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November 14, 2017 Drug AddictionNews0

Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001. Weed, cocaine, heroin, you name it — Portugal decided to treat possession and use of small quantities of these drugs as a public health issue, not a criminal one. The drugs were still illegal, of course. But now getting caught with them meant a small fine and maybe a referral to a treatment program — not jail time and a criminal record.

Whenever we debate similar measures in the U.S. — marijuana decriminalization, for instance — many drug-policy makers predict dire consequences. “If you make any attractive commodity available at lower cost, you will have more users,” former Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director Thomas McLellan once said of Portugal’s policies. Joseph Califano, founder of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, once warned that decriminalization would “increase illegal drug availability and use among our children.”

But in Portugal, the numbers paint a different story. The prevalence of past-year and past-month drug use among young adults has fallen since 2001, according to statistics compiled by the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which advocates on behalf of ending the war on drugs. Overall adult use is down slightly too. And new HIV cases among drug users are way down.

Now, numbers just released from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction paint an even more vivid picture of life under decriminalization: drug overdose deaths in Portugal are the second-lowest in the European Union.

Among Portuguese adults, there are 3 drug overdose deaths for every 1,000,000 citizens. Comparable numbers in other countries range from 10.2 per million in the Netherlands to 44.6 per million in the U.K., all the way up to 126.8 per million in Estonia. The E.U. average is 17.3 per million.

Perhaps more significantly, the report notes that the use of “legal highs” — like so-called “synthetic” marijuana, “bath salts” and the like — is lower in Portugal than in any of the other countries for which reliable data exists. This makes a lot of intuitive sense: why bother with fake weed or dangerous designer drugs when you can get the real stuff? This is arguably a positive development for public health in the sense that many of the designer drugs that people develop to skirt existing drug laws have terrible and often deadly side effects.

Drug use and drug deaths are complicated phenomena. They have many underlying causes. Portugal’s low death rate can’t be attributable solely to decriminalization. As Dr. Joao Goulao, the architect of the country’s decriminalization policy, has said, “it’s very difficult to identify a causal link between decriminalization by itself and the positive tendencies we have seen.”

Still, it’s very clear that decriminalization hasn’t had the severe consequences that its opponents predicted. As the Transform Drug Policy Institute says in its analysis of Portugal’s drug laws, “The reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialise.”

As state legislatures debate with issues like marijuana legalization and decriminalization in the coming years, Portugal’s 15-year experience may be informative.

Read more on the Washington Post


November 14, 2017 Drug AddictionNews0

Why has the country’s opioid problem become a national emergency? A high-ranking whistleblower from the DEA explains how the drug industry–and Congress–fueled an epidemic

“People are dying.” That’s what whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi told 60 Minutes over and over again. “People are dying.”

This week, the broadcast airs Bill Whitaker’s interview with Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA agent who saw the opioid epidemic killing hundreds of thousands of Americans, tried to stop it, and ran into a brick wall — in the form of Congress.

Joe Rannazzisi is not gonna give this fight up…He’s going to pursue this until he gets some satisfaction.”

Whitaker talks about his report “The Whistleblower,” which was a joint investigation with The Washington Post, with 60 Minutes Overtime and explains why Rannazzisi decided to talk publicly.

“Joe Rannazzisi is not gonna give this fight up,” says Whitaker. “He’s like a dog with a bone. He’s going to pursue this until he gets some satisfaction.”

The Whistleblower

CREW: Speeding, We’re good, Let’s go…

BILL WHITAKER: Okay. Well, Joe, if you would first of all please state your name, so we have it at the top of your interview?

JOE RANNAZZISI: Okay. My name is Joseph Rannazzisi—

BILL WHITAKER: My story on 60 Minutes this week is about a former DEA agent who saw the opioid epidemic growing, and tried to stop it, and ran into a brick wall in the form of Congress.

JOE RANNAZZISI TO CONGRESS: 16,651 people in 2010 died of opiate overdose, ok? Opiate-associated overdose. This is not a game.

BILL WHITAKER: Are you the most high-level whistleblower to come out of the DEA?

JOE RANNAZZISI: As far as this? Yes. As far as pharmaceutical opioid abuse and the way we’ve handled it? Yeah, I’m pretty much the highest-level person that’s come out.

