Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reports on teenage drug use should include life-saving information

The latest federal report on adolescent drug use (Monitoring the Future) was released today. Generally fewer teenagers are using drugs of abuse, the University of Michigan researchers report. This is good news. But the anti-drug effort needs bad news or new dangers. This year’s “new” danger has been the methamphetamine “epidemic,” lamented by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the press conference at the National Press Club. However, the data shows that methamphetamine use among teenagers has actually declined dramatically since 1999.

For 2007, the danger du jour will be dextromethorphan (DXM), the common cough suppressant in cough syrup. The lead in today’s AP story on the Monitoring the Future study says teens “are turning to cough syrup.” The story should mention that when DXM is taken with acetaminophen, it is that common over-the-counter drug that can be lethal!

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times had a major story, “Teens try cough medicine for a high,” (Dec. 5, 2006). The official press release on the teenage drug use study did not mention dextromethorphan until page 5. However, the rates of annual prevalence among teenagers of using cough or cold medicine to get high are much greater than most common illegal drugs – 4 percent for 8th graders, 5 percent for 10th graders and 7 percent for 12th graders.

What are the dangers?

A typical adult dose of dextromethorphan in two tablespoons of cough syrup or a pill is 20-30 milligrams, or about .4mg/kg of body weight.

Dextromethorphan intoxication varies by dose. A moderate high is achieved at 2.5 to 7.5 mg/kg, or between 5 and 15 times the usual therapeutic dose, which can yield closed eye hallucinations or a “shamanic feel,” but cognitive function is severely disrupted and reaction time is delayed. Mood can range from mania to panic. The most intense highs are achieved at 15 mg/kg or about thirty times the usual dose and are intensely mentally disorienting with an out of body experience. See Erowid for life-saving information.

Aside from the danger of serious mentally disorienting effects of high dose dextromethorphan intoxication, another of its most significant dangers comes from the other drugs that are often present in cough and cold preparations.

Ddextromethorphan is often packaged with acetaminophen, for example, in Nyquil® Cold/Flu.
Used to relieve pain and fever, acetaminophen, is commonly used at dosages between 325 and 650 mg. But the hepatoxicity – liver damage – from acetaminophen can be triggered by an acute dose of 7 grams – ten to twenty times the usual dose.

Teenagers who use DXM products that contain acetaminophen to get high are in severe danger.

The Los Angeles Times story on teenagers use of cough syrup concluded with the story of the death of teenager Lucia Martino of Anaheim, CA from liver failure after swallowing 20 Coricidin pills. But it did not mention the danger from acetaminophen. (Some Coricidin preparations include DXM and acetaminophen, some include no DXM, and others with DXM that do not include acetaminophen).

News coverage and government spokespersons must mention that one of the dangers from this kind of drug use is related to the overdose of common over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen.

# # #

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Teenager Expelled for TURNING IN a pellet gun

Across the nation, school bureaucrats continue their mission to bring disrespect to public education. The latest outrage is committed in Plainfield, Illinois.
CBS Channel 2 in Chicago reports

A 13-year-old Plainfield boy and his parents are stunned and outraged after the teen found a gun in school and turned it in to authorities, who then expelled him.
School board officials issued a statement Wednesday night saying due to confidentiality reasons they can't discuss the specifics of this case, but that "purposeful possession of weapons is a serious offense and deserves careful consideration by the administration and the school board."
If you learned that the young man is an African-American, would that fact suggest an explanation for such an otherwise inexplicable decision was made?

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 08, 2006

Call Jeb Bush -- take one minute and do it now.

Today, Friday, Dec. 8, I called Florida Governor Jeb Bush asking him to immediately commute the sentence of Richard Paey.
Call 850-488-7146 in Tallahassee, FL in the Eastern time zone.
Please take one minute to call him too.
Please forward this post. Let's flood the Governor with polite and urgent telephone calls. Paey has been in prison three years already -- let's try to get him home to his wife and three children by Christmas.

