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Drug Policy Alliance
New York, NY (Headquarters)
givvers: jason, tweaks

The Drug Policy Alliance Network (DPA Network) is the nation’s leading organization promoting policy alternatives to the drug war that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

Our supporters are individuals who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. Together we advance policies that reduce the harms of both drug misuse and drug prohibition, and seek solutions that promote safety while upholding the sovereignty of individuals over their own minds and bodies. We work to ensure that our nation’s drug policies no longer arrest, incarcerate, disenfranchise and otherwise harm millions of nonviolent people. Our work inevitably requires us to address the disproportionate impact of the drug war on people of color.

Drug Policy Alliance is a 501(c)3 organization.

Latest News

New York, NY: In response to New York State's overdose and opioid epidemic, a coalition of healthcare professionals, public health experts, advocates, and people with a history of drug use are launching a statewide campaign calling for the creation of safer consumption spaces (SCS)/supervised injection facilities (SIF) where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help make their use safer.

The campaign begins with the release of an open letter signed by more than 100 New York City healthcare professionals in support of safer consumption spaces and press conference where advocates will urge elected representatives to consider safer consumption spaces (SCS)/supervised injection facilities (SIF) as an innovative harm reduction tool to prevent further disease and death in our communities.

Safer Consumption Spaces Campaign Launch
What: Press conference to release an open letter in support of safer consumption spaces signed by more than 100 New York City healthcare professionals
When: Tuesday, April 25th, 10am
Where: 250 Broadway, Assembly Hearing Room

The press conference also launches a 10-day tour of Safe Shape, a model of a safer consumption space and a screening of “Everywhere But Safe,” a documentary about public injection in NYS, followed by a panel and community conversation in the evenings.

Tour sites will include cities that have been hard-hit by the overdose crisis: Albany, Poughkeepsie, New York City, Ithaca, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. 

Safe Shape Statewide Tour

What: Safe Shape is a traveling exhibit that demonstrates what a safer consumption space looks like and educates the public on the harm reduction philosophy and practice. The tour will also include a screening of “Everywhere But Safe,” a documentary about public injection in NYS.

When: April 26 – May 5, 2017 (See below for full information)

Locations:Albany, Poughkeepsie, the Bronx, City Hall NYC, Ithaca, Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo

Safe Shape NY Tour Schedule:

4/26: Albany- Register Here!

Exhibit:South Concourse at the Capitol Building, 10am-3pm

Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12210

Screening:Albany Convention Center- Meeting Room 7, 9am-11am

Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12210


4/27: Albany- Register Here!

Exhibit:SUNY Albany, Campus Center, 1pm-5pm

Campus Center 137-1400 Washington Ave Albany, NY 12222

Screening:SUNY Albany- Lecture Center 7, 7:15pm-9pm

1400 Washington AvenueAlbany, NY 12222


4/28: Poughkeepsie- Register Here!

Exhibit:Vassar College, 1pm-5pm

124 Raymond Ave. Poughkeepsie, NY 12604

Screening:Vassar College, 6pm-8pm

124 Raymond Ave. Poughkeepsie, NY 12604


4/30: NYC- South Bronx- Register Here!

Exhibit:Saint Mary's Park, 12pm-5pm

450 St Ann's Ave, Bronx, NY 10455

Screening: Bronx Documentary Center, 5pm-7pm

614 Courtlandt Ave, Bronx, NY 10451


5/1:NYC- Register Here!

Exhibit:City Hall Park, 1pm-5pm

43 Park Row, New York, NY 10038

Screening:CUNY School of Public Health,5pm-8pm

55 W 125th St, New York, NY 10027


5/2: Ithaca- Register Here!

Exhibit:Ithaca Commons- Bernie Milton Pavilion,1:30pm-5:30pm

Screening: Ithaca College- Hill Center 104,7pm-9pm

953 Danby Rd Ithaca, NY 14850


5/3: Buffalo- Register Here!