60 MINUTES OVERTIME: Joe Rannazzisi is in your story called one of the most important whistleblowers ever to be on 60 Minutes. What’s your sense of what drives him?

BILL WHITAKER: He is a no-nonsense principled man. He saw this crisis and wanted to stop it. What he zeroed in on was the distribution of the pills. So he started to put pressure on the distributors. And the distributors pushed back.

JOE RANNAZZISI: This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.

BILL WHITAKER: This story was like a continuation of the two previous stories we did on the opioid crisis. That one was personal.

Excerpt from “The Heroin Epidemic“:

ANGIE PELFREY: We call this the “death wall.”
BILL WHITAKER: The death wall?
BILL WHITAKER: Why is that?
ANGIE PELFREY: Majority of the people on this wall have died of drug overdose.
BILL WHITAKER: I thought of those people we met and the people who died– all the time.
MAN: There’s 23 in there on the wall from my hometown.
BILL WHITAKER: Is it a small town?
MAN: Yeah.

BILL WHITAKER: It seems that some investigators with the DEA were aware that these pills were getting out of the pharmacies and into the streets, and they tried to ring the alarm bells. But not only did no one pay attention to them, it seems that members of Congress took steps to try to limit the DEA’s abilities to stop this. And the result was a bill in Congress that actually ended up taking away the most potent tool that the DEA had to go after the distribution of so many drugs.

JOE RANNAZZISI: This bill is going to protect defendants that we have under investigation, that we are investigating. And it restricts or prevents us from filing immediate suspension orders to stop– to stop the hemorrhaging of drugs downstream.

CONGRESSMAN TOM MARINO: It is my understanding that Joe Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, has publicly accused we sponsors of the bill of –quote supporting criminals –unquote. This offends me immensely.

BILL WHITAKER: You know you have a reputation. And even people who support you tell us that you can be a bit of a hothead. True?

JOE RANNAZZISI: Yeah, I do get angry. I get angry when people don’t do their jobs. I get angry when people don’t do their jobs well.

BILL WHITAKER: And this crisis that he saw happening in front of his eyes enraged him.

JOE RANNAZZISI: I– I– I’m guilty. I’m guilty of being passionate. I’m builty of b– guilty of being angry. But I think anybody else in that situation would’ve done the exact same thing.

BILL WHITAKER: “People are dying.” He would say that to us over and over and over again. “People are dying.” So he was trying to figure out what he could do about it. And every time he ran into a roadblock, he got angrier and more forceful. And it depends on who ya talk to what his reputation is. If you talk to his investigators, the people who worked in the field for him, they love him. You talk to some people in Washington– at the DEA– his higher-ups at the DEA or at the Justice Department, certainly in Congress, they think he was too aggressive, to the point of being boorish.

JOE RANNAZZISI: What I needed was support. And it infuriated me that I was over there, trying to explain what my motives were or why I was going after these corporations. And when I went back to the office, and I sat down with my staff, I basically said, “You know, I just got questioned on why we’re doing– why we’re doing what we’re doing. This is– now this is war. We’re going after these people, and we’re not gonna stop.

BILL WHITAKER: He’s not the most diplomatic person you’ve ever come across.

60 MINUTES OVERTIME: No, but he makes a good whistleblower.

BILL WHITAKER: He makes a great whistleblower, and he’s got a reason to be upset.

JOE RANNAZZISI: It just hurts when somebody says, “Well, DEA should be doing more.” DEA was doing everything it could. DEA ran into a wall.

60 MINUTES OVERTIME: Do you think this investigation by 60 Minutes and The Washington Post will make waves?

BILL WHITAKER: I sure hope so. This is a terrible crisis. What I would hope would happen from this story is that Americans get angry.

60 MINUTES OVERTIME: It doesn’t look like Joe Rannazzisi’s gonna let this go.

BILL WHITAKER: Joe Rannazzisi is not gonna give this fight up. He’s like a dog with a bone. He’s going to pursue this until he gets some satisfaction.

CONGRESSMAN TOM MARINO: You know before coming to Congress, I was a prosecutor and an United States Attorney.

