Drugs on Trial Live Vs the Real Scandal of Modern Medicine

Last week Channel 4 aired an experiment conducted by the former government drug adviser Professor David Nutt.  It should be of no surprise upon hearing his name that the nature of this experiment is controversial – David Nutt is the man who was relieved of his post for putting forward the scientific view that MDMA shouldn’t be a class A drug as it is less dangerous than alcohol.  Indeed that same class A drug is the subject of the trial, in which several volunteers will take MDMA and undergo scientific analysis of its effects.  Vital signs were monitored and MRI scans were conducted in order to find information on the parts of the brain associated with trust, empathy and memory. Professor Nutt has long held the view that more research needs to be done on the possible therapeutic applications of the drug, but as red tape and negative connotations swamp the issue, this seems to be the only way the Professor can get his research backed.

When scientists try to learn from the world of prohibited substances.

The televised drug trials have been criticized as glamorising the drug and thinly veiled sensationalism for ratings.  Julia Manning, chief executive of the 2020 Health government think tank, has said the study is ‘pointless and reckless’.  To me, this statement is incredibly ironic.  Surely it is more pointless to create a law which can not be effectively enforced? The Class A ban on MDMA can not be effectively enforced, as is evidenced by the people who imbibe and sell it regularly in the UK and the rest of the world. Surely it is reckless to defer the regulation and dispensation of drugs to the criminal underworld where regulatory bodies can not reach, making the entire issue far more dangerous than it ever would be in a legal environment?

However, it is Julia Manning’s opinion  that MDMA is illegal because of the social, economic and moral messages it would send out.  For Julia it seems ‘Drug are bad mmkay’, is as far as her mind has ever taken her, yet with some exploration it is not hard to see why a ban is actually more harmful in its social, economic and moral implications then the drug itself could ever be.

Experimenting with drugs the old fashioned way. Many are probably thinking the experience would feel more glamorous in an MRI scanner.

The social implications of a ban mean that people will turn to other more dangerous alternatives (e.g. alcohol or recently discovered designer drugs with legal status as was the case with mephedrone) believing them to be safer.  For social implications, glamorisation is also often associated more with illegality then government endorsement, and if “class A” doesn’t instantly sound like something glamorous and rare then I don’t know what does.  An “A” is often associated with quality after all, the best grade you can get.  The economic implications are that millions in untaxed profit are going to the criminal underground, while billions in taxpayer money is pumped into the un-winnable and ultimately community-damaging war on drugs.  Morally, the implications are that the government has the right to say how we experience reality, it is tantamount to mind control and an invasion into the private life of the individual. The moral stance of this government takes is that certain states of mind are simply not acceptable (but alcohol, tobacco and coffee are just fine). Way to take the moral high ground!

Do as we say, die or go to prison. The moral high ground, we’re doing it wrong.

So why is a scientist like Professor Nutt having to resort to funding from a TV channel rather than  he Medical Research Council or some other ‘respectable’ body? Because Pharmaceuticals are big business, and investors take huge risks with their money to get research done and trials conducted.  It is not financially viable for them to conduct  research into a drug that is illegal because even if it works the drug must then be approved.  Pure MDMA is not going to win approval while it is a Class A drug.  If it was somehow ‘sanitized’ and turned into a derivative with a fancy new name to re-brand it, it might be successful.  In fact there is research being done into possible applications of MDMA to fight cancer.  This is using the drug for its biological functions rather than its mind altering capabilities and so is deemed acceptable area of research, much like using the cannabis derivatives in commercial drugs to help relieve vomiting in chemo patients or spasticity in MS sufferers.  The compounds derived can be patented and sold exclusively by the Pharmacies for huge profit with knowledge that street chemists won’t be able to or even want to replicate and sell their unique formulas and so their profit margins are protected.  However this is something that can not be guaranteed with drugs that are already out there in chemistry books or that can grow in your own garden (such as cannabis or psylocibin).

