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June 19, 2001

The Great Debate


Euro Vacation

Experts Give U.S. Ambassador

to Mexico a Tour of the Facts

"Another fallacy among the arguments in favor of legalization is the idea that decriminalization programs have been successful in other nations. The liberal laws of Holland on drugs are an issue of much discussion in the media. However, what is not well known is the fact that in this country, whose size is a little bit smaller than the state of Jalisco, has more than 50 clinics that give methadone to heroin addicts, and those who abuse drugs constitute a great percentage of the prisoners in Dutch prisons. Beyond that, the number of people who use marijuana has grown in that country since its use was decriminalized."

"England ended its experiment of a decade with respect to giving heroin to addicts, after seeing their number grow. Switzerland had a similar experience. After liberalizing the use and sale of drugs in part of the city of Zurich, called "Needle Park," it attracted drug addicts from all of Europe. The Swiss authorities finally closed the park in 1992, after a rise in violence and deaths. It is calculated that the number of users of drugs had grown from a few hundred to as many as 20,000. A little tolerance toward drugs brings many undesired visitors."

- U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow

Speech Against Drug Legalization in Mexico, June 1, 2001

Publisher's Note: Among the gross errors and distortions in Ambassador Davidow's speech were his characterizations of the drug policies and their effects in various European nations.

Today, experts from around the world join The Great Debate, bring Davidow on a tour of the policies of the countries he mentioned - Great Britain, Switzerland and the Netherlands - and correct the record...

Dr. Alex Wodak Responds:

Dear Sir,

The speech on drug policy on June 1 by His Excellency, the United States Ambassador to Mexico, Mr. Jeffrey Davidow, was riddled with errors and bold assertions of unsupported by evidence.

Mr. Davidow claims that "England ended its experiment of a decade with respect to giving heroin to addicts, after seeing their number grow". This bold statement is incorrect in several ways. The United Kingdom has permitted some medical practitioners to prescribe heroin to selected heroin dependent patients since 1926, not just in the last decade. This practice has not been stopped as, Mr. Davidow claims, but continues to this day. The experience in Britain stimulated research on heroin prescription for treatment refractory patients which was carried out in Switzerland from 1994 to 1997. In September 1997, 71% of voters in a national referendum in Switzerland supported the continuation of heroin prescription with majorities in all 26 of the country's cantons. Several other European countries have since commenced or made commitments to commence heroin prescription research.

Mr. Davidow criticised the Netherlands because "it has more than 50 clinics that give methadone to heroin addicts". Yet the US Institute of Medicine noted in 1995 that "Current policy puts too much emphasis on protecting society from methadone, and not enough on protecting society from the epidemic of addiction, violence and infections that methadone can help reduce." Mr. Davidow quotes Secretary of State Colin Powell approvingly who stated that "we must make sure that we are ... supporting the treatment of this horrible problem." Why does Mr. Davidow not support a treatment which has been endorsed by the US Institute of Medicine? No wonder the international community recently replaced the United States with the Netherlands on the International Narcotics Control Board.

His Excellency argues that the United States has not lost the War Against Drugs because consumption of some illicit drugs has declined according to some data. Why does Mr. Davidow regard data on consumption as more important than the data on the consequences of drug use? Drug overdose deaths have increased alarmingly in the US in recent deaths. In contrast, drug overdose deaths halved in Switzerland between 1992 and 1998. More than a third of new AIDS cases in the US result from injecting drug use yet there is still no Federal funding for needle syringe programmes because of opposition from the War Against Drugs. The purity and availability of street drugs has increased and the price of street drugs has fallen in the US in recent years. If this is success, what would failure look like?

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Alex Wodak
Director, Alcohol and Drug Service
St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, Australia

Steve Rolles Responds:

The facts presented by Mr. Davidow are entirely incorrect. Prescribing of heroin in the UK was dramatically limited at the end of the 1960's. Since this change in policy heroine use has risen by almost 2000%, HIV and hepatitis infections amongst injectors has reached epidemic levels, and 50% of all property crime is now committed to feed an illegal habit (rising from almost zero). Injected heroin is still available from some specialist doctors and the government is considering expanding the prescribing programme, following sucesses in other European cities. The Swiss prescribing programme - which has dramatically reduced crime, illness, and street dealing - now has widespread public support and is being expanded to other cities following a public vote.

Steve Rolles
Transform, the campaign for effective drug policy.

