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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

What if Oliver Sacks had been born 20 years later? Would he have been able to explore new avenues of neurochemical and psychiatric research to the extent that he did?

Probably not... at least not legally, since a 20-year delay would have implied breaking the law when he split fifty micrograms of LSD with one of his childhood friends.

While the psychedelic compound was still legal when Sacks ingested it in 1953, it was not long before LSD and multiple other psychoactive drugs were declared to have no medical value and great potential for abuse by the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 that was signed into law by President Richard Nixon as part of his war on drugs.

Despite a number of both national and international studies carried out in the 1950s showing the therapeutic potential of LSD and other psychedelics, including treatment for alcoholism and psychological disorders, Nixon’s draconian laws not only criminalized people who use drugs but also researchers, whose projects were terminated and funds cut short.

Now, as the world mourns the recent death of this great neurologist and author who wrote about the need “to transcend, transport [and] get beyond ourselves [...] in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds,” it is crucial to remember whose voices are not making headlines.

For 45 years since psychedelics were officially criminalized, researchers around the world have been struggling to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to conduct clinical studies evaluating the therapeutic benefits of these substances. Psychedelics have been stigmatized since the government’s backlash against the 1960s “counterculture” movement and are still misunderstood due to public officials’ lack of support for harm reduction initiatives and science-based drug education.

However, despite the political and cultural obstacles psychedelics have faced over the last four decades, the last few years have seen what many are calling a psychedelic renaissance thanks to organizations like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies and the Heffter Research Institute. With clinical studies at institutions like the NYU School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, scientists are demonstrating the potential of psychedelics to treat addiction, PTSD, depression, and end-of-life anxiety.

Moreover, the benefits of these substances are not necessarily limited to patients, as they could also be very valuable for researchers themselves.

In the case of Oliver Sacks, he claimed that psychedelics “allowed me to be more empathic and understand from my own experiences what several patients were going through, but it also gave me very direct knowledge of what physiologists were calling the reward systems of the brain.”

As we remember the legacy of this great thinker, let’s also make sure to educate ourselves on the racist, oppressive, and profit-driven history of drug laws in this country and the obstacles that remain. The information is out there and it is a choice to either consent through silence or take action to end the drug war once and for all.

Laura Krasovitzky is a media intern with the Drug Policy Alliance (www.drugpolicy.org)

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Author: Laura Krasovitzky
Date Published: September 3, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Springfield, IL- In a vote of 105-5, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to override Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto of HB1, the Heroin Crisis Bill, which was filed in response to the growing problem of opioid overdose and addiction in Illinois. The bill had previously passed unanimously in the Illinois House and nearly unanimously in the Illinois Senate.

In just five years, Illinois treatment capacity declined more than any other state in the nation, falling more than 52 percent, according to a report released in August by Roosevelt University’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy.  The study also found that Illinois’ treatment capacity is now the third worst in the nation, ranking just above Tennessee and Texas.

HB1 is a critical step towards rebuilding Illinois’ failed system and would work to increase access to treatment and medical care.  It also provides increased access to naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses and can literally bring someone back to life.

The Governor’s amendatory veto sought to strike out the Medicaid provisions for the lifesaving drug naloxone and the provisions for other medications like methadone and buprenorphine. He stated that while he applauded the bill’s multi-faceted approach to combat the heroin problem in Illinois, the bill would cost too much.

But the study found that the bill would also result in significant costs savings for Illinois taxpayers. Overall the bill is expected to save Illinois $58M in the first year alone.

“We asked our representatives to stand by their original votes and they did,” said Kathie Kane-Willis, lead author of the report and director of Roosevelt’s Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy. “In the gallery, the advocates were weeping when the votes came in. It was a heartening moment, but we are not past the finish line quite yet,” she added.

In a state which is suffering from one of the worst heroin crises in the nation, it is imperative that the Senate also vote to prioritize the lives of our loved ones and overrides the Governor’s short sighted veto.

Author:
Date Published: September 3, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Last Sunday, the Washington Post covered “The Heroin Epidemic’s Toll: One County, 70 Minutes, Eight Overdoses.” This piece addresses problematic heroin use, which often results in overdose deaths. Yet, the article misses an opportunity to educate people about life-saving bystander intervention practices that can reverse heroin overdose and promote safer heroin consumption.
 
