#268 ONDCP Deputy Endorses Caging Patients

Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003
Subject: #268 ONDCP Deputy Endorses Caging Patients


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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #268 Thu, 23 July 2003

On Tuesday, July 22, the Los Angeles Times ran a column by ONDCP
Deputy Director Andrea Barthwell. Citing her background as an M.D.,
Barthwell strongly debunks the idea of medical marijuana. Nothing
much is new here, though she is clear to focus her criticism on
‘smoking’ marijuana. Also she specifically notes that ‘feeling
better’ from using marijuana is not a valid reason to use it. One
must ‘actually get better’ or otherwise be subject to arrest and

Finally, she misrepresents the pending appeal by the Feds versus
California doctors as noted below.

Please take a moment to write a succinct letter to the editors of the
L.A. Times so that readers will have a chance to see that the opinions
of federal drug war cheerleaders are not paramount in California.

Thanks for your effort and support.

It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)

Contact: letters@latimes.com


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Pubdate: Tue, 22 Jul 2003
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Contact: letters@latimes.com
Author: Andrea Barthwell
Note: Andrea Barthwell, a medical doctor, is a deputy director at the White
House Office of National Drug Control Policy and a past president of the
American Society of Addiction Medicine.


As a physician with more than 20 years of experience dealing with
patients who are addicted to drugs, I am often asked my professional
opinion about a contentious public health question: What is the
medical basis for smoking marijuana? The answer needs some context.

Americans today have the world’s safest, most effective system of
medical practice, built on a process of scientific research, testing
and oversight that is unequaled.

Before the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1907, Americans
were exposed to a host of patent medicine “cure-alls,” everything from
vegetable “folk remedies” to dangerous mixtures with morphine. The
major component of most “cures” was alcohol, which probably explained
why people reported that they “felt better.”

Needless to say, claimed benefits were erratic and

Marijuana, whatever its value, is intoxicating, and it’s not
surprising that sincere people will report relief of their symptoms
when they smoke it. The important point is that there is a difference
between feeling better and actually getting better. It is the job of
modern medicine to establish this distinction.

The debate over drug use generates a great deal of media attention —
including the focus on the administration’s appeal this month to the
U.S. Supreme Court against medical marijuana — and frequent
misinformation. Some will have read, for instance, that the medicinal
value of smoking marijuana represents “mainstream medical opinion.” It
is time to set the record straight.

Simply put, there is no scientific evidence that qualifies smoked
marijuana to be called medicine. Further, there is no support in the
medical literature that marijuana, or indeed any medicine, should be
smoked as the preferred form of administration. The harms to health
are simply too great.

Marijuana advocates often cite the 1999 National Academy of Science’s
Institute of Medicine report as justifying the drug’s medical use.
But, in fact, the verdict of that report was “marijuana is not a
modern medicine.” The institute was particularly troubled by the
notion that crude marijuana might be smoked by patients, which it
termed “a harmful drug-delivery system.”

These concerns are echoed by the Food and Drug Administration, the
agency charged with approving all medicines. As the FDA recently
noted: “While there are no proven benefits to [smoked] marijuana use,
there are many short- and long-term risks associated with marijuana

Compounds in the marijuana plant do potentially have a medical value.
For instance, a synthetic version of an ingredient in marijuana has
been approved for treating nausea for chemotherapy patients, as well
as for treatment of anorexia associated with weight loss in patients
with AIDS.

Admittedly, these medications have limitations, including the
relatively slow onset of relief. Researchers are exploring
drug-delivery systems that allow rapid relief — perhaps an oral
inhalator like those used by asthma patients — as a response to
patient needs.

But these medications are a far cry from burning the crude weed and
gulping down the smoke. Every American is familiar with aspirin, and
some know that it was first found in willow bark, from which the
therapeutic agent acetylsalicylic acid was eventually synthesized.
Surely no one today would chew willow bark, much less smoke a piece of
tree, to cure a headache.

