process, are hampering reconstruction efforts and frustrating international donors. Some steps toward elections have been made, including naming an electoral council and passing a political parties law.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been in Haiti to help restore order since the collapse of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s government in 2004. It currently has 9,464 troops. The mission has helped facilitate elections, conducted campaigns to combat gangs and drug trafficking with the Haitian National Police, and played a key role in emergency responses to natural disasters, especially after the earthquake. Nonetheless, popular protests have called for MINUSTAH’s withdrawal because of sexual abuse by some of its forces and scientific findings that its troops apparently introduced cholera to the country. In February 2013 the U.N. said it would not compensate cholera victims, citing diplomatic immunity.

The main priorities for U.S. policy regarding Haiti are to strengthen fragile democratic processes, continue to improve security, and promote econom ic development. Other concerns include the cost and effectiveness of U.S. aid; protecting human rights; combating narcotics, arms, and human trafficking; and alleviating poverty. The Obama Administration granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitians living in the United States at the time of the earthquake. Congressional concerns include the pace and effectiveness of reconstruction, respect for human rights, security issues, counternarcotics efforts and trade issues. Congress is also concerned that overdue Senate and local elections be scheduled quickly and be free, fair, and peaceful.

Current legislation related to Haiti includes P.L. 112-74, P.L. 111-171, P.L. 110-246 , P.L. 109- 432 , H.R. 651, H.R. 1525, H.R. 1749, H.Res. 31, H.Res. 61, and S.Res. 12.

The Drug Problem in the Americas

May 26, 2013 Comments off

The Drug Problem in the Americas (PDF)
Source: Organization of American States
From press release:

The Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas was delivered, by the OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, to the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos on Friday, May 17, 2013. The document is composed of two parts: the Analytical Report, which explains the reasons that lead society to worry about drug consumption and to try to control its effects on human health and the Scenarios Report, an examination of the paths that the phenomenon could take in the coming years in the region.

For his part, the CICAD Chair and Minister of Public Security of Costa Rica, Mario Zamora Cordero, closed the session by stating that “more judges, more prosecutors and more police will mean more people arrested but not fewer crimes committed. In this Report we have the key to how to address the issue of violence associated with drug use.”

Q&A: Legal Marijuana in Colorado and Washington

May 23, 2013 Comments off

Q&A: Legal Marijuana in Colorado and Washington

Source: Brookings Institution

Last November, Colorado and Washington voters approved ballot initiatives to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana—decisions that put them at odds with federal law, which continues to ban marijuana. The states are moving ahead with implementation of their unprecedented laws in the face of uncertainty regarding the response of the federal government. What exactly have the states voted to do? Given current federal law, how might the Obama administration respond? What are the trends in U.S. public opinion on marijuana policy?

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