While I applaud the Washington Post for calling attention to dramatic increases in heroin overdose, I’m disappointed in their message execution. The media may have every intention to help prevent heroin overdoses from occurring; nevertheless, these intentions are lost in translation as the storytelling language dwells on the epidemic and elicits fearful reactions from its audience, rather than empowering them to seek meaningful change through public policy. This tendency to focus on the problem rather than on the solution makes for a poorly-executed message, especially if the original intent was to spur concern for preventing heroin overdose.
 
There are many effective solutions proven to prevent heroin overdose and other types of heroin misuse. However, the only solution the article offers is at the very end, and even then, it runs contrary to true intent. The author concludes that we must curb supply and demand for heroin; therefore, that the solution lies in reducing simple possession and use of heroin rather than in reducing the harms associated with problematic heroin use. Here, I see a miscommunication of public policy priorities, encouraging audiences to believe that our country must fight all drug use before we can work to prevent harmful drug use.
 
During the last Superbowl, the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse aired a public service announcement to “raise awareness of the local heroin epidemic that has stolen the lives of thousands of young people and shattered thousands of families.” The video features an upbeat song, while following a teenager home alone snorting heroin on his bed. When the mother gets home and goes upstairs to check up on him, rather than immediately attempting to save her son who has overdosed, she falls on her knees and gently sobs over his unconscious body.
 
Commercials like this and other media portrayals of the ‘heroin epidemic’ squander valuable opportunities to show effective harm reduction solutions at work.
 
Some media outlets do not realize that their good-faith efforts may actually exacerbate preventable heroin overdose deaths, as they continue to stigmatize and encourage discrimination against people who use the drug. People who feel uncomfortable disclosing their drug use for fear of judgment or punishment are more likely to use alone in private places, which poses serious threats to their lives in the case of an overdose. This systemic bias against people who use drugs fuels ignorance and misinformation in our society, hindering a practical drug education and ultimately thwarting effective drug treatment strategies.
 
The media needs to address this injustice now. We cannot continue to sensationalize overdose and other types of drug misuse, while disregarding the root causes of the problem – many of which are being aggravated by our current drug policies. The media must reframe these stories in order to highlight the protagonist (i.e., an overdose victim or survivor) in the context of the underlying system that helps facilitate or prevent harmful drug use. This paradigm shift will ultimately have the most impact on creating innovative drug policies that support and protect the health and safety of people who use drugs.
 
Caroline Naughton is an intern for the Drug Policy Alliance.
 
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Author: Caroline Naughton
Date Published: September 3, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

The government should not be able to seize property from innocent people. Help end policing for profit.

Author:
Date Published: September 2, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

One of the countless myths underlying the war on drugs is that people who sell drugs are violent. We’re told in school, by the media, or by law enforcement that people who sell drugs, even marijuana, are aggressive predators motivated by profit who will do anything, including resort to violence, to promote and protect their product.

Stoking these fears is, at best, outdated and unjustified, and at worst, deliberately deceptive and dangerous.

Research shows that selling drugs is often a temporary venture, one that’s undertaken by individuals struggling to survive in order to supplement their income or their own drug use. Rather than being a cause of urban decline, selling drugs is often a direct response to that urban decline and the disappearance of a sustainable employment market. The constant in the life of the average person who sells drugs is not violence, but poverty.

Yet when police equate selling marijuana with violence, those assumptions become dangerous, and in some cases, lethal. Several recent cases demonstrate the startling show of force police bring to fight the war on drugs, even against a drug that is decriminalized in almost half of the country.

Zachary Hammond was killed by police in South Carolina when they attempted to trap his companion into selling less than 10 grams of marijuana. Police claim that that Mr. Hammond was shot as he tried to drive his car into the officer, yet the autopsy report indicates he was shot from the side and the back, negating the officer’s claim that Mr. Hammond was driving into him.

Jason Westcott was killed by members of a Tampa Bay SWAT team during a raid on his house. When a confidential informant told detectives that Mr. Westcott sold small amounts of marijuana—he later admitted that he lied about this—police obtained a search warrant. During the ensuing nighttime raid, police claim that Mr. Westcott pointed a gun at them. They recovered 0.02 grams of marijuana.

Julian Betton was shot and paralyzed by police in South Carolina when police raided his home with a search warrant after Mr. Betton had sold an informant 7 grams and 8 grams of marijuana on two occasions. While Mr. Betton possessed a gun, Mr. Betton did not fire at the officers, contrary to earlier reports. But that didn’t stop police from shooting Mr. Betton nine times and discharging more than 40 bullets in a volley of gunfire.

