The flawed proposition of drug legalisation
Various well funded pressure groups have mounted campaigns to overturn the United Nations Conventions on drugs. These groups claim that society should accept the fact of drugs as a problem that will remain and, therefore, should be managed in a way that would enable millions of people to take advantage of an alleged ‘legal right’ to use drugs of their choice.
PDF Resources: Position Statement Against Drug Legalization.pdf
Harm reduction, as defined by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and endorsed by over 200 drug-related, nongovernmental organizations from throughout the world, is an effort primarily to address and prevent the adverse health and social consequences of illicit/harmful drug use, including reducing HIV and other blood-borne infections. The International Narcotics and Control Board has reinforced this concept by stating that within the process of reducing harm "any prophylactic measures should not promote and/or facilitate drug abuse" and condemns facilities "where injecting drug abusers can inject drugs that they have acquired illicitly."
In the field of drug policy, interdiction, treatment and prevention, harm reduction is surrounded by controversy because of the history and frequent misuse of this term. Harm reduction emerged in Great Britain from a compassionate intent - to reduce the drug-related illnesses that co-occur within the intravenous drug using community - but was co-opted by groups and individuals trying to soften the public's perception about the harms of drug use with the intent of ultimately legalizing drugs. This skewed concept of harm reduction was primarily associated with needle exchange and so-called safe injection site programs which not only accepted drug use without attempting to prevent use or help people to become drug free but also were established without solid evidence that such programs were reducing HIV and other blood-borne infections. The drug legalization proponents who advocated for these programs claimed (and still claim) that abstinence is unrealistic and not a desired goal of their strategy.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issued this statement about harm reduction in the drug control system:
"Improving the performance of the drug control system … requires us to do four things simultaneously: enforce the laws; prevent the drug-related behaviour; treat those who are neither deterred or prevented from entering into illicit drug use; and mitigate the negative consequences of drugs, both for those who are caught in the web of addiction, as well as for society at large. The last of those four is what is normally called 'harm reduction.' There cannot be anything wrong with it provided it is done along with the other three things: enforcement, prevention and treatment. If 'harm reduction' is done exclusively, namely without the other three components, it will make a mockery of any control system, send the wrong message and only perpetuate drug use."
Thus, drug use prevention, education, treatment and law enforcement should constitute the major part of legitimate harm reduction efforts and include demand and supply reduction. For the full UN document that addresses harm reduction, please click here (see page 18).
The only sure way to prevent drug-related harm is to prevent or to stop drug use. Any efforts that fail to strive toward this goal should be viewed with skepticism and challenged as "harm promotion" rather than harm reduction. As a means to help the most severely addicted persons, proper harm reduction methods such as methadone treatment have their place when prevention and other forms of treatment fail. Clearly, primary prevention has no place for harm reduction strategies.
Drug policies that embrace harm reduction strategies without a goal of leading the user to abstinence inevitably ignore the harms of the drugs themselves and instead focus solely on the harm caused by their use. They create the perception that drugs are not dangerous, a perception that undoubtedly increases drug use. These strategies undermine prevention messages as they prolong addiction. Some harm reduction tactics even ask society to accept drug use by adults and youth, alleging that drugs can be used safely and responsibly. Legitimate forms of harm reduction within treatment are administered by a licensed physician and may include methadone or other legally prescribed opioid substitution programs intended to lead to abstinence.
The legitimate concept of harm reduction understands minimizing harm within the context of prevention, treatment and law enforcement with a primary focus on prevention – a dramatic difference from sustaining the addiction of individuals and losing sight of their human rights to be drug-free and productive members of society. To quote the UNODC: "The United Nations Drug Conventions do not accept drug abuse as an inevitable fact of life. UNODC specific mandate is to counteract the dramatic phenomenon of drug abuse and dependence that devastates the health of young people, undermines development and empowerment, and compromises progress and democracy."
To learn more please visit our overcoming addiction section. PDF Resources: un-harm-reduction.pdf
Student drug testing, as implemented today, applies only to students who voluntarily choose to participate in athletic and extracurricular activities or in some schools seek a permit to park vehicles on school grounds.
Drug use affects cognitive abilities and attention span, making it difficult for the user to learn properly in school.
For example, a recent study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that repeated, heavy marijuana use during the adolescent years leads to weakened performance on thinking tasks as well as slower psychomotor speed and a lowering of complex attention skills, memory and planning ability even after a month of cessation of marijuana use.
The intent of student drug testing is not to punish students but to help students succeed scholastically. The goals are to deter drug use for all, and for drug users, to be given a chance before addiction becomes intractable. The results are not turned over to law enforcement; rather, they are discussed with the parents of the child in question so, as a family, they can determine which type of drug treatment is suitable for their child.
In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President Bush not only endorsed student drug testing but also asked for $23 million in additional government funds to implement such programs nationwide because it is such an effective tool for identifying and preventing drug problems. Prior to this initiative, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the random drug testing of athletes and then, in 2002, extended its ruling to students involved in extra-curricular activities and those who drive and park on campus.
Student athletes and students in extracurricular activities take leadership roles in the school community and, as role models, should be drug free – and student drug testing helps ensure this. More importantly, it gives students in extracurricular activities an “out” or an argument that they can use when pressured to take drugs (e.g., “If I take drugs, they will know because I have to take a drug test, and I’ll be kicked off the team”). Today, drug testing is a standard procedure when applying for a job. Certainly, athletes who want to compete at the collegiate or Olympic level should get used to the idea of drug testing.
