Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Drug Demand

While we believe that we must continue to improve and strengthen our supply-side counternarcotics policies, we also believe that the United States must do significantly more to reduce our country’s demand for illegal drugs. Ultimately, it is drug consumption in the United States that fuels violence throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prevention, Drug Treatment And Recovery

Traditionally, U.S. Presidents through the office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have divided drug demand reduction into two main categories: prevention and treatment. However, the Obama Administration has added a third area: recovery. For the first time ever, in its 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, ONDCP focused on the need to invest in recovery. Treatment for drug abusers usually takes place during a fixed period of time. However, recovery is a lifelong process.

The private sector should foster the development of businesses that positively affect the lives of people in recovery by increasing employment opportunities for them. Residential treatment is a commonly used form of treatment. However, many states are facing a shortage of residential treatment beds. The shortage of beds is especially true for women with children seeking treatment.  In spite of efforts to increase funding for drug prevention and treatment programs, the United States continues to be the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2009 Monitoring the Future Survey, more 10th graders are smoking marijuana than cigarettes, because they view cigarettes as more harmful than marijuana. Yet, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic compounds, including tar, than cigarettes. Marijuana is much more potent today than in the past. In recent decades, marijuana growers have been genetically altering their plants to increase the percentage of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana. THC impacts parts of the brain, triggering a series of reactions that ultimately lead to the “high” users experience when they smoke the drug. The average potency of tested marijuana from federal seizures more than doubled from 1998 to 2008.
The second most common form of drug abuse in the United States is the misuse of prescription drugs. The Office of National Drug Control Policy views prescription drug abuse as “the Nation’s fastest growing drug problem.”
…from 1997 to 2007, the milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the U.S. increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams – a 402 percent increase…in 2000, retail pharmacies dispensed 174 million prescriptions for opioids. In 2009, that number rose to 257 million prescriptions – a 48 percent increase.
Another dangerous trend by those seeking prescription drugs is the increase in pharmacy violence. For example, an April 5, 2012 press report highlighted a number of high profile robberies of pharmacies across the country. According to the report, since 2006 there has been an 82% increase in the rise in pharmacy robberies, from 385 in 2006 to 701 in 2011. This increase in robberies is attributed to addicts and thieves targeting pain medicine which can reach nearly $80 per pill in street value.
…methamphetamine prevention and treatment programs should be included in the nation’s drug demand reduction efforts not only because of the large number of users, but also because of the enormous costs associated with the drug. Methamphetamine abuse not only ravages the individual user, but also has serious consequences for entire communities. Those injured in the production or use of the drug have overwhelmed hospitals, with average stays that cost 60 percent more than the average patient, forcing taxpayers to pay “well into the tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.” This problem has significantly increased with the so-called “shake and bake” methamphetamine production method. This occurs in small batches and often in two liter plastic bottles on a widespread basis. Methamphetamine also has a disastrous impact on the environment with five to six pounds of hazardous waste associated with each pound of methamphetamine produced. This results in staggering clean-up costs.
On a more positive note, cocaine use was at the lowest point in a decade with only .6 percent of Americans 12 or older reporting use in 2010.
According to SAMHSA 2010 survey data, 0.2 percent of Americans aged 12 and older used heroin within the past month. Methadone is the most common drug used to treat heroin addiction. SAMHSA describes methadone as a “well-studied, safe and powerful medication when prescribed and consumed properly.”
There are more than 2,000 drug courts in the United States. The first drug court opened in Miami in 1989, offering treatment as an alternative to incarceration. Drug courts are judicially supervised court dockets that handle the cases of non-violent substance abusing offenders under the adult, juvenile, family and tribal justice system.
Drug courts operate under a specialized model in which the judiciary, prosecution, defense, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social service, and treatment communities work together to help non-violent offenders find restoration in recovery and become productive citizens.
“Across studies showing re-arrest differences, the percentages of drug court program participants rearrested were lower than for comparison group members by 6 to 26 percentage points. Drug court participants who completed their program had re-arrest rates 12 to 58 percentage points below those of the comparison group.”
“It is vital that prevention is heavily emphasized, because addiction is a developmental disorder that begins in adolescence, sometimes as early as childhood.”
The reach of drug prevention programs is, of course, directly correlated with the amount of money invested in them. Thomas Babor points out that “societies tend to make a small investment in prevention and, on average, they reap a small return.” Given the current fiscal environment in the United States, the Caucus recognizes that major new, high-cost programs are not realistic right now. At the same time, we realize that greater investment in prevention is fundamental as it will save lives and money in the long term.
When carried out properly, anti-drug media campaigns have the potential to have a significant impact.
“…there has been virtually no public emphasis on prevention or efforts to reduce demand in recent years. Where, for example, are the media campaigns including new media, celebrity spokespeople, pronouncements from senior officials, the public condemnation of drug use in the same manner as smoking or helmetless motorcycle riding? Where is the effort to show the link between drug use and killings in Central America and Mexico, along the same lines as the campaign to stop the “blood diamond” trade? ‘Just say no’ is not an effective approach, perhaps, but at this point, nobody seems to be saying much of anything.”
