03/23/14 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

DTN reporter Doug McVay summarizes The Commission on Narcotic Drugs situation which is holding its 57th annual session this
week in Vienna. Featuring audio from Eliot Albers of INPUD, Allison Crocket of UNAIDS, and Russell Brand!

Audio file


Century of Lies March 23, 2014


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DOUG McVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I’m your guest host, Doug McVay, editor of http://drugwarfacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network and is brought to you through radio station KPFT in Houston, Texas.

Find us on the web at http://drugtruth.net where you can find past programs and you can subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter where I’m @drugpolicyfacts and also @dougmcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook so be sure to give our page a like. You can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well so please give us a like and share it with friends.

This week is part 2 of our coverage of the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs 57th Annual Session. The purpose of this high level review was to go over and approve a “political declaration and plan of action on international cooperation towards and integrated and balanced strategy to counter the world drug problem”

From March 12 through the 21st representatives of various international governments and UN agencies met in Vienna, Austria. They were joined by representatives of accredited non-governmental organizations who were there to represent civil society. Last week I gave you some background on CND and the Vienna Organizing Committee (VNGOC) and we heard from a couple national delegates and the deputy secretary general of the UN.

This week we’ll hear more from civil society and UN agencies and we’ll look ahead at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs planned for 2016.

So let’s get straight to it. First up is Eliot Ross Albers representing the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD) speaking on the 12th before the VNGOC.


ANNOUNCER: Our next speaker is Mr. Eliot Ross Albers who is representing the International Network of People Who Use Drugs.

ELIOT ALBERS: I am especially pleased to be here in that the community most severely impacted on by repressive drug law is being given space to speak in this forum.

We’ve heard a lot about health and I very much welcome that. It is about time that we set up and hear about health here in Vienna. I want to talk about rights. I want to talk about human rights and I want to talk about the relationships between aberrations of rights and drug control law.

Over the last few years it has become increasingly what would be recognized – at least in some circles – that two bodies of international law (namely human rights on the one hand and drug control are on the other) exist in what are called parallel universes.

Professor Paul Hunt when he was UN Special Repator obtained the highest standard of health made this comment and in a report he also noted that this widespread systemic abuse of human rights is especially shocking because drug use includes people who are the most vulnerable, most marginal in society. Despite the scale of the abuse, despite the vulnerability there is no public outrage, no public outcry, no public inquires. On the contrary the long reaching of abuse scarcely attracts disapproval. Sometimes it receives public support. That, indeed, was the finding of a report done by an Australian organization. They found that for many people stigmatizing people who use drugs was, in fact, a positive thing.

To be explicit then the pursuit of repressive drug control in the name of the War on Drugs is inexorably driven rampant human rights abuse against people who use drugs and their communities. Not one set of international laws systemically driving reach to another is increasingly untenable situation.

While there is no higher active legal systems it is arguable that human rights law and the principles upon which it is based – principles which are defined as indivisible, inalienable and universal – should unequivocally trample the pursuit of another set of laws that are producing such gross violations. When the pursuit of drug control becomes a driver of widespread human rights abuses on what is unquestionably a massive scale it is without doubt time to call for thorough review of those laws.

As the Global Commission on Drug Policy put in their report looking at Hepatitis, “Instead of investing in effective prevention and treatment programs to achieve the required coverage governments continue to waste billions of dollars per year on arresting and punishing drug users – a gross misallocation of limited resources which could be more efficiently used for public health and preventive approaches. At the same time repressive drug policies have fueled the stigmatization, discrimination and mass incarceration of people who use drugs.”

This passage makes clear the mechanism for repressive drug control policies drive and produce violations to human rights of people who use drugs. Throughout the proceeds of drug control the maintenance of what is called punitive prohibition and the war on people who use drugs is, indeed, driving such breaches. It is now, I think, beyond question.

We need to find the proceeds of public policy defined by both national and international law as the war you are going to produce war casualties and arguably unintended and, in this case, decidedly negative consequences.

