08/19/20 Katherine Neill Harris
Katherine Neill Harris of the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice Univ END THE WAR ON DRUGS TO HELP FIX AMERICAN POLICING + Tommy Chong visits to discuss racist drug war policies
Katherine Neill Harris of the James A. Baker III Institute at Rice Univ END THE WAR ON DRUGS TO HELP FIX AMERICAN POLICING + Tommy Chong visits to discuss racist drug war policies
Katharine Neill Harris Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy re "Vaping: Clearing the Air" + Paul Stanford, cannabis activist returns from speaking gig in Mexico
MARCH 18, 2020
DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker, keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war for the world and this is Cultural Baggage.
Alright folks, this is the Reverend Dean Becker and here in a little while we are going to here from Mr. Paul Stanford who is just now returning from an excursion to Mexico to educate them about marijuana but first up, more locally we are going to hear from the Baker Institute. As has been true for decades on end, a recent report tells us that an estimated 480,000 deaths occur in the U.S. that are linked to smoking tobacco. That means that about 16 million people live with smoking related disease. I am taking that from a report issued a couple of weeks ago by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. This report was put together by the Director, William Martin as well as our guest for today, Katharine Neill Harris, she is the Alfred C. Glassell Fellow in Drug Policy. Welcome, Katie.
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Thank you for having me, Dean.
DEAN BECKER: Katie, this is a fairly substantial report. Please tell us what is contained therein?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Our report looks at vaping as well as the trends in vaping and compare those to the trends in cigarette use. We also look at some of the research that is trying to determine whether vaping functions as a smoking cessation tool or as something that initiates young users to nicotine addiction. We also take a look at the role of Juul and the vaping industry encouraging vaping use among teens and young adults and then we propose several possible avenues for policy responses to the increase in vaping among young people.
DEAN BECKER: Among your key findings you list that vaping among teens and young adults has increased significantly in the last few years while the rates of smoking have continued to decline for all age groups. Is that a good thing?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: The decline in smoking is a good thing and it is part of a longer term trend. The latest numbers we have for 2019 is an estimated less than 6% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the past month, so that is an all-time low in terms of cigarette smoking. On the other hand, the rate of vaping in 2019 showed that 27½% of high school students said that they had used an e-cigarette in the past month so that is more than a quarter of high school students, which is more than double the rate that it was in 2017. When looking at the teen population it is unlikely that all of that increase in vaping are just people who would have been smoking otherwise. What that means is that there are a lot of young people who are initiating an introduction to nicotine who probably would not have smoked cigarettes absent the vaping option. The news is mixed as the decline in smoking is good but the rise in vaping is not so good; then again, vaping is still preferable to cigarettes.
DEAN BECKER: I think that is the key point that those who vape may switch over to cigarettes because they develop a “nicotine addiction”, which is a horrible result, right?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes, that is one of the concerns and there have been some studies cited that show that kids and teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes later in life. One of the challenges with those studies is that they are not very good at ruling out confounding variables. In other words, they are not really good at ruling out the possibility that the same risk factors that make someone susceptible to vaping are also likely to make them susceptible to smoking cigarettes. In the same way, when we talk about cannabis use and we look at people who smoke cannabis and then go on to use heroin. There is usually underlying risk factors for both behaviors that are independent of the cannabis use which is the same with vaping and cigarettes, but not always. Again, we are still trying to figure out how all of these pieces fit together.
DEAN BECKER: Sure. You did bring up cannabis, and there is the cannabis or THC vaping, which is similar to the nicotine vaping. It is my understanding that many of these illnesses and deaths that have been created by vaping are more the result of black market THC vaping cartridges rather than Juul, or the more legitimate concerns. Am I right?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Correct. One of our reasons for putting this report together was that there was all of this heavy attention and panic in a sense over vaping since last summer when there was an outbreak of what was called EVALI (E-cigarette and Vaping Associated Lung Illnesses). We still see new cases but the rate has declined significantly. Officials from the CDC are fairly confident that most of those cases are due the presence of Vitamin E Acetate, which is the solution that is a Vitamin E pill that can be ingested safely but that you should not inhale. The presence of that chemical in particular black market THC cartridges because it is used as a cutting agent in those THC cartridges. That has been the primary source it seems of that lung illness. However, that illness really shined a spotlight on this increase in vaping that has been occurring over several years now and it spurred action on the topic.