According to the National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study, drug treatment can cut drug abuse in half, reduce criminal activity up to 80 percent, and  reduce arrests up to 64 percent. Treatment for drug addiction rests on the science of addiction which since the 1970s has asserted that” drug addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are three fundamental components that need to be considered in U.S. drug treatment policy:
-        Treatment must be long enough to have lasting results – this means that access and costs must allow for long term care;
-        Services need to fit the needs of individuals in criminal justice populations; and
-        A balance of rewards and sanctions must exist to encourage treatment participation.
Substance abuse treatment funding in the United States was estimated by the federal government to cost $23.5 billion in 2006. This includes $5.1 billion in private insurance and personal funds, $1.1 billion in Medicare, $4.2 billion in Medicaid (State and Federal), $9.8 billion in other state and local public funding, and $3.3 billion from a variety of federal programs. These resources provide treatment for an estimated 2.6 million people annually.
Treatment costs are far lower than those of incarceration. For example, in the case of heroin addiction, methadone treatment costs $4,700 annually whereas imprisonment would cost approximately 24,000.
In Massachusetts, residential treatment providers indicate they have 25 to 30 calls a day for which they do not have a bed available. In Oregon, residential treatment wait time can be up to three months and the waiting list typically has 300 people.
…drug treatment poses several challenges for women (and particularly women with families) because “many treatment programs are designed for and used mostly by men” while many women must consider family concerns that prevent them from seeking treatment as programs for women rarely accommodate their children. Traditional drug abuse treatment programs do not allow for the inclusion of children, posing a dilemma for women between the need for treatment and the need to provide care for their children. Further complications for women seeking treatment arise from the fact that “admitting to a substance abuse problem may lead to involvement with the criminal justice system and the loss of custody of children.”
Drug treatment programs can cut down on recidivism rate and thereby improve public safety and reduce crime-related expenditures. Inmates who either committed a crime to get drugs or were under the influence of drugs at the time of their crime are among the most likely to re-offend. Of the 2.3 million inmates imprisoned in the United States, 65 percent meet the medical criteria to be considered addicted to either drugs or alcohol. The National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that between 1996 and 2006, while the number of adults incarcerated in the U.S. increased 33 percent to 2.3 million, the number of inmates with substance abuse issues increased by 43 percent to 1.9 million. Due to the potentially large societal benefits, it is important to make available the most effective treatment programs for addicted prisoners.
Unfortunately, inmates who are substance abuse-involved continue to be re-incarcerated at greater rates than those who are not abusing drugs. One reason for this is that there is a serious “treatment gap,” where of the 1.5 million inmates who were substance abusers in 200, only 11.2 percent received treatment since admission to prison, according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. This is due at least in part to fact that treatment in specialized settings, which is recognized to be more effective, is only available in 16.6 percent of facilities.
“A key to solving America’s drug problem is greater support for and partnership with the huge number of our citizens who have recovered from addiction and who deserve the opportunity to fully rejoin society. The millions of Americans who are in recovery are the most compelling evidence that there is hope for every addicted American in the ongoing process of recovery, individuals not only stop using substances, they reestablish friendships and family ties, become productive and responsible citizens, and very often help other addicted people begin to walk the same path.”
Treatment for drug abusers usually takes place during a fixed period of time, whereas recovery is a lifelong process.
Recent research suggests that while drug abstinence remains an essential prerequisite to a successful recovery program, treating a patient’s substance abuse alone will not ensure his or her recovery. For many individuals, drug addiction is a chronic problem that impacts one’s occupation, familial relations, physical and mental health, friendships, residential status and access to social services. Drug abstinence, while an essential first step in the recovery process, is unlikely to immediately reverse these longer term problems by itself Even after a patient abstains from drug use, he or she may face several practical challenges left unresolved by an acute treatment strategy, such as difficulty securing housing or employment.
Those in recovery recognize the need to address multiple aspects of their lives that have been negatively impacted by drug addiction. One study shows that although “staying clean” ranked first among the concerns of individuals in recovery, these individuals were also concerned about other long-term, “lifestyle” issues – employment, education, vocational training, housing and personal relationships.
The massive demand for illegal drugs in the United States creates both a challenge for public health in our own country and a challenge to security in countries throughout the world that are battling drug trafficking organizations. In spite of efforts to increase funding for drug prevention and treatment programs, the United States continues to be the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2009, about 21.8 million Americans aged 12 and older were current (in the past month) illegal drug users, representing 8.7 percent of the population. This represents the largest proportion in the past decade of people aged 12 and older identified as current illegal drug users. This is in spite of years of U.S. investment in drug prevention and treatment programs.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Mexican drug trafficking organizations have become major criminal organizations and have contributed to the over 50,000 estimated murders in that country in the past five years. Our country’s drug consumption habits also create a challenge to public health in the United States. Only if we prevent drug use in the United States can we prevent drug trafficking and the violence and loss of life it brings.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Drug Courts