BILL WHITAKER: Congressman Marino has been nominated to be the next drug czar. What was your reaction when you heard that?

JOE RANNAZZISI: Total disbelief. Total disbelief. He’s just not qualified to do that job. Besides the fact that he pushed through a bill that’s curtailing the ability of DEA to do their job, I don’t understand how you could look at a congressman who’s done all of this and then decide he would be a great drug czar– to basically set policy for the United States; drug policy for the United States.

BILL WHITAKER: We will soon have a hearing with Congressman Marino. I would think that this would be an issue that will be brought up in his hearings.

JOE RANNAZZISI: The bill was bad. Him being the drug czar is a lot worse.

Watch the videos on the CBS NEWS Website


November 14, 2017 Drug AddictionNews0

In April, the Fed’s otherwise boring Beige Book revealed a striking anecdote about the current state of the US labor market: as the Boston Fed commented at the time, the qualified labor shortage had gotten so bad, that the hit rate on hiring after a simple math and drug test, has collapsed below 50%. To wit:

Labor markets in the First District continued to tighten somewhat. Many employers sought to add modestly to head counts (although one manufacturer laid off about 4 percent of staff over the last year), while wage increases were modest. Some smaller retailers noted increasing labor costs, in part driven by increases in state minimum wages being implemented over a multi-year period. Restaurant contacts, particularly in heavy tourism regions, expressed concern about possible labor shortages this summer, exacerbated by an expected slowdown in granting H-2B visas. Half of contacted manufacturers were hiring, though none in large numbers; several firms said it was hard to find workers.

One respondent said that during a recent six-month attempt to add to staff for a new product, two-thirds of applicants for assembly line jobs were screened out before hiring via math tests and drug tests; of 400 workers hired, only 180 worked out.

Fast forward to today when we have a practical example of how severe this quandary has become for employers.

Ohio Factory Owner Is Eager To Hire Workers

According to WTVR, an Ohio factory owner said on Saturday that although she has numerous blue-collar jobs available at her company, she struggles to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests. Regina Mitchell, co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test. While not quite as bad as the adverse hit rate hinted at by the Beige Book, this is a stunning number, and one which indicates of major structural changes to the US labor force where addiction and drugs are keeping millions out of gainful (or any, for that matter) employment.

Speaking to CNN’s Michael Smerconish, Mitchell said that her requirements for prospective workers were simple: “I need employees who are engaged in their work while here, of sound mind and doing the best possible job that they can, keeping their fellow co-workers safe at all times,” she said.

This has proven to be a problem.

“We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we’re moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air.”

While President Trump addressed his blue-collar base in Ohio this week, returning to his campaign theme of getting local communities back to work and returning jobs to America from overseas, the problem may not be a scarcity of jobs: it is workers who are not under the influence. As Mitchell said she has jobs… she just doesn’t have sober applicants. For 48 of the 50 years her company has been around, drug abuse had never been an issue, she told Smerconish.

“It hasn’t been until the last two years that we needed to have a policy, a corporate policy in place, that protects us from employees coming into work impaired,” she said.

As discussed here repeatedly in recent months, opioid use is on the rise across the country, but especially in Ohio. In 2014, the state had the second-largest number of opioid-related deaths in the United States and the fifth-highest rate of overdose.

“This opioid epidemic that we’re experiencing … it seems like it’s worse than in other places all over the country,” Mitchell said.

Ohio’s new law on medical marijuana, which went into effect in 2016 and allows those with a qualifying condition and a recommendation from a physician to buy the drug legally, was another hurdle for employers to overcome, she said.

“The difficult part about marijuana is, we don’t have an affordable test that tells me if they smoked it over the weekend or smoked it in the morning before they came to work. And I just can’t take the chance of having an impaired worker running a crane carrying a 300,000-pound steel encasement,” she said.

For now, she said, there are almost 12,000 open skilled labor jobs in Mahoning County. “There are good-paying jobs and the opportunity for people in our area. We just can’t find people to show up who can pass a drug test,” she said.

Maybe instead of focusing how to perpetuate the US waiter and bartender job recovery, the BLS – and the administration – should contemplate how to eliminate the pervasive addiction problem which is rapidly becoming a structural hurdle for America’s millions of unemployed.


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