07/07/17 Phil Smith

Phil Smith reporter with Stop The Drug War, Dr. Sam Snodgrass of Broken No More & Gretchen Burns Bergman of A New Path

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, July 7, 2017
Phil Smith
Stop The Drug War



JULY 7, 2017


DEAN BECKER: I am Dean Becker, your host. Our goal for this program is to expose the fraud, misdirection, and the liars whose support for drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, enriches barbarous cartels, and gives reason for existence to tens of thousands of violent US gangs who profit by selling contaminated drugs to our children. This is Cultural Baggage.

Hi, my friends, this is Dean Becker. Thank you for being with us today. We've got three great guests for you. Let's get started.

Seems every week, the drug war news just gets more barbaric, more asinine, and a fellow reporter who tracks these stories as well as I do, works for Stop The Drug War, the Drug War Chronicles, he's been a frequent guest with us here on the Drug Truth Network. I want to welcome Mister Phil Smith. Hey, Phil.

PHIL SMITH: Good afternoon, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, the one that's really shocking my conscience right now, tell us about that story of that three year old up there in South Dakota.

PHIL SMITH: Well, let me preface this story by explaining a couple of things about the war on drugs in South Dakota. The state is unique in that it has a law that makes it a crime not to sell a drug, not to possess a drug, but to have used a drug. You can be charged with, well, we jokingly refer to it as internal possession, but it's officially known as unlawful ingestion, and if they find -- if they drug test you and find you with a drug in your system, that can be a felony.


PHIL SMITH: With marijuana, it's only a misdemeanor, so you're only looking at six months in jail. So, South Dakota law enforcement has an incentive to drug test people. It also is very conservative when it comes to child welfare. In fact, it's a safe assumption that if you are caught with drugs and you are a parent, you're going to be looked at for child abuse or neglect, and in fact, if you're caught with methamphetamine and you're a parent at home, you're charged with child abuse and neglect, as if the mere fact of possession of methamphetamine is child abuse.


PHIL SMITH: That's the law in South Dakota. So, we have a law where it's illegal to possess drugs in your own body, and we have a set of laws that really punish parents who they suspect are using drugs, so what happened in the case I wrote about that has excited condemnation across the country is there was a woman in the state capitol of Pierre whose boyfriend, live-in boyfriend was on probation on a drug charge, they came in and drug tested him, he tested positive so they charged him with a new crime and violated his probation, and then the child -- Child Protective Services worker ordered the woman in this case, and her two children, to undergo drug tests or he would take the kids on the spot.

The woman agreed to take the drug test. The woman passed the drug test, her other child passed the drug test. Her three year old toddler could not pee in a bottle on command. So, at the hospital in Pierre where they were being tested, hospital medical workers held the kid down, stripped him of his clothes, and stuck a tube in his penis as he screamed and cried in their effort to get a drug test from him. They succeeded in extracting some urine, but he had no drugs in his urine.

The mother of this child is understandably upset. She went to the American Civil Liberties Union, and now the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota has filed a lawsuit naming the state department of social services, the division of child protective services, the child protective services worker involved, and the medical personnel who actually did the dirty deed. And the lawsuit seeks not only an end to the practice but monetary damages.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Phil, as outrageous as this situation is, it's my understanding that he came down with an infection following this procedure.

PHIL SMITH: Well, he had to -- his mother had to take him to the emergency room twice in the days following the procedure. The first time they went a hundred miles away to Huron because they didn't want to go back to that hospital, but the second time they did go back to the hospital and the child was diagnosed with a staph infection from the procedure.

The mother said the child is extremely traumatized. I can believe that.

DEAN BECKER: I certainly can as well, and, similar abuses go on around this country on a daily basis, you know, we hear the stories of police kicking in the door, putting guns in children's faces, shooting their dog, and one that you covered more recently as well, the Philando Castile, who was shot in the car where his four or five year old child watched this murder. Your thought there, sir.

