02/05/12 Jerry Epstein

Jerry Epstein, Pres of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas + Denise Cullen of Broken-No-More re children's overdose prevention

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Jerry Epstein
Drug Policy Forum of Texas



Cultural Baggage / February 5, 2012


Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I have with us in studio a gentleman who inspired me many years ago to become more of an activist, to educate myself and to go about changing people’s ideas and attitudes and drug laws. With that I want to welcome the president of Drug Policy Forum of Texas, Mr. Jerry Epstein. How are you doing?

JERRY EPSTEIN: I’m doing fine, Dean. Thank you.

DEAN BECKER: You know when I came to you guys I was going to start some kind of drug reform outfit and lo and behold you’d already done it. You’ve been at this since about ’95, right?

JERRY EPSTEIN: That’s right.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us what inspired you. What got you motivated to help start up that drug policy forum.

JERRY EPSTEIN: Basically I got a phone call from someone who had read a piece I wrote and it turned out he was one of the biggest experts on drugs in the country – Dr. G. Alan Robinson, National Academy of Sciences award winner and so forth.

He said, “I like what you wrote. Let’s see if we can do something about it.”

We were both getting to retirement ages and I haven’t gotten to retire yet.

[both chuckle]

But at any rate that was the inception. We wanted to try to reach a situation where at least there was scientific accuracy in the debate and where we could open the doors and actually discuss it in public without people getting so upset because you had different ideas about what was going on.

Of course maybe the real background was the fact that I’m old enough now that my parents were born when all drugs were legal. So my grandparents lived for decades when heroin, cocaine were advertised in all the newspapers and so forth and so on and it was a lot better then than it is now. I can tell you that much.

DEAN BECKER: One of the people I was privileged to talk to while he was still alive was Professor Milton Friedman and he was old enough to have been alive when drugs were legal. He spoke very forthrightly, very boldly about the need to change our laws, our perspective and the way we go about all this. He knew there was a better way.

JERRY EPSTEIN: He’s been a model for a lot of my thinking. I think he had the right ethical concepts. As a Nobel Prize winning economist he keeps reminding you that supply equals demand. If there’s a demand for the drug it’s going to be there.

So you start your thinking with the premise that drugs are always going to be with us. Now the question that always faces the public then is do you want them with cartels and drug dealers or do you want them without cartels and drug dealers. It just seems kind of bizarre to me to think that we would think our children, our communities and our country would be safer if only we would trust the drug dealers rather than the doctors which is what the current system suggests.

DEAN BECKER: It is a preposterous notion, a preposterous belief that we live under. That these law enforcement and criminal justice officials tout the need for ever escalating drug war, longer sentences and lesser thresholds of possession and so forth that fills the jails and costs us…well, some say over a trillion. I’ve heard as much as 2 and a half trillion to wage this drug war.

JERRY EPSTEIN: It’s hard to know how much it is, Dean. It’s certainly a huge amount of money. The point of my current research which I’m doing with Dr. William Martin from the Baker Institute at Rice is to try and show how very little we gain from what we attempt to do. If you understand addiction you will understand that the drug war is not relevant to the problem.

So we spend all this money and create all the crime, violence and corruption but we get nothing in return.

DEAN BECKER: The Drug Czar and even more recently I had the District Attorney Pat Lykos in here and she talked about the horrors that are inflicted by substance abuse. She included alcohol and hard drugs…

JERRY EPSTEIN: Well, good for her.

DEAN BECKER: It’s very true but the fact of the matter is some significant percentage - I think it’s 5 out 6 of those problems - are created by alcohol use. Is that about right?

JERRY EPSTEIN: The fascinating thing is I read in the Dallas Morning News article by the Drug Czar and he was beginning to talk about all the crisis we have with Mexico and the drug gangs and all the problems. In about the third sentence he said the problem is that we have about 23 million substance abuse or substance dependent people and we have a drug war because we don’t want to see that number go up and up.

That caught my attention since it happens to be a set of facts that I know a lot about. I was kind of anxious to see what he would have to say in the rest of the article. He never said a word about those statistics.

I know that the numbers he used show that of those 23 million people that have a drug problem – 19 million of them have a problem with alcohol abuse and addiction. When I reached the end of the article the word alcohol had never appeared a single time in the entire article.