Drug courts have proven to be effective. According to a 2006 study, approximately three-quarters of drug courts – or 78 percent – were found to have significantly reduced crime.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Drug Use In America, 2008-2011: What It Costs Us, The Painkillers Pandemic, and Increase of Synthetic (Chemically Produced) Drugs.

     Drug consumption in the United States continues to increase. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2010, about 22.6 million Americans aged 12 and older were reported being illegal drug users, representing 8.9 percent of the population. This is the largest proportion in the past decade of people aged 12 and older identified as current illegal drug users.
     Drug abuse and addiction costs the United States $193 billion a year in preventable health care, law enforcement and addiction expenses. President Obama and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) have reconfigured U.S. drug policy to increasingly focus on curbing the U.S. demand for illegal drugs.
    ONDCP views prescription drug abuse as “the Nation’s fastest growing drug problem. Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers now outnumber deaths involving heroin and cocaine
combined, accounting for 20,044 of 36,450 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2008. Painkillers and
prescription drugs are often purchased on the Internet, without a valid prescription 
     Dangerous, new synthetic drugs are being chemically produced to mimic the active ingredients in drugs such as methamphetamine and marijuana. These include synthetic cannabinoids, such as K2 and Spice, and synthetic stimulants, including so-called bath salts. The American Association of Poison Control Centers has noted that centers nationally received 6,348 calls about synthetic marijuana in 2011. There were 2,882 calls in 2010 which is up from a reported 14 calls in 2009. Additionally, there were 5,853 calls into poison centers concerning “bath salts” use in 2011 which is a significant increase from 303 calls in 2010.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Congress, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Me: Part II, Quotes From The Study

What follows are direct quotes from the 50-page final social statement adopted by the ELCA.

Social Statement Document

Because mass incarceration causes significant harms, both personal and social, the ELCA strongly urges those who make and administer correctional policies to take all appropriate measures to limit the use of incarceration as a sanction for criminal offenses. Toward that end this statement identifies three specific paths: pursue alternatives to incarceration, reform sentencing laws and policies, and closely scrutinize national drug policy.

A fundamental transformation of mindset about criminal justice is required that challenges the logic equating more punitive measures with more just ones.


As this statement is adopted, one in 34 adults in the United States is under some form of correctional control and more citizens are imprisoned as percentage of the population than in any other country on earth, even those with comparable crime rates. The U.S. spends 60 billion dollars every year for corrections alone and they who work in the criminal justice system of then feel stressed to the breaking point. People of color and people living in poverty are disproportionately harmed by problems within the system. Concerned that so many cries- from victims, the incarcerated, their families, communities, those wrongly convicted, those who work in the system- have not heard, the ECLA is prompted to speak and act.

Often we have been negligent or allowed fear or bias to dictate responses to crime.

Over the past generation, the adjudicative process has been significantly affected by changes to sentencing policies. This church affirms the importance of equal treatment in sentencing, but expresses the concern that sentencing reform has become synonymous with increasingly harsher sentences.


Massive overcrowding contributes considerably to the dehumazing problems in the U.S. prison system. Inmates fear physical and sexual violence from each other and staff and worry about threats of future violence if reported. Gangs often control the culture of prisons. Inmates are powerless in interactions with correctional staff, some of whom degrade inmates through language and physical intimidation. All inmates experience despair from lack of control and inexpressible loneliness from separation.

Massive overcrowding today worsens conditions to the point of inhumane treatment of the incarcerated. Dangers to physical safety are real and declining health through poor conditions is likely. Cost-saving measures have caused some governments to contract with private firms to incarcerate offenders, raising many ethical questions.