Medical science does not fear any compound, even those with a
potential for abuse. If a substance has the proven capacity to serve a
medical purpose, then it will be accepted. We have done so with
substances as dangerous as opium, allowing the medical use of many of
its derivatives, including morphine, Demerol and OxyContin. The key
term is “proven capacity.” Only if compounds from marijuana pass the
same tests of research scrutiny that any other drug must undergo will
they become part of the modern medical arsenal.

Our investment in medical science is at risk if we do not defend the
proven process by which medicines are brought to the market. All drugs
must undergo rigorous clinical trials before a drug can be released
for public use.

The overarching charge to any physician is: “First, do no harm.” That
is the test smoked marijuana cannot pass.



(Please note: These letters are samples only. Your own letter to the
L.A. Times should be substantially different so that the Times will
consider it as adding to the discussion.)

To the editors of the Los Angeles Times,

Dear Editor:

ONDCP Deputy Director Andrea Barthwell soberly intones, “Physician –
First Do No Harm”, in support of her criticism for the use of medical
marijuana. Her personal analysis enumerates various harms of smoking
marijuana, though she ignores the fact that many patients consume
their medical pot in baked goods, orally. Ignored by this
‘smokescreen’ is the only relevant question with regard to allowing
legal access to medical pot. And that is, should patients who elect
to use marijuana as medicine with the support of their doctor be
subject to arrest, criminal prosecution and time in a prison cell,
caged like a dangerous animal? Current federal drug policies endorsed
by Barthwell, ONDCP head John Walters and George W. Bush show that
they believe the answer to this question is a resounding Yes.

Barthwell also misleads readers with her reference to, “…. the
administration’s appeal this month to the U.S. Supreme Court against
medical marijuana.” In fact the administration is appealing the right
of doctors to freely speak to patients about marijuana.

How many more Californians using medical marijuana legally under state
law must be arrested and caged by federal drug war

Respectfully submitted,

Stephen Heath
Clearwater, FL


To: letters@latimes.com

Subject: Please consider the following Letter to the Editor for publication

July 21, 2003

To the editor,

It’s ironic that Andrea Barthwell, deputy director for the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy, willfully misconstrues the
facts regarding the medicinal use of marijuana (“A Haze of
Misinformation Clouds Issue of Medical Marijuana,” July 21, 2003) mere
weeks after Delegates of the American Nurses Association (ANA)
convened in Washington, DC to resolve to “support the right of
patients to have safe access to therapeutic marijuana.” Who do you
believe? A paid spokeswoman for the Drug Czar’s office, or the RNs who
have dedicated their lives to attend the needs of the sick and dying?

The ANA’s support for the use of marijuana as a medicine is not based
on “misinformation,” but rather on scores of scientific studies and
patient testimonies demonstrating the therapeutic value of cannabis.
That is why dozens of prominent national and international health
organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the
AIDS Action Council, the United Kingdom’s Multiple Sclerosis Society,
and The New England Journal of Medicine, support the immediate
legalization of medical marijuana under a physician’s

However, if Ms. Barthwell and the Bush administration have their way,
patients who find therapeutic relief from marijuana will not only be
denied legal access to the one medicine that alleviates their
suffering, but they will also face arrest and imprisonment. In
addition, the Bush administration is now appealing to the Supreme
Court to allow the Justice Department to punish doctors who so much as
speak to their patients about the medical use of marijuana – a
position so extreme that it runs contrary to both the American Medical
Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, the latter
of which Ms. Barthwell formerly served as president.

It is shameful that Ms. Barthwell, a physician, is now willing to
place politics before the needs of patients she once took an oath to


Paul Armentano
Senior Policy Analyst
NORML | NORML Foundation
Washington, DC 20006-2832

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Prepared by: Stephen Heath, Drug Policy Forum of Florida
http://www.dpffl.org Focus Alert Specialist