Exhibit: Lafayette Square, 1pm-5pm

Main St and Washington St, Buffalo, NY 14203

Screening: Hotel @ the Lafayette,6pm-8pm

391 Washington Street, Buffalo, NY 14203


5/4: Rochester - Register Here!
Exhibit: MLK Jr. Memorial Lodge- 1pm-5pm

353 Court St, Rochester, NY 14607

Screening: MLK Jr. Memorial Lodge, 6pm-8pm

353 Court St, Rochester, NY 14607


5/5: Syracuse- Register Here!
Exhibit: Billings Park, 1pm-5pm

S Salina St & E Adams St, Syracuse, NY 13202

Screening: Southside Innovation Center, 6pm-8pm

2610 S Salina St, Syracuse, NY 13205



Nationally, there have been 500,000 opioid-related deaths between 2000 and 2015. In 2015 alone, opioid and heroin overdoses killed 52,404 people--more people than traffic accidents and homicides combined. In New York State, overdose deaths increase by 20.4% from 2014 to 2015. And emergency departments across the state saw 37,347 opioid-related outpatient visits (73.1% increase from 2010) and 75,110 opioid-related inpatient hospital admissions (3% increase from 2010) in 2014. Also due to increases in injection drug use, regions of New York have seen increases of 3% to 47% in new cases of hepatitis C since 2012.

To serve hard-to-reach communities across our state and to assure public health response to problematic substance use, we must provide a point-of-care intervention for people who use drugs that will provide all of the necessary harm reduction tools and resources within a safer consumption space. This includes:

  • Expansion of access to naloxone
  • Safer drug use equipment (e.g. syringes)
  • Drug treatment

Safer Consumption Spaces

Safer consumption spaces (SCS), also called supervised injection facilities (SIFs) are places where people can legally consume previously-purchased illicit drugs with supervision from peers and healthcare professionals who help participants to make their use safer. Internationally, SCS have been tremendously effective in reducing rates of HIV infection, HCV infection, and overdose deaths, as well as improving public order by reducing improper syringe disposal and decreasing drug arrests.

While SCS do not yet exist in the United States, there is a lot of interest and progress in opening safer spaces across the nation. Kings County in Washington State has been approved to open the nation’s first SCS, Maryland and Vermont have both introduced legislation to approve them, and California legislators have expressed interest. 

Learn more:

Date Published: April 20, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

For those who live in states that have legalized marijuana, please celebrate responsibly and enjoy your legal weed today, but also remember to think of those who can’t.

Today is a day of celebration for many, although the roots of this holiday are somewhat vague.The last few years have been great for marijuana policy reform, especially 2016. Recreational marijuana is now legal for adult recreational use in eight states, plus Washington, D.C; medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and D.C.

However, not all people will be able to celebrate 4/20 or facilitate 4/20 celebrations by selling marijuana without fear of legal consequences. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, last year 26.1 percent of people who suffered federal drug offenses for marijuana were sentenced to at least a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. This statistic is disturbing when one considers that according to a Gallup Poll in October of 2016, 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization. This is the highest level of public support for legalizing marijuana yet, but people are still incarcerated and given criminal records for marijuana drug offenses.

A criminal record because of a drug offense can haunt the person for the rest of their life—affecting housing, employment, and student loan eligibility. The criminalization of people through drug offenses does not affect everyone equally. Institutionalized racism has long relied on marijuana to incarcerate massive numbers of people especially in Black and Latinx communities. This is despite roughly equal rates of marijuana use across racial and ethnic lines.

The war on drugs and the criminalization of marijuana is also usedas a tool to wage war against immigrant communities. Simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any offense in 2013 and more than 13,000 people were deported in 2012 and 2013 for marijuana possession.

California is one state that is pioneering legislation to make sure that their state laws are respected. California’s AB 1578 just passed the public safety committee and is now set to go to the full assembly floor. This legislation will protect Californians who are operating lawfully under California state laws. AB 1578 would make it so that absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, will not assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.

While you responsibly celebrate 4/20, please think of those who cannot do the same and then take action by signing this petition. Let your representative know that you support marijuana legalization for recreational and medicinal purposes and that the federal prohibition on marijuana must end.