DEAN BECKER: Okay. Now as a guy who quit smoking ten years ago, I have something like 50-pack years of Marlboro’s under my belt and now as a result I have COPD. It is a horrible habit and I am glad we having vaping to perhaps distract the children from that horrible habit. The fact of the matter is that we have this situation where there is a dual use that sometimes goes on where people start with the vaping and/or they start with cigarettes and then they may switch to chewing tobacco as well. There is a dual usage that sometimes becomes an even bigger problem. Right?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. The dual use is a big concern from a public health perspective. Right now it is kind of difficult to know for sure the nature of that Juul use. I am fairly confident that most of that Juul use are people who were smoking cigarettes and then they took up vaping perhaps to quit or cut back on smoking or as a supplement that they can use in public when they are in nonsmoking areas. I think it is more like that behavior than the other way around in that large numbers of people who take up vaping don’t eventually transition to cigarettes. I am not saying it doesn’t happen, I just don’t think that is the majority of that group. The dual use is still concerning from a public health perspective, even if you are reducing your cigarette use with vaping. There have been studies that show even a reduction in cigarette use from a pack a day to a half a pack a day or even one or two cigarettes a day, you are still exposing yourself to those cancer causing chemicals within cigarettes and you are not really getting the health benefits you would be getting if you quit smoking cigarettes completely. Meanwhile, the dual use can increase your nicotine exposure which can enhance the addiction to nicotine making it more difficult to quit both substances.
DEAN BECKER: When I was a kid they had Joe Camel trying to sell kids on the idea of smoking cigarettes. We also had the Marlboro Man, John Wayne in the movies, and we had all of these people enticing us. Even doctors were saying they were outstanding and mild. All of these enticements and lures to bring our kids forward. We have had somewhat similar circumstances trying to attract our kids to these vaping products. Have we not?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. If you Google any of these things and you come up with the types of ads that Juul and others have used. Juul has been more of the focus because they cornered such a large share of the market in such a short amount of time. Most of the vaping devices try to appeal to a younger audience and it is really obvious from the marketing and from the appearance of the models in the ads they use who are young and attractive who look like they are having fun. They throw parties around vaping and they try to get celebrities and other people to use their products, they use social media sites very clearly geared toward a younger audience so the claim that the only intent of the vaping industry has been to offer a safer alternative to cigarettes rings false when you take in to consideration the type of advertising that has been occurring around vaping products.
DEAN BECKER: All right friends once again we have been speaking with Katharine Neill Harris, she is the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Now as we are wrapping it up here, Katharine, I want to focus on the thought that I think most of us in the Baker Institute agree that prohibition just doesn’t work. It has many horrible consequences and I think that is holding true for this vaping product as well and banning it is not going to do us much good, is it?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: No. Banning these products won’t work, for example, my point about the EVALI lung illness being associated with black market vaping products. I think that if there was some kind of blanket ban or prohibition on vaping products you would just see people transition to a black market for it where the products would be much more poorly regulated and you would also have to worry about additives and other things in the vaping products that people were using; so certainly bans do not work for that reason. The other point that I think is important is that it certainly makes sense that we don’t want people under 21 to use these products and it makes sense to enforce laws against selling them in businesses that might be selling to minors. It is important to not have any legal sanctions for people who might be using vapes because those punishments are much more likely to be harmful than the vape use itself. There was a recent report that shows in Texas schools there is a significant increase in disciplinary action against students for vape products, some had THC but the vast majority was nicotine. I understand that schools are concerned about vaping on their premises but on the other hand, tacking on suspensions and expulsions on kids is likely to have long term damage on their lives with regard to employment and school prospects. I think it is really important to weigh those other consequences when we consider what policies we want to use to respond to vaping.
DEAN BECKER: All right. The hope has always been that through the use of these vaping products people could taper and then quit their use of the deadly cigarettes. Right?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: The evidence is somewhat mixed. There is some reason to be cautiously optimistic that vaping might be a more effective smoking cessation tool than other nicotine replacement therapies that are already on the market such as the nicotine patches and the gum. Part of the reason is that vaping is a more satisfying nicotine delivery system than cigarettes and so more people might be attracted to them. On the other hand, the vast majority of people that try to quit smoking whether it is with a vaping product or any of the FDA Approved nicotine replacement therapy, they continue to smoke cigarettes. This is just a testament to the addictive properties of cigarettes. I do think that there is potential for vaping to reduce cigarette use among people who are motivated to quit and we have seen research to indicate that. Again, it is really that the health benefit hinges to a certain extent on people quitting cigarettes completely. Most people don’t actually do that. The other thing to consider is that when we talk about prohibitions or bans on certain vaping products, a lot of that is concerned with prevention of teens and young adults from initiating nicotine use with these products. I think it is important to consider the harm reduction potential of vaping in the context of helping people quit cigarettes, especially when you look at the populations that are most likely to smoke cigarettes. We know that there has been a decade’s long decline in smoking for the general population but certain groups are much more at risk for smoking today than others. Specifically, it is people that are low income and that have lower levels of education including blacks, Native Americans, people who identify as LGBTQ, veterans, people with mental illness, and people who use other drugs. These are all groups that are much more likely to smoke cigarettes and therefore much more likely to suffer the harms related to smoking. There is a potential for vaping to possibly be a significant harm reduction tool in that group of people as well. I think that we need to consider that when we are talking about crafting policy to respond to this and wanting to prevent young people from starting this, we also want to give a healthier alternative to groups who are most at risk of smoking cigarettes.
DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, I have been speaking with Katharine Neill Harris with the Baker Institute. Katharine, is there a website where folks could study your report?
KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. They can go to www.bakerinstitute.org/research/vapingclearingtheair
It’s time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects. Headache; nasal ulceration; back pain; pyrexia; cough; reduction in children velocity; glaucoma; cataracts; fungal, bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections; Ocular herpes simplex; and adrenal suppression. Time’s up! The answer: from Glaxo-Smith Kline, Veramyst nasal spray for allergies.
DEAN BECKER: All right friends. Today we are going to hear from a man who has decades of experience as an activist, a grower of the cannabis plant, and a man who does many things to try to educate his fellow man and citizen to the fact that there has been a lot of lies put forth about the cannabis plant. He is also a man who has travelled the world in support of those ideas, and he is a man who was selected, elected, chosen and paid to speak around the world about the benefits of cannabis. I would like to welcome activist and entrepreneur, Mr. Paul Stanford. How are you, Sir?
PAUL STANFORD: Very well. Thank you, Dean. How are you doing?
DEAN BECKER: I am good. You are just now returning from Guadalajara, Mexico and you are at the Houston airport, right?
PAUL STANFORD: It is kind of like I am entering in to the Age of the Pandemic here at the Houston airport as it is pretty empty. I am going on to Portland and all of my flights are pretty empty, but the sole advantage is that I get free upgrades to first class because it is empty.
DEAN BECKER: Yes. Let’s talk first about the pandemic. It was a few weeks back when you were in Colombia and more recently you have been in Mexico for the second time this year, if I am not mistaken. How do you see things being handled down there in regards to this pandemic?
PAUL STANFORD: They have universal healthcare in Mexico so like Cuba, they have low cost healthcare even for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so they can access care. They haven’t had a large outbreak, it is just a small number of people who have contracted it there. I can’t tell you what that number is but it is much smaller than in the U.S., and Mexico is the largest Spanish speaking country in the world with about 175 million people.
DEAN BECKER: Are they in a state of panic as we are here in the U.S.?
PAUL STANFORD: They are a little bit worried about it but they haven’t closed down events in Mexico. In fact the event that I was at the people did not seem to be overly concerned. I think that perhaps it is overblown, I would hate to be proved wrong, though. The economic impact can’t be overblown, however and neither can the social impact.
DEAN BECKER: Sure. One of the ways that you promote the idea that cannabis is good is that you do a television show there in Portland. Do you not?
PAUL STANFORD: That is right. I have been doing a cable television show since 1996 on the Portland Cable Access Unit. They have upgraded it to a studio that is paid for by people who subscribe to cable access in the Portland, Oregon area. They have really nice state of the art facilities that they have continually upgraded over the years from analog to digital. They also changed the name several times but we have been producing an hour-long show on marijuana called, “Cannabis Common Sense” since September of 1996. It has had quite an impact over the years and we have had many, many guests that are mutual friends of ours from Doug McVay to Jack Herer and many others that will go nameless for the moment.
DEAN BECKER: That is 25 years that you have been doing that show!
PAUL STANFORD: Yes. We just did show 1,000 in the past year and we are up to about 1,025 shows now I believe.
DEAN BECKER: Well more power to you, Paul. Let’s talk about why you get these invitations to Colombia and Mexico cannabis seminars.
PAUL STANFORD: There are various events such as the Texas Hemp Convention which was all about industrial hemp in Dallas back in January. I was one of the pioneers in industrial hemp and then I have experience with medical marijuana both as a medical marijuana grower and the owner of what is the largest medical marijuana clinics in the country. We are across ten states and 60 cities with 80 contracted doctors, at its peak there were about 90 other employees. We helped 270,000 Americans from Detroit, Michigan to Honolulu, Hawaii get their medical marijuana permits. The first clinics opened in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Colorado.
DEAN BECKER: I know you are in Mexico and Colombia but it was Mexico and Colombia that was providing the marijuana we had in the 60s, 70s, and in to the 80s. Right?
