04/19/18 Lucas Wiessing

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Lucas Wiessing

Lucas Wiessing Chief scientist for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, a few words from Dr. Christoph Buerki, the designer of the decades old and very successful Swiss heroin injection program and we hears a few words from Portugal's Drug Czar Dr. Joao Goulao. + Neill Franklin, Exec Dir of LEAP.

Audio file


APRIL 19, 2018


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.

Ah, it's a big day. Thank you for being with us on Cultural Baggage. This is our new special time, we're live in studio, it's our afternoon drop in of our far superior moral high ground.

I, today, claim the moral high ground in this drug war. I've got the website, we're going to have it up next week, we're going to challenge every politician, every minister, every person in a position of authority to defend their belief system, their embrace of children dying, of terrorists thriving, of cartels killing, of gangs prowling our neighborhoods forever.?á

That's where we're going. I appreciate you being with us, I appreciate KPFT giving me this new time frame here, right in the middle of the day, it should promote things during pledge drive, but it should also help promote things here in this fair city. I want to apologize to my affiliate stations for once again changing from a one hour to a half hour, not my goal, but what the heck, we've done it before and I'm sure we'll get through this.

But the point I'm trying to get to, friends, is that we, by that I mean the logical, the intelligent, the clear thinking folks that understand this drug war has been an abject, abysmal failure with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and we'll be challenging, you know, those people in positions of power to defend the policy, to claim the moral high ground, to try to take it back from me, I know have the website, MoralHighGround.World, and I'm going to hang onto it.

Friends, we have great things to share with you. I've been in Europe, Portugal, Switzerland, getting interviews with drug czars and other good folks, but I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, a gentleman who, I don't know how to put it, shows that I'm not urinating in the breeze.

All right, now that I've offered up my challenge to officials and ministers and the good people of Houston, Harris County, Texas, and leaders in Washington, DC, I feel now it's right that I bring forward allies who can back me up, to help you, dear listeners, understand that I am right, I'm on track, and indeed very moral in calling the drug war an evil construct of no true benefit to mankind.

Today, I call on an ally, I man I have traveled thousands of miles with, spent countless hours discussing the nuts and bolts of drug prohibition, and who perhaps knows my perspective better than anyone, I man I greatly admire for his decades in service to law enforcement, whose acumen and commitment to understanding the drug war parallels my own, he's one of the top law enforcement officials working against prohibition, the executive director of my band of brothers and sisters in Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Lieutenant [sic: Major] Neill Franklin. Hello, Neill.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Dean, Dean, how are you. Thanks for having me on your show, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Neill, it's a new timeframe, it's a new day and time, and it's a new audience. And I want them to understand, I've been doing this 16 years, will you back me up that I'm on track with what I've just uttered over the airwaves.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Dean, there's no doubt that you're on track. The drug war itself, drug prohibition, is in fact immoral. The fact that we continue to imprison people at extremely high rates is immoral. The fact that we have policy in place that undergirds, supports, the cartels in their work, and criminal gangs and organizations, is in fact immoral, because we have established a foundation for violent crime from coast to coast in this country, and in other parts of the world, as a matter of fact, because the policies of prohibition have been, put it this way, they were established first here in the United States and farmed out to the rest of the world.

So, I could go on and on about the immoralities of waging such a war, on the policy of prohibition, but let's get into the conversation of how we can reverse this trend, how we can reverse this atrocity, and move to a place of morality in dealing with this issue that we're talking about.

DEAN BECKER: Right, Neill, and I like to think that I was very constructive, or productive, however you want to put it, in encouraging state and local officials, in particular my district attorney, Kim Ogg, the new police chief, the new sheriff, here in Houston, to speak boldly of the failure of this drug war, to actually make changes now to our marijuana laws, to our bond situation, where thousands of people are no longer being locked up for extended periods of time, and, where they have realized that it was the mechanism of drug war which demanded this, which meant these people should be punished from day one, irregardless of any conviction or any other evidence, you know, demanding such a situation.

There is nobody who is willing to come on my show and defend this policy. I've been working at it for 16 plus years. I just returned from Europe, where I was instructed by some very knowledgeable, high echelon people, in Switzerland and in Portugal, to, it's not a real conundrum, these people have to defend their jobs, they have to defend the jobs of their friends, they have to defend their pensions, they have to defend their right to draw that paycheck, by -- they can't defend the policy, but they damn sure don't want to eliminate the rationale that gives them that paycheck. Your thought there, Neill.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Absolutely, Dean, that is a huge part of the problem. In addition to those, you know, and all of this rests not within one pot, but in addition to that, you have those who continue to support this policy, because it is easier. It is easier to portray what most people see as the harms of drug abuse, and it's easier to translate that, to connect that, to, you know, bad drugs, you know, and I try to tell people, over and over again, drugs can neither be bad or good, it's all about the environment which we create for them to exist.

