A Case Study and a New Hope for American Drug Policy

By Nico Aldape

Drug policy exists at the intersection of health and criminal justice policy. To put it simply, the United States’ handling of policy concerning both illegal and legal drugs leaves a lot to be desired.

The countries succeeding in combating the terrible consequences of drug addiction took note of expertise showing that public policy strategies prizing harm reduction and rehabilitation work better than incarceration. The public policy and health strategy of Portugal stands out as a global success story. A 2009 case study by the Cato Institute found that the drug policies of Portugal, which were first enacted in 2000 and entailed decriminalization for less than ten day’s supply of the drug, had no adverse effects on use or addiction rates. In fact, between 2001 and 2006, lifetime usage of any illegal drug by those in seventh to ninth grade dropped 3.5 percent. Drug related deaths due to heroin and related drugs decreased more than 50 percent, and new HIV infections fell 17 percent between 1999 and 2003.

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And in case you’re curious, here’s what’s going on in Estonia

According to a 2010 report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1.5 million of the United States’ then 2.3 million inmates were suffering from substance abuse and addiction. When applied to those struggling with drug addictions, assuming prisoners cease all criminal or illegal activity in prison (which any rational person would admit is a fallacy) only lets their addictions fester instead of connecting them with the medical help they need. Even for the most dangerous of drugs (the unholy triumvirate of heroin, cocaine, and meth, the first of which is causing an epidemic), putting people in jail for a documented medical illness isn’t just bad policy, it’s just immoral.

Though wound down slightly under the Obama administration, policy vestiges of the War on Drugs remain on the books – and ineffective. According to a 2015 Washington Post article, since 2011, the amount of marijuana seized at the border has plummeted by 37 percent. While this statistic may sound good (and make Border Patrol’s lives easier), as increasing quality of product in both legal and illegal marijuana markets has replaced the cheaper, lower-quality Mexican mota, the bigger picture and surrounding statistics show it’s really no rose garden. Since 2009, seizures of meth and heroin have gone the opposite direction from marijuana, and in staggeringly higher magnitudes. For heroin, seizures at the border increased threefold. For meth, fivefold. Heroin, a drug often used by those who became addicted to oxycodone, is $10 a hit as opposed to $80 a pill. But marijuana’s the gateway drug listed as Schedule I (high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, lack of accepted safety for use even under medical supervision)? “Decriminalization” actually stops people of color from being harassed and arrested for it? Addiction stops in prison? Am I hearing all this right? I must be on drugs.

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Green is legalized cannabis, purple is legal medical cannabis, cyan is decriminalized possession, and grey is total prohibition

What works in the case study of Portugal (or in the Netherlands, which has pursued and enacted similar policy) may not work here. I do not call for the exact same strategy as these countries. We have states that vary more territorially and politically than do many countries. This task will not be easy. It will require a multifaceted, fundamental shift in political strategy and a societal shift in the way we think about drugs and an end to negative stereotypes. The struggle of an impoverished sex worker addicted to cocaine is just as worthy to address as the struggle of a suburban youth who can’t go a day without oxycodone. Neither one of them deserves to be told “it’s your fault;” both of them deserve medical attention. Though the strategy the United States needs isn’t fully fleshed out yet, what can be said for certain is that the status quo does neither one of those people, nor society as a whole, much justice.

Nico Aldape is a second-year in the College. He is from New York, NY.

Fight Zika, or Fight the Catholic Church*

By Hadiya Hewitt

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The culprit mosquitoes

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) Zika is a virus spread primarily through the bite of infected Aedes species mosquito (yet another reason to hate mosquitos). Common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pains and conjunctivitis which last about a week. Fortunately, the disease is rarely fatal, and with proper treatment, most people can recover from the illness. The disease has spread to 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, including cases in six of the ten most populous countries in the region: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Guatemala. Ultimately, the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 4 million people will be infected with the disease; considering the range of the Aedes species mosquitos extends into much of Latin America and the Southeastern United States, it is likely that there could be more outbreaks in areas where populations have less resistance to the disease. Zika first appeared in Uganda in 1947, but some populations in tropical areas prone to the disease, including Uganda and Micronesia, developed antibodies to the virus; the presence of these antibodies (or the lack of data?) may explain why no widespread outbreak was recorded until 2007 in Micronesia. The lack of resistance, moreover, makes the current outbreak in Latin America quite worrying for public health officials, as the first “autochthonous” (meaning not imported) cases appeared in Brazil in 2015, meaning that most people in Latin and North America do not carry antibodies for the Zika virus.

Moreover, the strain of Zika virus that appeared in Latin America has been linked to microcephaly in babies. Microcephaly is a congenital condition associated with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development in babies. Before Zika appeared in Brazil, for example, the country only reported several hundred cases of microcephaly; in 2015, the country reported 3,500 cases. Other studies are currently being done to test the association. Regardless to prevent potential transmission of the virus from mothers to children, public officials in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and El Salvador are telling women to avoid pregnancy.

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Colombian women are given information on how to prevent the spread of Zika

This advice, as critics have already pointed out here, here, and here, is borderline impossible for Latin American women as the Catholic Church, a force to be reckoned with in a region where more than 70 percent of adults identify as Catholic, has banned the use of contraceptives.