Peter Watney Responds:

After closing the "Needle Park", which permitted the black market to operate in a small area of Zurich, Switzerland selected some 1,100 heroin addicts and supplied them with clinical grade heroin to be injected under medical supervision in clinics established for this purpose at a cost of 15.00 Swiss Francs per addict per week.

This has resulted in improvements in health, employment, housing and social conditions of those addicts.

It has resulted in a dramatic reduction in crime, street nuisance, discarded needles, and has resulted in a net saving to the community of some 45.00 Swiss Francs per week per addict in the program.

The death rate from heroin overdose is now falling in Switzerland, whereas it is still rising in USA, Australia, and Mexico.

Regulated supply closes the black market that was created by prohibition and reduces consumption.

Peter Watney

From The Swiss Federal

Office of Public Health

Facts on Swiss drug policy from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health:

The Swiss drug policy.

A fourfold approach with special consideration of the medical prescription of narcotics.

Bern, Switzerland (1999).

Experience with illicit drugs:

There was a slight increase in the use of hallucinogenic substances and cocaine between 1992 and 1997. Slightly over 2% of those questioned said that they had used ecstasy at least once. There has been no statistically significant change in the use of heroin, its substitute methadone and amphetamines.

Deaths due to drugs

The number of deaths due to drugs, usually heroin overdoses, rose from 13 in 1974 to 419 in 1992. The systematic expansion of support facilities for drug users and specific measures aimed at harm reduction succeeded in bringing the figure down to 181 by 1999.

Deaths due to alcohol and smoking

It is estimated that in Switzerland around 3,500 people die every year as the direct or indirect result of alcohol consumption. Smoking is a causative or contributing factor in an estimated 8,700 deaths every year- 14% of all deaths in Switzerland.


Switzerland has made remarkable progress in reducing the problems associated with drug consumption in the last couple of years.

Dean Becker Responds:

Jeffrey also states that Holland has been unsuccessful in their efforts to control drugs and drug users. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does Holland allow sales of marijuana, but after many years of experience they just recently voted to allow even more marijuana sales outlets. Their experience has shown a small spike of increased usage after legalization, which quickly ebbed back down to the point that they now have the lowest usage rate of any Western country.

Dean Becker, DPFT

Letter from The Netherlands

As a citizen of the Netherlands & medical user of cannabis I'm very interested in the debate.

Although English is not my first language I will bring my contribution to all readers of Narco News.

We have had coffee shops in the Netherlands and it works fine. If you want to smoke marijuana, you can go to your local shop and buy it

Compared to other European countries (and the US of A) we have less problems with the consumption of cannabis and other drugs.

We can therefore say that good education and information to parents and children has led to this result.

Best regards,

Erik van der Burgh
Spijkenisse- The Netherlands:

Police Officer Responds:

Estimado Narco News,

Ambassador Davidow conveniently ended the history of Switzerland in 1992.

Since then they have employed a number of harm reduction measures, including treatment on demand. The Swiss Heroin Maintenance Program is now 6 years in operation and an overwhelming success. Even the Swiss police now enthusiastically support the reforms.

Howard J. Wooldridge
Retired Police Officer
Fort Worth, Texas

Dr. Clark Brittain Responds:

Mr. Davidow certainly makes an impassioned plea. Unfortunately passion and facts don't always mix. U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), is one of the leading drug warriors on capitol hill. He states that not only is drug use not going down, but that between 1993-98 heroin use among 8th-12th graders in the USA increased by 50%.

Regarding drug use in The Netherlands, they saw a dramatic decrease in youthful mairjuana use (30%), and saw an overall decrease of almost 50% in heroin use. Their overall percent of adult use is about the same as the US. And of course they have only 10% the prison population per capita we have (not more, as Mr. Davidow exhorts).

We in the United States have more people in prison than any other country on the planet: Over 500,000 people in jail for nonviolent drug use/possession convictions. Over 20% will suffer the further insult of prison rape while incarcerated. We arrest 1,500,000 people per year just on marijuana charges alone. None of those convicted will be able to obtain federally guaranteed loans for college (which must be paid back). Yet people like Paula Cooper (who was once the most notorious of all prisoners on Indiana for stabbing to death her elderly neighbor and stealing her car and $10- her death penalty was commuted to life in prison) who at tax payers expense now has a college degree!

In 1988 (with Republican-run government), Chief DEA administrative judge Francis Young heard two years of testimony both for and against marijuana use, poured over 15 volumes of material and proclaimed: "The evidence in this record clearly shows that marijuana has been accepted as capable of relieving the distress of great numbers of very ill people, and doing so with safety under medical supervision. It would be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance... There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven cannabis-related fatality...In strict medical terms, marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume...There are those who, in all sincerity, argue that the transfer of marijuana to "status as medicine" will "wend a signal" that marijuana is "OK" generally for recreational use. This argument is specious. It presents no valid reason for taking an action required by law in light of the evidence."

