“Blah Blah Blah”: The Fallacy of United Nations Drug Summits

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

Blah Blah Blah” was the conclusion of environmental activist Greta Thunberg after the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. As Thunberg’s response indicates, thirty years of constructive climate dialogue has resulted in few changes—just the kicking of the status-quo can down the road—even though twenty eight climate summits since 1995 have spent billions of dollars on travel, salaries, marketing, public relations, lobbying and other resources. All of this with little to show. Dreams drowned in “empty words and promises” and no concrete results, as Thunberg said.

The same lack of progress could be said about the United Nations and its conferences about drug control. Instead of using children and young adults for their propaganda machine, though, they exploit the victims of the illicit drug trade in developing countries to advance their anti-drug rhetoric and empty promises.

UN 1965 opium tracking
At the laboratory of the Division of Narcotic Drugs of the UN Secretariat, located in Geneva, Dr. Olav Braenden (Norway), Chief of the Laboratory (left), and Mrs. Jane Beck (United Kingdom), indicate the regions where opium is produced in 1965. Image courtesy of the United Nations. UN Photo/PP, (Unique identifier: UN7632427).

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What We Left Behind in Afghanistan

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

After twenty years of nation-building in Afghanistan, the United States leaves behind a country in shambles. It might be argued that we slowed down the momentum of terrorist cells and that we kept the Taliban in check for two decades. But there seem to be few positive long-terms stories to highlight—perhaps the empowerment of Afghan women; but that might not last very long under renewed Taliban rule.

Afghanistan is rich in natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, precious/semiprecious stones, and arable land [1]. But, during the American presence, the country was not targeted by the Western private sector to harness these potential economic development capabilities. The only real area of growth over the last two decades was opium production—that is perhaps our legacy in Afghanistan.

According to the most recent “Afghanistan Opium Survey” report of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Afghanistan is the largest opium producer in the world [2]. UNODC also reported that the Taliban was the biggest buyer of opium and the biggest collector of opium production taxes as well [3]. Moreover, “sales of opium and poppy derivatives constituted the main source of income” for more than half of the population, and the “gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019″ [4].

Left: A poppy field in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 3, 2013. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

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Event Alert—A War on Research: Drug Policy and 50 Year of Lost Knowledge

Editor’s Note: This event alert is part of Points’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Drugs.

Mark you calendars for this coming Thursday, June 24. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is hosting a panel titled, “A War on Research: Drug Policy and 50 Years of Lost Knowledge.” Sponsored by the DPA’s Department of Research and Academic Engagement, the panel discussion will explore the research and knowledge that has been delayed or lost due to the drug war.

Title: A War on Research: Drug Policy and 50 Years of Lost Knowledge
Date: Thursday, June 24 from 4:30pm–6:00pm ET
RSVP linkbit.ly/50YearsLostResearch

Description: On June 17, 1971, President Nixon declared the war on drugs. Fifty years later, the devastating harms of the war on drugs—ranging from mass criminalization and police violence to soaring rates of overdose —have been well documented. Less well documented are the ways in which the drug war has been a barrier to research and science.

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The War on Drugs at 50

Editor’s Note: This post by Social History of Alcohol and Drugs Editors Nancy Campbell, David Herzberg, and Lucas Richert kicks off Points’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the declaration of the War on Drugs.

In a White House press conference on June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs. His message was stark: “America’s public enemy number one, in the United States, is drug abuse.” He announced that it was “necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive” on this enemy, and his campaign would be “worldwide” in size and scope. Fifty years later, the United States and, indeed, many other countries are reckoning with the fallout.

President Richard Nixon’s June 17, 1971, press conference announcing a “a new all-out offensive” against drugs and “drug abuse.” Source: Richard Nixon Foundation YouTube channel.

At the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (SHAD), we are all too aware of the long term ramifications of President Nixon’s pronouncement, but we also recognize that the “War on Drugs” did not strictly begin in June 1971 and was rooted in prohibitionist impulses that built up over the decades; still, one can’t deny the power of branding—and in formalizing the “War” agenda at the highest level.

We are also committed to understanding the War on Drugs in locales and populations beyond the United States. And we are committed to understanding how harm reduction was minimized at the expense of more punitive measures, leading the War on Drugs to also become a War on People who Use Drugs.

Thanks to the University of Chicago Press, we are happy to share below a free selection of six SHAD articles that help explain the War on Drugs on the home front and outside American borders. These articles, which will be freely available and open access until the end of August 2021, present, we think, a valuable and broader perspective on the War on Drugs, which we hope will be of use to you. Interested readers can see the abstracts below and click through to read the articles.

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Addiction Lives Interviews: Betsy Thom and Harry Shapiro

Editor’s Note: With this post, Points is pleased to inaugurate a new regular feature highlighting interviews from the “Addiction Lives” interview project, a print and online collaboration between the Society for the Study of Addiction and the journal Addiction.

Society for the Study of Addiction logo

The journal Addiction’s long-running interview series, “Addiction Interviews,” was reintroduced in 2017 as “Addiction Lives,” a joint print/web collaboration with the Society for the Study of Addiction (SSA). The new series, under the editorship of Professor Virginia Berridge, was introduced in an Addiction editorial by Jean O’Reilly and Robert West in December 2017.