P.S. - Take a look at this Huffington Post Article if you need any 4/20 music playlist inspiration.

Virginia Purcell is a media intern with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Virginia Purcell
Date Published: April 20, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance had another successful day in the California state legislature, with two more bills passing through the first house committee, AB 1578 and SB 180. These bills join the agenda with two others bills that passed through their first house committees in preceding weeks.

While U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions escalates the war on drugs, drug policy reform surges ahead in California, joining states such as Washington and New York, where similar innovative approaches to some of our greatest challenges, like drug overdose deaths and mass incarceration, are being pioneered.

AB 1578 successfully passed in a 5-2 committee vote, and will now move to the full Assembly. AB 1578, authored by Los Angeles Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, will protect Californians who are operating lawfully under California state laws, by providing that absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, shall not assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity. DPA’s California State Director Lynne Lyman testified at Tuesday’s Assembly Public Safety Hearing, saying, “AB 1578 is intended to prevent federal government over-reach in the era of Trump. We do not want the federal government harassing, intimidating or prosecuting people who are operating lawfully under state law.”

Also having its first hearing Tuesday was SB 180 by Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles, passing 5-2 out of Senate Public Safety. Dubbed the RISE Act, (Repeal of Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements Act), Mitchell’s bill would repeal the three-year sentencing enhancements that are tacked onto new convictions for petty drug possession for sale or sale cases. These enhancements are the leading cause of long sentences that create crisis-level overcrowding in county jails.

Enhancement and mandatory minimums are central to the failed drug war that has done nothing to reduce the availability of drugs or to deter illegal drug sales. This enhancement disproportionately impacts the poorest and most marginalized people in our communities — those with substance use, mental health needs, and people of color. By removing this enhancement, SB 180 will remove one of the mechanisms that increase racial disparities within the criminal justice system, and free funds that can be reinvested in community programs that improve the quality of life and reduce crime. SB 180 will next be considered by the full Senate.

For the first time ever in the United States, a state bill to authorize safe consumption services passed a legislative vote. AB 186, authored by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton, co-sponsored by DPA and leading health policy and drug treatment associations, would allow local jurisdictions to permit supervised consumption services and provide legal protections for the programs and participants. Participants use pre-obtained drugs under supervision of medical professionals. Supervised consumption services prevent overdose deaths, improve public order, and link people to treatment and other services. Around 100 exist around the world, but none yet in the United States. AB 186 goes to the Assembly Public Safety Committee next. San Francisco has recently established a task force to develop a policy recommendation on placement of services in the city. This bill protects local jurisdictions that want to pilot these life-saving programs.

Also on DPA’s winning ticket is AB 208 by Eggman, a bill to provide equal protection to immigrants who seek drug treatment diversion for drug misdemeanors. Under current law, persons accused of possession of a small amount of drugs for personal use must plead guilty in order to access court ordered drug treatment. When they complete the program, their records are cleaned. However, the federal government response to the guilty plea is to deport the defendant or deny re-entry, even for legal residents, combat veterans, and family members of legal residents. Even for those who successfully complete the programs, the guilty plea hangs over their head forever.

This bill would allow the court to refer a person to treatment before a plea is entered, and if the person succeeds they move on with their life, and should they fail the charges are reinstated. It passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee on March 14, and is currently under consideration in the Appropriations Committee.

Lynne Lyman is the California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Lynne Lyman
Date Published: April 19, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

In a speech yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced that the Trump Administration would use marijuana possession as a reason for deporting immigrants. “ICE will continue to use marijuana possession, distribution and convictions as essential elements as they build their deportation removal apprehension packages for targeted operations against illegal aliens living in the United States,” he said.

Marijuana is currently illegal under federal law, but eight states have legalized it for adult use and 28 states have medical marijuana laws. Individuals following state law would be exposed to deportation. “Whether it’s the construction of a wall or deporting individuals for marijuana possession, the Trump Administration has signaled its desire to use the drug war as a tool to persecute immigrants,” said Jerónimo Saldaña, Policy Manager at Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs. “It’s outrageous to think that anyone following medical advice under state law would be subject to deportation.”

