#218 Drug Overdose Deaths Can Be Reduced

Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001
Subject: #218 Drug Overdose Deaths Can Be Reduced

Drug Overdose Deaths Can Be Reduced


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #218 Monday August 20, 2001

This past Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle (TX) reported the news from
the previous weekend of 16 overdose deaths, all in the same geographic
area and all from the same mixed package of cocaine and heroin.

On Thursday, Chronicle columnist THOM MARSHALL penned yet another column
denouncing current drug policies entitled IT’S TIME WE ADMIT DRUG WAR A
FAILURE. In fact, this was the 83rd column from the past 3 years that
Marshall has written that we have archived at MAP, more than any other
columnist in the country who is not syndicated nationally. See:

Then on Saturday, the Chronicle’s editorial board posted an editorial
commenting on the overdose deaths. While including some hyperbole,
“….trying street drugs even once could mean death…”, it also
astutely noted that treatment on demand is needed, “… No parent
deserves a dead teenager because the child experimented with drugs.
Better that troubled young people had the kind of access to effective
drug treatment that recording artists and movie stars apparently take
for granted.”

Please write a letter TODAY to the Chronicle thanking them for their
coverage of this topic. We suggest you promote the message that
treatment on demand is a much needed change from current drug policy
and also that current drug prohibition laws make it difficult for
those who need help to seek it out. Also current drug laws create
black market drug dealers, which increases the risk for all citizens,
not just the drug users.

( Letter, Phone, fax etc.)

Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent
letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by
E-mailing a copy directly to MGreer@mapinc.org Your letter will then
be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts
and be motivated to follow suit.

This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is one of the only ways we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.

Contact Info:

Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Contact: viewpoints@chron.com

Extra Credit

Either in the body of your letter or in a postscript, please commend
Thom Marshall for his continued criticism of current drug policy as
well as his astute suggestions on how we can make positive change.



URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n1515/a08.html
Pubdate: Thu, 16 Aug 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle
Contact: viewpoints@chron.com
Author: Thom Marshall


Perhaps, if what’s happened in Harris County since Saturday still
isn’t enough to convince us to make some changes, we could agree on
some numbers that would be.

By the most recent count available when I was writing this,
unregulated illegal drugs had killed up to 15 people here since
Saturday. This number made news because it is so much larger than the
two or three deaths that occur on an average weekend in Harris County
due to unregulated illegal drugs.

While we surely agree that is an alarming number, it likely will not
be a sufficiently convincing one. Consider these drug war casualty
figures from the government: A total of 11,651 deaths related to drug
abuse were reported in 1999 by 139 medical examiners in 40
metropolitan areas.

One of those who died locally a few days ago after taking unregulated
drugs was a 16-year-old girl. Her entire life was lived during our
nation’s ever-escalating drug war. Yet her life came to an end so
abruptly and prematurely because the war has failed. Drugs available
from criminal dealers remain plentiful, and easily obtainable, and
totally free of requirements regarding purity or strength.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

I hear from many people who believe that anyone who takes unregulated
drugs deserves whatever happens to them as a result. After all, people
know the dangers when they choose to take drugs. If one of them dies
as a result, I’ve heard hard-liners say, that’s one less druggie
adding to the problem.

Every time someone makes such a cold comment, I wonder whether they
are aware of the huge numbers involved, the number of people at risk.

Here is another statistic from the government: In 1999, some 88
million Americans age 12 or older reported using an illicit drug at
least once. That is 40 percent of the population. It doesn’t matter
how straight you are, that is almost certain to include some people
you know, some friends, some family members.

All these years we’ve fought the drug war and yet in 1997, almost
one-third of all high school students ( grades 9-12 ) reported that
someone had offered, sold or given them an illegal drug on school
property. This was up from the one-quarter of the student body that
reported drugs available on school property in 1993.

That is losing.

Government drug war officials like to provide us with numbers about
their busts and seizures. Wednesday’s paper, which had a front-page
update story about the weekend surge in Harris County drug deaths,
also carried, on an inside page, a small item about the U.S. Coast
Guard grabbing 9 tons of cocaine worth $270 million off a fishing boat
in international waters off Colombia’s Pacific coast.

But if we look at other numbers, such as those drug deaths and the
increased availability of drugs at schools, it’s obvious that the
busts and seizures haven’t amounted to squat in the big picture.
Losing an occasional shipment to the authorities is simply a cost of
doing business for the big dealers. Drugs remain plentiful in
Houston, obviously.

Throwing Money Away

For people who aren’t convinced by lost lives, let’s look at some
dollar figures: The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports
that federal spending on drug control programs has increased from $1.5
billion in fiscal year 1981 to $19.2 billion ( estimated ) in fiscal
year 2001.