PAUL STANFORD: That is exactly what I tell various audiences. Since 2016 I have gone to Mexico City eight times and this is my third time in Guadalajara in the past year. I have another booking in Puerto Vallarta for the first time in April and another one in Colombia in July. I will give a few lectures to different members who are there. This one that I just came from in Guadalajara was for two different organizations. The MediCannabis Summit and Expo was held on the main campus at the University of Guadalajara and it was a pretty spectacular to chill in. Then there was a Cannabis Cultivation seminar that I gave with a few other experts in a more relaxed setting over the weekend. They are very nice. They flew my wife and I down here and treat us like rock stars so it is kind of fun.
DEAN BECKER: I bet so.
PAUL STANFORD: I am very supportive of all of their efforts and have had various presentations at the MediCannabis Summit. They asked me to make a presentation about business entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging legal cannabis industry because Mexico is on the cusp of fully legalizing and regulating cannabis and so there are a lot of debates on the potential restrictive regulations. We have seen that in every jurisdiction in the United States and Canada so there is some concern about that. I was able to talk about everything from hemp plastic to building materials and hempcrete to hemp paper and seed oil and biodiesel and of course a variety of dispensaries and retail opportunities. I talked about how the bulldog pioneered the coffee shops in Amsterdam that are just now being closed, apparently. Marc Emery pioneered some of the cannabis (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and social consumption in Vancouver but now there are stores all over the place. My town of Portland, Oregon has more marijuana stores than Starbucks. They are everywhere and they have one about every quarter mile. There is some centralization and some of them are buying out others but there is a lot of mom and pop operations as well.
DEAN BECKER: As you can tell, Paul Stanford is speaking to us from the airport and they have an announcement going on in the background there. We are about to run out of time but Paul, I want to bring this back to cannabis expertise. Each year you grow umpteen pounds of outdoor and indoor cannabis and you give away a lot of that as medicine for the folks in your city. Right?
PAUL STANFORD: That is true. I have taken care of a lot of medical patients over the years. The rules are becoming a lot more restrictive around that and my state of Oregon is requiring every grower to get certification from the owner of the property that they have permission to use the property for growing marijuana and that has potential implications on the banks mortgages and that has a lot of people worried. It seems to be implemented by more monopoly creating lobbyists.
DEAN BECKER: Okay. I have one last area of concern and that is I know that a little over a year ago the Canadian big boys in the marijuana industry took their companies to the stock market and made hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. Their stocks have gone way down as of this point but they use those dollars they garnered from the original stock sales and they have attempted and in many cases are in fact taking over U.S. marijuana industry with those dollars. Am I right?
PAUL STANFORD: Yes. I have been a personal target of that and it is really pretty amazing. I don’t want to harp on the individual points, but I have had a group that is now Board of the Directors at the Chrono’s group attack me. They spent two million dollars to crush my work and take away – another thing I have done is put legalization of marijuana on the ballot in Oregon. We lost in 2012, which was the same time that Washington and Colorado won we came back and won in 2014. It is a long, complicated story and I will just leave it at that but it’s not just happening to me. The same people who attacked me are in every jurisdiction in the United States, Mexico, Latin America, and Canada. They have the big money behind them and in fact the Chrono’s group and their Board of Directors; Allen Fretman, Ryan Roebuck, and several others just brought in a huge investment of 1.8 billion dollars from the Altria group who are the owners of Marlboro tobacco. So I am in a battle with big tobacco and billionaires; it is pretty amazing but (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
DEAN BECKER: Well, yes. Paul, I want to thank you for your acumen, expertise, and willingness to educate folks around the world to the benefits and potentials. If you want to hook up with Paul, I urge you to go to his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/dpaulstanford. Are there other ways folks might reach you, Paul?
PAUL STANFORD: They can also go to our website at: www.crrh.org. Our television show is streamed on Friday night’s at 8 pm Pacific time at: www.facebook.com/restorehemp.
DEAN BECKER: In closing, I want to thank Katharine Neill Harris from the Baker Institute, I want to thank Paul Stanford, and I want to thank you for listening to today’s program. Once again, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful!
Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy and more than 7,000 radio programs are at www.drugtruth.net …and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.
DEAN BECKER: (03:02)
it's my privilege. I get to work with a great group of folks out at rice university, the Baker Institute folks, the drug policy group. And one of those is a mrs. Catherine, that Neil Harrison she's with us now. Hello, Katie.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (03:17)
Hi Jean. How are you?
