November 10, 2009
The illustration below shows UK drug poisoning deaths versus popular press coverage:
David McCandless, who created the graph, writes:
There has never been a single documented case of fatal cannabis overdose. Also, the government’s own figures don’t tally. While drug figures from the Office Of National Statistics register 19 cannabis related deaths, the mortality stats from the same office log only 1 death.
Clearly the media disproportionally focuses on some drugs rather than others, thus distorting public opinion. The graphic below illustrates the death-rate per user of each drug:
So it appears that Marijuana is less toxic than aspirin.
September 28, 2009
Gaelle Faure from Time writes:
Treating heroin addicts by giving them heroin might seem counterintuitive. But for some of the most hardened addicts, administering heroin in supervised clinics may just do the trick where detox and methadone have failed.
Following the lead of Switzerland and a handful of other countries, Britain recently concluded a four-year trial in which longtime addicts were given daily heroin injections as part of a treatment program to eventually wean them off the drug. Now, with results showing the trial succeeded in reducing street-drug use and crime among participants, Britain could soon become only the second country in Europe to institutionalize the program. That would mean permanent, state-funded heroin clinics would be set up across the country to treat the most heavily addicted people.
Though the methods have been controversial, the resulsts have been encouraging: Street-drug use among participants fell 75% in six months.
August 30, 2009
According to The Economist, the evidence from Portugal since 2001 shows that decriminalizing drug use and possession has “benefits and no harmful side-effects”:
Officials believe that, by lifting fears of prosecution, the policy has encouraged addicts to seek treatment. This bears out their view that criminal sanctions are not the best answer. “Before decriminalisation, addicts were afraid to seek treatment because they feared they would be denounced to the police and arrested,” says Manuel Cardoso, deputy director of the Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Portugal’s main drugs-prevention and drugs-policy agency. “Now they know they will be treated as patients with a problem and not stigmatised as criminals.”
The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programmes has risen from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a big rise in treatment (but not in drug use). Between 2001 and 2007 the number of Portuguese who say they have taken heroin at least once in their lives increased from just 1% to 1.1%. For most other drugs, the figures have fallen: Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis. And most notably, heroin and other drug abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups, according to Mr Cardoso.
The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen, from 45% before decriminalisation to 17% now, he says, because the new law has facilitated treatment and harm-reduction programmes. Drug addicts now account for only 20% of Portugal’s HIV cases, down from 56% before. “We no longer have to work under the paradox that exists in many countries of providing support and medical care to people the law considers criminals.”
Click here to read Part I.
August 26, 2009
After Mexico’s decision to decriminalize small amounts of drugs last week, the Supreme Court of Argentina yesterday unanimously ruled to decriminalize the possession of drugs for personal consumption:
In an eight-page writ unveiled today, the Supreme Court said it is unconstitutional to punish marijuana consumers, if that action does not harm third parties. The decision would put an end to a long-term debate, in which users had claimed that the incumbent drug law violated privacy rights.
The ruling was in reference to Article 19 of the Argentine constitution:
The private actions of men which in no way offend public order or morality, nor injure a third party, are only reserved to God and are exempted from the authority of judges. No inhabitant of the Nation shall be obliged to perform what the law does not demand nor deprived of what it does not prohibit.
August 21, 2009
The Associated Press reports:
Mexico enacted a controversial law on Thursday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and other drugs while encouraging government-financed treatment for drug dependency free of charge.
The law sets out maximum “personal use” amounts for drugs, also including LSD and methamphetamine. People detained with those quantities will no longer face criminal prosecution; the law goes into effect on Friday.
Anyone caught with drug amounts under the personal-use limit will be encouraged to seek treatment, and for those caught a third time treatment is mandatory — although no penalties for noncompliance are specified.
Mexican authorities said the change only recognized the longstanding practice here of not prosecuting people caught with small amounts of drugs.
The maximum amount of marijuana considered to be for “personal use” under the new law is 5 grams — the equivalent of about four marijuana cigarettes. Other limits are half a gram of cocaine, 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams for methamphetamine and 0.015 milligrams of LSD.
President Felipe Calderón waited months before approving the law.
August 16, 2009
Maia Szalavitz of Time writes,
Although its capital is notorious among stoners and college kids for marijuana haze–filled “coffee shops,” Holland has never actually legalized cannabis — the Dutch simply don’t enforce their laws against the shops. The correct answer is Portugal, which in 2001 became the first European country to officially abolish all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
At the recommendation of a national commission charged with addressing Portugal’s drug problem, jail time was replaced with the offer of therapy. The argument was that the fear of prison drives addicts underground and that incarceration is more expensive than treatment — so why not give drug addicts health services instead? Under Portugal’s new regime, people found guilty of possessing small amounts of drugs are sent to a panel consisting of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser for appropriate treatment (which may be refused without criminal punishment), instead of jail.
So did the policies work? Click here to read on. (Hint: “Five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.”)
July 15, 2009
According to the BBC, Iran has the highest proportion of heroin addicts in the world. Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported in May that the country has 1.2 million drug addicts who average 32 years old. While this statistic refers to all drugs, it is widely assumed that the majority of addicts use opium or heroin.
Several NGOs, however, estimate that there may be as many as five million heroin addicts in Iran – more than one in 20 of the population. This is in the same society where public dancing and music – until recently – were illegal. According to Iranian law, anyone carrying more than 30 grams of heroin or five kilograms of opium would face the death penalty.
Iran’s health ministry, moreover “says intravenous drug use is the main cause of infection of HIV patients, estimating that it accounts for 77.5 percent of the total of a least 19,435 people who are infected with the virus.”
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most of the opium leaving Afghanistan to the West is smuggled via Iran. While Iran’s proximity to the expanding Afghan drug market has been to blame, other causes remain present.
To stem the drug flow, the Government of Iran has erected over 1,000 kilometers of embankments, canals, trenches, and cement walls along its eastern border, UNODC said. Limited success has been attained in curbing the supply. Demand, however, appears to be on the rise. Diminished supplies have pushed prices higher leaving the black market thriving, profitable and inevitably dangerous.
But what has led Iran to the highest heroin addiction rate on earth? Is it a historic affinity with opium? Is it domestic oppression coupled with Afghan proximity? I’m not sure.