The Trump Administration has nefariously used the drug war as a way of targeting immigrants, and yesterday’s statement is merely another example of this tactic. Uniquely though, the desire to deport people for marijuana use demonstrates the conflict between state and federal law on marijuana, and the necessity to end federal prohibition. “We hear talk about ending the state-vs-federal conflict on marijuana laws to fix the banking and tax problem,” said Saldaña, “but the Kelly statement shows that there are far more dramatic consequences for our nation’s disastrous drug policy.”

Under the Obama Administration, simple drug possession was not a priority offense. Taken alongside recent statements and actions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it is clear that the drug war is being escalated. Recently, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) reintroduced the “Veteran Visa and Protection Act,” which would establish a visa program allowing certain deported veterans to re-enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. They will also be eligible for the existing naturalization process for military service and will regain access to their military and veteran benefits. The bill will also stop the deportation of eligible veterans who are currently in removal proceedings.

According to the Immigrant Defense Project, one out of every four “criminal removals” – over 250,000 deportations – involved a person whose most serious conviction was for a drug offense. Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report on drug deportations, noting that, “Thousands of families in the United States have been torn apart in recent years by detention and deportation for drug offenses.” And last week, the ACLU released a report noting that veterans who have served the country as lawful permanent residents have been “subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from this country.”

There have also been moves at the state level to prevent law enforcement from documenting misdemeanor drug crimes and therefore exposing immigrants to harsh deportation proceedings. The New York State Assembly passed legislation that creates a process for sealing the criminal records of people arrested for simple possession of marijuana in public view, providing a measure of protection for immigrants by making it difficult or impossible for immigration authorities to meet their legal burden of proof for a judge to find a lawful permanent resident deportable. Often these arrests were the result of stop and frisk encounters targeting young people of color, and immigrant New Yorkers with minor records have already been deported by ICE under the Trump Administration’s crackdown. The California State Assembly is currently considering a bill that protects Californians who are operating lawfully under state marijuana laws by providing that, absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, shall not use agency resources to assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.

“It is unconscionable that immigrants are being targeted and deported for simple possession of marijuana – and it’s especially egregious in states that have a legal framework for marijuana. States and municipalities must stand against this type of fearmongering and protect their residents,” said Melissa Moore, Deputy Director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s New York office.

Date Published: April 19, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), the leading voice challenging the current threat to rollback gains made in criminal justice and ending the drug war, will meet with hundreds of activists and scholars on Saturday, April 22 in Atlanta. The intensive one-day strategy session will examine the intersection of drug policy, mass incarceration and public health.

A generation ago, Representative Waters was among those who warned the nation about the failure of the drug war and the prison system and in the last decade, bi-partisan coalitions have formed to course correct.  Recent reports suggest that despite gains in health and other outcomes, there are some who would return the nation to an unsafe and dangerous place, especially for vulnerable communities.

Brought together by the Drug Policy Alliance, Amnesty International, Peachtree NORML, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, The Ordinary People’s Society, Georgia State University’s Department of African American Studies and the Morehouse School of Medicine, hundreds of the nation’s leading advocates will gather for this momentous collaboration to get more aligned with each other in a time when our values are under attack.

The day’s program will include not only Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and national leading criminal justice, drug policy and public health reformers, but VH-1 personality and best-selling author, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, and Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, among others.

“The drug war is coded language,” said DPA senior director, asha bandele.  “When the law no longer allowed the control and containment of people based on race, they inserted the word drug and then targeted communities of color. Fifty years later, we see the outcomes of that war.  Drug use remains the same, and Black people and people of color are disproportionately locked up. But no community regardless of race has been left unharmed which is why we are calling everyone together to strategize.”

Recent media reports have made it clear that while tremendous gains have been made toward reducing the harms of the drug war and mass incarceration, there are some vocal and prominent people who would seek to extend the overreach and horrific harms of the drug war and the criminal justice system, all while disrupting the most effective pathways to real and quality public health. Adopting a “stop and frisk” policy nationwide, the return of “law and order,” and the overuse of ICE has or will have a disproportionately negative impact on vulnerable communities.  Advocates are gathering to strategize on ways to secure them instead.