A contributing factor to inhumane conditions involves the increased proportion of the mentally ill in jails and prison, currently well over half of the population. As the institutionalized mental illness population of the U.S. has been reduced by more than 80 percent over recent decades, many of those released have ended up homeless or in prisons. Imprisonment is not therapeutic by nature. Placement in jails and prisons has the effect of criminalizing mental illness, and puts the mentally ill at risk for exploitation by other inmates. The incarceration of those with special needs without sufficient services contributes considerably to prison volatility. The ELCA has addressed the needs of people living with mental illness and noted problems related to the incarcerated in its 2012 social message “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness.”

Reform sentencing laws and policies

Numerous sentencing policies have been adopted since the 1980s, including mandatory minimum sentences, habitual offender laws, truth-in-sentencing laws and sentencing guidelines. Their implementation has led to increases in the use of incarceration and in the length of sentences, and has limited judicial discretion in the sentencing process.

Mandatory minimum sentences that impose lengthy fixed punishments on offenders and prohibit judges from considering mitigating factors, have been used most extensively in response to drug-related offenses.

There is mounting and persuasive evidence that the war on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty and people of color. Law enforcement practices regarding drug offenses often have targeted disadvantaged communities, and the sentencing policies regarding drug crimes have had racially disparate effects. Despite the fact that Caucasians and African Americans engage in drug offenses (both possession and distribution) at similar rates, Black people have been far more likely than White people to be arrested for drug offenses.

First, the criminal justice system must acknowledge the racial disparities, and address the implicit and explicit racism that persists there; second, it must recognize the special needs of juvenile offenders; third, it must stop the privatization of prison facilities; and fourth, it must foster the full reintegration of ex-offenders into the community.

Racial discrimination

Acknowledge racial disparities and end discrimination

Recognize the special needs of youth offenders

Aware of the mounting evidence of the system’s deep and abiding problems, the ELCA calls for the adoption of a variety of reforms. The leading concern is to decrease the incarcerated population, but other reforms delineated in this statement are significant in their own right.

At a deeper level, however, this statement recognizes that a more fundamental transformation in thinking about criminal justice is required. It calls for a transformed mindset, one that counteracts the logic equating more punitive measures with more just ones. This mindset challenges current undertones of vengeance, violence and racism and permits everyone in the criminal justice system to be seen as members of human communities, created in the image of God and worthy of appropriate and compassionate response.

The ELCA recognizes that retreat from unduly harsh sentencing policies and the over-utilization of the incarceration may be motivated by economic factors, rather than by a moral critique of the way the system functions. Improvement for any reason is important to the individuals involved, but this church maintains that responses to criminality should be made on theological, moral and rational grounds as well. Changes made simply for economics are less likely to endure.

Today it is important to join with others of good will to challenge the flawed public consensus about crime and criminal justice. Until a shift occurs in the public consensus, criminal justice policies likely will persist that recognize neither the injustice nor the inefficiency of many of our current responses to the crime.

The ELCA therefore recommits itself to ministry with, for, to and among the many, many people whose voices cry out within our criminal justice system. “For what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humble with your God?” (Micah 6:8)


Related to mass incarcerated rates is the troubling emergence of much more punitive attitude toward the incarcerated. As the population grows, services are being greatly reduced or eliminated, such as educations and recreational opportunities or access to counseling and spiritual care.

Since 2004, more than 20 states have enacted or proposed legislation to reform sentencing policies. These legislative changes have focused on several types of reform. Primary attention has been given to increasing sentencing options that divert drug offenders from incarceration to community-based treatment alternatives and expanding sentencing alternatives to incarceration for other non-violent offenders.

Author’s note: Compressing 50 pages into two and a half is not the best way to pay justice to the task force and all the work they did conducting the study over the five years, but it is a start in echoing the words of wisdom found in the report. They are well written and coincide with many of the philosophies of my own work.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Congress, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Me: Part I

Through the power of free speech, it is discovered that some minds are actually aligned with the author on these issues.

Sentencing Reform Pushed In Congress

Key Quotes from the Reading Eagle, 1-5-14:

"About half of the nation's more than 218,000 federal inmates are serving time for drug crimes and virtually all of them faced some form of mandatory minimum sentencing."

"...the Smarter Sentencing Act. It would expand a so-called safety valve already on the books that gives judges discretion for a limited number of nonviolent drug offenders. The new law would give judges the same latitude for a larger group of drug offenders facing mandatory sentences."

On Jan. 5, 2014, the Sunday edition of The Reading Eagle published a story titled "Sentencing Reform Pushed In Congress." President Obama, along with his cabinet and Congress, raised the issue of a change in mandatory sentencing, particularly for nonviolent drug offenders. For my readers, does this ring a bell? As a result, Congressional sub-groups are pursuing are pursuing the elimination or the drastic change in mandatory minimum punishments amid growing concerns that the sentences are both unfair and expensive on the dollars again, does this ring a bell?

