07/31/11 Meghan Ralston

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Meghan Ralston, Harm Reduction Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance re rehab, relapse and Amy Winehouse + Atty James Felman on overturning of Fla drug law & Report from Israel, "supplying medical marijuana to elderly at nursing homes"

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Transcript

Transcript

Century of Lies / July 31, 2011

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[music]

AMY WINEHOUSE : They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go

I'd rather be at home with Ray
I ain't got seventeen days
'Cause there's nothing, there's nothing you can teach me
That I can't learn from Mr. Hathaway

I didn't get a lot in class
But I know we don't come in a shot glass

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know know know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go

The man said, "Why do you think you here?"
I said, "I got no idea"
I'm gonna, I'm gonna lose my baby
So I always keep a bottle near

He said, "I just think you're depressed
Kiss me, yeah baby and go rest"

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know

I don't ever wanna drink again
I just, ooh, I just need a friend
I'm not gonna spend ten weeks
Have everyone think I'm on the mend

And it's not just my pride
It's just 'til these tears have dried

They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, "No, no, no"
Yes, I've been black but when I come back you'll know, know, know
I ain't got the time and if my daddy thinks I'm fine
He's tried to make me go to rehab, I won't go, go, go

(lyrics from http://www.elyrics.net/read/a/amy-winehouse-lyrics/rehab-lyrics.html)

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DEAN BECKER: I’m Dean Becker and this is Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network. Today’s show will feature Meghan Ralston, Harm Reduction Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. Our first topic of discussion: use, abuse and ignorance regarding prescription drugs. And, Amy Winehouse, like so many other great entertainers, dead at age 27.

[music fades]

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DEAN BECKER: Ah, yes, welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. A little bit different inrto there but I think the passing of Amy Winehouse justifies that. We do have with us the Harm Reduction Coordinator from the Drug Policy Alliance, Meghan Ralston…How are you?

MEGHAN RALSTON: I’m terrific, thank you. How are you?

DEAN BECKER: I’m good. Meghan, I felt it important to …well, for this week anyway…to focus on Amy Winehouse. They’re not certain yet what killed her, are they?

MEGHAN RALSTON: No, the results aren’t in yet. We know that the autopsy was inconclusive in terms of death and that TOX screens are due in another 2-4 weeks or so.

DEAN BECKER: But, as always, it seems that people think overdose (and perhaps it was) but we do know that she has a history of drug use, do we not?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Right. I think that probably everyone who follows pop culture to any degree is probably well aware of her history with drugs and addiction issues and even her most recent attempt to go to rehab. But we don’t know yet if an overdose actually caused her death although many people that’s probably pretty likely.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And in this regard you had a piece that you had published on Alternet and a shorter piece showed up in the LA Times as well but it got some good exposure, right?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Yeah. It was original run on Alternet and then picked up on Huffington Post and a few other places. And, yeah, really actually surprising…my colleague and I at Drug Policy Alliance, Tony Newman, wanted to respond to her death and really didn’t know that people would respond in quite the degree that they have.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know, as on my prior show I was talking to Terry Nelson a little bit about prescription drug use seems always called abuse, addiction and all this. The fact of the matter is that America, I’m not going to say thrives, but America certainly uses a lot of prescription drugs, don’t they?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Sure, you know, and people are noticing, of course. We’re hearing it more and more that the use of prescription drugs is increasing, particularly drugs like prescription pain killers like Oxycontin and things like that. But, one of the elements of this that rarely gets discussed…one of the reasons for this is that this is the aging of the Baby Boomers so a lot more folks are seeing doctors more frequently, particularly for aches and pains and chronic pain issues. So, just the aging of the population is responsible for a lot more people getting prescription medication.

DEAN BECKER: I’m not sure we’re going to have time for it but I’ve got a little slice of a piece that came out of Israel that talks about over there they’re now providing medical marijuana for the elderly because it helps with aches and pains and, for some, it helps kind of slow down their aggravated attention span, if you will.

MEGHAN RALSTON: Right, and you know that’s such a fantastic point. This is another thing that rarely gets discussed in these discussions about prescription drug misuse. Is the reason why that so many people do turn to prescription drugs is because, as you know and I’m sure you’re listeners know, in most states there is no safe and legal access to medical cannabis. So, people who might otherwise have turned that natural form of pain relief and pain control, lacking access to it are sort of forced to seek out prescription medications for those things.