It’s hard to make big pharmacy scale profit from products that can be grown or made at home.

The secret that pharmacological companies don’t want you to know however is that THEY are the ones being ‘reckless and pointless’ in their conduct of drug trials.  Modern medicine is placing profit over patients, and they have the gall to tell Professor Nutt that he is the one behaving badly.  If more drug trials were conducted out in the open like this one, rather then behind the closed doors of the people putting them on the market, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the unpublished studies which are buried by researchers desperate to prove that they have a drug that works.  Studies that do get funding get it because big monetary returns are expected.  Such vast amounts of money are invested that ensuring the drug goes to market becomes more of a priority than ensuring the drug actually works.  Common practice is that when one study doesn’t give desired results then more are done until the right result is shown and any negative results go unpublished.  Not a hard task to pull off when the science is done in secrecy and the journals are owned by the pharmaceutical companies!  The point of conducting scientific experiments is that they should be able to be replicated with the same results by more than one group of scientists, yet this key stage of evidence based science is by-passed by modern medicine by Pharmaceutical companies. Instead they answer only to regulators who they submit one or two studies that show a drug works and leave out the ten or twelve others that showed the drug had no or even ill effect.  The result is a marketplace of very expensive drugs which may or may not work. Is this how we want our drug policy to work?

You are paying for a placebo effect half the time.

So though television may not be the ideal way in which to explore the neuroscience behind MDMA, there is little other alternative.  David Nutt is not doing his research to line people’s pockets, but to help educate the public on the truth and to help turn public policy towards the path of harm reduction rather than criminalisation.  He is to be commended in his efforts rather than dismissed as a publicity seeker.  Give me open-book ‘publicity seeking neuroscience’, as Julia Manning puts it, rather then cloak-and-dagger, profiteering neuroscience, any day.

Central American Drug Summit let down by three Presidents.

The recent Central American Drug summit was supposed to be the first attempt of the region’s Presidents to get together and open up the debate around current drug policy.  The summit was called by the Guatemalan President, Otto Perez Molina, who timed the conference just a month ahead of the Organization of American States (OAS) summit in Cartagena, Colombia.  This was a crucial opportunity for the Central American leaders to focus on drug policy away from the influence of the U.S. delegates who consistently oppose regional changes in drug policy.  Obama will be present at the OAS and he is not likely to be flexible on the matter, if they could solidify a viable strategy locally beforehand then their stance will be significantly strengthened at the OAS.  However, in an anticlimactic turn of events, only two of the five invited leaders, as well as Perez Molina, attended; Ricardo Martinelli for Panama and Laura Chinchilla for Costa Rica.  Missing was Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

President Perez of Guatemala may be a former General but he does not support the war on drugs.

This is happening now because Central America is in crisis.  Gangs have taken over the streets and the three regions El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have soaring murder rates comparable with Jamaica.  The murder rates in Guatemala have doubled since 2000. Honduras has been covered in illegal airstrips used for drug trafficking and is home to the bloodiest city in C. America, Ciudad Juarez,  where drug traffickers regularly go on killing sprees fueled by turf wars.  El Salvador’s problems are getting worse as it’s been reported that a relatively new gang, the Texis cartel, who have certain police officials and politicians on puppet strings, have taken hold.  The worsening situation in Central America is a consequence of the balloon effect.  Just as when you squeeze a balloon the air simply moves from one area to another, when you put the squeeze on the gangs in a production country such as Mexico or Columbia, they will migrate to neighbouring countries with less stable governments and economies.  Central America does not produce or consume cocaine and heroin, they just find themselves between production and consumer countries, so it has become a transit country and a promised land for gangs.

Are balloon modeling clowns secretly in charge of international drug law?! It would explain a few things.