The powerful gathering will build momentum for the International Drug Policy Reform Conference taking place in Atlanta in October.

WHAT: “Not One Step Back” – A One Day Strategy Session on the Drug War, Mass Incarceration and Public Health in the Age of Trump

WHEN: Saturday, April 22, 9:30a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Highlighted Sessions:

10:00 – 11:00 – Drug Policy Reform is a Human Rights Issue with Deborah Small, JD

11:00 – 12:30—This is What the Drug War Looks Like: Survivors Speak

2:00 – 3:30 p.m. – Strength, Courage and Wisdom: Who We Must be in These Times: A conversation with Patrisse Cullors, Dr. Iva Carruthers and others

3:30 –5:00 p.m. – Dreaming a World: A Nation Beyond Prisons and Punishment with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill

5:00 – 5:30 p.m. – Not One Step Back: A Keynote by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)

WHERE: Morehouse School of Medicine, 720 Westview Dr SW, Atlanta, GA 30310


  • Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), Member of Congress serving California’s 43rd District
  • Patrisse Cullors, Artist, activist, and a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  • Marc Lamont Hill, Academic, journalist, author, activist, host of BET News and VH1 Live, and political contributor for CNN
  • Deborah Small, founder of Break the Chains: Communities of Color and the War on Drugs
  • Kassandra Frederique, Director, New York Policy Office, Drug Policy Alliance
  • asha bandele, Sr. Director, Grants, Partnerships and Special Projects, Drug Policy Alliance
  • Plus, many more experts and people personally affected by the war on drugs

HOW: This event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Members of the public who wish to attend must register here. 

Press can attend if they RSVP via email at tnewman [at] drugpolicy [dot] org

Promo video 1:
Promo video 2:

Date Published: April 18, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Yesterday the Atlanta City Council failed to pass Ordinance 17-O-1152, which would have decriminalized marijuana in the city. After hearing from many Atlanta residents the ordinance was referred to the Public Safety Committee for a further review in a 10-4 vote.

This statute had the ability to make possession of marijuana under one ounce a non-arrestable offense and lower the fine to a maximum ticket of $75. Under current Georgia law, marijuana possession is illegal and the possession of any amount of marijuana can result in 180 days or more of jail time, a fine of up to $1,000, and a litany of collateral consequences that can impact employment, housing, family and life opportunities.

Citing fear of moving forward without a strong implementation process between law enforcement personnel and the local administration, many council members withdrew their early support and opted to instead refer. But for many community members who waited over 6 hours, sharing examples of their lived experiences, the council members’ inability to accelerate this ordinance was unsatisfactory.

“Decriminalizing marijuana is an essential first step in ending the decades-long racial disparities in Atlanta’s criminal justice system – a system in which one in 13 adults (predominantly black) are under some form of correctional supervision, compared to the national average of one in 31,” said Michelle Wright policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance. Currently, black residents comprise 76 percent of those incarcerated for marijuana offenses in Georgia, compared to 21 percent of whites. “Those figures are beyond unjust,” continued Wright.

There was some dissension amongst councilmembers in regards to a direction to move this ordinance. Advocates cheered as District 8 council member Yolanda Adrean pronounced, “We are the policy makers, the board of directors. We tell the administration what the policy is and they figure out how to implement it.” Ultimately, for Atlanta residents with a deep-seated mistrust of the criminal justice system, today’s vote is yet another setback.

Atlanta’s city council had a clear chance to begin rebuilding the broken relationship between law enforcement and its residents. Unfortunately for drug policy reformers, today’s ruling body left Atlanta’s citizens frustrated, and ultimately unfulfilled.

This Saturday hundreds of the nation’s leading drug policy reform advocates will gather at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta for an intensive one-day strategy session, entitled Not One Step Back, examining the intersection of drug policy, mass incarceration and public health. The day’s program will include Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), VH-1 personality and best-selling author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, and national leading criminal justice, drug policy and public health reformers, among others.