DEAN BECKER: I want to come back to your article, as you say it’s on Alternet and now Huffington Post, talking about Amy Winehouse. But, one of the paragraphs here, “Relapse Happens.” And, as an alcoholic, I can tell you I know that to be true. That you can’t give up…if you fail, “Well, I’m just a failure and I’ll just keep doing drugs or alcohol or whatever it may be.” And yet, many of these people who go to drug court and get in other circumstance where if they use just once it may, in fact, ruin their life or, at least, put them behind bars for years of their life. You’re response.

MEGHAN RALSTON: Well, absolutely, relapse does happen for many people. Of course, you and I know dozens of people whom the very first time they ever sought to become completely abstinent were able to do it and maintain perfect abstinence for 25 or 30 years. I don’t know those people but I’m sure they’re out there.

Most people I know in my experience and I’m sure probably in yours struggle with trying to control or moderate their drug or alcohol use and don’t do so well or attempt to become abstinent and then a year or two later may have an occasion to use drugs or alcohol again when they were not planning to. We do know that abstinence and trying to achieve some degree of moderation of drug or alcohol use is truly a lifelong struggle for so many.

And, you know, really the way we think about relapse is so backwards. We get so angry and frustrated with people who do use again after a period of trying to not use when, in fact, we should just sort of expect that for so many people that will, of course, happen and help them plan for that occasion about how to be safe if that does happen.

DEAN BECKER: And it ends up leaving the person who slips up with this feeling of guilt and failure and ineviditbility, right?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Exactly. Amy Winehouse is such a great example of that. Her sudden death didn’t come to many people as an enormous surprise but that doesn’t make it any less tragic. You know, her struggles with drug use and alcohol use and her battles were so public and you take a look at how the tabloids reported her for the past 4 or 5 years and they really just made such a joke out of her and treated her so horribly and with so little respect or compassion.

Here’s this woman – just a normal human being, just like the rest of us – who is trying on some level to keep her life together and when she goes out publically and makes a mistake that disappoints people who have high expectations of her like using drugs again. Instead of having compassion for this woman and saying, “You know what? She’s really got some serious issues going on and what can we do to help.” What we did instead to her was really vilify her. We called her a crack head in the tabloids. It’s really shameful and horrible the way we talk about people when they relapse.

DEAN BECKER: It is. It’s like treat them like animals, like dirt, “Oh, they failed us again.” It’s sad.

Now the next paragraph in this great piece on Alternet/Huffington Post, “There’s an Overdose Crisis in the United States and Abroad.” Before I get your response I want to kind of throw this thought towards you. I have this hope that someday heroin’s legal, methamphetamine, cocaine is all legal but adults only and in order to get it you have to go appear before some sort of state certifier. And, you’ve got to watch a video on all the various drugs and what they can and cannot do to you and how you cannot combine them in such and such a fashion. And then maybe signs off on it, stamp on your driver’s license or something, but at least you know the truth. You’re response?

MEGHAN RALSTON: I think that that’s really the future of the medical management of drug addiction in the United States because it has to become that. Our approach to trying to manage these problems so far has been so insufficient that none of us can point to anything as being 99% effective in 99% of the cases.

We are all well aware that what we’re doing now is just insufficient. It certainly may work for some but it won’t work for all. I’m referring specifically to traditional inpatient/outpatient rehab, 12-step groups, things like that. I think that people are very forward-thinking and are looking at a medical model of treating serious drug addiction have to look to places like Portugal which have already embraced a decriminalization modality for attempting to control drug use in their country. And, you look at the success they’ve had and you think…You know, other places throughout Europe, Germany, for example, are using this same idea of prescribing what we know think of as illicit drugs in America, where it’s very tightly controlled. People who are physically and psychologically dependent on these drugs (such as heroin) get them from a physician who monitors them, who puts them in an entire program to rehabilitate their entire life of which, now, prescribed heroin (which would be diladed(?) for example) That’s now just a part of their life. Helping them to manage their life rather than having to be a slave to having to go out to the streets to try and buy drugs, for example.

DEAN BECKER: Right. It enables them to have a schedule so they can have a job. They’re not out looking for money, they’re not out looking for drugs – they have time to be a more productive citizen, right?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Yeah and the evidence is so clear on that. There have been a number of extremely well done pieces of research on this, on prescribed heroin. And, I’m calling it heroin because it’s easier to say than to talk about delodid or what were actually talking about because heroin, of course, is a name of a street drug.