I was inspired by Maia Szalavitz's outstanding column on the decision

Richard Paey was in a car wreck and suffered a devastating spinal injury in 1985 while a student at the University of Pennsylvania law school. He has struggled to control the sometimes excruciating pain ever since with high doses of powerful pain killers. After he moved to Florida in 1994, he continued to see his doctor in New Jersey. Paey last saw his doctor in December 1996. In February 1997, a Florida pharmacy tipped off the Sheriff that Paey was buying large quantities of pain killer. A deputy observed Paey fill a prescription issued by the NJ doctor. The deputy then called the doctor who first admitted and then denied writing the prescriptions. Over 34 days, Paey had seven prescriptions filled to acquire about 1400 pills. Paey never sold the pills, but kept them to relieve his suffering. As a convenience to Paey, the doctor had sent undated prescriptions to him -- a minor offense. The doctor, fearing prosecution, changed his story and denied writing the prescriptions. Paey had used the prescription blank of his New Jersey doctor. Paey was charged with drug trafficking, but even though he was under continual police surveillance, there was never any evidence that he sold any of his pills, as he has always insisted.

After turning down a plea bargain offer to attempted drug trafficking with a sentence of three years of house arrest and eight years of probation, because he knew that he was not a drug trafficker -- attempted or otherwise -- and because he feared that with a drug conviction no doctor would ever write a legal prescription for him again, Paey went to trial in 2002. Cary David first told the story in the St. Petersburg Times. He was convicted of seven counts of drug trafficking based simply on the possession, and sentenced to a mandatory 25-years in prison due to weight of the pills he possessed. In prison he is now on a morphine pump getting as much pain killer as he was using when he filled the prescriptions.

Paey's appeal was featured on CBS News 60 Minutes, January 29, 2006, Morley Safer reporting. Paey's case was featured on the New York Times op-ed page on July 19, 2005 in a column by John Tierney that was reprinted all over the country.

Paey appealed his conviction, including arguing that this sentence amounts to cruel or unusual punishment under the Florida Constitution or cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution. The Florida Court of Appeals (Second District) rejected his appeal 2 to 1 on Dec. 6. The opinion is worth reading. The dissent, by Associate Judge James H. Seals, is outstanding. But even the majority conceded that the sentence was too long, and said that Paey's appeal properly lies with the Governor and his power of clemency, not with the court.

Paey had also been found guilty of four counts of forging a prescription, each count drawing a sentence of one year and one day, all to be served concurrently. He has served more than three years already. He should be freed!
Paey is now 48 years old, married with three children.

These accounts report on the denial of the appeal: The Tampa Tribune and the International Herald Tribune.

Richard's lawyer, John P. Flannery, II, of Leesburg, VA, has filed a petition for commutation of sentence with Governor Jeb Bush.

Please call Governor Bush and encourage him to grant the petition.
Call 850-488-7146 in Tallahassee, FL.


Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Are we protecting children?

Two stories today about the threats our kids face from drug prohibition exemplify the inevitable consequences of not regulating the market for drugs desired by about 20 million Americans:

The youngest kids: The Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel reports that seven day care centers have been closed down from June 2005 to June 2006 because drugs are being sold or used on the premises. In a recent case involving "A Helping Hand Creative Learning Place,"

When police executed a search warrant at the day care last fall, they found a duffel bag containing 2 pounds of marijuana, a digital scale and a Helping Hand business card.

Upstairs from the day care, where Mosley [a helper at the child care center] and his wife [the proprietor] resided, police found two loaded pistols, $7,000 in cash, three cellular phones and a pager. And Mosley's wife admitted that she knew her husband was selling drugs, records show.

Why don't you find day care centers that also sell jewelry or insurance or whiskey? Because those products can be sold legally and openly.

Prohibition businesses require fronts. A day care center, with a constant flow of young people coming in and going out to drop off or pick up their kids, has great value as a cover for a place that sells prohibited drugs like marijuana.

Undeniably, it is despicable to put kids at risk of firearms injury or death when robbers (or SWAT teams) come to take down your drug business. Federal law provides that whatever punishment one's drug crime carries will be doubled for doing so at a public or private elementary school (21 U.S.C. 860(a)). Whether this offense includes a day care facility is arguable. To use children to avoid detection for a drug offense carries a tripled penalty (21 U.S.C. 860(c)(2)).