Date Published: April 18, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Washington, DC. – On April 22, 2017, dozens of drug policy researchers and their allies will leave their colleges and universities to gather on the streets of D.C. for the National March for Science. A busload of scholars from New York City will meet up with those from Washington D.C. and surrounding areas with the simple message that drug policy should be based on facts, not fear. Researchers from around the country will join other drug policy contingents in satellite marches taking place in other cities. There are more than 500 communities hosting satellite marches.

Galvanized by the Trump Administration’s espousal of “alternative facts” and its hostility towards evidence-based policy and science, scientists from across the country are picking up protest signs. The National March for Science is expected to draw tens of thousands of people in support of science.

“I’m delighted that drug researchers are coming together at the National Science March to call for evidence-based drug policies in the U.S. I’ve been a scholar-activist for years because I understand just how damaging it is when we base our drug policies on assumptions and myths instead of rigorous scientific evidence. Research can direct us to the true root of society’s problems, which has more to do with poverty, lack of jobs, and our drug policies, than with drugs themselves. It’s time we all stood up and demand our lawmakers base our drug policies on facts, not on fear and misinformation," said Carl Hart, PhD, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University.

Sheila Vakharia, PhD, Assistant Professor, at Long Island University commented: “We are at a crucial point in the US where we can either choose to fund and expand empirically-proven treatments for people living with substance use disorders, or we can continue to promote obsolete treatment approaches grounded in idealistic moralism. As someone committed to improving the drug treatment industry, I am marching to promote drug treatment that is compassionate, pragmatic, effective, and grounded in harm reduction.”

For decades, drug policies in the U.S. have been driven by ideology, stigma, racism, and politics with too little reliance on research about what is effective. With the election of Donald Trump and his Administration’s disavowal of science and facts, drug researchers are concerned that the divide between evidence and policy will only grow deeper.

Some examples of policy driven by fear and ideology instead of facts include:

  • Placing marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, purporting that it is unsafe and has no medical use, despite dozens of studies demonstrating its relative safety and its benefits as a medicine for a host of ailments.
  • Maintaining a sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine of 18 to 1 despite the fact that the two drugs are merely different forms of the same substance.
  • Prohibiting or failing to fund harm reduction services proven to reduce overdose and blood-born disease transmission, such as syringe exchange programs, supervised injection facilities, and heroin-assisted treatment.

Trump’s pro-police and “law and order” rhetoric and racially coded language about crime in urban areas suggest he’s unlikely to support drug decriminalization or alternatives to incarceration – approaches also supported by research. Instead, he’s promised a national stop and frisk program that will likely increase racially biased policing and drug arrests.

“So many lives lost, including my dad and my brother, to death and excessive incarceration, because politicians ignored scientific evidence for more than 45 years waging the failed war on drugs. How many more?” asks Jasmine Tyler of the Open Society Foundation. “I’m joining the Science March because no family should have to suffer because of ignorant politicians, and drug policy must be grounded in science to address the crises we’re facing.”

Researchers are also concerned by his proposed cuts of $1.2 billion to the National Institutes of Health, which funds the vast majority of the research on drugs and drug policy in the country. As the nation grapples with how to respond to a rise on opioid overdose deaths, researchers are calling for approaches proven effective by science, such as harm reduction and treatment, and for more – not less --  research into how to save lives. In addition, Trump’s proposal to cut the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid Block grants, if successful, will impede access to substance use treatment in those areas a hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

“As a physician and researcher, I am so pleased to march with my colleagues for science. Science is and should remain the cornerstone that guides medical treatment and health care policies. This is particularly important for treatment and policies that focus on substance use, which have historically not been based on science,” Chinazo Cunningham, MD, Associate Chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Professor of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center.

“We felt it was important to march because evidence-based policy is under attack, and the gains we’ve made to ground drug policy in the research about what works are threatened. Evidence-based drug policy can save lives. We cannot afford to return to the failed drug war tactics of the past,” said Jules Netherland, PhD, director of the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance.