In response to this war we are calling for a peace. We are calling for amnesty for drug war prisoners, an end to the violence and rights’ violations that have been heaped upon our community. We are calling for an intelligent and open debate on alternatives.

The state of war in which we are living is one waged in the name of morality, of social order and in defense of the right of the state to control the body of its citizens.

It can no longer be claimed that human rights violations occurring in the name of the War on Drugs are aberrations. They are rather a logical consequence of the pursuit of this war. As such we call upon the human rights community and society at large not to remain silent but to join us in calling for an end to the War on Drugs and an end to the war on our communities and an end to the stigmatization, marginalization, discrimination and structural violence that it has entailed.

These conditions have fostered an environment to which people who use and particularly people who inject drugs have suffered systemic denial to their rights to health, to privacy, to turpitude of the body and mind and to be free from discrimination, torture, cruel and degrading and inhuman treatment and to liberty.

The deep stigma that people who use drugs are subject to has seen us denied access to proper health services including access to sterile needles, opiate substitution programs and treatment for HIV and Hepatitis C, to education and the right to vote, denied the right to enter, stay and reside in numerous countries, has seen us thrown to jails, prisons and forced detoxification centers that are nothing more than forced labor camps. It has seen us denied access to our children and subject to corporal and capital punishment.

All of this to what is in reality a victimless crime for you will argue that what drugs an adult chooses to use should not be the business of the police or judicial authorities or that of any other agent of the state. But it has become so as an epidemic of imprisonment, incarceration, denial of proper medical care and ill treatment that defies and makes a mockery of human rights.

The extent of the human rights violations to people who use drugs is extensive. Beyond criminalization of drug use and possession which is in of itself legally [inaudible] violation of the right not to be interfered with or to privacy in terms of what drugs one chooses to use. These violations range from and include the hundreds of thousands of actual or suspected drug users turning to drug detention or rehabilitation centers in Southeast Asia with torture, forced labor, abuse, violence and degradation of the norm.

The prisons in the USA, in Russia and in other countries that are filled with non-violent drugs offenders with a disproportionately large number of those in the USA being people of color – African Americans and Latinos – do not have access to health care. Most notably do not have access to HIV and Hepatitis C care, the denial of our agency and the ability to make decisions about our well-being and arbitrary police violence and harassment.

The war on the people who use drugs has fallen most heavily on minorities – the poor and women who use drugs. These multiple markers of stigma and exclusion has fueled mass incarceration, sometimes forced sterilization, police victimization and violence and they have actively driven the twin epidemics of HIV and viral Hepatitis amongst those of our community.

This tidal wave of flagrant systemically driven human rights abuses must be brought to an end and the only way to do so is to attack the problematic route. In this case this means calling for a thorough overhaul. The 3 UN conventions that together comprise the global regime of drug prohibition. Superficial redress and minor reform or tinkering will not stop the flow of systemic rights abuses as I have described but a direct to the people who use drugs, their families and their communities.

Only the end to the war on people who use drugs through international legal reform will suffice to end this pampulpy of rights violations. To ensure that this war ends we are calling upon human rights defenders and advocates to join with drug user activists, harm reduction and drug law reform advocates in working to ensure that the architecture of global prohibition is firmly on the table at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016.

Thank you.


DOUG McVAY: Now let’s hear from the World Health Organization and the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights speaking at the plenary session.


SPEAKER: I would like to invite Miss Allison Crockett who will deliver a statement on behalf of the Secretary of Director of UN 8.

ALLISON CROCKETT: Thank you very much. I will be delivering two interventions – one on behalf of Ms. Navi Pillay who is the High Commissioner for Human Rights and this one is from Michelle Ceti By, my director of UN8.

Amazing progress you will be glad to know has been found in the AIDS response. After three decades we’ve seen amazing progress. Today almost 12 million people with HIV are accessing lifesaving treatment. Drug regiments have been simplified. The price of antiviral drugs has dropped and antiviral treatment is easier to take and adhere to.
AIDS that lead to death continues to fall although not for injecting drug users.

