Assessing Drug Policy Implementation

Editor’s Note: Last week, we ran a showcase of new research on new developments in drug law enforcement. Today, we’re highlighting some recent work that aims to assess the implementation and maintenance of such regimes in the United States. These entries are part of an ongoing drug-related dissertation bibliography compiled by Jonathon Erlen, which was formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but is now periodically featured on the Points blog. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Assessing the effects of Florida’s anti-pill mill law on prescription drug related health outcomes

Author: Kinsell, Heidi Shoemake


Abstract: Prescription drug abuse and the related mortality and morbidity have been a particular problem in Florida. Over the past fifteen years, Florida became a major source of prescription drug diversion due primarily to the abundance of dishonest pain management clinics or “pill mills” operating in the state. Given that the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is a widespread public health problem with consequences that extend beyond the individual, and it is essential that policies are based on data-driven evidence to be able to improve population health outcomes. Therefore, the goal of this study was to assess the effectiveness of multifactorial pain clinic legislation on mitigating the health consequences of prescription drug abuse. Analyses indicate that there was a greater decreasing trend over time in Florida after implementation of HB 7095, the anti-pill mill law for prescription drug related deaths and inpatient discharges for prescription drug poisonings. While small, there was also a slightly greater decreasing trend for prescription drug poisoning emergency department (ED) visits in Florida after implementation of the anti-pill mill law. Policy environments are extremely complex and always changing so a mixture of policy approaches may need to be considered.

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New Research in Drug Enforcement

Editor’s Note: Frequent Points readers are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Entries were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but have since moved to the Points blog. Below are a few recent highlights concerning the sometimes problematic implementation and enforcement of drug laws. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.


Tokin up in the 5280: Insight into how Denver police officers make sense of, and define, interpret, and react to the legalization of marijuana

Author: Hoofnagle, Kara K.

Abstract: Laws surrounding the possession, use, and distribution of marijuana have undergone many changes for over a century. Political pressures and social prejudices have most often been the cause of these changes, rather than scientific research or rational thinking. As a result, the law has sometimes lagged behind social practice as in the current case in much of the U.S., including Colorado. In such an environment, it often falls on a police officer’s definition, interpretation, and reaction to the laws to determine the extent to which certain laws and sanctions are enforced.

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Points Supports the National Endowment for the Humanities

Until last week, Points readers might have thought Donald Trump’s occasional and inconsistent public statements on marijuana represented his greatest stake in any of the blog’s more obvious topics of interest. His appointment of hardline – though increasingly embattled – Attorney General Jeff Sessions attested to his aloofness if not hostility toward the issue, even if several commentators believe cracking down on pot will be an uphill political battle.

However, the most alarming recent development from the White House is the president’s proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities, a program that has supported several of the blog’s featured authors, contributing editors, and readers. We urge you to please call your Senate and House representatives to oppose de-funding critical projects by the NEH and other relevant grant-awarding government bodies.

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Tiered Justice

This just in: Lady Justice can see race and class quite clearly from under that blindfold.  In 2012, HSBC a criminal banking conglomerate settled in court for $1.9 billion in fines rather than face criminal prosecution.  Restorative justice has its virtues, but less so when said justice is routinely offered to some and not others.  The 2012 settlement detailed how Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel laundered $881m through HSBC and a Mexican unit. In some cases, Mexican branches had brazenly widened tellers’ windows to allow big boxes of cash to be pushed across the counters.  HSBC also violated US sanctions by working with customers in Iran, Libya, Sudan, Burma and Cuba.

More recently, a litany of articles have rightfully criticized our tiered system of punishment that goes well beyond disparate sentencing across lines of race, space, and Pay to Stay jailsclass.  As of late, private run facilities for “select” offenders offer upgraded amenities for the upwardly mobile incarcerated.  For $100 dollars a night, rapists and petty drug offenders, and those found guilty of a range of crimes can sidestep traditional prisons for an extra modicum of safety and comfort.  For that very fee, one sex offender circumvented the indignities and dangers of county jail in order to stay at a boutique jail in Seal Beach, replete with flat screen TV’s, a computer room, and brand new beds.  After serving his six months of pseudo-incarceration, Alan Wurtzel left with an $18,250 dollar tab.  Perhaps more importantly, his experience was most certainly more palatable than that of those serving time in county jail for the very same crime, or in other instances, lesser crimes.  “Pay-to-stay” private jails have been on the rise in California since 2011, adding yet another Pay to Stay jailschapter to our history of unequal punishment.