As a result of its draconian policies, the use of modern contraceptives (defined as including birth control pills, intrauterine devices [IUDs], condoms, and sterilization) has not caught on, especially among poor and rural women, where sexual education and contraception is often unavailable. In the 18 countries surveyed by the Kaiser Foundation, only three, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, have modern contraceptive use rates over 75%. Most fall between 75% and 50%, and four, Bolivia, Guyana, Haiti, and Guatemala, have use rates below that. Moreover, in all of Central and South America, there are only three countries where abortion is broadly legal: Uruguay, Guyana, and French Guiana. Mexico, Colombia, and Panama allow abortion because of fetal impairment. Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela allow abortions to save the mother’s life, and the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua provide no legal access to abortions.

(tw: sexual violence) Compounding the problem of the lack of contraception access and education, is the rate of unplanned pregnancies in the region; by one estimate, more than half of the pregnancies in Latin America are unplanned, and 18% of births are to teenage mothers. Moreover, the threat of sexual violence is very real for Latin American women, where a 2014 PAHO/WHO study indicated that between 17% and 53% of women interviewed reported having suffered physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and this does not include violence from non-intimate partners. Telling women, who have little access to contraception and little control over their bodies, to simply not get pregnant is horrendous advice.

 

*However, I cannot in good faith lambast public health officials in some countries in Latin America, and at the same time fail to mention that 32 states do not require schools to teach students about contraception, and 28 states do not require sexual education at all. In the wake of the series of probably-illegal Planned Parenthood videos, several states have also moved to terminate Medicaid contracts with the organization, further limiting a woman’s access to contraception and abortion. Reproductive rights are essential to the fight against Zika, and if we had finished this battle with Roe v. Wade, we wouldn’t be fighting it now, now would we?

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America’s got a long ways to go, too

Hadiya Hewitt is a second-year in the College. She is from Columbia, MD.

Scotland: Not Your Ordinary Secessionists

Separatist and nationalist movements are gaining steam across Europe these days, and Scotland is listed among those nations seeking secession. Despite voting down secession in 2014, the Scottish National Party (currently headed by Nicola Sturgeon, the first woman to lead the SNP) won 50 seats in the 2015 parliamentary elections, leaving one Scottish parliamentary seat to the Labour party. Separation is increasing as powers devolve, with some votes in parliament only being voted on by the MPs from the country affected by that law (“English Votes for English Laws”). Something is up indeed in Scotland.
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Once a Labour stronghold, now Scotland is just one big block o’ SNP.
But political sentiment in Scotland is rather different than the typical zealous patriotism and xenophobia often characteristic in nationalist movements. While the UK (particularly many English) are threatening to leave the EU, the Scottish staunchly want to stay. Muslims in Scotland are very likely to identify as Scottish, while those in England are much more likely to identify as British (rather than English). Scotland has taken in 1/3 of the refugees David Cameron pledged the UK would take, even though Scotland has less than 10% of the UK’s population. Indeed, the Scottish have set up many support systems in order to welcome the refugees and make the transition as smooth as one could hope, given the circumstances. Of course, I don’t want to claim all Scots have been welcoming and open-minded (there are certainly exceptions), but though attention is around secession in Scotland, Scotland has been cultivating a much broader European identity than increasingly jingoistic England.
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The Scottish Parliament viewed from the Radical Road (that’s the name, I kid you not)
Other recent developments in Scotland are interesting in light of the America 2016 presidential campaigns. Much like Bernie Sanders’ proposition, Scotland has had free college for years. It’s a cornerstone to the Scots’ deep dedication to equality, but economically it seems to help the opposite people you’d think it would — it resulted in a net transfer in wealth from the poor to the wealthy. This doesn’t mean “free” college doesn’t work, but the way the policy is done matters. America would be wise to learn from the unintended consequences of policies in places like Scotland, so that we can make a truly equal opportunity higher education system.
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Imagine going here…for FREE. The perks of being Scottish.

On the other side of the spectrum, the antics of one familiar (half-)Scot have not been confined to the US: Donald Trump (whose mother is Scottish) built a huge development in Scotland, but, according to one Scotsman, “He promises the earth, delivers nothing. As far as that goes, he’s in a good position to be a politician. But as far as the real world goes, no, do not trust this man with anything.” Trump also sued to stop the building of off-shore wind in Scotland because it would disrupt the view from his golf courses. Apparently, Trump just runs around insulting and threatening his neighbors. In fact, the petition to ban Trump from Britain originated in Aberdeen, Scotland.  Alex Salmond, former head of the SNP, has Trump about figured out: “I wish somebody had said no to him when he was a wee boy, because I think he would’ve turned out better.”

 

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If this Scot could see her son now…

Victoria Mooers is a fourth-year in the College. She is from Edmond, OK.

Bloomberg? Probably not.*

By Hadiya Hewitt

US-ECONOMY-TRANSPORTATION

Former longtime Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg announced four days ago that he was considering running for president in 2016. Disliked by conservatives for his views on gun control, global warming, and abortion, but criticized by liberals for his stop-and-frisk policies and close ties to Wall Street, Bloomberg is likely most popular among New York’s moneyed elite, several of whom, including billionaire hedge fund investor Bill Ackman, have implored the former mayor to consider a run for president. A significant portion of his support from Wall Street is derived from policies he pursued as mayor and his status as a fellow financier and executive. In 2005, Bloomberg and former Governor George Pataki successfully wooed Goldman Sachs to stay in New York with $150 million in new city and state tax credits. Bloomberg himself is the CEO, founder, and majority stakeholder of Bloomberg LP, a news and data company with revenues of approximately $9 billion. An analyst to the former mayor suggested to the Wall Street Journal that the former mayor “has been upset by what he sees as extremist rhetoric from Republicans in the race, as well as a leftward turn from Mrs. Clinton.”

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