PHIL SMITH: That's right, I mean, these kinds of horrible activities are part and parcel of the war on drugs. That's what happens when you declare a war on your own citizens, and you start treating your own citizens as if they're enemy combatants. I mean, you see drug raids that look like they're aimed at ISIS in Baghdad or something. You know it's especially horrible that this happened to a three year old kid, but it's been happening to other people all along in South Dakota. It happens to drug suspects on a regular basis.

I know this from personal experience. I was arrested in possession of a bud of marijuana about ten years ago in South Dakota, and I was given the choice of voluntarily submitting to urine tests, or having a warrant issued by a judge that would allow them to forcibly catheterize me. Like most people, I chose to just pee in a cup. But there are other people who have not, you know, consented to that, and what has happened to them is warrants have been obtained from rubber stamp judges, and these people are then held down and forcibly catheterized, sometimes even after they said okeh, okeh, I'll do it myself.

So the ACLU has filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of five people this happened to, and it is suing twenty police officers from the cities of Pierre and Sisseton, and a member of the state highway patrol, and once again, it is looking for an end to this practice, which it calls shocking to the conscience, and I think that's a wonderful thing that they've taken this extra step, and are seeking individualized monetary damages, because we need to put the fear of god in these people.

DEAN BECKER: I'm with you, sir. Let's come back a minute to my mention of Philando Castile. You did a story, talked about how reefer madness helped to kill that man. Go ahead, please, with that.

PHIL SMITH: Well, if you'll recall, he was the black man driving in his car in Saint Paul last year with his girlfriend and their child. He was pulled over for a broken taillight. Incidentally, it's about the fortieth time he'd been pulled over in his home town in just a few years. When he was pulled over, he immediately told police that he had a weapon on him. He was a licensed carrier. When he reached for his ID, the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, unloaded on him. Shot five bullets into the car, killed him, while his girlfriend facebooked it.

Now, at the time, the officer was -- stated that he was very concerned about the weapon, but when he went to court, after he was tried for murder in Castile's killing, he used the fact that he smelled marijuana and the fact that the child was in the car, and the fact that Philando Castile was smoking marijuana with a child in the car, which meant that he had no regard for any other person, which meant he had no regard for the police officer's life, so that increased his fear, thus making him shoot Philando Castile.

DEAN BECKER: Phil, this is, I, there's no other way to put it, this is a resurrection of reefer madness, to say that Mister Castile was in essence out of his mind, insane on marijuana --

PHIL SMITH: Right, absolutely. And the frightening thing, there's a -- there are a couple of frightening possibilities here. One is that the police officer actually believed that. If that is true, you have to wonder about the kind of education he got. And the second scary possibility is that this testimony actually influenced jurors who may have believed something similar, so they end up acquitting him.

So it sounds like, even though we've got legal pot in a few states and we're going to get it in more, we still have a whole lot of educating to do, and a whole bunch of counter propaganda work to do.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Phil, the, you know, the states and some locales are changing their laws, changing perspectives, changing the way they go about quote "waging" this drug war, but the United Nations, the World Health Organization, has a different attitude these days, do they not?

PHIL SMITH: That's right, the UN and the WHO are calling for global drug decriminalization. Now, we have that in thirteen states in this country [sic], and that's a good thing. We need to see more of that. I think that's only a half step, because if we decriminalize drugs we still leave black markets, which is where a lot of violence and other ill effects occur. But decriminalization at least protects drug users from some of the worst ravages of the drug war at the hands of police.

DEAN BECKER: There is no other side, insofar as being willing to defend what they're up to. I mean, they'll do it in a courtroom or a press conference where you and I can't ask the pertinent questions, but the number of people who believe in this drug war is winding down, is it not?

PHIL SMITH: Indeed. I want to tell you, Dean, on this South Dakota story that I wrote, it was -- got tens of thousands of readers, and it got hundreds and hundreds of comments, and I actually looked through the comments, like I rarely do, there was not a single comment attempting to excuse the cops in this. I mean, there were four hundred comments and they were all outraged in disgust.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And that's all I can feel in this situation as well. All right, friends, we've been speaking with Mister Phil Smith, reporter for the Drug War Chronicle. You can check out their information sharing at StopTheDrugWar.org.