The excessive militarization of the police has been all over the news lately. While public support for the war on drugs is lower than ever, law enforcement increasingly use the war on drugs as a justification for their aggressive tactics and violence. These hyper-aggressive tactics—nighttime raids, assault rifles, battering rams, sting operations—are frequently used in the wasteful and failed war on drugs. When police equate selling drugs with violence—even selling very small amounts of marijuana—they see all suspected drug sellers as threats, rather than as individuals.

On a daily basis we hear of black men assaulted or murdered by the police, most for doing nothing wrong, and some for allegedly committing minor crimes. Eric Garner was killed by police after selling untaxed cigarettes, Walter Scott was killed by police after being pulled over for a nonfunctioning brake light, and Jason Westcott and Julian Betton were killed by police after being involved in small sales of marijuana. The deaths of all of these men are outrageous—their alleged involvement in a minor crime does not make it any less so.

Joy Haviland is a staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Author: Joy Haviland
Date Published: September 1, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

I spent the majority of my life hiding the reason behind my parents’ divorce. When kids at school asked why my dad wasn’t around, it was easier to say he left us and now lives up state rather than explain the harsh reality that his crack addiction played a significant role in the destruction of my family and life as we knew it.

After being arrested and hospitalized for stab wounds he got during a drug-related transaction, my dad moved hours away to a residential treatment facility to work on his recovery while my mom, brother and I struggled to put food on the table, and keep a roof over our heads. More damaging than any of the hardships I faced in the formative years to follow was the shame I continued to carry around into adulthood. Shame rooted in the stigma associated with drug use and abuse all thanks to the harmful drug war.

It wasn’t until 2007 when I traveled to New Orleans for the Drug Policy Alliance’s International Drug Policy Reform Conference that I finally broke free from the shame and shared my experiences with others for the first time. It may sound surprising that I felt more comfortable opening up to complete strangers than to some of my closest friends and family, but Reform is a unique experience and a conference like none other.

Although Reform attendees have the opportunity to interact with people committed to finding alternatives to the war on drugs while participating in sessions given by leading experts from around the world, it’s more than that. It’s a place where people from across the political spectrum can come together in fellowship to displace all the fear, misinformation and biases that perpetuate the drug war with a more compassionate and fair approach to tackling drug-related issues.

My first Reform conference was certainly educational as I expanded my knowledge base around heroin maintenance, ibogaine, the therapeutic value of cannabis and a whole host of other important drug policy topics. But, more importantly for me, Reform offered a space of healing where I could also critically examine the privilege my father enjoyed—receiving treatment instead of incarceration, unlike some of his friends who were people of color.

Reform was the catalyst that helped shape the path I’ve been on for the last eight years, but it’s the brave advocates, hardworking allies and inspiring social justice organizations that I have the honor of working with on a daily basis who continue to fuel my passion for this movement for freedom and justice with the goal of dismantling our racially discriminatory drug laws.

Many of the organizations that motivate me have already joined as Reform Conference partners helping us ensure that our 2015 gathering will be the biggest and best ever! There is still time for you to join us.

Contact Jim Clapes at the Drug Policy Alliance for more information on becoming a Reform conference partner.

Meagan Glaser is the New Jersey deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Author: Meagan Glaser
Date Published: August 28, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

New York, NY – The documentary film Everywhere But Safe: Public Injecting in New York premieres on August 25 at the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem. Filmed in New York City, Albany, Schenectady, and Columbia County, NY, the film documents the health and safety consequences for the thousands of New Yorkers who inject drugs in public and semi-public places due to homelessness and other factors.

“In New York, we're seeing people in our community dying of overdose, contracting HIV and hepatitis C, and being pushed to the edges because of the shame and stigma associated with injection drug use,” said Taeko Frost, co-director of the film and Executive Director at the Washington Heights CORNER Project. “As harm reduction providers, we're engaging individuals on safer drug use and providing the tools and resources to prevent overdose and transmission, but the reality is there isn't a consistent, safe space to apply these strategies. And we have evidence-based interventions, such as supervised injection facilities, that have been proven to both minimize risk and promote individual and community safety. New York needed that yesterday.”

Supervised injection facilities (SIFs) – which are sometimes called safer injecting sites or drug consumption rooms – were first adopted as a strategy in Switzerland in the 1980s, and quickly spread to other parts of Europe, Canada, and Australia. Today, nearly 100 SIFs exist around the world. Rigorous scientific evaluation has shown them to reduce overdose deaths and infectious disease transmission, improve access to drug treatment and other health care for people who inject drugs, and reduce public disorder, including improperly discarded drug paraphernalia.