DEAN BECKER: (03:19)
Good. I'm glad to have you with us today. Now you've been developing some excellent writing, uh, of late a couple of things I want to talk about. Um, let's first talk about your latest one, which was a, we can end the drug war to help with some of the police, uh, problems, correct? Yes. Tell us about that if you will.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (03:42)
Sure. So, you know, when we talk about police reform, there are a lot of different kinds of reforms that we need. Uh, you know, obviously, you know, increased transparency is one of those as an example, and reducing the use of, of, uh, excessive force. But the reason that the drug war I think is such a large part of that is for two reasons. And one is that the pursuit of drug arrests, uh, increases the amount of encounters that police have with citizens. So if the officers are constantly trying to arrest people for drugs and they are, you know, essentially by definition, going to be in contact with more citizens in pursuit of those drug arrests. And in 2018, there were 1.6 million drug arrests, uh, the vast majority of those referred for just possession. And so, you know, we're talking about those 1.6 million encounters right there, you know, and then we don't even know how many more encounters have occurred in pursuit of those arrests.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (04:34)
And each one of those encounters then has the potential to become hostile or potentially violent. We also know from the data that people of color blacks, especially are disproportionately likely to encounter police for drug arrests, they account for roughly 29% of drug arrests, even under, they only meet up 12% of the population, about 12% of people who use drugs. So, you know, if we, if we scale back the war on drugs, if we stop, you know, if we tell police that we no longer want them to arrest people for drugs, and we're going to reduce so many encounters just by doing that one thing. Yeah. And then I'm sorry, go ahead. I was just going to say that the other component of this is that, you know, a lot of the tactics associated with the drug war are also violent. Um, and you know, the no not raids are kind of the prime example and that's how Brianna Taylor was killed was in a no knock raid.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (05:28)
We had a knock right here in Houston that also led to the deaths and the people that were in that home. And, you know, those are, were justify in pursuit of, you know, making drum arrests, but they're, you know, very violent, um, for obvious reason that you're entering somebody who's home without announcing yourself. You know, so people don't know it's the police, they might fire and then the police returned fire. And so, um, those could be very deadly. And again, it's, it's in the pursuit of these drug arrests that really aren't doing very much in terms of public.
DEAN BECKER: (05:58)
And then you mentioned the, the situation in Houston, there was a couple, um, that, uh, the police entered that they were dressed in plain clothes. No, not just coming through the door, just a horrible shootout situation, police shooting through the walls. Um, the, both the couple were killed and for the officers, I guess wounded one another with these random shots through the walls as well. And, um, you know, there were drugs found, but it was a, I think a third of an ounce of marijuana and a little smidgen of cocaine certainly doesn't seem worthy of such a dangerous endeavor, but, but that, it's kind of an example that whenever the word drugs is mentioned, um, you know, all Katy bar, the door, you know, everybody seems to think anything is, is legitimate and necessary. Um, well, let's talk a little bit more about that situation with, uh, the blacks, if you will, you mentioned they are more likely to be stopped and frisked and so on. And, uh, I believe it was in, uh, New York city, about eight or 10 years ago, had this massive stop and frisk campaign where they would, uh, you know, just pull blacks over or stop them on the street and stop them and frisk them and look for drugs. And, uh, that nine out of 10 times there were no drugs found. And it was just an excuse of your response to that, that scenario, please, Catherine.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (07:23)
Sure. So the sub stop and frisk has actually been around for, you know, going back decades. Um, and what happened in New York city around 2002 when mayor Bloomberg took office, as they really ramped up that effort. And it was actually done on the grounds of that was that they needed to get guns off the streets. So a lot of the times the stop and frisk was based on the premise of, of finding weapons on people. And that was sort of the intent of that, of it was more for weapons than, than drugs. However, like the way that we got to that step and first policy, it sort of was the kind of culmination of drug war tactics that legitimize, that kind of policing. And then you have the situation, as you said, where, you know, 90% of people that they stopped and frisked didn't have any weapons on them.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (08:10)
And we're, you know, we're completely innocent of any kind of crime whatsoever and, you know, black and, uh, Latino and Latina, uh, residents were disproportionately stopped. Um, you know, and so I think it was in, I wanna say 2016 that, um, you know, there was a lawsuit filed against, uh, the city for that by the ACLU and the, you know, that that program has declined precipitously since then. Um, but yes, that is a very egregious example of, you know, the way that, that aggressive style of policing that again was justified by the war on drugs. And I mean, we can go back further than that as well, but you know, it sort of culminates in these, in these policies that, you know, turn out to be really problematic and also unconstitutional. Exactly.
