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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

Amy Schumer, Steph Curry, Ed Norton, Jesse Williams, Chris Pine, Russell Simmons, and Piper Kerman are among 90+ celebrities calling for reform to our criminal justice system. The stars are joining the campaign led by #cut50, a bipartisan effort to reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years.

The celebrity push comes on the heels of a historic deal on criminal justice reform last week. The bill, spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), will involve reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, an expansion of the federal "safety valve” (which allows judges to use their discretion to sentence people below statutory mandatory minimums), and will expand reentry programming and early release.

"Our broken criminal justice system harms more than it helps and wastes $80 billion a year. Americans are ready to fix it. Now it’s up to the national leaders in both parties to answer this call by passing strong federal legislation," said Van Jones, co-founder of the #cut50 campaign.

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its incarcerated population, the United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world – in large part due to misguided drug laws and draconian sentencing requirements that have produced profoundly unequal outcomes for communities of color.

“I spent 12 years behind bars because of draconian mandatory minimum sentences and I appreciate the significance of Congress rolling back our country’s drug war,” said Anthony Papa, manager of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Having these influential celebrities throw their support behind this legislation will add to the growing momentum to end mass incarceration.”

The New York Times weighed in on the legislation last weekend with an editorial in strong support, saying it is a “crucial first step on the long path toward unwinding the federal government’s decades-long reliance on prisons as the answer to every ill.”

The high powered stars are joining the larger movement to pass this major sentencing reform legislation. The #JusticeReformNOW petition, organized by #cut50, has received more than 130,000 total signatures.

The petition can be found at and a current roster of celebrity signers here.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance (

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Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: October 5, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug policy reform is a big tent; it brings together people fighting for criminal justice reform, racial justice, individual liberty, dignity, human rights, public health and public safety. There are experts working on harm reduction, advocates fighting for an end to punitive and destructive criminal sanctions, activists pushing for marijuana legalization. We often overlap, collaborate and support each other, yet it is rarer to find someone who actively and tirelessly fights for all facets of drug policy reform, who seamlessly unites all the strands of this growing movement.

This week we are honoring Rafael Torruella, a living example of what it means to be a drug policy reformer, in the broadest sense of the term. Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he grew up witnessing the problems associated with drug use and drug control policies; in Puerto Rico over 40 percent of new HIV infections are caused by use of contaminated syringes. Rafael knew there was a problem with the way the government dealt with drug use, with the marginalization of people who use drugs.

Ultimately, we have Rafael’s grandmother to thank for his drug policy and harm reduction advocacy. Rafael was working on a research project at the University of Puerto Rico on drug use and gender when his abuela showed him a newspaper article about syringe exchange and said, “Look, this is what people are doing about what you’re always talking about.” Rafael relocated to New York – becoming a syringe exchange coordinator for CitiWide Harm Reduction in the South Bronx – before finally returning home to set up what would eventually become Puerto Rico’s largest syringe exchange program, Intercambios Puerto Rico. Intercambios provides over 150,000 syringes a year in 15 communities in 6 municipalities in Puerto Rico, and operates on a peer model, with equipment and information delivered by people who formerly or currently use drugs.

For Rafael, harm reduction is about empowering people who use drugs, working alongside them, not for them. It’s about meeting people where they are at, literally. Intercambios does mobile exchanges, so that resources and information are brought into the community, not removed and inaccessible. Rafael focuses on providing education with equipment: teaching how to inject safely, how to prevent HIV infections, how to recognize a potential overdose and what to do about it. Rafael’s guiding principle is “with adequate information and resources, people will take care of their health.”

Years into his work, Rafael realized that service provision wasn’t going to change the broader system of mass incarceration and social exclusion. In Puerto Rico, laws were so severe that you could be jailed for 10 years for simple possession of cannabis in recreational areas. Based on the need for broader action, Rafael and his partners launched Descriminalizació, a campaign fighting for decriminalization of drug use, which has made notable gains.  Medical marijuana and decriminalization bills have been introduced into the Puerto Rican legislature and, in recent months, the Governor issued Executive Orders reclassifying cannabis for medical use and making marijuana possession the lowest enforcement priority. The senate also approved an overdose prevention and naloxone distribution bill drafted in collaboration with public health activists; Rafael was among them.