In the second instance, teenagers are tempted by the money, excitement and rebellion of the illegal drug trade.

The Wilmington (DE) News-Journal reports on the violence in Wilmington. The headline is a grabber, "Youths fear for their lives in housing project." The murder count is now tied with last year, the most deadly in Wilmington history. Teenagers fear being shot on the street. Others are tempted by the drug trade.

Jea Street, executive director of the Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center, said he loses children to the streets all the time.

"When the kids turn 12 or 13, I'm in immediate competition for their destiny with the drug dealers, who give them a lot of money and ask for very little, while we can only give them a safe haven and some hope for the future."

Are young teenagers being recruited to enter other businesses? Only minimum wage jobs like retail, fast food, or mowing lawns, or slightly better jobs such as life guard.

Prohibition profits offers a mediocre or unmotivated student an easy justification for dropping out of school.

Too bad Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) doesn't see the connections.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

DEA and the Meth Menace

The political cynic in me is aroused.

The raids reported below in the New York Daily News took place on National Meth Awareness Day. I wondered, did DEA just recently discover all of those labs and as a coincidence they happened to raid them on the same day, which happened to be Meth Awareness Day? Or did they learn of these labs in recent weeks or months and decide to wait to raid them all together for the media splashiness of it, on National Meth Day? If the latter, was DEA really worried that these meth labs might lead at any moment to dangerous explosions in apartment buildings in New York City? Either there was a grave danger and DEA ignored that grave danger to the public in order to make a media splash, or DEA believes that the danger of explosion is greatly exaggerated but useful for snookering the news media.

From the New York Daily News, December 3, 2006
The meth menace: Addictive drug is creeping up social ladder

By Austin Fenner and Tina Moore
New York Daily News

NEW YORK - Methamphetamine - once considered the drug of choice in the backwoods - is moving up in society. Experts say methods for "cooking" the drug have become less noxious over the past decade, making meth labs a friendlier fit for apartment buildings like the one on Manhattan's East Side, where federal agents announced a bust last week.

"Back in the day, cooking meth was a very smelly process," said Steve Robertson, special agent and spokesman for the DEA. "That's why meth labs would go into rural areas. You would have them out in little shacks out on farms or ranches."

Agents from his agency announced Thursday - National Meth Awareness Day - that they had busted a clandestine meth lab at an East Side high-rise. They also announced nine other meth lab busts in the city and on Long Island.

The local meth labs highlight a change in the face of methamphetamine use - long a rural drug consumed most often by lower-income men and women.

"There's no question that there has been an increase of meth use in the city," said Dr. Petros Levounis, who runs the Addiction Institute of New York. "The transformation from Sudafed to meth is extremely, extremely easy."

The busts announced last week added another twist to the meth dilemma: Two of the men arrested, both professionals, were making the drug for personal consumption.

Meth labs - even rural mom and pop labs - are usually run to turn a profit.

Michael Knib, an information technology vice president for Citigroup, told agents he started producing the drug because he lost his sources when he moved to the city from Seattle, investigators said.

Mehmetcan Dosemeci, a 28-year-old doctoral student in history and Fullbright Scholar at Columbia University, told agents that he was making the drug in his Manhattan Avenue flat to stay awake. He researched cooking meth on the Internet.

The production of meth puts the people making the drug and those around them in danger. Meth labs - where vaporous chemicals are hard to detect - are known to explode.

"It's unsettling," said a neighbor in the Manhattan Avenue building where Dosemeci lived. He did not want to be named in this story. "He was taking a risk with other people's lives."

A retired 69-year-old clerk, who also did not want to provide his name, was dumbfounded.

"If it blows up, what is he going to say to the people who wind up in the morgue?" he said. "Who needs to stay awake for up to three days?"

The ease with which the drug can be made has prompted action in Washington.

A federal law that took effect in September bans over-the-counter sales of certain cold medicines with ingredients used to make meth, including pseudoephedrine and ephedrine.

The law requires buyers to show photo identification and allows them to purchase only a 30-day supply.

Robertson, who started out as a clandestine-lab investigator in the Southwest in the mid-1990s, said changes in the meth culture shifted into high-gear when recipes were posted on the Internet.