DEAN BECKER: (08:56)
Now, Katherine, we have, um, witnessed, you know, the, the video camera has been a, uh, uh, uh, detective, if you will, it has been a means to learn more about what goes on on our city streets, of course, the, the murder of George Floyd. And then you talked about, uh, Brianna, uh, her house being raided. They, I guess there was no video of that, but it's an example of, um, police going off the rails, I guess, as a way I would phrase it that they, they just have this jihad against drug users that, um, less time, less attention, less focus is given to more violent crimes, more, um, you know, crimes that have impact rather than just somebody that they're mad at cause they're using drugs. Right?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (09:46)
Yeah. Well, I think that there's a couple different things going on, right? So, um, one of the things that that was with violent crime, usually the police response is it's a response, it's a reactive response, right? Because unless an officer witnesses, you know, um, robbery on site, for example, in our assault on site, they're usually responding to a nine 11 call and often that's how, I mean, that's how the majority of police work is done is responding to nine 11 calls. Uh, the thing with the drug offenses is that, you know, that provides more of an opportunity for police to be proactive. You know, and one example of that is sort of with these like pretext stops and then pretext stop is where an officer might, you know, pull somebody over for having an expired registration or, you know, something like that, um, with the intent of, you know, trying to search the car to find drugs.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (10:34)
Um, and so, you know, there, there has been that proactive style of policing for drugs specifically and with violent crime, it's a little harder to do that kind of proactive policing, I think. So there's just sort of a different nature of, of the job, um, in, in those ways. And then, you know, the other thing, um, with drug offenses, and this is why we kind of need to have another response other than the police is that, you know, not all police interactions with people on drugs or because, you know, they they're searching for people sometimes it's because there's a nine one one call because somebody, you know, there's, if there's either a concern that somebody who's a danger to themselves or to others, and they don't know what to do, they call the police, the police show up and, you know, somebody might be under the influence of a substance and the police don't really know how to handle it.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (11:20)
They don't really know how to deescalate the situation, especially, you know, when we talk about, uh, stimulants or hallucinogens, they don't necessarily understand the, the experience that the person is having, whether it's hallucinations or severe agitation. Um, and so, you know, deescalation from that perspective can be very difficult for them. And, uh, you know, cause they're not, they're not properly trained in it. And you know, I think that's why people are demanding. You know, that's why this kind of call for like having social workers or mental health responders for some of these calls is increasing in popularity because there's a recognition that, you know, there are some people that there has to be some sort of response to, you know, we need to do something to, to inter intervene in a situation, but it doesn't necessarily need to be the police and the police probably are not the best way to respond. And so I think that's why we're having that conversation a lot now. And I think that, you know, the increasing of, of the video footage of these things in the cell phone footage is know really putting it in a new light because I mean, these problems aren't new, right. It's just that now we have so much video evidence that people just are so repulsed by when they see it.
DEAN BECKER: (12:28)
Exactly. Right. All right. Kevin, now the, the other, uh, uh, article your second, most recent was dealing with COVID-19 and, uh, the challenge to, uh, the major model of addiction. Uh, it, it has a significant impact at this time, does it not?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (12:46)
Yeah. So you know that, and I think that's also kind of related again, to the larger topics of criminal justice and police reform is how we understand drug use more generally. Right. And so, you know, in this country, there's been a long, long history of, of moralizing it, right. And saying that people who use drugs are just, you know, bad people or weak individuals and it's, you know, their personal responsibility and that, that whole, for trope that we've had against drug use, um, more recently, we've sort of started to see this conversation shift, and it's not a new shift. I mean, you know, you can go back to the 19 hundreds of people were saying that addiction was a medical disease back then as well, but now it's sort of the newer technology we have for these very, uh, sophisticated brain imaging scans and that kind of thing.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (13:28)
Um, and also with the opioid epidemic, there's this renewed focus on talking about addiction as a brain disease. Uh, and there certainly are, you know, components of addiction that, that have physiological changes on people. Um, but I think, you know, we can't lose sight of the role that a person's environment plays in their decisions to use drugs. And I think that, you know, with COVID-19, I feel like that is going to really bring that into harsh light because they think that, you know, the way that people are struggling now, um, you know, whether or not they were using drugs and maybe stopped, or maybe they use drugs, you know, intermittently, um, and now they have, you know, more free time on their hands cause they're unemployed, or maybe they're more stressed because they're unemployed or lonely because of, you know, the social distancing that we're all trying to engage in all of these things, um, that, you know, could lead more, more people to use drugs more frequently.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (14:21)
And so, um, you know, I think we, I think that given that, that these certain, these circumstances that we have now that we need to be aware of the environmental causes of addiction. Um, and I think that also feeds directly into the conversation about criminal justice reform as well, because, you know, how do people get to the point where they're addicted and in such a crises that, you know, the police become involved? Why, why have every other, you know, tool of, you know, social assistance that we have failed so drastically that, that that's the situation that we're in?