Major reductions in new HIV infections in almost all parts of the world except two regions where transmission is dominated by injecting drug use. But we cannot achieve an AIDS free generation unless and until we reach the most marginalized with effective, compassionate services and policies. Calls to make the end of AIDS a goal proposed to [inaudible] will be pointless if we cannot halt and reverse the HIV epidemic amongst people who use drugs.

Mr. Chair, the latest data does not give us hope. In 2011 all member states agreed a bold commitment and the UN General Assembly High Level declaration to reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015. Today we are afraid that this is one of the only targets that we will miss with grave consequences for the global AIDS response and our mutual accountability.

We cannot prolong inhumane policies that divide people into groups that are deserving and undeserving of our help. We need to convince policy makers to fulfill their commitments.

Mr. Chair, the magnitude of the problem as we are all aware is significant. Globally at least 158 countries reported injecting drug use and 120 have reported epidemics of HIV amongst people who inject drugs. 13% of them are already infected with HIV and more than 60% are also living with Hepatitis C.

Although people who inject drugs account for only .2 to .5% of the world’s population they make up approximately 5 to 10% of all the people living with HIV. But, Mr. Chair, we are still trying to measure this – all our progress in the dark.

If we take the 4 largest countries representing 45% of the global injecting population we have only data from 2 – China and Brazil. Without data from Russia and the United States it is difficult to make accurate global estimates of our progress.

Mr. Chair, the time for debate is over and it is time to act. It is the mandate of UNODC to implement the 8 UHO UNODC UN AIDS comprehensive packages for services for people who take drugs. These include 9 essential services including needle exchange programs and opiate substitution therapy. We know they are effective in halting the epidemic in people who inject drugs.

We have all the data to demonstrate that in combination with antiviral therapy these services reduce HIV transmission, decrease mortality, reduce crime and public disorder and improve the quality of life for those people affected. UNODC is working with countries and many partners in state...

[mic switched to foreign language speaker]

Many countries less than 1% of people living with HIV who inject drugs have access to HIV treatment. In an era where HIV should be a chronic manageable disease this is a scandal. No country should neglect the commitments that they have unanimously agreed to in the UN General Assembly in 2011. We cannot allow people who inject drugs to be punished, abused, or left behind in our goal to end AIDS.

This is not just a public health issue. This is also an issue of human rights and this is why the UN AIDS Joint Program issued a formal statement in 2012, for instance, calling for the closure of compulsory drug detention centers. The very existence of such centers represents a violation of human rights. They threaten the health of detainees and contribute to the spread of HIV and tuberculosis. Despite this call we are concerned that several countries continue to maintain such centers.

We in the HIV Response have worked for decades to end mandatory HIV testing as it constitutes a serious violation of human rights. Mandatory drug testing is equally unacceptable and, as such, we would call to member states to end mandatory drug testing. It is not effective in reducing the demand for drugs nor is it cost effective. Indeed, it only drives people who use drugs further underground and out of reach of life-saving information and services.

In addition we add our voice to those who have already spoken at this session to call for an end of the death penalty for drugs offenses. Mr. Chair, the criminalization of millions of people for minor drug offenses exacerbates vulnerability to HIV infection and does little to protect society from the health and social harms caused by drug dependence.

Such punitive approaches have only filled prisons around the world. In jail and prison people are even more vulnerable to infection of HIV, tuberculosis and Hepatitis C. Punitive law enforcement clearly undermines the HIV Response. When the possession of a syringe and even traces of an amount of drug is considered to be drug possession health workers struggle to engage meaningfully with injecting drug users.

Where police compensation and performance is based on the number of arrests police often target health facilities that serve drug users to meet their quotas. We must work towards transforming laws and law enforcement officials to become bridges to connect people who use drugs to life-saving health services.

We hope, Mr. Chair, that this session will finally consider an approach that treats drug dependency as an illness and not a crime, that makes harm reduction available everywhere and avoids prison sentences for non-violent, victimless crimes.