Some people criticize drug testing on grounds it can be counterproductive and inaccurate. The drug testing procedures in place today, when properly followed, eliminate the possibility of a false positive. First, there is a screening that is confirmed by a more sensitive test if the preliminary test is positive. If schools follow drug testing procedures recommended by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, students will provide a urine sample in a private restroom area. The sample will be handled under the chain of custody guidelines, a set of procedures to account for the integrity of each urine sample by tracking its handling and storage from collection to disposition. If the screening test is positive, confirmation is sought with a more sensitive test. If the confirmation test is positive, a physician who is trained in drug testing then reviews it and contacts the student to see if there is a legitimate medical reason for the positive test. Drug test results are confidential, and do not follow the student once he or she leaves high school (as per the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act).
Another misconception about student drug testing is that it is expensive and difficult to implement. A drug test only costs between $10 and $30 per student, a cost that is nominal compared to its true worth. Any school that receives federal education funding is permitted to use these funds for drug testing; the No Child Left Behind Act specifically authorizes the expenditure of federal education funds for student drug testing.
The unfortunate part of student drug testing is that we cannot test those who do not participate in extracurricular activities or park on school property. These students encounter the same peer pressure that the extracurricular students face, but do not have the same drug testing defense, making it potentially more difficult to say no to drugs. Although schools that test athletes and students in other extracurricular activities experience an overall decline in drug use, they must not forget about those students who do not benefit from drug testing and at least provide them with other drug prevention and education alternatives. Random student drug testing should not be a stand-alone program. All students should receive prevention education – the more often, the better.
The controversial topic of "medical marijuana" is surrounded with confusing and contradicting information. Drug Free America Foundation, Inc. (DFAF) has studied the issue thoroughly and is committed to providing the most accurate information based on scientific and medical evidence. DFAF does not believe that crude marijuana, however, can be used safely as medicine.
Crude marijuana is considered a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive designation given by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) that places all drugs regulated by federal law into one of five schedules. What this means is that marijuana:
Crude marijuana has been rejected for medicinal use by many prominent national health organizations including the American Medical Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, American Glaucoma Society, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Cancer Society, National Eye Institute, National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke and most importantly the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Medications should be determined through scientifically valid research and the well established FDA process - not by the desires of a small group of individuals or the public’s vote. The FDA is tasked with determining what is deemed as medicine. That process has been carefully constructed over the past century to protect patient health and safety. All medications, particularly those containing controlled substances, should become available only after having satisfied the rigorous criteria of the FDA approval process. Patients and physicians have the right to insist that prescription medications satisfy modern medical standards for quality, safety and efficacy. Such medications must be standardized by composition and dose and administered in an appropriate and safe delivery system with a reproducible dose.
In Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics v. DEA, 15 F.3d 1131 (D.D.C. 1994), the United States District Court for the District of Columbia accepted the Drug Enforcement Administration's five-part test for determining whether a drug meets "currently accepted medical use." The test requires that:
Applying these criteria to crude marijuana, the court found that the drug had no currently accepted medical use. Preclinical and clinical studies are necessary to provide physicians with adequate information to guide their prescribing decisions. It is quite possible that in the near future we can anticipate that cannabinoid products will undergo clinical trials for their approval, and some may reach the market. There is no reason why medications derived from the cannabis plant should be exempted from the FDA process.
A pill form of the active chemical in marijuana, dronabinol (trade name – Marinol) currently exists and can be helpful for the nausea associated with chemotherapy or the wasting disease that appears with AIDS. But, even dronabinol is typically a third tier medicine. According to John A. Benson, Jr., M.D. of the Institute of Medicine, research on other cannabinoids is underway, and some of these chemicals may one day prove to be useful medicines. However, he states: "While we see a future in the development of chemically defined cannabinoid drugs, we see little future in smoked marijuana as a medicine." No FDA-approved medications are smoked.
It is difficult to administer safe, regulated doses of medicines in smoked form. Furthermore, the harmful chemicals and carcinogens that are byproducts of smoking create entirely new health problems. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, after an extensive review of over 30 scientific papers, declared that marijuana smoke causes cancer. The respiratory difficulties associated with marijuana use preclude the inhaled route of administration as a medicine. Smoked marijuana is associated with higher concentrations of tar, carbon monoxide, and carcinogens than even cigarette smoke. Recent studies show the following destructive effects of marijuana use:
Long ago, the scientific and medical community determined that mere anecdotal reports of efficacy are not sufficient to warrant distribution of a product to seriously ill patients. Marijuana is intoxicating, so it’s not surprising that sincere people report relief of their symptoms when they smoke it. They may be feeling better - but they are not actually getting better. They may even be getting worse due to the detrimental effects of marijuana.
Legalization advocates would have the public and policy makers incorrectly believe that marijuana is the only treatment alternative for masses of cancer sufferers who are going untreated for the nausea associated with chemotherapy, and for all those who suffer from glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and other ailments. However, numerous effective medications are currently available for these conditions. According to Dr. Eric Voth, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, some alleged uses for marijuana are to treat the nausea associated with chemotherapy or to create appetite stimulation in persons with AIDS, but there are better and safer FDA approved medications available such as Reglan, Zofran, Decadron, Compazine. Another remotely documented benefit is with spasticity for MS sufferers, but there are also better medicines available such as Baclofen, Amrix, Flexeril, Clonazepam, Robaxin and Neurontin.
Drs. Eric Voth and Richard Schwartz, experts on marijuana, having extensively reviewed available therapies for chemotherapy-associated nausea, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and appetite stimulation, determined that no compelling need exists to make crude marijuana available as a medicine for physicians to prescribe. They concluded that the most appropriate direction for research is to investigate specific cannabinoids or synthetic analogs rather than pursuing the smoking of marijuana, echoing the conclusion of the Institute of Medicine.
PDF Resources: medical marijuana position.pdf