“Public injecting is real problem in New York, but fortunately it is one for which we have a clear solution supported by a large body of research,” said Julie Netherland, PhD, Deputy Director of the New York Policy Office at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Countries around the world have opened supervised injection facilities to address the kinds of public health and safety problems so poignantly illustrated in Everywhere But Safe. It’s time for New York to follow the science and implement evidence-based strategies, such as SIFs, that can save lives."

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.

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.

“New York is not taking responsibility for this problem,” said Matt Curtis, co-director of Everywhere But Safe and Policy Director at VOCAL New York. “We do not have to have thousands of New Yorkers injecting in public. By integrating SIFs into the existing network of syringe exchange programs, we could remove a major public health threat, make our communities safer, and save the city money.”

A new campaign for SIFs uniting public health groups, called SIF NYC, is launching with a series of events over the course of September. For more information on the film, visit www.EverywhereButSafe.org.

###

Author:
Date Published: August 24, 2015
Published by Washington Heights Corner Project, VOCAL-NY, Drug Policy Alliance

The United States’ longest, unwinnable war is the "war on drugs." Despite decades of arrests and locking up millions of Americans, politicians and PSA’s urging us to “Just Say No,” illegal drugs are still as available as ever.

But why are some drugs legal and some prohibited? Why do we arrest approximately 600,000 Americans each year for marijuana possession, but sell tobacco and alcohol on most corners? Why do we lock up people who use meth for years, and dole out the similar drug Ritalin to our children? It is not based on science and health harm, but most often because of racism, stigma, and who is perceived to be using the illegal drugs.

The social impact company, ATTN: produced a series of short videos called “The Real History of Illegal Drugs” which explains why, when, and how some illicit drugs such as marijuana, MDMA, cocaine, opium and LSD became illegal. 

These catchy, well-produced videos have been viewed millions of times on Facebook and other social media channels, packing in an incredible amount of history in a thoughtful and entertaining way.   

Check out these excellent videos from ATTN:. They will educate, entertain, and inspire you to join the movement to end our county’s disastrous war on drugs.

The Real History of Drugs: Cocaine

Small amounts of cocaine used to be in Coca-Cola and didn’t carry any stigma. Harsh laws came about when the drug became associated with Black Americans. The crack version of cocaine fueled draconian mandatory minimums that are still felt today.Even though the majority of people who use crack cocaine are white, most people arrested and imprisoned for it are black.

The Real History of Drugs: MDMA

MDMA's psychoactive effects were discovered by famed chemist Alexander Shulgin. There was great interest in the benefits of MDMA for therapy. The drug did not become illegal until 1985, when it became popular in the rave and dance scene and then DEA cracked down hard. There is growing interest in studying the benefits of MDMA for PTSD, particularly for military veterans. 

The Real History of Drugs: Marijuana

Like cocaine and opium, marijuana prohibition is tied to racism. The campaign against marijuana took off when the drug was associated with Mexican Americans and Latinos in the 1930s. President Nixon launched the modern day "war on drugs" and marijuana was a convenient way to go after Black Americans and anti-Vietnam War protesters. Now, we are at a paradoxical time where marijuana is becoming mainstream, as four states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana, yet there are still approximately 600,000 marijuana possession arrests each year.

The Real History of Drugs: Opium

Opium was a popular drug among white women and used for colicky babies more than 100 years ago. But perception changed when it was used to stigmatize Chinese Americans working on the railroads in the early 1800s. The image of Chinese people using opium led to it becoming one of the first drugs to become prohibited in 1914. Today opium is recognized to have important medical benefits.

The Real History of Drugs: LSD

LSD was something of an accident, originally created in the late 1930s by a young chemist named Albert Hoffman, and intended for use as a clinical drug. Although it never took the form of mainstream medication, LSD seemed in vogue in experimental medical circles during the period between 1950 and 1965; nearly 40,000 patients—including actor Cary Grant—used some form of LSD for illnesses ranging from neurosis, schizophrenia, and psychopathy. The growing popularity of psychedelics in a time of social and cultural revolution ultimately led to the federal government outlawing it in 1968, although certain psychedelics are still allowed for use in religious ceremonies.

Author: Tony Newman
Date Published: August 24, 2015
Published by Drug Policy Alliance