And policies of drug prohibition, just like alcohol prohibition back in the 1920s, create the worst possible environment for drugs to exist. People forget that alcohol is a drug. We recognized back then, when I say we, our grandparents recognized back then that we invoke the policy of alcohol prohibition, that was absolutely devastating to this country, as it again undergirded back then violent crime, corruption, poor quality and deadly booze flowing through our streets, an enormous financial cost to this country, and, I mean, cost after cost after cost.

The environment that we've created for drugs to exist today, again, prohibition, has again caused this issue that we're dealing with fentanyl. It has caused corruption among our police departments and police officials and politicians. It has fueled the violent crime that we see in our cities and towns today, which then leads to this over enforcement, which?á has ballooned our prison population beyond a size ever imagined, you know, decades ago.

And, you know, you and I, Dean, could go on and on --


NEILL FRANKLIN: -- with the failure of this policy. But, there are folks unfortunately, number one, who don't have the education, they fail to see this from where we do, I mean, I didn't change my perspective. I used to be one of those warriors, Dean, and I didn't change my perspective overnight, but what it took from me was the willingness to pause and to educate myself further regarding the failures and problems with this policy.

And that's what I'm asking of our officials today. At least have the willingness to pause for a moment, and to look at this from a very objective point of view. Let's take the emotion out of it, let's look at the data, let's look at it objectively, and then, establish a perspective of these policies of drug prohibition.

We've got to have the willingness to do that, and unfortunately, there are so many men and women who wear the uniform, who have done -- who continue to do what I used to do in policing, that see this from a very, very narrow perspective, and what we're doing with our organization, now, with LEAP, is getting people in uniform, getting our prosecutors, getting our judges, to see this from a different perspective than what they're used to.

DEAN BECKER: I am a reverend, I've preached from the pulpit in a dozen churches in and around Houston, I've married folks, I'm picking up the title again. I am the Reverend Dean Becker, and I want to stand against the quote "moral majority," which stands in support of terrorists, cartels, gangs, ever increasing numbers of overdose deaths, children's easy access, all of the harms they say they are against, which are in fact a built-in component of this prohibition. Your closing thoughts, there, Mister Neill Franklin.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, Dean, I am also a man of god, have been for a long time, and coming from that perspective, being a Christian, coming from a perspective of compassion, coming from a perspective of forgiveness, coming from a perspective of we are not about imprisoning people, coming from a perspective of creating an environment that is conducive to, how are you going to say, our humanistic values, these policies of prohibition go completely, one hundred percent, against those values that I hold.

And, for people to learn more about that, I hope that they continue to tune into your show. I hope that they continue to listen to the things that we're trying to communicate. I hope that they just pause and take the time to learn more about these policies of prohibition, and how it has compounded, twenty-fold, problematic drug use in this country, and around the globe.

DEAN BECKER: Again, I want to thank Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership and my band of brothers against drug prohibition.

All right, LEAP, out there on the web at LEAP.cc. Right now, I typically have Name That Drug By Its Side Effects, but let's listen to this instead.

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In depressed patients, worsening depression including risk of suicide may occur. Alcohol may increase these risks. Side effects include next day drowsiness.

DEAN BECKER: Lord 'a' mercy, they can sell you Belsomra but they can't sell you a bag of weed. It's really a preposterous situation. You know, it's going to be a righteous journey, this new moral high ground. I'm hoping you'll come along with me. I've got a few years left here on the planet, I'm going to roll the dice that my morals, my rationale, my understanding, is far, far superior to that of any drug czar, add in a dozen governors, fifty senators, and several cattle-cars full of representatives.

My real problem is that they're so slow to move towards the truth, to admit, you know, finally, that they really see the carnage, the irrationality, the futility, the obfuscation, the ugly god damn evil, as if it just appeared today on the kitchen stove. That's going to be tough for them to do, but I'm going to help them get through there.

As mentioned, I was in Europe. I've got a couple of clips I want to share with you. First, the day I got to Lisbon, I was invited to speak to the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction by them, but before I gave my speech to this group, that included fourteen scientists, a couple of administrators, the police chief and the commissioner of Lisbon, I got to interview Mister Lucas Wiessing. He is the top dog, if you will, there at the monitoring center.

LUCAS WIESSING: My name is Lucas Wiessing, I'm a Dutch epidemiologist at this European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EMCDDA, based in Lisbon, Portugal. We collect data and try to provide evidence on the drug problem in Europe, so that individual European countries can make their own policies.