Together these steps will be a massive jump towards ending AIDS and much closer to a more just and humane world.

Mr. Chair, so let us unite the power of the AIDS movement and the international movement for drug control to address these issues and to complete this task.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.


DOUG McVAY: And now let’s wrap with some words from the actor and comedian Russell Brand. Brand appeared on the 19th at a press conference at the UN Center in Vienna which had been organized by the International Drug Policy Consortium. He kept it clean for the cameras so here he is.


RUSSELL BRAND: We all want a solution. I’m not saying that people who use drugs should be kashed and lifted off but let people do what they want. I’m into personal freedom if it is not a problem then it is not a problem but what where I have a constituency and where I have personal experience is people that are using drugs to deal with emotional, spiritual, personal issues and those are the people that I can most clearly represent.

Of course I’m interested in your personal human rights the same way that I’m interested in everybody’s personal and human rights and to pursue happiness in whatever whacky, crazy way as long as they don’t harm nobody else. For me the bigger problem is ...the serious issue is people are getting butchered left and right over in Mexico. People are getting hung in Pakistan and all over Malaysia for something that is not a moral issue. It’s not a moral issue. It is a health issue.

We got to focus on that. We can’t get caught up in infighting all that [inaudible].

SPEAKER: Time is such that we have time for two more questions...the gentleman at the back here and the lady at the back there have been waiting.

DONALD McFERSON: Donald McFerson with the Canadian Drug Policy News. Vancouver, Canada had a serious health disaster during the 90s with overdose crisis and injection drug use crisis and an epidemic of HIV among injection drug users. One of the responses to putting in place a comprehensive approach to health-based approach was the implementation of North America’s first supervised injection room.

I noticed in the past year you visited that and I was wondering if you would say a few words about your visit there.

RUSSELL BRAND: I’ve got nothing but respect for Liz Evans and the Insite program which is a harm reduction program. She’s provided safe places for people to use intravenous drugs and also gave them access to recovery. She described it as a low-entry point model where it was accessible to everyone. I believe there’s some top hocus-pocus financial indiscrepancy being investigated. It is part of what I would describe as a global conspiracy to criminalize anyone who wants to make a social advance in the area of addiction and drug using and now Liz has lost her job and her facility and it’s been taken over by the government which I would imagine fully as a first step of annihilating the facility.

I see the work that they did there. I can see why it might be a threat to conservative government. There were interested in social enterprise. They were interested in inclusion. They were interested in compassion and tolerance and helping people who have a problem to get better and as our man here who is one of the most motivated drug addict I’ve ever met continues to say that if people just want to use drugs than let them.

I can see that’s a threat to the core values of a society that needs continually to have scapegoats to persecute, prosecute, galvanize voters in a nearly broad consensus.

She was wicked. I totally support her and I wish I could do more for her.

SPEAKER: OK and the final question to the lady over on the left.

LISA CAMPBELL: Hi. My name is Lisa Campbell. I’m also from Canada – Canadians for Sensible Drug Policy. We really appreciate your support of Insite.

I just wanted to ask you about your opinion on cannabis legalization and if we should take a similar approach to legalize and regulate other drugs?

RUSSELL BRAND: Completely agree with the legalization of cannabis and I think we should legalize and regulate all other drugs. That’s what I think should happen globally as quickly as possible. We shouldn’t wait for two years. We should get on with it and do it now.

I don’t know how you push these things through. I’m sure there is some paperwork there.

SPEAKER: I’m sure I’m safe in saying that’s the first time we’ve heard that in these rooms.

OK. We will take one more question because a very esteemed colleague has pointed me that way. Sir, you have a very short question?

JIM CLEARY: Jim Cleary from the University of Wisconsin. Some 6 billion people are without simple pain relief because of the collateral damage of the War on Drugs. Could you comment, Russell?

RUSSELL BRAND: It is a serious consequence of this War on Drugs. Backing up a war on an inanimate object – all these wars on things aren’t real. We’ve got to stop wars on terror, wars on drugs. Of course people need access to pain relief. I realize it creates international complications from getting pharmaceutical aid across borders because of this ridiculous War on Drugs.