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
I was not aware that about the time I began writing my book, Justice or Just This: A Constitutional Trespass, a blue ribbon committee of criminal justice experts from different parts of the country had begun in 2005 a five-year study that culminated in a 50-page social statement. It immediately faced two years of study and discussion and was completely adopted at the national E.L.C.A. Church Assembly in Pittsburgh in August 2013.
I learned of this work when the study was published three years ago. I am proud to say that I then participated, along with Bishop Samuel Zeiser, in the 15 county regional education seminars organized by the Northeast Synod of the ELCA (visit to learn more about this process).
I can summarize the work of those who developed the social statement by simple stating that I agree with its contents entirely. The report underlines the unanticipated and, thus unpredictable by-products, of our country's, 'tough on crime' philosophy, which has produced thousands of examples of incorrect, unjust unfair and illogical tragedies that criminal justice professionals have witnessed with horror, but were powerless to do anything about it.
"There's a Monster on the Loose." Sadly, that's what exists because so many people recognize the wrongs that have been created, but legislators do not pass laws to return sentencing discretion to the judiciary by nullifying mandatory minimum sentencing and disbanding the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. Judges are practically in office for life (at least one 10-year term) and thus are about the only people who can impose the sentences that need to be ordered rather than what is popular for re-election by throwing everyone in jail regardless of circumstances. I have mentioned several times that Pennsylvania legislators, both on and off the record, have admitted their mistake, but that they are afraid to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing because the average voter will listen to the soft on crime rhetoric released by their opponents. Obviously the legislators fear that they will be voted out of office for not being tough. Tough on crime, what ever that means, is the image they seek. Soft on crime, which again is an arbitrary phrase, is a campaign flaw in the eyes of the average voter. We must insist that our elected officials slay the monster or it will continue to grow.
Please keep in mind that the term 'prison overcrowding' is a recent phenomenon that began immediately after Pennsylvania Commission of Sentencing became law in 1982. Within two years, Pennsylvania began building more new prisons (16 in the next 14 years) than the eleven built during the entire 160 years 1982!
I implore the reader to demand the elimination of the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission, which in reality really determines what sentences are imposed in our state. Elimination is the only improvement that can be made because nearly everyone follows the Commission's guidelines as if they are gospel. Consequently, even judges, year after year, follow the guidelines, and thus sentences are consistent with the commission's guidelines 90% of the time. Mandatory minimum sentencing must also be eliminated. When these reforms are applied, judges will be forced to intelligently decide every sentence in Pennsylvania. The judge will be responsible, not the prosecutor or the sentencing commission. And that is the way it has to be.
I must stress that both mandatory minimum sentencing and commissions on sentencing are recent events. Both grew in acceptance and thus opened throughout the U.S, in the last 40 years. For our entire history, Pennsylvania judges did the sentencing until someone got the bright idea to control judicial discretion and make sentencing a numbers game. The sentence is now determined by what point values are placed by the commission on prior offenses. That point value is then plotted against the new offense. The point values and the plotting of them allow anyone to compute the standard, aggravated and mitigated sentencing ranges for the prosecutor to offer as a plea deal.
The concept spread to all states and to federal government only because it was a no-brainer for legislators to vote to pass the laws. To do so shows they are tough on crime. It was free publicity stating that the legislator is doing his/her job by controlling sentencing and ensuring that judges impose sentences consistent with each other based on the plotting of the two factors. Simply put, everybody is treated the same. Justice requires that sentencing be consistent and the legislator is assuring that result. It is a simple winning concept.
The only problem is this is a myth. Offenses are charged and negotiate differently throughout the state depending on many variables: 1) the age, experience and philosophy of the police officer; 2) the volume of cases in the municipality; 3) the justice philosophy of the prosecutor; 4) the volume of criminal cases in the system and how many full is the jury trial list; 5) the age, health and related factors of the victim determining the likelihood that the victim will be available to testify at a trial; 6) how much of a priority a guilty plea is to save further exposure of the victim to reliving the case by testifying in a jury trial; 7) whether the defendant has private council or a public defender; 8) the experience, ambition and capabilities of the defense lawyers; 9) whether witnesses are cooperating and willing to testify. 10) whether the socioeconomic and political strata of the electoral voting public that elects the prosecutor and the mayor of the police department is blue collar or white collar.
The President, Congress, and the E.L.C.A. have all (finally) raised the need for reform. More citizens are learning that sentencing commissions and mandatory minimum sentencing practices were not the answer, and that their existence actually made matters worse. When will it change?
Next week in Part II: Quotes from sections of the 50-page report of the Task Force of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.