DEAN BECKER: Right. Portugal has done an amazing thing, they set an example for the rest of the world, really, to follow, much of Europe is in fact following them. Am I correct in that assumption?

LUCAS WIESSING: In a certain sense, yes. I think you're right that Portugal has quite recently, in 2001, decriminalized the possession of drugs, so that if you're being caught by the police in possession of drugs, you're no longer going to jail.

And there is a system of what they call dissuasion committees, where you will be interviewed and will be assessed for, if you are problematic then they will actually recommend drug treatment, if you're not problematic, you will just have that interview and that's it.

Portugal is obviously not -- it's now the most recent example, and has gone quite far in legally changing their law and decriminalizing, but of course we have other countries in Europe, the Netherlands for example, that has a long term non-criminal policy by simply not enforcing the criminal law, and then you have countries outside the European Union, like Switzerland, which have been very forward also in, for example, what we call harm reduction, just like the Netherlands.

So, it's not just Portugal, and it started already a little bit before Portugal, but there are now a couple of countries, together with Portugal, that are moving in the, I would say, a right direction of seeing the drug problem as a health problem rather than as a judicial problem.

DEAN BECKER: Right. I speak primarily about the United States, you know, we have arrested nearly fifty million of our citizens for mostly minor amounts of drugs. And it just seems that there's a lot of more difficult, more dangerous problems that we could be dealing with instead of wasting so much manpower there.

LUCAS WIESSING: There is, as I told you before also, there's a sort of convergence in European countries the last two decades, where this -- this, there is a more focus on health, and, well, it's what we call the balanced approach, so there is basically a balance between criminalizing the dealers, the big dealers, but not the users, not the small users, and the other pillar is the health pillar, and of course, also including harm reduction.

We have a quite coverage of harm reduction, and, so mainly that involves methadone treatment, substitution --opiate substitution treatment for opiate users, and the provision of syringes and needles for injectors. A number of countries now, with a lot of, what we call consumption, safe consumption rooms, where people are able to use under supervision and are being helped with their social and medical problems.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Lucas, this reminds me, that's one of my goals of the last year or two, and that's to create a stir, to get people talking about these safe consumption rooms, for my city of Houston. I mean, we have increasing numbers of opioid deaths, like every major city, I think, at this time. I can't even find the word, but it's the right thing, to save lives.

LUCAS WIESSING: Well, yeah, it is obvious that young people take risks, and sometimes the risks are not that big, I mean, you know, like smoking a joint is probably not going to kill you, but, you know, injecting heroin is a little bit more dangerous, quite dangerous of course, and now we see, especially in the United States, the spread of fentanyl, which is extremely dangerous, and causing all these overdose deaths. So it's a very scary situation, especially in the US, and we see also some countries in Europe, and the UK, and in northern European countries, we see also increases in overdose deaths.

So it's very scary, and yes, consumption rooms, we think they play a very positive role. The evidence is scarce, yet, because of the trouble that studies have been very difficult to do, because of the controversies around consumption rooms. So we still need better studies to show, you know, that what we, what seems obvious is that if you're in a consumption room, using with good supervision, that, if an accident happens, that you can be helped quite quickly.

Another prevention measure that is being rolled out across Europe is trying to give people naloxone, so that, to give peers of drug users, so that usually when they use in groups or together, with at least two, that the person who's not, who's actually, you know, witnessing the overdose, can help the patient by administering naloxone.

And that should also save a lot of lives. So, yeah, there is, I think, good things, but it's difficult to introduce because of the controversy, especially with consumption rooms. It's obvious that you're sort of accepting drug use, and that if it's legally not acceptable, then it's a very difficult thing to implement.

So, you need to -- you need to really accept the, you know, there is a conflict with the law, and countries that, like Portugal, change their law, decriminalize, have it less difficult, but even here, it's not easy to set up consumption rooms.

At the moment, a couple of countries are having -- have been able to spread them out. Other countries are trying to introduce them, are talking about it, trying to make pilot plans, but it's not easy. It's probably a little bit like what you're seeing in the United States with the liberalization of cannabis sales.

DEAN BECKER: The recognition of the failure, I guess, is what I'm really saying, of past process, of the drug war, is being recognized in Texas, across America, into Canada, down into Mexico, Central and South America, I hear recognition of that, that Uruguay legalizing cannabis, that Colombia is nearly so, that the price is down to under twenty dollars a pound. Recognizing that these changes, these nuances, do not create overdose deaths, do not create children's involvement, do not exacerbate the problem.

LUCAS WIESSING: Yeah. Well, you know, it's a little bit early to say that there are no negative consequences of, for example, liberalization of cannabis. We, as you say, we don't think that cannabis causes a lot of deaths. We, there's basically no evidence for that. But, of course, if you liberalize, there can be unintended consequences: more kids like, you know, accidentally having, you know, ingesting it because it's, like, marketed as sweets and all that.