We are so far removed from understanding the nature of the problem in terms of quantity of the number of people involved because we read only about the worst of the worst and you only need 365 stories to be able to run a story every day of the year.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah and that’s about what it averages.

JERRY EPSTEIN: They would like to make the case that because they make a given number of arrests or given number of seizures or they arrest a cartel person that that contributed to something significant. Two different threads of thought here.

One is just about getting cartel people. We have found many instances in which the information that allowed them to get the cartel comes from another cartel. We’ve seen it even in the city at local levels like the big scandal out in L.A. Most of the time you will never know that is the circumstance.

Even if he’s an honest policeman the fact is if he takes some gang, cartel off the street – somebody’s going to fill the gap because Milton Friedman has told us that the supply is equal to demand and they will find a way.

The other thing is that we have a measure for our ability to stop supply, in my opinion. It is the government research that has been done since 1975. Nearly everyone is concerned about what would be the level of drugs in our schools. These particular studies have gone on every year. We talk to teenagers from 8t h, 10t h and 12t h grades.

The two sentence summary from that information is that any kind has been able to get any drug that they wanted if they just asked a few of their classmates. But we also have a situation where when we compare the kids who tell us these drugs are easy to get we find out that the number of kids who know the drug is easy to get is hugely greater than the number that actually use the drugs.

So we have been flooded with available drugs for our kids and we not only get the drugs but now we have roughly one million teenage drug sellers. That’s almost 1 for every classroom in America. They in turn want to protect it so we have a similar number that carry guns from time to time so you get that atmosphere.

Now a kid can protect himself from drugs if he just chooses to say no but how do you protect yourself from accidental or deliberate or an atmosphere of crime, violence with guns present?

So I think we’re shooting our self in the foot.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed we are. You’re listening to Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. We have with us in studio Mr. Jerry Epstein, the president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas.

Jerry, you were talking about the implications. What it means that one cartel is focused on it and if you take out the leader a bunch of the henchmen of the other cartel thrives. It’s just an endless game, isn’t it?

JERRY EPSTEIN: It happens all the way from neighborhood controls to the very top. We have a long record of that. When we destroyed the leadership in Colombia – which basically was a two cartel competition – a lot of the information that led to the death of one group of people in Colombia and we wound up with something like 200 mini-cartels. That turns out to be an even bigger problem for law enforcement to contend with. You can’t infiltrate 200 organizations to try to figure out where the drugs are coming from.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah and the fact of the matter is that yes the paramilitary and the other factions in Colombia their power has diminished over the years but it hasn’t gone away. The fact of the matter is even if they’re not involved in military exercise they’re still involved in moving that cocaine.

JERRY EPSTEIN: It’s like the money got so big that both political sides kind of agreed to split it up. It’s been a really sad situation and, of course, we’re seeing the hugely violent thing that’s brought Mexico to its knees.

I saw that last week in Ciudad Juarez they took the entire 2,500 police force and put it into hotels because the cartels had announced that they were going to break into their homes and kill them. They had done that to 5 people and they said they were going to do it every day until the person who was opposing them, the chief of police there, resigned. I don’t know what the latest development is from that.

I do know that the corrupting influence of money has been a huge concern and is very real. That’s quite legal. That comes from law abuse. That comes from LEAA grants to police forces to have SWAT teams and so forth to allow them to get beyond local control.

There is a lot of….you’ve probably told the stories of the California Prison Association and how they influence elections. One of the more interesting things about that is that Nixon commissioned a national commission in 1972, our only national commission on our overall drug policy, and one of the things they said was that there was so much money being carved up by legitimate interests that they were afraid that we would never solve the problem. The amount of money that so scared them back in 1973 when the report came out is maybe a fiftieth or a hundredth of what is involved now.

If they felt levels of the corruption in the process of keeping the whole thing going was that great then certainly it must be much greater now because there’s so much more money.

DEAN BECKER: I’m here with Mr. Jerry Epstein. He’s the president of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas.

Jerry, we’ve got just a couple minutes left and I want to turn it over to you. Your website is chalk full of information that can educate people and hopefully embolden them to do something about this.

JERRY EPSTEIN: We just invite everyone to look at the website. It is http://dpft.org. There is a section in the upper left menu called drug addiction in America. We invite everybody that’s interested in knowing what the actual data is about drug abuse in the United States.