Rafael believes in the power of coalitions. He is a founding member of the Puerto Rican Harm Reduction Coalition (CoPuReDa) and is expanding his work in the Caribbean, providing technical assistance for harm reduction and syringe exchange in the Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands. According to Rafael, “We think of ourselves as Caribbean and as Latin American.” His work is indispensable in advancing reform across the region. Rafael Torruella works across countries, cultures and issues, and we are lucky to have him in the drug policy reform movement.

Hannah Hetzer is the senior policy manager of the Americas at the Drug Policy Alliance.

This is part of a series dedicated to Hispanic Heritage Month commemorating the impact made by Latino drug policy reformers.

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Author: Hannah Hetzer
Date Published: October 2, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

In a disappointing move, Ecuador increased penalties for small-scale drug sellers yesterday, reversing reforms approved last year that differentiated between possession of small amounts of drugs and larger quantities with intent to sell, where there had previously been no differentiation. However, yesterday the National Assembly voted to modify the criminal code and toughen penalties once again.

The vote took place after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa said that small-scale sellers (or “microtraffickers”) were “poisoning the population.” “Do we want to end drug use in youth? We have to jail microtraffickers (…) I have called for higher sanctions for microtraffickers,” President Correa said in September, calling this measure “preventative prison.”

“Ecuador’s backtracking on drug policy reform is extremely disappointing,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior Policy Manager of the Americas for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This won’t do anything to protect youth from drug use, while filling Ecuadorian prisons with people – mostly women – who are often forced into the drug trade, either out of violence or economic necessity.”

Yesterday’s modifications raised the penalties for sale of “small quantities” of certain drugs from 2 to 6 months to 1 to 3 years in prison and for “medium-scale trafficking” from 1 to 3 years to 3 to 5 years.

Increasingly, Latin American policymakers are speaking out against prohibition and are highlighting its devastating effects on the hemisphere. Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana in 2013, and leaders such as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have called for alternatives to the war-on-drugs approach.

“The 2014 reforms were an important step forward in making the criminal justice system fairer and led to the release of over 2,200 people from prison,” said Hannah Hetzer. “At a time when the United States and countries in Latin America are taking meaningful steps towards criminal justice reform, it’s sad to see Ecuador going backwards.”

Date Published: October 2, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

I still vividly remember the first time I saw naloxone in action. The day began like an average one at the drop-in center—with the buzz of conversation, ringing phones and chaotic sounds of an old action movie on the television. Suddenly there was a panicked cry over the din: “My friend’s on the ground,” someone shouted from the restroom, “I don’t think she’s breathing.”

Several of us raced to investigate. Sure enough, a young woman—who I’ll call Amy— lay slumped against the wall, her head drooping to one side. Her lips seemed bizarrely blue.

But Amy was known to the staff as an active heroin user and they recognized what I had formerly only heard about in trainings. Amy was experiencing an opioid overdose. We needed to act fast to help save her life. A staff member carefully laid Amy fully on her back, shouted her name and pressed his knuckles into her breastbone (what’s called a sternal rub), attempting to wake her. She remained limp and motionless. Someone called 911 as I began to perform rescue breathing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shot being administered in Amy’s upper arm. After a couple of minutes, she took a huge gasping breath and abruptly sat up. We calmly explained what happened as she looked around in momentary confusion. Soon she was on her feet. A friend wrapped her in a relieved hug.  Just like that, the crisis was over—thanks to naloxone.

Sometimes referred to as Narcan, naloxone is a life-saving medication. It helps the central nervous system “remember how to breath” when it would otherwise be overwhelmed by the depressive effects of opioids.