This legal opinion was delivered on the heels of a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to allow marijuana as medicine. The DEA ignored it. Congress in all its wisdom ruled in 1970 that marijuana has no useful medical purpose and placed it in schedule I.

Also in 1905 The Pure Food and Drug Act mandated labeling of patent medicines. Until that time marijuana, heroin cocaine and opium were the most commonly dispensed substances (and could be purchased over the counter simply upon request). The overall addiction rate in the USA was 0.28%...addiction, drug use and abuse declined rapidly with proper labeling. In 1914 with the passage of the Harrison Drug act, those drugs became illegal. Since that time our national addiction rate has climbed to over 0.96- almost quadruple.

Finally, a black market can only exist in the presence of prohibition. Should civil society or well-armed criminals control drug sales? After all the distributors (pushers) are already killing each other for distribution rights.

Mr. Davidow, we appreciate your passion. Please stick to the facts. When people twist and distort information, it serves only to discredit the speaker.

Clark Brittain,D.O.
1010 S Highland
Bloomington, IN 47401
812 327 0252

Drug War Facts

On the European Reality

from Common Sense on Drug Policy

Publisher's Note: Ambassador Davidow is not the first United States official to distort the facts about European drug policies and their effects.

In 1999, then-drug czar of the U.S., Barry McCaffrey, was embarrassed internationally by citing similar untrue claims about the European situation.

He was taken to task in the following letter signed by respected experts from across the United States.

And then by an advertisement by CSDP, citing the true facts that compare U.S. and Dutch drug policies.

Thus, it is doubly embarrassing that Davidow spins the same discredited "facts" when he and his government have already been informed of the true statistics....

1999 Letter to the Drug Czar


February 24, 1999
General Barry McCaffrey
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Washington, D.C.

Dear General McCaffrey,

As academics, journalists, public health experts, and community leaders, we are deeply troubled by a series of inaccurate and misleading statements you have made as Drug Czar.

In particular, we are concerned by statements you have made on the following...

On July 24, 1998 the Chicago Tribune quoted you as saying: "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States...That's drugs."

In fact, the Dutch homicide rate is only one-fourth that of the United States. The Dutch rate has never approached, much less exceeded, that of the United States.

When you claimed that the Dutch murder rate was higher, you blamed Holland's drug policies. Yet when confronted with the facts, you did not suggest that U.S. drug policies are the cause of our higher homicide rate.

The media and the public rely on your office to avoid unfounded speculation, to recognize and disseminate scientific consensus when it exists, and to provide, when available, material facts that could help us deal realistically and effectively with our very real problems of addiction. Therefore we urge you and other national leaders to provide the news media and the public with the most accurate scientific findings available. We realize that speaking forthrightly requires leadership and courage in the current ideological atmosphere but, given your distinguished record in the military, the public has reason to expect nothing less.


· Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., Chair of Afro-American Studies, Harvard University
· Willie L. Brown Jr., Mayor of San Francisco
· Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Harvard
· Dr. Joycelyn Elders, Professor of Endocrinology, Arkansas Children's Hospital, former Surgeon General
· Orlando Patterson, Professor, Harvard University
· William Julius Wilson, Professor, Harvard University
· Dr. David Duncan, Clinical Associate Professor, Brown University Medical School and Chair, Council on Illicit Drugs, National Association for Public Health Policy
· Ira Glasser, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
· Rebecca Isaacs, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
· Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director, Lindesmith Center
· Kevin Zeese, President, Common Sense for Drug Policy
· Kathleen Stoll, Center for Women's Policy Studies
· Dr. Patricia D. Hawkins, Associate Executive Director, Whitman-Walker Clinic
· Glenn C. Loury, Director, The Institute on Race and Social Division
· Ronald E. Hampton, Executive Director, National Black Police Association
· Eva Patterson, Executive Director, Layers Committee for Civil Rights
· Daniel Maccallair, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
· Pat Christen, Executive Director, SF AIDS Foundation
· Regina Aragón, Public Policy Director, SF AIDS Foundation
· Cynthia Pearson, Executive Director, National Women's Health Network
· Dr. Helen Rodriguez-Trias, Co-Director, Pacific Institute for Women's Health
· Trish Moylan Torruella, Executive Director, Mothers' Voices : United to End AIDS
· Craig E. Thompson, Executive Director, AIDS Project - Los Angeles
· Duane Poe, Executive Director, Black Coalition on AIDS, Inc.
· R. Keith Stroup, Executive Director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
· Martin Waukazoo, Executive Director, Native American Health Center
· Ron Rowell, MPH, Executive Director, National Native American AIDS Prevention Center
· Loras Ojeda, Community Relations Director, Mobilization Against AIDS
· Dennis deLeon, Executive Director, Latino Commission on AIDS
· Lupe Lopez, Executive Director, People of Color Against AIDS Network
· Rob Kampia, Exectuve Director, Marijuana Policy Project
· Margaret Batchelor White, President, Black Women's Agenda, Inc.
· Dr. James T. Black, President, 100 Black Men of Los Angeles
· Luz Alvarez Martinez, Executive Director, National Latina Health Organization
· Alvan Quamina, Executive Director, African American AIDS Support Services and Survival Institute