As an historian of the Crack Era, I’m well-versed in our unfettered enthusiasm for punishment, particularly when it applies to poor nonwhite urbanites.  A closer look at the years leading up to the national panic over crack in 1986 suggest that our patterns of tiered justice have much deeper roots.  As David Courtwright has reminded us again and again, what we think of particular drugs (or crimes) and how to respond to them as a society is often dictated by how we view its particular set of users, or in Wurzel’s case, predators.  The scandal that shook Choate Rosemary Hall in 1984 elucidates this reality.  Perhaps the preeminent preppie connect. choateboarding school in the nation, Choate sprawls across 500 pristine acres in Wallingford, Connecticut, with a century-old tradition of wealth and excellence.  Well-preppie connect. JFKheeled graduates are too numerous to name, but one young man we might remember was John F. Kennedy.  Certainly, young Jack might have been up to similar mischief as his contemporaries were in the early 1980s, mischief that lands citizens from the wrong sides of the track long stretches in county jail, state or federal prison–not Seal Beach.

So what happened at Choate and why should we care?  In April 1984, scholarship student Derek Oatis arrived at Kennedy Airport from what can only be called a two-day business trip to Caracas, Venezuela with former Choate student and his  girlfriend Catherine Cowan.  Per customs agents, a random inspection of the young entrepreneur’s luggage and pockets netted five plastic bags and a talcum powder container filled with one pound of high-Preppie Connect. NYP Headlinepurity cocaine.  Later reports tabbed the take at 350 grams with an estimated street value of $300,000, a substantial amount of cocaine to be smuggling internationally.  Worse still, Oatis had on his person a list of Choate students who were financing his drug run and expecting their drug of choice upon his return.  All told, 16 former Choate students plead guilty to participating in the buying scheme, while countless others managed to elude authorities.  Further investigation by prosecutors revealed that smuggling from Venezuela directly to the school had occurred on at least seven occasions dating back to 1982.

Several curious events ensued.  First, within 24 hours the DEA turned the case over to local law enforcement–an odd decision given the quantity and international scope of the purported crime.  Second, within the same 24 hours, local officials granted Oatis release on $10,000 bail.  Third, New York prosecutors received an unusual call from the then Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, on behalf of Little Rock native and defendant Cathy cathy cowan.Cowan.  Despite feasting upon the political utility of Law and Order politics as Governor, routinely approving hundreds of extradition orders for Arkansas residents prosecuted in other states, Clinton balked in this particular instance.  Clinton delayed the process for months, stating that it would be “unconscionable” to expose Cowan to New York’s harsh drug laws.  After receiving a fair bit of political criticism for the move in a conservative climate of punishment, Clinton personally negotiated reduced charges for Cowan–three years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service.  It is worth noting that Cowan’s lawyer, William R. Wilson had close ties with the Clinton’s.  In addition to his role as a longtime campaign contributor, Wilson had tried cases and shared legal fees with Hillary Clinton.  More germane to the moment, Wilson was at the time representing Clinton’s half-brother, Roger, on federal cocaine charges.  

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Episode 6 of Pointscast Now Available!

On the latest episode of Pointscast, the first, best, and only podcast of the Points blog, hosts Alex Tepperman and Kyle Bridge offer their thoughts on the ways domestic and international drug use are portrayed in American media. But first, for months listeners have been submitting questions for our expert Q&A series. Kyle opens the …

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New Research on the Opioid Addiction Epidemic

Editor’s Note: Frequent Points readers are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Entries were formerly published in the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs journal but have since moved to the Points blog. Below are a few highlights concerning the United States’ opioid addiction epidemic. Contact Dr. Erlen through the link above.

Comparative Study of Compliance among Patients Attending an Opiate Outpatient Treatment Center in Rural Appalachia

Author: Morris, Jerry R.

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The Points Interview: Martin Torgoff

Points is pleased to feature Martin Torgoff discussing his new book, Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs (De Capo, 2017).


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

My last book, Can’t Find My Way Home: America In the Stoned Age, told the story of how the use of illicit drugs went from the underground to the mainstream, and how that changed the cultural landscape of America. This book tells the story of the underground itself–how drug use entered the DNA of our popular culture in the first place.

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A Taste of Dutch Drug Policy: Topics of Interest for ADHS 2017

Editor’s Note: Today’s post was provided by Berrie van der Molen and Lisanne Walma, PhD candidates at the Utrecht University. 

The next bi-annual ADHS conference is hosted in Utrecht, The Netherlands from June 22 to June 25, 2017, and drug use and drug policy make the Dutch news often. Headlines of recent years include the taking of party drugs at dance events, underage drinking, the deaths of tourists in Amsterdam due to white heroin, and the introduction of the weed pass. What was the role of Dutch drug policy in these cases? What other issues emerge from the implementation of the policy? Although policy decisions are usually pragmatic, they can lead to unexpected and often contradictory messages…

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