DEAN BECKER: (14:55)
No, and, and another complication, uh, tied into all of this is the fact that I'm certain of my guests have told me that the, uh, importation of drugs has been stymied that, uh, the, um, the quality therefore of the drugs is even further diminished. And that in fact, the overdose rate is rising and it's been running right around 70,000, 72,000 for the last few years. And they're afraid that it's going to be even higher for the year 20, 20 it's it's another complication, is it?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (15:27)
Yeah, it absolutely is another complication that we're seeing the, you know, the data that was released for 2019 showed that the overdoses were higher that year, then in 2018, I think they're up to close to 73,000 was the number. And you're absolutely right that the quality of drugs has a role to play in this. And, you know, part of it is the, you know, the fentanyl that we see in the opioid supply, but also if you look at the individual drug trends, you see that methamphetamines and cocaine are increasingly implicated in overdose deaths. And so, you know, that kind of speaks to the problem of why we can't just treat this as like an opioid epidemic, because it's not just about opioids, it's about drug use in general, and the challenges with the supply. You know, if people, if there are disruptions to the drug supply that can result in one drugs that are less safe, right?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (16:13)
Because they have more additives in them. And then people who are more feeling more anxious about their drug supply, you know, which can also cause complications in terms of the way that the market works and in terms of, you know, how they choose to buy and how they choose to use. And there's, so there's so much going on there that we really haven't had a chance yet to study. Um, but certainly, you know, that the issue of safe supply is a really important one as it relates to the overdose epidemic. And, you know, one of the things that we don't do in this country, but that, you know, we should consider is providing people with a safe supply of drugs so that they don't overdose, or at the very least, if we're not going to do that, provide them with the means to test their own drugs so that they can see what they're getting. Um, you know, we, we really should start thinking in those terms, because there's nothing that we're going to be able to do. That's going to completely eradicate, you know, the drug supplier, people trying to get high. And so we, we really should be considering other options
DEAN BECKER: (17:10)
And on what people don't consider. And I guess, I don't know, 70,000 is certainly not a minuscule number as compared to the current. I think it's 160,000, uh, uh, COVID deaths as of today, if I'm correct, put it, it is, it's an ongoing thing. It's it's, um, over the years, it's, it's over a million, I'm certain, uh, over the lifetime of the drug war of people who have died because, well, I closed my radio show with the thought that be careful, you don't know what's in that bag. And that is, uh, it continues to this day because we forced people to buy an unknown, use an unknown quantity. And with the COVID, um, social distancing, as you say, now, people perhaps are using these drugs alone and, and therefore I'm more susceptible to overdosing and di your thought there, Catherine.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (18:06)
Yeah, I think that you're completely right. I think that the isolation of the pandemic, you know, not only does it increase, you know, the likelihood that some people might use more, but right. That they also might use alone. And then in that case, there's not somebody there to, you know, call nine one, one or administer Naloxone if it's an opioid overdose. And so that also, you know, as that challenge, um, so yeah, I mean, I think, again, there's, there's sort of multiple different problems that we have going on here. Um, you know, and I think at the base of it is just that, you know, we have a lot of people that, that are going to use substances and we don't provide a safe way for people to do that.
DEAN BECKER: (18:45)
Yeah, no, a couple of other guests in my series here, um, one is dr. Uh, um, Kristoff Burkey who, uh, uh, helped pioneer the Swiss heroin injection program. He tells me they've had 20 million, uh, safe injections. In other words, uh, supervised injections of pure heroin with zero overdose deaths. And another guest dr. Perry Kendall out of Canada is talking about, he wants to start purchasing heroin and providing it at cost to the citizens of Canada to help stop their overdose crisis. Common sense as a lot to do with this, does it not?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (19:27)
It does. Uh, and what you see in other countries is a very pragmatic approach to this problem. Uh, we don't have that in the U S we just, we never have, um, you know, we have a hundred years over a hundred years of sort of this criminalization approach to drug use. And, uh, it's a really difficult thing to change the, you know, not only is it the policies, but it's also just the sort of ingrained cultural response that we have to drug use. Um, we've seen that change a lot with marijuana. Uh, and I think that that is just partly because so many people, you know, eventually had tried smoking, you know, themselves or knew someone that did. And so, you know, we really started to see the change in public opinion on that issue. Um, with other drugs, we just haven't seen that. And that's probably because, you know, it's a small segment of the population that uses them.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (20:15)
Um, but you know, with PR with prescription opioids and the opioid epidemic, what you have there is, you know, a changing, uh, you know, understanding and perception of opioid use, especially when it's related to the prescription pills. That's because so many people can relate. They say, well, you know, I've gotten Vicodin for, uh, you know, back pain or, you know, tooth getting cold, you know, or whatever. And so it's something that they can relate to. Um, and so they're, you know, not to mention, at least in the beginning of this, of the epidemic, you know, the majority of overdose victims were white and that has also a lot to do with sort of the narrative. Um, but the point there is just that, you know, we, we need to change the culture and the understanding around drug use so that we can have that pragmatic conversation that, that you're seeing in other countries. Um, and that they've been doing so well for, for so much longer.