As Amy’s story demonstrates, naloxone can save lives. It is generic, low-cost, and has no psychoactive effects.  Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain.

Naloxone has few side effects, no abuse potential, and comes in several forms of administration, making it safe and easy to use.  It is commonly given through intramuscular injection—like the shot in the deltoid Amy received— or an intranasal spray.  An electronic device with an auto-injector (similar to those used for epinephrine) is also available.

Since most overdose fatalities involve opioids, naloxone is an invaluable public health tool. Emergency departments have used it regularly since its approval by the FDA in 1971.  In recent years, in the face of growing concerns about overdose deaths, many states have taken action to expand access to naloxone and encourage overdose witnesses to call 911.

Efforts are also underway to make naloxone more readily available in pharmacies. These vital reforms hinge on the simple fact that the most effective “first responders” are already on the scene when overdose emergencies arise. As in Amy’s case, most people are not alone when they overdose—peers, friends or loved ones are often in the best position to intervene promptly when every moment counts.

Reflecting on my experience with Amy, it chills me to think that things could have unfolded very differently. Amy could have succumbed to brain damage or death while we stood by helplessly, an overdose cutting her life short, traumatizing those on the scene and bringing immeasurable suffering to her loved ones.

Without naloxone, that day at the drop-in center would have been heartbreaking, but instead of witnessing senseless tragedy I learned about humanity, fellowship, compassion and basic public health. Naloxone ultimately empowers us to help one another in the darkest moments and, with that, it inspires hope.

Amanda Bent is a policy coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Amanda Bent
Date Published: October 2, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Tell your Senators to cosponsor the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

Date Published: October 2, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

“¡Vivos se los llevaron! ¡Vivos los queremos!”

These words echoed around the globe this past weekend, as September 26 marked one year since 43 students were forcefully disappeared by government authorities in Guerrero, Mexico.

In New York City, Mexican activist group Somos los otros NY organized a series of events including protests at the Mexican Consulate and at the United Nations Headquarters, a vigil in Union Square and screenings of the new documentary Ayotzinapa: Chronicle of a State Crime, accompanied by art exhibits and Aztec dances.

Four young dancers dressed in black with school bags face a wall of Ayotzinapa-inspired art in preparation for a performance paying homage to the 43 students.

Mexican artists perform at the screening of Ayotzinapa: Chronicle of a State Crime at Saint Peter’s Church the day before the one-year anniversary.

“Our ancestors fought for independence, but we have once again fallen under an oppressive government and it is up to us to bring it down,” said a member of Somos los otros NY after the artists’ performances on Friday night.

Since mass protests erupted last year, President Peña Nieto’s government has been caught in a whirlwind of accusations shedding light on widespread institutional corruption and state crimes. According to a report released by Open Society Foundations last month, there were 19,434 homicides reported in the state of Guerrero alone between 2005 and 2014 and only 9.6% of investigations resulted in convictions. Since the Dirty War of the 1960-70s, the lack of institutional accountability has cleared the way for the official use of torture, arbitrary detention and widespread violence against students, women, migrants, journalists, Indigenous communities and civilians, who have been paying the costs of a failed U.S. sponsored drug war.

A young boy lights candles at a vigil in Union Square for the hundreds of thousands who have been directly and indirectly affected by years of violence in Mexico.

Members of Somos los otros NY chant for justice, as they read the names of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa at a vigil in Union Square.

Following a meeting last week between President Peña Nieto and the families of the disappeared in which the latter put forth eight demands, activists in New York echoed the need for a special investigative unit independent of the attorney general’s office to look into the case of Ayotzinapa and implement a mechanism to combat impunity and human rights violations.

Although Peña Nieto ended the meeting by rejecting this demand, he was not able to escape Mexicans’ anger and frustration as he traveled to New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly. Members of Somos los otros NY spent Saturday night outside his hotel and gave him a hostile morning greeting that was documented in a video that has reached almost half a million views. The following day, the group bid farewell to the President as he left the U.N. chanting “Murderer!” and demanding to end the Merida Initiative, which has enabled the U.S. to spend $3 billion since 2008 to finance the drug war in Mexico.