There are so many studies that have been done on this to determine if it is safe and is it effective and what kind of outcomes are we seeing. So, in real life we know that these programs already exist, they already happen, they’ve been happening for many years in many countries and we’re seeing incredible outcomes. Significant reductions in incarcerations for drug-related crimes, property-related crimes (to get items to sell for drugs). We’re seeing significant improvement in people who are physically dependent on heroin being able to return to the work force and being able to earn money, regain custody of their children, become productive members of society again. The benefits are there and there are serious research articles available in places like the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, that show these programs work, they have the outcomes we’re looking for and that it’s time to seriously start thinking about bringing them to the United States.

DEAN BECKER: Something that many people don’t know and are astounded by and that is the fact that one of the founding members of the John Hopkins Medical Hospital was Dr. William Holstead. He was a lifelong morphine user and yet he went on to be very productive and they have called him the “Father of Modern American Medicine”. So it shows it can be done, right?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Yeah, of course. I mean really the difference between someone we would automatically stereotypically think of as “an addict”, you know, someone who breaks into someone’s house to steal something and then sell it on the street to acquire drugs – trapped inside of this viscous cycle. We have to remember the reason they do that is not because of the drug itself – it’s being without that drug and the hoops that they have to go through to obtain it.

And, what I mean by that, is that someone like the person you’re referring to who has resources and can have steady access to whatever drug they’re physically dependent on isn’t going to be in a position of having to rob someone’s house because they don’t have access and have to acquire it on the street from illicit sources, from the black market.

So, there’s a real difference in your ability to acquire this thing that you’re dependent on. For example, people who smoke cigarettes can be physically dependent on nicotine but because they’re able to go to the 7-11 and purchase it at a reasonable price and it’s quality controlled, no one’s going to break into your home to steal your television just so they can buy a pack of cigarettes.

DEAN BECKER: No kidding. Alright friends, once again, we’re speaking with Meghan Ralston. She’s the Harm Reduction Coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. It’s the best and the brightest among all drug policy reform organizations. I think you know that if you’ve been listening over the years. Their website is http://drugpolicy.org.

Meghan, I want to talk about treatment. You know President Obama and the Drug Czar and all the mucky-mucks go around saying, “Yeah, drug use is a disease and we’ve got to provide more treatment.” I, personally, think treatment when necessary is a good thing. I think most of it is a scam. That’s just my perspective. But, the truth of the matter is, even though Obama and the Drug Czar say we’ve got to treat it more like a disease – they are not. They are treating it just the same, still arresting near the same number of people and we’ve got to change our perspective, don’t we Meghan?

MEGHAN RALSTON: Yeah we sure do. Criminalizing this behavior certainly isn’t doing anything to address the significant emotional or mental issues that are so many times part in parcel of the serious addiction to a substance. I would even go further than that and really challenge us to think about not just our approach to treatment but how we’re actually providing treatment. We don’t provide treatment in a way that works for most working people. We don’t provide treatment in a way, certainly, that works for women with children. There are so many barriers to people going to treatment because treatment, in most cases for many people, means the end of their working life for 30 or 60 or 90 days or however long they’re in an inpatient facility. It means they’re separated from their children. If the husband is the breadwinner for the family and he is separated from the family that means the wife has to lose that source of income to raise those children. I really think it’s time for all of us to engage in a radical rethink about what standard treatment is in this country and how we can start changing it to really meet the needs of the people who need the treatment.

DEAN BECKER: Again, we’re speaking with Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance. I urge you to check out her piece on Huffington Post and Alternet. Contained in there you’re talking about “Addiction Doesn’t Discriminate.”

Let’s talk for a moment. A few years back Rush Limbaugh, if I remember right, had his maid out scoring him hundreds of Oxycontin and similar pills to support his habit. He never went to jail. He never had his home properly searched as best I remember. And he never suffered any serious repercussions. And I’d like to throw into the mix…at the same time he was using these Oxies he got a 100 million dollar contract, he was eating dinner with President Bush, he was well-respected and exalted around the country as he still is. I guess what I’m wanting to say here is that the poor guy out on the street that’s got a handful of pills doesn’t stand a chance. You’re response, Meghan.