It may become a great deal more evident of why a drug war does not really have anything to do with our drug problem of substance. Basically we know that nearly all of the drug problems are in one drug, alcohol. Obviously the drug war has nothing to do with that.

We know the single thing that changes drug use rates more than anything else is becoming age 18 and going to age 21. I don’t think we’re going to be able to pass a law to stop people from growing older. We know that recover from drug abuse is very frequent and that tends to kick in around age 21 and very strong to age 26 about half of the problems disappear. Again, nobody is going to stop people from just growing up and maturing out of a lot of the problems.

We know further that our whole strategy is based on keeping drugs away from people but we know there are very few people who cause problems and it’s easy to supply that. Our schools are flooded with drugs. To the extent that we can actually stop someone from getting it, we find out that they have always had an alcohol problem in their history so it’s easy for them to switch to alcohol should there ever be a shortage – which there really never has been.

Finally, what we know is that drug abuse comes in small, medium and large – mild, moderate and severe. The most severe cases, the type of cases that you read about are about 7% of the total involvement of the population – we know that the roots of that are frequently there at birth.

We know that we can see the signs and symbols of it and the actions before any drug is ever used. If we could do it, a very difficult thing, but if we can – the best times to interfere start with good prenatal care for everyone. It continues in trying to locate the children who have been abused before they’re ever 5-years-old.

We have to try and do a better job of protecting kids who can’t protect themselves – 2, 3, 4 and 5-years-old. If we do that extremely difficult job better and we have more resources put into that rather than building more prisons – the payoff later in life will be enormous.

DEAN BECKER: That’s some strong advice, strong, powerful words. The fact of the matter is that, again, whether it’s one trillion or two and a half trillion – if we had invested that in education, prenatal support and all the benefits to health rather than locking people up - which we all know is not good for your health or your mental attitude once you get out ….

JERRY EPSTEIN: The mental states which is a sense of isolation, separation from society, inability to deal with stress – those things just make it worse when you bring coercion into the problem.

I can still remember a wonderful speech that I’ve read from Abraham Lincoln in 1842. He said if you want to solve this type of problem first be their sincere friend. I don’t think putting people in prison is the equivalent of the social response.

DEAN BECKER: No, it’s sure not. Jerry, we’re going to have to wrap it up. Please share your website with us.

JERRY EPSTEIN: http://dpft.org. You might want to pay special attention to drug abuse in America. You can contact me personally for info at DPFT. I’ll be glad to answer any questions you might have.

DEAN BECKER: Stay tuned for an interview with Denise Cullen.


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DENISE CULLEN: My name is Denise Cullen. My husband Gary Cullen and I are the founders of Broken No More named after our son because he used to call himself broken. And that is the drug policy arm of our organization.

Within that is a grieving group and that’s called GRASP – Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. We did not start that organization. Another couple did years ago but we took it over January 1st, 2010. Since that time we have created a Facebook, online support for those who can’t get to a group. We’ve also increased the number of active groups from 4 to nearly 50 across the country.

DEAN BECKER: It’s just a tough question for me to ask. Tell us about your son and what led you to this organization.

DENISE CULLEN: Our son, Jeff, died of an accidental overdose three years and six months ago tomorrow. He had a 12 year struggle with substance abuse and Attention Deficit Disorder. We tried everything, as a family, never did the tough love thing. He tried everything.

He would just relapse and get arrested - always minor and nonviolent offenses. He was in jail three times. The longest time was 4 months. He died 2 days after getting out of jail on that 4 month charge.

He was our only child and the love of our life and we just can’t have his death be in vain. His life was never in vain. He touched everyone that he knew. He was very loved and a very important person on this earth and now he’s gone.

Since that time we have learned that so many, many other people have been through the exact same thing that we have and we’re just trying to offer help to them. We do this in Jeff’s memory and his honor and feel him working side by side with us.

DEAN BECKER: The fact of the matter is that many parents or relatives of those who overdose somehow endorse or further support the drug war but that’s not the path you’ve chosen. Tell us why.

DENISE CULLEN: No because it doesn’t work. It’s obviously failed. It’s all a money making industry for other people and it doesn’t help. Every system that we encountered – and we tried everything…I’m a licensed clinical social worker. I’ve worked with people addicted to drugs in my work because I work in HIV and end-stage AIDS for many years at a university hospital.