PHIL SMITH: And one more place, Dean, you can also see my stuff at Alternet. Go to www.Alternet.org/drugs.

SAM SNODGRASS: Well, my name's Sam Snodgrass, have a PhD in biopsychology, I did research in something called behavioral pharmacology, which studies how drugs effect brain behavior. Let's see, I'm affiliated with Broken No More and GRASP, I joined the board of directors last year.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor Snodgrass, can I ask you, what compelled you, or what brought you into affiliation with Broken No More?

SAM SNODGRASS: I used opioids for about 35 years, first thirteen of them I just used occasionally off and on, that's when I got the doctorate. Went to UAMS, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, then I was working in behavioral pharmacology lab at National Institute on Drug Abuse postdoctoral fellowship there, and when I was in the behavioral pharm lab, I got into a bottle of methadone hydrochloride, started shooting it, and got strung out on it.

And for the next 22 years, just pretty much lived the life of opioid addiction. And then I found Broken No More, they wanted me on the board of directors.

DEAN BECKER: You know, your situation, you're a doctor, but you had a years' long addiction, I guess is the best word to use, to opioids, and I want to ask you about a scenario. One of the founding members of Johns Hopkins was Doctor William Halsted.

SAM SNODGRASS: Yes, he was.

DEAN BECKER: He was known to be a lifelong morphine user, and I want to ask you, sir, had you been given the chance to use these drugs in a regulated, you know, legal way, would it still have interfered you think with your progress as a doctor?

SAM SNODGRASS: No. I mean, okeh, this is -- this is -- no, it wouldn't have, because, when I was at UAMS, and I got strung out on that methadone, the whole time I was shooting that methadone, I told myself that I would stop. And I really believed that until I couldn't stop. What I did was, I started stealing drugs out of the safe. And so for a few years there, I had, I'm not going to call it a legal supply, but I had a steady supply, and I did very well. I finished my postdoc, I did so well that they asked me to stay on as a faculty member. I was faculty there, I got -- I applied for and got a grant, a major grant, from NIDA to look at the effects of choice on cocaine self-administration in rats. I was really doing very well.

And then they figured out somebody was stealing drugs from the safe, and they shut that down. It's when I had to go out on the streets, and start hunting the opioids, that my life went to -- went down the drain, so to speak.

DEAN BECKER: I think that's at the heart of this situation, of this conundrum, that users spend too much time looking for money, looking for drugs, and it kind of destroys their ability to be a normal, functioning citizen. Your response, please.

SAM SNODGRASS: Well, yeah. What happens to us is that we start out with a couple of hydros, just as an example. Start out with a couple of hydros, they kick that euphoria in, everything's great, everything's wonderful. But we have this process in our brain, called tolerance. Tolerance is something that occurs in everyday life, people don't think about it as tolerance, but that's what it is.

As an example, let's say that somebody has a steak, let's just say prime rib. As long as they eat prime rib occasionally, then it can stay their favorite food. But if they eat prime rib seven days in a row, they're going to get sick of prime rib.


SAM SNODGRASS: Let's say somebody has some music they love, or some new music from a group they love, whatever. And after a while, after listening to that music for a while, they become tired of it. Why? Why does our brain, why did we evolve with this ability to produce tolerance to things which produce pleasure in life? I mean, we don't become tolerant to heat, cold, or other things in our life, other sensations, but we become tolerant to pleasure. What is that function? What does it provide for us?

Its function is that when we keep experiencing a pleasure too much, that's, what we're doing is that we're not moving forward. If you're just eating prime rib, you're not experiencing new foods, you're not experiencing different foods that can help you survive even better. We get stuck on that one kind of music, that's the only kind of music you ever listen to, you don't listen to other kinds of music. In other words, the function of tolerance is to keep us from getting stuck on something, and to drive us forward to find new things, new friends, new activities, new ways to survive even better in the world.