Members of Somos los otros NY stand outside the United Nations Headquarters chanting as President Peña Nieto left the General Assembly meeting Monday morning.

As New York stood with Mexico this past weekend, let’s not forget the bigger picture. Ayotzinapa was not an isolated event and as you read this, someone is being forced to leave their home due to gang violence. Someone’s relative is being tortured by corrupt police authorities. Someone’s body has been found in another mass grave.

As Somos los otros NY said at the vigil, “Let’s not forget that we are all students, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. We are here because there are human rights violations being carried out right now. The drug war is a war on all of us. It’s time to stop spending taxpayers’ money on a failed war. Enough...”

Laura Krasovitzky is a media intern with the Drug Policy Alliance (

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Author: Laura Krasovitzky
Date Published: October 1, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Santa Fe - Yesterday, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry vetoed legislation that would have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for personal possession as well as a resolution that would have made marijuana a low priority for law enforcement.

Statement by Emily Kaltenbach:

"Mayor Berry, in his public statement on why he vetoed the marijuana decriminalization legislation, said that he has a “hard time signing legislation that pre-empts state and federal law.” This reasoning lags behind history and the public’s will. Over 115 million people, or one-third of the U.S. population, live in jurisdictions where marijuana has been decriminalized, Oregon decriminalized marijuana more than 40 years ago. Santa Fe, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana last year.

"Voters in Bernalillo County voted overwhelmingly in favor of reducing marijuana penalties in the November election. Nearly 91 percent of the precincts in Bernalillo County said “yes” to reducing penalties. Overall, 60 percent of voters in the county voted in favor of penalty reductions.

"Albuquerque deserves to have a police department that has the resources and training to deal with serious violent crimes. Why would we knowingly put our children and police officers at risk by stretching our law enforcement beyond their means with nonviolent and low-level crimes that do not threaten our community? Reducing marijuana penalties will help law enforcement resources be spent more efficiently and effectively.

"The decision Berry faced was rooted in a moral question. Do we want to be the kind of society that arrests and jails nonviolent adults – who are disproportionately people of color and low-income – for possessing a substance that’s unequivocally been shown to be far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco?

"The people of Bernalillo County have clearly demonstrated that they want a more just society. Unfortunately, their mayor did not take note."

Date Published: October 1, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York City -- Homelessness and public drug use are on the rise in New York, and accidental drug overdoses now kill more people than car accidents in the U.S. As the Mayor and Police Commissioner Bratton struggle to find solutions to these problems, advocates in New York are calling for effective public health solutions like those being used in cities throughout Europe and Canada. A coalition of public health and harm reduction groups, advocacy organizations, and NYC residents, named SIF NYC, is calling for the City to establish supervised injection facilities, a proven strategy to improve the health of people who do not have a safe place to inject, reduce overdose deaths, and link people to housing, healthcare, and drug treatment.

Last night, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! moderated a town hall discussion with more than 500 New Yorkers in attendance. A panel of international experts laid out the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting supervised injection facilities and explained how providing a safe and clean place for people to inject drugs and access services can solve a host of public health and public disorder problems. The panel included Senator Larry Campbell, former mayor of Vancouver, Canada; Werner Schneider, former drug czar of Frankfurt, Germany; Tony Trimingham, a psychotherapist in Sydney, Australia and founder of Family Drug Support Australia; and Liz Evans, who oversaw the establishment of the Insite supervised injection facility in Vancouver, Canada.

The panelists repeatedly focused on the devastation caused by doing nothing in the face of widespread poverty, racial and economic injustice, and the many ways such conditions intersect with drug use. In contrasting the positive impact of supervised injection facilities to the situation in New York, Liz Evans said, “Things have gone terribly wrong to get us to this point. It’s time to say to people who use drugs: Peace. The war is over.”