Comparing U.S. and Dutch Results



Use of marijuana by older teens (1994) United States: 38% Netherlands: 30%

Use of marijuana by 15-year-olds (in 1995) United States: 34% Netherlands: 29%

Heroin addicts (in 1995) United States: 430 per 100,000 Netherlands: 160 per 100,000

Murder rate (in 1996) United States: 8.22 per 100,000 Netherlands: 1.8 per 100,000

Crime-related deaths United States: 8.2 per 100,000 (1995) Netherlands: 1.2 per 100,000 (1994)

Incarceration rate (1997) United States: 645 per 100,000 Netherlands: 73 per 100,000

Per capita spending on drug-related law enforcement United States: $81 Netherlands: $27

2001 Statistics on Teen Drug Use


UN Report: Teens In US More Likely To Use Drugs Than Teens In Europe

European Youth More Likely To Use Alcohol, Tobacco Than US Counterparts

The World Health Organization (WHO) held its European Ministerial Conference on Youth and Alcohol in Stockholm, Sweden in February 2001.

Highlights from the conference included a report comparing use of alcohol and other drugs by youth in Europe with use by youth in the US. The New York Times reports that "Forty- one percent of 10th graders in the United States had tried marijuana, compared with 17 percent of those in Europe. And 23 percent of the students in the United States had used other illicit drugs, compared with 6 percent of the Europeans." The study was developed by the Council of Europe with the help of researchers at the University of Michigan's Monitoring The Future project, and compared results from the MTF with results from a European survey, the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD).

(Results from the ESPAD 1999 can be downloaded as PDF files from from the World Health Organization European Youth and Alcohol Conference website, as well as from links found on this Background Brief.)

The WHO also reported that alcohol is the number one killer of young men in Europe, according to new data from their Global Burden of Disease 2000 Study. The release notes that "One in four deaths of European men in the group aged 15-29 years is related to alcohol. In parts of eastern Europe, the figure is as high as one in three."

These reports are issued on the heels of the release of the new annual report by the UN's International Narcotics Board. The report, available online in PDF format, details world consumption and production of both legal and illegal narcotic drugs and issues cautions based on their analysis.

According to the INCB, the US and many other nations face a problem of over-use of prescribed drugs. The BBC reported that according to the INCB, "Benzodiazepines are a major problem. In Europe, the forms of drug used as a sedative are used three times as often as in the US. But in the US, the forms of benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and obesity disorders are used 10 times more often than in Europe. Loose prescription regulations, aggressive marketing and unethical prescribing were highlighted as problems."

The INCB also singled out for criticism drug policies in both Australia and Canada.

The Australian Associated Press reports that "The United Nations has criticised Australian states for challenging the Federal Government's anti-heroin injection room stance." Also, the AAP story says that "the INCB also said it was concerned about the high social acceptance of illicit drugs and the large number of people in favour of the legalisation of drugs in Australia."

Regarding Canada, the Toronto Star reports that "The United Nations' International Narcotics Board has criticized Canada for its lax attitude toward illegal growers of cannabis and failure to control illicit production of drugs such as 'ice' and 'ecstasy'."

A growing divide is developing between the UN's anti-drug bodies and Europe, Australia and Canada. In contrast with the INCB's report, the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a report that "commends the approach taken by Switzerland, which has significantly reduced drug-related deaths since 1994 using controversial prevention and treatment programmes including needle exchanges, injection rooms, heroin for severely addicted users, and housing and employment programmes for addicts.".