So, what we are -- what we try to promote, and what is a role also for the European region, is to gather that evidence, and to do good studies, to say well we'd better understand what's going on. I think what you see in the US is rolling out, it's spreading out, the sales, and what we stress, and I mentioned that publication we did recently in the International Journal of Drug Policy, is that there is a need to gather those data, to look at it.

Obviously we don't expect overdose deaths from cannabis, so that should be a relatively safe thing to do. The, what's happening, but, you know, we need evidence, and that's our role here. So, as I explained also, as a European Monitoring Centre, we are -- we're not allowed, and we would not tell countries what to do. We are -- our role is to gather the evidence and to make publications showing the data, and hopefully contribute to a rational drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: Once again, we're speaking with Mister Lucas Wiessing, he's with the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. What am I leaving out, sir? What would you want to share with the American listening audience?

LUCAS WIESSING: I would invite American colleagues to come over to Europe and to visit us, the EMCDDA in Lisbon. I would be very happy to show our data, obviously our data's online so you can just go to our website, see our annual reports, see our publications.

And conversely, you know, we are visiting the US, several of my colleagues have been there recently, and we are trying to understand what's going on with the cannabis liberalization, with the overdose deaths. We are collaborating closely with institutions like NIDA and also like, on infectious disease, for example, with colleagues like, from the CDC, and I think information exchange is very important, and trying to learn, and especially to base ourselves on sound data and evidence.

DEAN BECKER: Over the past few weeks it's been my privilege to feature some speeches and my interview with the general director of addiction and behaviors, Portugal's drug czar, Doctor Jo?├║o Goul?├║o, a very moral gentleman.

I've been to Bolivia, Mexico, I've seen the horrors that go on in those countries, the abuses, the barbarity, and I guess my question to you sir is that, you know, considering the horrible consequences that do develop from believing in this drug war, should we not reconsider some of the moral superiority that we claim exists within this drug war and nuance the situation to make it actually more moral, more realistic, more human? Your thought please, sir.

JO?âO GOUL?âO, MD: Okeh. The issue is exactly what you said. The war on drugs is based in stigma, is based in the fact that you consider not drug addiction, not as a disease, but as a vicious, a thing, there are moral focus on it, and shifting from that social representation into the idea that we are dealing with a health condition, and I insist with the same dignity and patience, must have the same dignity that others that suffer from diabetes, hypertension, whatever.

With addiction, nowadays it is considered with the same level of dignity. And that makes all the difference.

DEAN BECKER: My last day in -- where the heck was I? -- in Bern, Switzerland, I got to do this, the following interview here.

DEAN BECKER: While in his office in Bern, Switzerland, I posed the following question to Doctor Christoph Buerki, the inventor the nearly two decades Swiss heroin injection program.

Our president is talking about people who sell drugs, they need to be killed. That's what he's been saying, consistently, for the last few weeks, that their lives are just not worth prolonging another moment. I don't know how to phrase this without trying to drag you into something political.

CHRISTOPH BUERKI, MD: Don't worry about it. I have my opinions.


CHRISTOPH BUERKI, MD: It's a war on drug -- it's a typical statement of a war on drug person. I mean, we as a society, we have tried war on drugs for countless years. I think the war on drugs was formally declared by Richard Nixon, if I recall it right.

It has not proven to work. It has not proven to work. Let's look at the situation in the US. It's worse than ever, despite all the law enforcement efforts going into -- into combating drugs, into having that war on drugs. So, all he can say is more of the same, or even inhumane approaches to that war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: He says we have to get tough.


DEAN BECKER: As if we haven't been.

CHRISTOPH BUERKI, MD: I can't understand it. It's just not understandable, how somebody can say something like that, and how, I mean, there's -- he's also supported by many religious people in your country, I know. How can somebody support a person who says such crazy things, with such disrespect for life? It's incredible.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor Buerki will be our guest on next week's Cultural Baggage program.

All right folks, I've got to wrap it up here. I appreciate you being with me on this new half hour edition, the MoralHighGround.World edition. We're going to have some great stuff for you in the coming weeks, as we indicated. You know, we had Ellen Bukstel on her earlier, I was too sick to invite her, but she came on Spare Change with Larry Winters, I was glad to see that, she sang her song "Who's the Pusher Now?" Not going to have room for it today, but I want to remind you once again that because of prohibition, you don't know what's in that bag, and I urge you to please be careful. Visit our website, DrugTruth.net.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. Cultural Baggage is a production of the Pacifica 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 an abyss.