If we didn't have this function of tolerance, we'd be stuck on something we did years ago and we'd never have moved forward. Now, when it comes to drugs, opioids, again we start out with a couple of hydros, everything's great. The problem is that our brain adapts to this. This is the tolerance, this is -- there are changes within the brain that adapt to this level of euphoria.

Now, if somebody told us, I'm not going to say it would have made a difference, but if somebody had told us that tolerance is a sign, a signal, that you're changing the structure of your brain, and if you don't stop, and you don't stop now, you're not going to be able to, maybe we could have stopped. I'm not going to say we could have, but maybe we would at least have that option. But nobody told us that. And so, two stops working, so we go to four. Now the thing we're not understanding is that our brains trying to do us a favor. It's bringing that euphoria down by tolerance, so we don't get stuck on doing those two hydros.

Most people don't start doing these hydros every day. They'll do two, go out and party, do a couple more, whatever, then it starts becoming on weekends, and a few times during the week, and it's every day during the week, and that's when the tolerance builds. Or somebody's taken four a day, and then they take eight a day. The point is that this tolerance, what it's trying to do, is to keep us from being stuck on the pain pills. Or the heroin, whatever it is we're doing, so that we'll move on and do something else. But we don't understand this so we increase our dose. We go from two to four, we go from one tenth to two tenths. Whatever, we increase our dose, and bam, there's that euphoria right back.

And again our brain adapts. It's trying to bring -- it's trying to do us a favor, it's trying to bring this euphoria down so that we will move on and do other things. But again, we don't understand this, so we keep increasing our dose, and every time we increase our dose, every time we go from less potent to a more potent form of these opioids, we drive these changes in our brain even further, and we wake up one day and we can't stop. That's addiction.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. I'm glad to know that you're working with Broken No More, they're out there on the web at Broken-No-More.org. And also with GRASP, Grief Recovery After A Substance Passing, and they're out there at GraspHelp.org.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Fever, anxiety, nausea, delayed ejaculation, shakiness, profuse sweating, decreased appetite, bedwetting, suicidality, and death. Time's up! The answer: Zoloft, from Pfizer Incorporated. For depression.

I'm Gretchen Burns Bergman, and I'm the co-founder and executive director of A New PATH, which stands for Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing, and I'm the lead organizer of our national, now international, Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign.

We, A New PATH works to reduce the stigma associated with addictive illness, and we advocate for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies, and the larger campaign, Moms United campaign, works to end the criminalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs, and people who struggle with substance use disorders, and to end the mass arrest, incarceration, and the accidental overdose deaths, and the border violence, and drug war violence, that's all part and parcel of a very misguided and destructive, almost fifty year war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: It's just not working, is it?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: It hasn't been working for years, and you think about the loss of life over these years, not to mention the loss of liberty, but it's beyond tragic. You know, I -- and I feel like so many of these issues are interrelated. At the beginning of the year, we started a campaign, #MomsResolution, that really talked about the intersection of the war on drugs, the -- how it ties in with racism and the war on women, and the war on LGBTQ, and the war on immigrants, and on and on, and it -- to feel now, that we are going backwards, and having to resist and defend the positions that -- the successes that we have had over the years in terms of therapeutic, compassionate, and much better informed drug policy, is just -- it's very hard for us.