Date Published: April 18, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

American drug policies have a problem – they’ve been driven by fear rather than facts for over a century. Although there had been notable gains over the past eight years towards more evidence-based drug policy, many worry that we may be heading in the wrong direction under the Trump administration. That’s why on April 22nd, drug policy researchers and advocates are taking to the streets of D.C. for the national March for Science, wielding facts and compassion in the face of ignorance and hatred.

From the first opium laws in the 1800’s targeting Chinese immigrants to the crack laws of the 1980’s which disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated black men, the history of drug policy in the US illustrates how racism, xenophobia, and stigma can be weaponized in the name of “public health” and “safety.” Paradoxically, the evidence suggests that drug prohibition has actually contributed to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates among drug users, while also facilitating the growth of an illicit drug market which threatens the safety and well-being of people around the globe. In addition, targeting racial and ethnic minority groups for harsher penalties has had a ripple effect on individual users and their communities by depriving them of social and familial supports as well as economic opportunity.

There are some serious barriers to expanding our research-base in regards to drugs and drug policies; largely due to limited funding for research with scheduled substances and little incentive to challenge the status quo. Drug scare tactics work- they befuddle, confuse, and terrify the public and policymakers alike while justifying an even harsher crackdown on users. Images of face-eating zombies to crack babies are more mobilizing than the reality that the vast majority of people who use drugs never get addicted or the therapeutic benefits of some substances, such as marijuana, are worth exploring.

Many American policymakers continue to think they can arrest their way out of our drug problems even though evidence shows that a “tough on drugs” approach is more harmful (and costly) than helpful. A look abroad shows us that nations which have decriminalized drugs, embraced harm reduction, and expanded treatment access have demonstrated positive outcomes for the health of drug users and their communities-at-large. At the same time there is a growing number of American lawmakers who have been forced to face the limitations of prohibition at home, realizing that evidence-based strategies offer a promising alternative to an overreliance on the criminal justice system as a solution to the public health problem of substance use.

But the good news is that there is a lot of solid research about drugs and drug policy, including high quality, accurate information about a range of substances, and what to do about them. Drug and drug policy research is a rich, interdisciplinary field that can help us sort the fact from the fiction and, more importantly, help us make smart policy choices that will improve the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities.

Take the current opioid crisis as just one example. A large body of research from Canada and Europe has shown that drug consumption rooms (safe and hygienic places where people can use drugs) can reduce overdose deaths and the transmission of blood-borne diseases, while linking people to treatment, medical care, and services. Once viewed as too controversial to be implemented in the U.S., several jurisdictions are now seriously considering them. Research has also given us life-saving naloxone – a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and has been responsible for saving thousands of lives. And thanks to science, more and more people are finding help through medication-assisted treatments, such as methadone and buprenorphine, for opioid use disorders.

While these signs of progress are encouraging and desperately needed, the Trump Administration’s disdain for science and approach to drug policy are worrisome. Trump not only eschews science, he is actively undermining it. For example, under Trump’s budget proposal, the National Institutes for Health would take a $1.2 billion cut focused primarily on research grants. NIH is responsible for the vast majority of drug research in the country. His desire to gut the Affordable Care Act and move to Medicaid block grants will make access to substance use treatment all the more difficult, especially if it is no longer considered essential health coverage. And his racially coded “law and order” rhetoric, along with the appointment of old school drug warriors, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, marks a return to a punitive drug war strategy of the past that a significant body of scholarship has deemed an abject failure.

We know better, and we must do better. Scholars who work in drug policy and all those who care about effective, evidence-base drug policy cannot stand by and watch all the progress we’ve made be undermined. Too much is at stake. That’s why it’s time for researchers to leave their labs and their classrooms and take to the streets. It’s time to turn from the misinformation, fear, and stigma that too often drive drug policy and insist on approaches that ground our policies in science and compassion.

Jules Netherland is the director of the Office of Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance.
Sheila Vakharia is an assistant professor at Long Island University.

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Author: Jules Netherland, PhD and Sheila Vakharia, PhD
Date Published: April 17, 2017
Published by Drug Policy Alliance