Switzerland in 2001


A model for reducing "drug harm"

Strasbourg, February 20, 2001 - Legal sanctions against drug possession and use appear to have no effect whatsoever, says a report adopted today by the Parliamentary Assembly's Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee.

The drug policies of Council of Europe member states should instead concentrate on the achievable goal of reducing "drug harm" - a broader concept which takes into account drug-related deaths, diseases and crime.

In a draft recommendation, the committee commends the approach taken by Switzerland, which has significantly reduced drug-related deaths since 1994 using controversial prevention and treatment programmes including needle exchanges, injection rooms, heroin for severely addicted users, and housing and employment programmes for addicts.
The United Kingdom and Sweden, on the other hand, rely mainly on severe legal penalties for drug possession and use, despite evidence that this approach lacks utility, the committee notes.

The report, by Paul Flynn (United Kingdom, SOC), concludes that until reliable comparable data are available for a larger group of countries, an objective assessment of the success or failure of different European drug policies is almost impossible - with the result that policy continues to be made "in a vacuum". Standardisation of research and data recording methods across Europe is therefore urgently required.

In the meantime, say the parliamentarians, states should adopt policies which reflect awareness of a likely causal link between deprivation and drug harm, as suggested by recent research from the United Kingdom.

The draft recommendation adopted by the committee will be debated by the Parliamentary Assembly - bringing together parliamentarians from all 43 Council of Europe member states - later this year.

Press Contact:

Angus Macdonald, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Tel. +33 3 88 41 34 39 - Fax. +33 3 88 41 27 90


The Dutch Role Model


Researchers Say...

Decriminalization Does Not Increase Cannabis Use

Suggests Netherlands Provides Good Model For US

RAND Corporation researchers Peter Reuter and Robert MacCoun recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry the results of their examination of the effects of cannabis decriminalization in the Netherlands, Australia, and some US states ("Evaluating Alternative Cannabis Regimes," BJP, 2001, 178, 123-128). The authors found, "The Dutch experience, together, with those of a few other countries with more modest policy changes, provides a moderately good empirical case that removal of criminal prohibitions on cannabis possession (decriminalisation) will not increase the prevalence of marijuana or any other illicit drug; the argument for decriminalisation is thus strong."

The study looked at prevalence of use, trends in use rates, and the so-called "gateway" effect. They found that "Dutch rates are somewhat lower than those of the USA but somewhat higher than those of some, but not all, of its neighbors." They also observe that "The fact that Italy and Spain, which have decriminalised possession for all psychoactive drugs, have marijuana use rates comparable to those of neighbouring countries provides further support. This prohibition inflicts harms directly and is costly."

The authors admit that with decriminalization or legalization there is a risk of an increase in prevalence of use. However, they observe "The increase in marijuana use would have to be weighed against the reduced intrusiveness of the state, reduction of black markets and possible substitution of marijuana for alcohol, which might be net health enhancing."

The Straight Dope

on Swiss Drug Trials


Swiss Begin clinical trials of medically

supervised drug maintenance therapy.

In one of the most dramatic success stories in modern addiction treatment, doctors in Switzerland have discovered that the provision of medically determined doses of heroin to heroin addicts significantly improves their health, lifestyle and reduces the amount of crime associated with drug use when they are permitted to leave the black market environment. The Swiss researchers concluded that:

· Both the number of criminal offenders and the number of offenses decreased by about 60% in the first six months of the program.

· Most illicit drug use, including cocaine, rapidly and markedly declined.

· The number of participants on unemployment benefits fell by more than half (from 44% to 20%).

· Participants' housing situation rapidly improved, ending homelessness among the patients.

· The physical health of participants improved.

· More than half of the patients who dropped out of the program did so in order to switch to another form of treatment, including abstinence. 1

The success of this program illustrates how deeply our current policies are failing to reduce most of the consequences of drug use in this country. In light of that failure, our country must be able to learn from the successes of other nations and experiment with techniques that might improve living conditions for everyone.

1 Uchtenhagen, A. "Summary of the Synthesis Report." In Uchtenhagen, A., Gutzwiller, F., and A. Dobler-Mikola (Eds.), Programme for a Medical Prescription of Narcotics: Final Report of the Research Representatives (1997). Zurich: Institute for Social and Preventive Medicine at the University of Zurich.

The Great Debate Continues...

See Part I:

Ambassador vs. Ambassador

Our First Witness: Gustavo de Greiff

See Part II:

Professors and Attorneys Weigh In:

Socrates v. Davidow

Join the Great Debate!

Read Davidow's Speech

And Send Your Testimony to:

Deflating Davidow's Deceptions