Every system that we tried to get help from did nothing but make things worse for our son which made him feel like a failure and unworthy. I would talk to him about what he needed to do and maybe we should try this or address his Attention Deficit which is very connected in some people to addictive illness and the frontal lobe of their brain. He didn’t want to do that.

He said, “Mom, I’m just a junkie.”

They brainwashed him into feeling he was unworthy. I have a picture of him with his first surfboard with a DARE shirt. The irony is just incredible.

We believe that anybody with addictive illness needs to be treated as…their disease needs to be treated as a public health issue not a criminal issue. The criminal justice system should not be involved in this issue at all. Not drug court – not anything.

We just feel so strongly about that. How many lives would be saved if this was happening and how much would be improved if we had harm reduction methods out there to teach people and to help them instead of scaring them and teaching kids the right information.

As far as people that use drugs…I don’t use drugs but people who use drugs who are of age and adult and smoke marijuana…to me, alcohol and cigarettes are worse.

Prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and it’s not working with any drugs. It’s also an issue of personal liberty. That isn’t the main focus for us. We’re parents who have suffered the ultimate loss of our only child. We won’t stop until this is changed. I feel that it is moving in the right direction.

DEAN BECKER: We’re speaking with Denise Cullen. She and her husband, Gary, have set about changing things, rearranging the framework around which we deal with the subject of drug use.

You are involved with a couple of organizations and some events are forthcoming. Please tell us about those.

DENISE CULLEN: The first one is the work we do with a New PATH (Parents for Addiction and Healing). That is run by Gretchen Burns Bergman and is based out of San Diego, California. From that organization which has been around for 13 years as a non-profit we are founding partners. We being Broken No More, my husband and I, of Moms United to End the War on Drugs.

We’ve done a lot of things so far and I’ve testified in front of the Senate and Assembly on some issues.

With Moms United the first thing that’s happening is we’re doing a Moms Advocacy 101 Training. That’s March 3r d in Irvine, California. It’s a Saturday from 9:30 to 12:30. It’s basically to learn the grassroots advocacy tools, learn how to promote policy of harm reduction and restorative justice, Learn how to be effective in enlisting support from neighbors and family, Develop skills in talking to legislators and the media, Hone ability to tell your story in order to advocate for sane drug policy and Practice talking points of Moms United to End the War on Drugs mission. That’s the first thing that’s happening.

We’re starting an Orange County, California grass group which is amazing because there’s such a problem there with overdose and we haven’t been able to get a group going. That’s my hometown. That’s where my son died. He was born and lived his entire life there and he died there.

That’ll be February 15t h. I’ll be co-facilitating that until I can get the other facilitator off the ground.

Our biggest event that we’re having is March 29t h to April 1s t. We’re having a GRASP retreat. That is for all of our members. People who go to face-to-face groups and the people who are on Facebook. We have 1,129 members on Facebook within less than 2 years.

That’s going to involve getting to know each other, the people they’ve been talking to and we feel like we’re a family. We know each other’s kids. We know what they like. We know their favorite colors. We know their birthdays, the day they died. All of that and we have never met in person.

We have an agenda for a lot of the moms who want to become advocates or activists. We’re going to be talking about challenges in traditional drug treatment and harm reduction. Gretchen and Julie may be speaking. Myself and another mom are going to be doing a grief coping and journaling workshop. Then we’ll be having Megan Rolsten and Stephen Gutwilllg from the Drug Policy Alliance, who are partially funding this for us, talking about Good Samaritan 911, Naloxoen response to overdose, prevention and reality-based education – instead of scaring kids, teaching them the truth. Then we’ll be having an advocacy training there for media, legislative, community and school and talk about crafting your story and just kind of introduce these mostly moms, mostly parents but we’re open to anybody who’s lost somebody they’ve loved…friends, siblings – you know, we’re aren’t exclusive since we’ve been excluded enough.

Anybody who comes that wants to become involved we’re trying to help get them on that path. We’re really excited about that. It’s going to be in Tampa, Florida.

DEAN BECKER: Please share a website where folks can learn more details.

DENISE CULLEN: http://www.grasphelp.org. our organization that’s more focused on drug policy issues is http://www.broken-no-more.org. Each website links to the other.


DEAN BECKER: That’s about it. Please remember that because of prohibition – you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.