We're a parent driven advocacy organization, I mean, our whole point is to try to make the world a better place for our children, and fight for their lives and their liberty, and to feel that once again we have to really dig in and defend what we have accomplished so far rather than continuing to move forward and to get better drug policies, you know, and human policy, let's say, human rights.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. No, I agree with you, Gretchen, it's -- you know, we have the more vocal opponents, if you will, like our attorney general Jeff Sessions talking about marijuana's just as bad as heroin, good people don't do drugs, all that stuff, but we have a more direct financial stake in this if you will, if they repeal the Affordable Care Act, or however they redesign their budgets, there are strong implications that hundred million dollars will not be going to help those with addictions that the -- they're just not going to do anything to stop this opioid epidemic. Your thought there, Gretchen.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Yes, and you know, healthcare for substance use disorder has been dismally small to begin with, so now you're looking at cutting -- and in the midst of a crisis, as you say, the numbers continue to go up at such an alarming rate, of overdoses in the United States, and we're, you know, we're losing our sons and daughters, and this is the way we're going to combat this crisis, by reversing Medicaid expansion, by this new healthcare bill that is just -- it's an abomination.

You know, I'll tell you, Dean, my son now has two and a half years sober, and we thought we were going to lose him many times, but because of the Affordable Care Act, I was able to get him an insurance policy that paid for his treatment for over six months, so that he could get the treatment that he needed, and today, you know, I don't know that he could have that insurance policy that would cover it. And that's just from the point of -- perspective of, if you can afford such an insurance policy, but for such a long time, he had a pre-existing condition and he couldn't get insurance, and, you know, so I just -- I feel very, very passionately about this, because I know firsthand and I, and I'm grateful, of course, that my son's alive.

DEAN BECKER: Well, and Gretchen, it really -- you know, your's is a singular event, your's is anecdotal, your's is -- cannot be batched together with the other millions of mothers out there to influence these politicians. They seem so uncaring of what individual families, or individuals, are facing, don't they?

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: And you know, this is the root of it, the stigma. When we first started with A New PATH 18 years ago, we knew that what we were really combating was stigma, and, you know, sort of this shame based thinking, and I think we came a long way, but these new laws and what Jeff Sessions, the way he talks, you know, the, what he's proposing, are really -- produce more stigma, go back to that fear and hatred of people who use drugs, and it's not based on science, it's certainly not based on compassion. It's not fact based at all.

So why is it happening? And it feels to me like it's once again, you know, really promoting fear, prejudice, hatred, bigotry.

DEAN BECKER: Death and disease as well. You know, he's given license, if you will, to other officials around the country. I think it was a mayor in Indiana came out and said the third time somebody calls with an OD, we should just let them die [sic: it was Middletown, Ohio city councilor Dan Picard]. And that's just outrageous.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: You know, can you believe that in California, we worked hard to have naloxone access bills pass, so that I as a parent could have naloxone in my medicine cabinet, if I was worried that my son could be dying. It was amazing that that -- it's a very safe drug, it can very quickly reverse an accidental overdose. Why on earth we wouldn't be able to have it, the first first responder is oftentimes the parent, right? Or the friend. And so why we wouldn't be able to have that at our disposal, to save our child's life? It was amazing the kind of responses like you just said, a third time. Really? Well, my oldest son has overdosed three times.

Are they saying that he should be dead now? And he's a, you know, he's a wonderful human being, he works as a drug and alcohol counselor, he's helping people every day. I mean, really? His life is not worthwhile because he overdosed three times?

DEAN BECKER: Well, friends, we've been speaking with Gretchen Burns Bergman, she's the director of A New PATH, Parents for Addiction Treatment, and Healing. I'll give you thirty seconds here to convince folks why they should join forces with you, please.

GRETCHEN BURNS BERGMAN: Well, I think that breaking through the shackles of shame, I mean, one in three families are struggling with substance use disorder issues, but people have been afraid to speak out. But we need you to speak out, we need you to join us and make our voice louder, especially in the political climate today, and with all of the healthcare issues, so much at stake in terms of, you know, revamping mass arrests and incarceration and making it normal to have a family member in jail, to normalize that kind of concept is terrible. So we need you to speak out, and we need you to join in our voices to resist. Never before have I felt it so important that we are organized, and that we're speaking out with one voice, and demanding our human rights and dignity.

DEAN BECKER: To learn more, please go to ANewPATH.org.

Again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.

To the Drug Truth listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacific Radio Network. Archives are permanently stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. And we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.