That’s just the feds’ part of funding the drug war. States and
counties and cities are spending many billions more.

So how much money and how many lives are we willing to lose before we
say enough, let’s try something else? Something like ending the
government’s drug war and concentrating on doctors and psychologists
to treat those who abuse drugs. Something like regulating currently
illegal drugs the way we started regulating alcohol to do away with
bootleggers and eliminate poisonous hooch.

Won’t someone in authority please start negotiations to set some
limits? Some of us in Harris County would like to know when we could
look for some changes.

If 14 deaths in one weekend aren’t enough, how many will it


URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n1519/a11.html
Pubdate: Sat, 18 Aug 2001
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2001 Houston Chronicle
Contact: viewpoints@chron.com


News that 16 people died last weekend from an apparent drug overdose,
possibly of a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin, is shocking.
Most of the victims were Hispanic men, many were young and one was a
16-year-old girl. But the news that fatal overdoses in Harris County
average two or three per weekend arguably is far more

News reports indicate that the number of lethal and nonlethal
overdoses seen by Houston-area medical personnel has skyrocketed
inexplicably. There were 31 overdoses in July this year, compared to
two that month last year. Similarly, the number of overdoses in June
of this year jumped to 29, or 26 more than during that period in 2000.

One Chronicle reader cruelly suggested that the solution to drug use
is to put batches of bad narcotics on the street so that drug users
could “wipe themselves out.” But drug addicts, no matter that their
woes generally are self-inflicted, should not be punished by death for
their destructive behavior. No parent deserves a dead teenager
because the child experimented with drugs. Better that troubled young
people had the kind of access to effective drug treatment that
recording artists and movie stars apparently take for granted.

To prevent more deaths on this scale, local police and Drug
Enforcement Administration officials are trying to find the source of
the lethal drugs. They’ll also investigate whether the drugs were
overly potent or contaminated, and whether the drugs were sold to
intentionally cause overdoses. Four people have been arrested for
selling drugs associated with the overdose deaths.

There has been a lot of discussion of “bad drugs” since this spate of
drug-related fatalities. But heroin and cocaine are bad drugs every
day of the week, even when they don’t kill. It would be gratifying if
this tragedy caused people to recognize that trying street drugs even
once could mean death.


To the editor:

There are two primary reasons why people overdose on any drug. The
first is lack of proper education and the second is ingesting impure
and/or adulterated product. Both reasons were present in the 16 deaths
last weekend and likely account for the majority of the 60 overdose
deaths in Harris County over the past 12 weeks.

Under current zero tolerance and abstinence-only drug education,
children and adults alike are taught that all drug use carries equal
risk and that all drugs are equally dangerous. When they leave the
classroom and enter the real world they quickly see the flaws in this
foundation and are inclined to dismiss ALL drug education

And with our criminal prohibitions against the use of certain
substances, while other risky drugs like alcohol and tobacco are legal
for adult use, the users of the illegal brands are forced to turn to
street corner black market dealers. These suppliers have little
motivation for ensuring product quality, nor are they accountable when
their product is found to be impure or lethal.

Your own columnist Thom Marshall seems to have a very good grasp on
both the inherent problems of current drug policies, but also provides
several legitimate alternatives. As he notes, it’s time to admit the
drug war is a failure. And as your own editorial astutely notes, it’s
time we fund treatment on demand for those who are in true need.
People with drug abuse problems should not have to be arrested and
burdened with a criminal (often felony) record in order to receive

Respectfully submitted,

Stephen Heath Clearwater, FL Drug Policy Forum of Texas (member)

(contact info)


IMPORTANT: Always include your address and telephone number Please
note: If you choose to use this letter as a model please modify it at
least somewhat so that the paper does not receive numerous copies of
the same letter and so that the original author receives credit for
his/her work.


Target Analysis – Houston Chronicle

The Chronicle is read by 1.2 million adults in the greater Houston
area each day, and more than 1.7 million on Sundays.

The Chronicle prints average length letters. Our analysis of the 113
previous published pro-reform letters in the MAP published letter
archives shows an average body length of 183 words, with a range from
61 words to 278 words.

Based on their weekday general news sections advertising rates a
published letter of only four column inches (about 160 words) printed
in this paper has an equivalent advertising value as if you bought a
$2,076 advertisement on behalf of reform.

ADDITIONAL INFO to help you in your letter writing efforts

Writer’s Resources http://www.mapinc.org/resource/



TO UNSUBSCRIBE SEE http://www.drugsense.org/unsub.htm

Prepared by Stephen Heath – http://www.dpft.org
Focus Alert Specialist