You highlight a very, very important issue and that’s a number of problems could be eradicated by reviewing this global stance on drugs and adapting a stance of tolerance, compassion and that to value humanitarian values I think we all agree with anyway. I think we all agree within ourselves. Don’t we? We already know the answer. Knowledge is acting on wisdom. I don’t know why we are pretending that we don’t know what to do. It’s like a bizarre facade. It’s peculiar that we would do this as human beings. Why are we?

SPEAKER: On that suitable note – why are we doing this as human beings – we can all go away and ponder that. The question that came is actually quite apt as I said at the start of this event we are in the start of a journey for 2 years to the UN Summit in New York and one of the things we can make a massive difference to make availability of essential pain killing medicines to people around the world.

There is a lot of political support for this. There is a lot of possibility to improve it and it is something that we should be ambitious about over the next two years – only one of the things.


DOUG McVAY: All of this is a build up to the 2016 UN General Special Session on Drugs. The last one was held in 1998. Obviously a lot has changed since then – both good and bad. Advocates of harm reduction and drug policy reform have a real opportunity to make a significant impact on the international drug control regime.

Treaties must be reinterpreted or modified to give support to effective approaches. It is only because advocates and organizers have been at work for the past decade and one-half that we even have this limited seat at the table. So we have our work cut out for us.

While we still have a few minutes left in this broadcast let’s take a quick look at some news from this week.

Research into cannabis to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in US military veterans is a step closer to being conducted. The Food and Drug Administration this week finally signed off. All that remains is for the Drug Enforcement Administration to give its approval and, no, they do not have a deadline.

The research is to be conducted by Professor Suzanne Sicily at the University of Arizona. Good luck.

A year after adult marijuana possession was legalized in the state of Washington official statistics seem to show that the number of adult marijuana possession arrests has dropped. I’m not sure why this is news but according to the ACLU, “The ACLU of Washington’s analysis of court data provided by the administrative office of the courts reveals that filings for low-level marijuana possession have precipitously decreased from 2009 to 2013; 2009 – 7,964, 2010 – 6,743, 2011 – 6,879, 2012 – 5,531, 2013 – 120.

“The data strongly suggests that I-502 has achieved one of its primary goals – to free up limited police and prosecutorial resources. These resources can now be used for other important public and safety concerns,” says Mark Cook, Criminal Justice Policy Council for the ACLU of Washington.

“The data also show that the number of court filings for other drug offenses including felony marijuana charges like growing, selling and possession of large quantities has stayed relatively constant. Court filings for both marijuana and other drug offenses by individuals under age 21 have dropped to a lesser degree in recent years indicating that I-502 is likely not the main driver of those decreases.

“Although the overall number of low-level offenses for people age 21 and over has decreased significantly it appears that racial bias still exists in this system. An African American adult is still about 3 times more likely to have a low-level marijuana offense filed against him or her than a white adult.

“Initiative 502 legalized possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over however possession of more than an ounce but no more than 40 grams remains a misdemeanor. Exceeding the one ounce threshold was likely an explanation for the 120 misdemeanor filings against adults in 2013.”

Well, that’s it for this week.

For now, this has been Century of Lies. Thank you for listening. I’m your host, Doug McVay, editor of http://drugwarfacts.org

You can find a recording of this show and past shows at the website drug truth dot net, where you can also check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts - which leads me this shameless plug, if you want to hear my voice more often you can subscribe to my new Drug Policy Facts podcast sponsored by DrugWarFacts dot org, find the link to download, listen, and subscribe on the drug war facts dot org home page. You can follow me on Twitter, where I'm at drug policy facts, and also at doug mcvay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like, you can find Drug War Facts on Facebook as well, please give it a like and share it with friends. Spread the word. Remember: Knowledge is power.

For the drug truth network, this is Doug McVay saying so long... So long!


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

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

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