MEGHAN RALSTON: You’re absolutely right. I think you just hit the nail on the head. It really comes down…it’s so much of a socioeconomic divide when we talk about addiction in this country because you’re absolutely right. People with unlimited resources and the friendship of people with unlimited resources, particularly white people in those positions, are never treated as harshly and severely as people who are not wealthy and white.

You and I know this from just seeing incredible racial disparities in marijuana arrests across the country. We know this from seeing the huge rates of mass incarceration for people of color compared to whites. So this is really no different.

The fact that Rush Limbaugh was able to make it through this unscathed, on one level, is really gratifying to me. It shows in some instances when people can be struggling with a very significant substance abuse issue and they’re not vilified in the press. However, having said that, it’s also important to point out that it’s really unconscionable that we give people like him a pass and yet feel perfectly free to call people like Amy Winehouse a crack head as the headline on a tabloid. There are real differences in how we talk about addiction and it really just depends on the socioeconomic status and the race of the person in so many cases.

DEAN BECKER: It has been handed down – this perception, this “belief system” of the need for everlasting drug war. I find …I like to do comments on the Chronicle and other papers that I see. Typically you get these …well people whose rejoinder goes something like, “Well you just want to profit off the drug war” or somehow benefit from changing the laws when the truth be told we’re taking away the benefit for criminals. We’re destroying their means by changing these laws. People seem incapable, or a lot of people, seem incapable of grasping that awareness. Your response, Meghan Ralston.

MEGHAN RALSTON: I think that the reason that a lot of people struggle with this idea of having a different view on how to handle the availability of drugs in this country is because we’ve never been really taught culturally to see the forest for the trees. No one in the government, certainly, has pointed out to us, “Hey folks, all this money we’ve been spending every year…” (which annually is somewhere around $50 billion dollars up to a trillion dollars since the beginning of the drug war) “By the way, none of this is actually working. All of these drugs are just as available as they’ve ever been. More people are in prison now for drugs. We’re really not making a dent.”

So, I think it’s hard for people because they’ve never been exposed to a different way of looking at these issues, it’s hard for them to think that there’s a different and better way available.

But, you know, there’s so much research. Really strong, credible research from places like Harvard and all kinds of credible institutions that have deconstructed some of the fatal flaws of our approach to trying to control the drug market in the U.S. That do solidly point to a different and better way of controlling drugs and that starts with actually controlling drugs.

Because, truly, prohibition is the abdication of responsibility. We are not controlling drugs in this country by keeping them prohibited. Making something illegal does nothing to actually control the availability of the drug. It simply creates black markets. You know this. I’m certain your listeners are well aware of this. But I think most people aren’t exposed to these thoughts. So, once people start talking about these things – that’s when the opportunity for change can happen.

DEAN BECKER: And I think …like a glacier crumbling down off the mountain – it is moving. It’s just hard to see it sometimes. Once again friends, we’ve been speaking with Meghan Ralston. She’s Harm Reduction Coordinator with the Drug Policy Alliance.

Meghan, I’ve really enjoyed our discussion. I hope you’ll come back and join us real soon. Any closing thoughts?

MEGHAN RALSTON: I’m so grateful that I’ve had this opportunity to talk a little bit about these issues. Particularly that I had a chance to discuss Amy Winehouse with you because, truly, our stigmatization of drug users is horrendous. We have to have compassion. We have to have science. And we have to have reason dictating all the ways that we approach those things. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you folks and please be sure to visit their website, http://drugpolicy.org. Thank you, Meghan.

MEGHAN RALSTON: Bye.

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DEAN BECKER: Recently, in Florida, certain of the drug laws were declared unconstitutional. Here to talk about the situation is the attorney in that case.

JAMES FELMAN: James Felman. In 2002 the Florida legislature decided to push the constitutional envelope here by making our drug laws what are called strict liability crimes. That is that they don’t have any mental element or guilty mind aspect to them anymore. And that is without precedent in the history of our Republic in terms of a statute with these kinds of penalties in them.

In the past the only .sorts of strict liability criminal statutes that have been upheld have had very, very mild penalties. This statute, of course, covers everything from 15 years to life without parole. The federal court found that it was unconstitutional under the federal constitution. Florida stands absolutely alone in the country in its effort to explicitly create strict liability drug statutes.