DEAN BECKER: (21:03)
I tell you what, Kevin, I might just leave it right there. I think that might be a good ending. Uh, we, we covered those, those two, uh, writings, I guess. I, I, um, I don't know what else to say other than, you know, we own the moral high ground. Uh, one thing I almost forgot. Um, you touched on it, you, you, you mentioned the heart of it, that this has not exactly been a moral, uh, scenario. We would, this is more a vindictive process. Like you say, set in place a hundred years ago to, to go after the people who use drugs as if they were demons, so to speak. Um, but do you, do you currently think there is anything that is moral about this drug war?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (21:54)
No, there's not. Um, I think at this point, you know, it was, it's been racially motivated from the beginning. And I think that now we're in a situation where, you know, there's the, the racial component of it is still there. And then there's also the fact that, you know, a lot of people that are, you know, in elected office, I mean, for one thing, they're just sort of, they are not interested in hearing information that doesn't comport with their worldview or their understanding. And I also think that for a lot of them, it's politically expedient to sort of continue this, the idea of fear around certain things. And we see that, you know, with some of the rhetoric that president Trump has had around, Well, you know, drink urinals and, um, there's a, there's a political
DEAN BECKER: (22:40)
President Trump has had around, and then you froze.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (22:43)
Yeah. So I said, uh, you know, there's, there's a political advantage, right. To have of, of, uh, you know, playing on the fears that some people have and, and connecting drug use and crime to those fears is an old, old tactic. And we still see it continuing today. And you see some of it in president Trump's rhetoric about cartel, violent cartels from Mexico and drug trafficking. And so, you know, I think for some people that are in elected office, you know, it doesn't really matter if you show them evidence that, you know, needle exchange programs, you know, cut down on the spread of HIV, or if you show them that drug arrest, you know, disproportionately affect black communities. That's not that those aren't really things that they care about. They care about getting reelected. And so, you know, they don't, they still don't want to look soft on crime or soft on drugs. And again, it's, it's politically advantageous for them to kind of have the, to be able to play on the fear of some of their constituents. And I just, I think that's just an unfortunate reality of the situation,
DEAN BECKER: (23:43)
Right? They, they like to claim that moral high ground, despite all the evidence to the contrary. And, and one of the hopes is that this, um, special will somehow circulate perculate make it to the office of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. And to what would you say to them, how would you challenge them to face down this, this issue?
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (24:08)
Well, I mean, I would say that, you know, let's, let's look at the evidence, let's look at the scientific evidence about drugs and about drug use. Let's look at the damage of the war on drugs, and let's look at the trade offs there. You know, if you do a purely cost benefit analysis and look at the, you know, the cost of provision versus the benefits, I mean, it's not, it's not a difficult decision if you take out the political calculations, you know, in the, in the moralizing rhetoric. Um, again, I, like I said, I think that we're going to need more than that for this to change. I think that we really do need a broader conversation about drug use. And just to kind of give you an example of what I mean, you know, with the around COVID, I'm hearing a whole lot of conversations about mental health and I hear it, and I think it's great.
KATHERINE NEILL HARRIS: (24:53)
I, we, you know, I hear it on the radio. I see it in the paper, you know, people talking about like, you know, the, the concerns around mental health and the concerns around people staying well and during this crisis. Um, but what is often not mentioned as part of that is drug and alcohol use. And that has to be part of the conversation. I think that we really need to normalize it as a response that people have as a coping mechanism, so that it's not such a stigmatized behavior. And so that we start to understand the reality of it. Um, because still, you know, other than marijuana, when we talk about other drugs, you know, the, the continued narrative is that, you know, you use and, you know, maybe you had your life together and then everything falls apart, you know, and you're living on the streets. I mean, that's still the narrative that we tell people. And that's true for some, for some people that does happen, but that's not the majority. And so, you know, I really think that, that there has to be this broader shift in that conversation in order for people to be more willing, to listen to all of this evidence that we have, and that we know exists about, you know, the benefits of a harm reduction approach and decriminalization.