Perez promised a hard-line on the gangs, who have caused so much bloodshed, in his presidential campaign.  However after election he announced that the drug war is not working and advocated decriminalization.  Though others are saying this legalisation approach is softer  than before I couldn’t disagree more.  Perez wants to hit the gangs in the place it hurts them most, their profit margins.  He proposes that a legal framework to regulate the manufacturing, transportation and consumption of drugs should be created in place of current drug policy in South and Central America.   With a legal framework the bloody gang culture is no longer useful as trade is done in the open and disputes are settled in court rather than in the streets.  Other ideas such as a separate judicial and penal system for drug law offenders and a 50% tax to consumer countries (of which the USA is one) for every kilo of cocaine seized in Central America were also discussed.  However the absences made any real decision-making impossible.

Guns are generaly a poor substitute for a legal framework when seeking Justice

So lets see who is holding back the movement in C.America so far.  President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador was one who sent representatives in his place.  Funes’s government has put the army on the streets with the police force in an attempt to crack down on the gangs.  The military presence has not helped so far and with so many soldiers who are not trained to deal with civilians, human rights violations are inevitable.  Porfirio Lobo, the President of Honduras, was also absent.  This man is in favour of the death penalty so we can start to see why friendly drug law reform might not be at the top of his agenda.  His government was also criticized by Human Rights Watch for the 2009 coup, which brought him to power, as many journalists and opposition party members have been killed off suspiciously since.  With this hanging over his head Lobo is expected to tow the U.S hard line in order to stay on its good side following its recent  readmittance to the Organisation of American states in 2011.  Lastly Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua was also missing.  Ortega, who has a history of corruption and at least one rigged election is not a likely advocate of drug law reform; especially when you consider his anti-abortion laws, which show how much he values personal autonomy.

Are good men doing nothing, or are bad men playing truant?

Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos has made sure that debate on the drug war will happen at the OAS by adding it to the agenda.  Though opposition to reform is tough, it is loosing support as people and now finally Presidents wake up to the horrific situation that the drug war had led to.

International Women’s Day: How the drug war affects women.

The drug war is wrong for many reasons, but as today is International Woman’s Day we have decided to dedicate this post to the drug war and the consequences it creates for women.  International Woman’s Day is about addressing the inequalities that women have to face around the world.  Though much has been done to transform women’s lives, the struggle to free women from patriarchy is far from over; as such, it is important that we do not forget that this issue is still unresolved to this day.

Re:Vision supports International Women’s Day

I’d like to talk first about the discrimination women face from the male dominated, often violent (and therefore paranoid) world of the black market drug trade from a personal perspective.  I have found that women are often turned away or simply have no way to safely introduce themselves to the black market traders. I grew up in South London and went to a comprehensive school  awash with cannabis.  During my time there I was introduced to the drug and decided that I quite liked it.  The only problem was that the only way to get hold of it was through hanging out with the ‘bad boys’ of the school.  I managed to gain their trust through a close male friend who would act as mediator between me and them; it was impossible for me to get hold of things without his presence as I simply wouldn’t have known who to ask and would have been treated with far less respect.  On one occasion, I was told by my male smoking friend that one of the guys I had met, though not spoken a word to, had wanted me to perform oral sex on him and had asked my friend if I would. I feel grateful that I had that male friend there as a mediator as I believe the ‘bad boys’ might not have been so discreet about their desires had he not been there to chaperone.  Nothing about the described situation is good.  Why was I smoking while at school age?  Why were only boys attracted to selling and smoking the herb?  Why was it so easy for them to get hold of it in the first place?  Cannabis is available all over the UK. Many of my male friends who do not smoke often claim it is incredibly easy for them to get hold of a dealer, for me and my female friends it was a different story.  This is just one personal and relatively minor reason the drug war is sexist.