DEAN BECKER: Now will this mean that other prisoners will be able to apply for, what is it called, habeas corpus, can seek to have their convictions exonerated?

JAMES FELMAN: That is my belief. Now, you know, bear in mind of course, that this is the ruling in the trial court and the state still has the opportunity it appeal this ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals and, ultimately, if they don’t win there, they can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

But if this ruling ultimately stands, and I think that it will, it casts doubt on a significant number of convictions in the state of Florida – not only in the past but in the present and the future. I think every drug prosecution in the state of Florida is in question.

DEAN BECKER: Now I’m sure neither one of us would advise this but does that mean that drugs are legal in Florida?

JAMES FELMAN: Well, no it doesn’t mean that drugs are legal in Florida but it may mean, for the time being, the state may lack the ability to prosecute those who use drugs. It is my suggestion that the Florida legislation act very swiftly to fix these statutes by adding a mental element to them. But I don’t know if they will listen to what I have to say or not.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, politicians these days – who knows who they’re listening to. I would agree.

JAMES FELMAN: That’s right.

DEAN BECKER: Alright, once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Jim Felman. I understand you are going to call your client and advise him of this ruling.

JAMES FELMAN: I am.

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DEAN BECKER: The following comes to us courtesy of NTDTV via Raw Story:

REPORTER1: Some medical patients suffer from such severe pain that no medicine can help. However there is a natural remedy which can bring some relief. A geriatric home in Israel prescribes medical cannabis to some of their patients suffering from certain medical ailments. Here’s more from our Israeli bureau.

REPORTER2: At Hadarim Geriatric Home medical cannabis is weighed and given to some of the patients. Among them, Moshe Rott, he receives medical cannabis as a powder mixed with tobacco.

MOSHE ROTT (via interpreter): What does it do? It makes me tranquil and less uptight. I’m able to take it easy and I feel restful. Before that my hands were in pain like someone suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. It stopped after three months. My hands don’t shake anymore and it’s totally different.

REPORTER2: A television program on medical cannabis caught the attention of the geriatric home’s head nurse.

INBAL KOREN (via interpreter): We were simply looking for some kind of medicine that would bring relief and we found it.

REPORTER2: Since the 19th century cannabis has been known to ease pain and since 2008 the Israeli Ministry has given limited permits to companies providing medical cannabis allowing patients to use it for the relief of diseases and severe side effects.

According to the Chairman of the Israeli Pharmaceutical Federation there are some concerns that the medical cannabis may be used for non-medical purposes. Another concern is that it will become too easy for the medical establishment to prescribe cannabis for any problem although common research is not yet completely clear on the use of cannabis.

Public pressure is also playing a role.

DAVID PAPO (via interpreter): On one hand the Ministry of Health doesn’t grow these plants. On the other hand the DNA(?) of the Israel Anti-Drug Authority is drugs and we’re talking about a product that is a drug but also used for medical treatment and they don’t know how to deal with it. Finally, there are the police who are afraid that it could spill over to yet another market.

REPORTER2: Pain Specialist, Dr. Bareket Schiff-Keren recommends medical cannabis to some of her patients.

BAREKET SCHIFF-KEREN (via interpreter): If the question is relieving pain and leading a normal life as opposed to being dependent on drug, then why not take that drug to improve one’s quality of living?

REPORTER2: In Moshe Rott’s room he is working on a book – able to write again, he says thanks to taking medical cannabis.

BAREKET SCHIFF-KEREN (via interpreter): The Ministry of Health claims that these patients possess scientific evidence that their illness can be relieved by using medical cannabis.

REPORTER2: An instructor from one of the providing companies says the most crucial point about cannabis is that it is not dangerous or hazardous to the patient. Nonetheless, many people remain afraid to try it. NTDTV News, Israel.

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ANONYMOUS FEMALE: You gonna let ‘em get it?!

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DEAN BECKER: Alright friends, I hope you enjoyed this edition of Century of Lies. Once again want to thank Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance and please check out their website, http://drugpolicy.org They have so much information you can access there. You can educate yourself and, hopefully, motivate yourself to do your part to end the madness of drug war.

Check with us next week our guest will be Christian Parenti. He’s author of “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.” And, as always, I want to remind you that there is no truth, no logic, no reason for this drug war to exist. Please visit our website which is http://endprohibition.org. Prohibido istac evilesco!

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For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker. Asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org