Former Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell said that while broad political and public support is essential, “in our city it was drug users who led us by the hand” to establish Insite in 2003, which has been rigorously evaluated and has the support of the vast majority of Vancouver residents. “So I have one piece of advice for people in New York, and especially drug users: Raise a little hell.”

Panelists detailed how the nearly 100 SIFs worldwide are part of a successful strategy to deal with public health and public disorder problems in cities throughout Europe and Canada. They also discussed research supporting the effectiveness of supervised injection facilities in reducing overdose deaths and infectious disease transmission, improving access to drug treatment and other health care for people who inject drugs, and reducing public disorder, including improperly discarded drug paraphernalia – all problems New York City is currently battling.

“We can do a better job addressing the health of people who use drugs, improving public health outcomes, and reducing overdose in New York,” said Julie Netherland, PhD, deputy state director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We know what works. It’s time to listen to international experts and to the solid body of research supporting SIFs and implement them here in New York.”

A recent survey by the Injection Drug Users Health Alliance found that a majority of NYC syringe exchange participants reported having to inject in public spaces like parks, subway platforms, and restaurant bathrooms. Those who did were more than twice as likely to have overdosed in the past year and were four times more likely to have to reuse injection equipment, a key risk factor for disease transmission.

“Syringe exchange programs have demonstrated to be highly effective in preventing HIV and hepatitis C, connecting people who use drugs to life saving services. But it's not enough to provide someone the tools for safer injection, particularly when homelessness and fear of arrest are part of the daily life of people who use drugs,” said Taeko Frost, Executive Director of Washington Heights CORNER Project. “A more ecological approach would integrate supervised injection facilities to minimize risk and promote health for people who use drugs and their communities. New Yorkers need and deserve this evidence based, cost effective public health intervention at a time where we continue to see an increase in hepatitis C and overdose-- it's the most pragmatic and responsible next step as a city."

National data suggest that public bathrooms are one of the most frequently used public injection locations in New York City, and 58% of business managers recently surveyed encountered drug use in their customer bathrooms in the past 6 months. Managers have also found discarded paraphernalia contaminated with blood in their bathrooms, putting both employees and customers at risk for blood –borne infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C. Encounters were recorded in all five boroughs with the most occurring in the South Bronx and East Harlem; neighborhoods with some of the highest drug overdose death rates in the city.

"A safe, clean place to inject would have allowed me to avoid abscesses and infections that have affected my health and would have made it much easier to deal with things I wanted to change about my drug use," said Paul Levine, a staff member at VOCAL New York who was forced to inject in public places during periods of homelessness in Brooklyn. "New York needs supervised injection facilities now, and the sooner it happens the more lives we'll save from overdose and disease."

SIFs are a notable a component of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Blueprint on Ending the AIDS Epidemic, which was developed by a task force of 63 leading experts and released earlier this year. Recently, a group of concerned service providers and public health groups formed SIF NYC, a coalition committed to establishing SIFs and other strategies to support the health, safety, and dignity of people who use drugs.

“It’s enraging how behind the curve New York is on this,” said Matt Curtis, policy director at VOCAL New York. “Scores of cities have used SIFs to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars, and to improve public order and safety in neighborhoods. New York has pursued harm reduction strategies since the 1990s but with a schizophrenic attachment to the failed drug war. It’s time to commit to the idea that people who use drugs are our family and friends and they deserve support, not punishment. The SIF NYC coalition is not going to take no for an answer.”

Support for SIFs has been growing in New York. Last night, more than 500 people turned out for the forum, the vast majority expressing their support for SIFs in NYC. Conversations about implementing SIFs in NYC are beginning among members of the New York City Council and other parts of government.

“Supervised injection facilities are a successful harm reduction strategy in cities across the world and are a critical facet of the Governor’s Ending the Epidemic Blueprint,” said Council Member Corey Johnson, chair of the Committee on Health. “I look forward to continuing the conversation on this and other innovative solutions to public drug use and overdose.”

Date Published: October 1, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance | VOCAL- NY | SIF NYC