There are many women who have faced far worse problems as a result of this unjust war.  In America women are being put in jail for what is termed “depraved-heart murder”.  Several women have been given life after their babies died before or shortly after birth, the reason?  The mothers are accused of taking drugs, such as cocaine, during pregnancy and had therefore perceived to have murdered their own child.  This is a disgraceful attack on women’s rights and bodies which has no foundation in science.   Women should always be viewed as sovereign over their own bodies.  This means that her own personal autonomy should not be subordinate to the perceived needs of any fetus inside of her.  If the state deems her a ‘bad mother’ then she should be given state support to help her become a better one, however, she does not exist to be a ‘womb-on-legs’ who’s worth to society is measured by the fitness of her offspring.  Furthermore, by being criminalised, pregnant drug users will become alienated and unable to seek help for their addictions; Many women would fear that if they sought support, should their baby die they would be held responsible and find themselves in prison for life.

A human being or a womb on legs?

Another way in which the drug war drastically affect women is in the case of drug mules.  A high percentage of foreign women in UK jails are drug mules – that is people used to transport drugs between borders illegally.  They often come from poor countries and areas involved with the production side of drugs, such as South Africa, Jamaica and Brazil.  Many of these women are coerced into their roles or have dependants who they are struggling to provide for.  It is hard for women in third world countries, who are less likely to have access to a good eduction and more likely to face constant sexism in the job market, to earn enough to provide for their family; especially if they don’t have a male to support them.  These exploited women often face worse charges than those convicted of grievous bodily harm, with the average charge being 30 months longer than GBH sentences according to the report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).  The long stretch of, on average, 84 months leads to alienation from their families who are left behind to struggle without them.  It could be said that this is due to the international nature of the drug war, which seeks to make drug sentencing laws consistent across the world.  Whatever the reason, it is hard to understand why these women are being treated worse than rapists who tend to get on average 79.7 months according to this report.

Recently the United Kingdom’s sentencing council has published new guidelines regarding drug mules, which take into account mitigating circumstances such as coercion and addiction. On deeper inspection of the new guidelines, we can see that the circumstances of the women involved in this black market are consistently ignored in favour of assessing the class, purity and quantity of the drug, as well as how much of a role they have to play in the trade, as a way of estimating sentences.  As ever she is a very bad girl if she moves heroin or a not so bad girl if she moves cannabis; May God help her if she seems to have any involvement in the business other than being a reluctant or unwitting drug mule.  It is a sad fact that the drug war has opened up yet another avenue through which women are being exploited by violent and powerful men.  If we end the drug war and put sensible rational policy in place to close this black market they are profiting from, then women will stop getting caught in this trap we have made for them.

Is imprisoning victims a harm reduction measure?

The darkest side of the drug war, however, has to be its links with the human trafficking industry, which mainly targets women and children who are sold into labour or sexual slavery.  Drug cartels and human traffickers are usually the same people.  The drug cartels take advantage of an impoverished production country – Mexico is a good example – and ship the money and people to richer nations where they can sell them for high profits.  The drug war helps to keep these third world countries in poverty by denying them the chance to create a legal drug industry and creating a black market which empowers men to exploit women and children through lack of regulation.  A regulated industry would supply people with jobs and help the economy through tax revenue, allowing these production countries to regain their dignity.  Impoverished struggling women are given hope that they might find good jobs abroad, only to find themselves at the feet of paying customers whose leaders apparently started this drug war to help them and everyone else.  What is really going on here?  Where is the dignity in this situation?  Human trafficking is a big operation motivated by incredible profit margins and I won’t pretend that ending the drug war will end human trafficking, however, I will say that the drug war has led to this industry’s phenomenal success and continues to supplement it.  Lets stop it now.

At Re:Vision we see any discrimination as a vile act.  All the above are just a few examples of the discrimination women face in this unsuccessful, unjust drug war.  By no means is it only women who are affected by the drug war, but we bear the consequences of many of its failings.  You do not need to be a supporter of drug use to see the discrimination of the drug war and support the push for drug law reform. If you agree with us, or even if you’re still utterly unconvinced, check out our website at revisiondrugs.org/