The original “Addiction Interviews” ran for 36 years (from 1979–2015) under the editorship of Professor Griffith Edwards. The series provided wide-ranging conversations with more than 100 people who had contributed to the field of addiction studies at local, national, and international levels. It focused in particular on the field’s scientists and those who developed links with policy.  A virtual issue of Addiction available in the Wiley Online Library provides links to the full series of 111 interviews and includes a reflection from Thomas Babor about the series.

The new interviews continue the same mission as the original series and focus on the views and personal experiences of people who have made particular contributions to the evolution of ideas in the field. The full interviews are posted online on the SSA website and a summary is published in Addiction. The original interviews were largely unstructured, and the interviewers remained anonymous. The online platform now allows for the inclusion of enhanced content such as audio and video recordings and linked short bibliographies of the interviewees’ work. Addiction continues to commission the series and suggestions for interviewees are always welcome! Please email any suggestions to jean@addictionjournal.org.

Today’s featured interviews are with Professor Betsy Thom and Harry Shapiro.

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Coming Soon: Cannabis Clinical Outcomes Research Conference (CCORC) 2021

April 8th – 9th, 2021 | VirtualLearn, share, and advance medical marijuana research Hosted by the Consortium for Medical Marijuana Clinical Outcomes Research, we welcome your participation and attendance at the inaugural Cannabis Clinical Outcomes Research Conference (CCORC). With a focus on learning and sharing latest research findings, CCORC aims to provide a forum for …

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Hidden Addicts: The Elderly and the Opioid Epidemic

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

“The face of the nation’s opioid epidemic increasingly is gray and wrinkled,” wrote The Washington Post in 2018, “but that face often is overlooked in a crisis that frequently focuses on the young.” Since the early 2000s, medical experts have grown alarmed by the precipitous rise in opioid-related hospitalizations and deaths among the elderly and deeply concerned that the burgeoning crisis among the geriatric population was going unnoticed.

They pointed to several factors to explain the phenomenon but primarily blamed polypharmacy—the practice of prescribing patients multiple, often dozens of, medications—for the dramatic increase in addiction rates. “An increasing number of elderly patients nationwide are on multiple medications to treat chronic diseases,” one specialist claimed, “raising their chances of dangerous drug interactions and serious side effects. Often the drugs are prescribed by different specialists who don’t communicate with each other.” Older Americans are essentially being pharmaceuticalized, medicated to death, or, at the very least, subjected to extreme distress.

Narrative Medicine

Overprescribing, as the Washington Post article noted, often results from a fractured medical community that impedes the type of collaboration and communication between practitioners necessary for providing integrated regimens tailored for specific patients. Instead of individualized care, elderly patients often receive standardized treatments, that emphasize the use of pharmaceuticals to alleviate chronic pain.

To better serve their patients, physicians need to listen more intently and more empathetically to fully understand the causes of their distress. In other words, they need to practice what Dr. Rita Charon, Professor of Medicine at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, has called “narrative medicine.

By asking pointed questions about both mental and physical health, practitioners can prompt patients to explain their suffering and to situate their pain in narratives and stories that help foster more thoughtful patient-doctor relationships and, consequently, provide intimate and targeted care. Charon writes that:

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Review: “Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Brooks Hudson, a PhD student in history at Southern Illinois University.

Cover of Drug Use For Grown Ups

Dr. Carl Hart’s timely Drugs for Grown-ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear attempts to ignite a shift in our collective consciousness—much like the psychoactive substances he chronicles. Credentialed academics and other elites tend to deny using drugs, or, if they want to pass as authentic for political reasons, they might admit to a few youthful indiscretions (e.g., then-candidate Barack Obama’s “inhaling was the point” comment in 2007).

Defying this taboo, Hart, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, owns up to his affection for an expansive medicine chest. He reveals dabbling in amphetamines, discloses his use of the unfairly-maligned drug heroin, and discusses sampling 1990s club drug—and soon-to-be FDA approved medication—MDMA, along with other more obscure compounds like 2C-B, which was popularized by virtuoso, chemist, and psychonaut Alexander Shulgin.

Hart’s self-doctoring is reminiscent of nineteenth-century medical ethics, embodied by such titans of the time as William Halstead and Sigmund Freud. His self-prescribing bridges the gap between his knowledge and his experience, which helps him better understand subjects visiting his Columbia University lab. Drugs also filtered into his other extracurricular activities, figuring into adventures with his wife and enhancing their relationship and strengthening their marriage.

Who Are Drug Users?

Hart considers himself the rule not the exception in terms of drug use. Drug users are not zombies, he emphasizes; they are not the flesh-eating monsters sometimes depicted on highway billboards accompanied by inane anti-drug slogans. Drug users are not unwashed psychos or crime aficionados who inexplicably love doing evil. No, most drug users are typical, normal, average Americans, gainfully employed and living undetected—maybe you or your neighbor. And that’s okay.

Generally speaking, Hart’s ideas are easy to understand, and he gives primacy to the crucial observation that most people’s experiences with drugs are positive. Drugs offer insight, increase euphoria, and provide pleasure. Drugs act as social lubricants, making social interactions easier to bear or more enjoyable; and drugs break down barriers, allowing some individuals to be more vulnerable than they otherwise would be. People use drugs to soften the edge after a stressful day working a job they hate, and, conversely, drugs can help those who love their jobs be more productive and work long evening hours.

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