Obama Drug Czar Pick: No Recovery from War on Drugs?

By chillinwill · Nov 21, 2008 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    On paper, Jim Ramstad-- who is rumored to be Obama's choice for drug czar-- looks like the ideal man for the job . He's a recovering alcoholic himself and a Congressman who championed legislation recently passed to provide equal insurance coverage for addictions and other mental illnesses.

    To top it off, he's a Republican, giving Obama what looks like a relatively harmless way to make his cabinet more bipartisan. Choosing Ramstad would appear to make a powerful statement about addiction as a medical, not a moral issue.

    Unfortunately, Ramstad may be a drug warrior in recovering person's clothing. There is one issue that has consistently separated those who put science and saving lives in front of politics. That is needle exchange programs for addicts to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood borne illnesses.

    Even President Clinton now says he was "wrong" when he ignored the recommendations of every scientific and medical organization in the world that has examined the question-- from the AMA to the World Health Organization-- and refused to lift the federal ban on funding.

    Needle exchanges have been shown repeatedly to reduce HIV and contrary to the claims of opponents, they help addicts get into treatment.

    But Bill Clinton had a drug czar-- Barry McCaffrey-- who said that needle exchange "sent the wrong message," and would make him seem soft on drugs. McCaffrey fought against it and Clinton now says he "regrets" caving in to drug war politics.

    While Obama has said that he favors federal funding, the last thing we need is another drug czar to talk him out of it.

    Ramstad looks like that person. I am awaiting comment from his office to see if he has changed his position, but his history on the issue isn't good. In 1992, he said "Federal funds should be used to get people off drugs not facilitate drug abuse...let's support programs that save lives, not destroy lives." By then, dozens of studies from around the world already suggested that clean needle programs not only reduce HIV, but attract addicts into recovery.

    When I was injecting drugs in the 80's in New York, when 50% of IV drug users were HIV positive, a friend taught me to use clean needles. She probably saved my life-- she certainly didn't destroy it. I have now been free of cocaine and heroin for 20 years.

    But people like Ramstad believe that it would have been better to deny me the information and equipment I needed to protect myself than to risk "enabling" my addiction. And they push this view that risks addicts' lives regardless of evidence that shows that their fears are groundless!

    In 1999-- with the data now overwhelming --Ramstad voted to prevent Washington DC from using its own money to fund syringe exchange.

    DC has the country's highest HIV rate. Not coincidentally, until after that provision was repealed late last year, it had no publicly funded needle exchange. African Americans have been the group most affected by the failure to prevent the spread of HIV amongst IV drug users, their partners and children.

    New York, by contrast, started needle exchange relatively early and saw infection rates cut in half over the following years, according to a 1998 study.

    Ramstad also-- again, against the evidence-- opposes medical marijuana and supports federal policing and prosecution of providers and patients in the states that have made it legal. These states have not seen the rise in teen drug use that opponents like the Congressman predicted.

    The opposite, in fact, happened-- as is the case in countries that have decriminalized marijuana like Holland. The UK's "downgrading" of cannabis offense to a lesser status was also accompanied by a drop in use.

    There's simply no evidence that allowing sick people to get needed medication conflicts with helping addicts. Obama has said he does not support these prosecutions--will Ramstad push him in the wrong direction here, too? In an economic crisis, do we really want to spend federal time and money locking up medical marijuana providers and sick people?

    While Ramstad has opposed some interdiction efforts and called for more treatment funding, someone who doesn't even believe that addicts have a right to life if they aren't in treatment is not the kind of recovering person that I want representing me as drug czar.

    That's not change, President Obama-- that's more of the same. Don't make the mistake that Bill Clinton did and install a drug czar who will ignore science and push dogma.

    While it's great to have a recovering person as an example, just having a disease and talking with others who've recovered the same way you did does not make you an expert. We need someone who knows the science, recognizes that there are many paths to recovery-- and understands that dead addicts can't recover.

    By Maia Szalavitz
    Posted November 21, 2008 | 09:44 AM (EST)
    The Huffington Post

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  1. ScorpioSunshine
    I'm really interested to see what happens here.

    I was thinking "Maybe he's had a change of heart over the years in light of new evidence that certain things do work better", but as I continued to read the article, I can see that may not be the case.

    I hope President-Elect Obama has thought this through .. or that it's not true ... we definitely don't need more of a failed drug policy in the USA!

    Unless Obama and Ramstad have had some major talks and he knows something we don't know, I can see this choice is going to upset a lot of people. Don't disappoint us, Mr, Obama!!
  2. telja munda
    I'm looking for 10 or 20 million voters to join me in signaling to Obama that if there is no substantial drug policy reform (starting with marijuana, but not ending there) during his first few years in office, that he will NOT get my vote in 2012. Period.
  3. savingJenniB
    He's listening! Go to:

    Your opinion can make a difference.
    Express it.
  4. telja munda
    Yes, I will express my opinion there. But I find it highly disappointing that the ONLY mention of drug policy on the entire Obama website is the following, which I found in the Agenda: Civil Rights section:

    “Expand Use of Drug Courts: Obama and Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.”

    How generous of them! Maybe members of the Obama team who have ever indulged in marijuana-related “bad behavior” should be subjected to a round of Rehab before they take office.

  5. chillinwill
    Another Anti-Pot Presidential Appointment?

    Barack Obama's win on Nov. 4 gave medi-pot advocates a sense of (cautious) optimism that the federal war on pot as medicine might take a positive turn, in part because Obama has said that he does not favor using taxpayer resources to conduct raids on medi-pot patients in states where the plant has been legalized for medical use.

    But with the possibility that Dr. Donald Vereen might make his way back into the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy, where he was a deputy director under President Bill Clinton, medi-pot-law reformers are now worried that Obama will offer more of the same failed drug policies that have become standard during the government's several decades long failed War on Drugs.

    Indeed, Vereen, who reportedly will serve as the "transitional co-chair" of the ONDCP, was a foe of medi-pot during his 1998-2000 tenure with that office. In 1999 he told Psychiatric News (a journal of the American Psychiatric Association) that it was "irresponsible" for doctors to recommend pot to their patients, and he "endorsed the continuing arrest of marijuana users, whether sick or well," PN reported on April 16, 1999, in the wake of a report from the Institute of Medicine (an arm of the National Academy of Sciences) concluding that marijuana might make good medicine, and that a bronchial inhaler could be developed to address concerns about the negative effects of smoking the drug.

    And just this year, Vereen came out against medi-pot again, during the Michigan campaign to enact a medi-mari law. Vereen, director of community based public health at the University of Michigan, came out against the initiative, saying that it "puts young people at risk," reports California's Capitol Weekly. Nonetheless, the Michigan medi-pot initiative passed -- with 63% of voters in favor of the law, the medi-pot law actually received more votes than did Obama, who took 57% of the vote.

    By Jordan Smith
    Mon Nov 24, 11:58am
    Austin Chronicle
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