"Then all of a sudden it was there," he said. "People were cooking in the backs of cars, in hotel rooms and apartments. It was everywhere."

Sphere: Related Content

A Debate on Drug Legalization in Vermont

Recently a prosecutor in Vermont, Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand told the Rutland Herald that he favored decriminalization of all drugs, "State's attorney critical of drug laws."

Today, the Rutland Herald followed up asking the state police Commissioner his view, and a retired federal probation officer, "State splits over decriminalizing drugs."

Today the newspaper editorialized, "Just say so to legalization".

I posted the following on the comment board:

"What justifies punishing a drug user?"

The Rutland Herald’s editorial this morning is a thoughtful beginning to think about one of the most important social policy questions our society faces. The use of drugs unquestionably leads to many tragedies – but that is true of much of life.

Just think of how many persons are killed and injured skiing and snow boarding each year nationwide – an average of more than 38 persons per year, according to National Ski Areas Association. One could ask, what does skiing accomplish? What good is skiing? Well, it is fun, it is exciting. Isn’t it exciting because the speed creates a sense of risk? If we focused our attention just on hospital emergency rooms, we might think that skiing ought to be outlawed.

It might be an interesting exercise to imagine what the world of skiing would look like if it were outlawed. Imagine who would make skis, how it would be taught, where it would be done. Does anyone doubt that while there would be much less skiing, it would be much more dangerous to those who do ski, than it is now?

Do any of your readers know people who do not ski because they fear that it is dangerous? How would Vermonters feel if a crusade were started to protect society from the dangers of skiing by outlawing skiing? We would consider such a crusade absurd.

Most of society would argue that there is simply no valid comparison between skiing and heroin use. And in many respects, of course, they are very different activities. Most of us cannot imagine that our vision of the typical heroin user is getting any pleasure that is legitimate – we see the heroin user as desperately ill and hunting for their next “fix.” What is the Constitutional or moral principal that entitles a political majority to define another person’s pleasures as wrong, or illegal?

Before we think about legalization and the complex regulations that it might involve, we must ask a preliminary question. What is the principle that authorizes the state punishment of a person for the simple act of using a drug like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana? What are our principles for deciding who the state gets to deny liberty by locking them up and punishment? Before society is justified in punishing a person, isn’t it necessary to ask exactly what harm to another that person is actually doing?

We punish rapists because they hurt a victim. Our society says you cannot force a person to have sex if they do not want to. We say you cannot fondle someone for your own emotional gratification. You cannot lock up a child in the basement and deny the child liberty – even if you feed the child and give the child books. We understand that taking away someone’s rights and property are wrong, and deserve punishment.

The person sitting in their house who injects, smokes or snorts a drug is not taking away anyone else’s property or invading anyone else’s rights. What is the principle that says the state may punish them? The question I am asking is, what is the moral basis for punishing drug use?

Some people like to answer that because drug use will lead (but only sometimes) to addiction or other physical injury, that consequence will result in public expenditures. But this consequence does not justify punishing people in advance. We may be able to predict that a lifestyle that involves a poor diet and no exercise will lead to health consequences likely to result in medical bills that must be paid by insurance or by the public. No one would ever claim that such potential public costs justify punishing a person today.

Some people say that punishing people who use drugs will deter other people, especially young people, from using drugs. This mixes up the proper subject of punishment. We may punish a shoplifter who has taken the property of another – which we all agree is wrong – to deter other people from doing that kind of wrongful thing. But we would not and do not punish people who simply browse the aisles of a store because we think that they might shoplift. Unless someone has actually done something wrong, it is wrong to punish them. This kind of deterrence is a type of collective punishment – that is punishment of members of a group to prevent others from taking action. Think about this kind of deterrence at its most extreme. During World War II many people resisted the German invasion of their country. They set roadside bombs for German convoys or blew up trains. The Germans tried to prevent this by inflicting punishment on all the village residents near such acts of resistance. That kind of collective punishment was declared a crime against humanity.

We have imprisoned tens of thousands of people simply for possessing marijuana. They have done nothing else. Is this imprisonment morally justified? This question cannot be answered by saying, “it is against the law,” because we are examining the moral basis for the law.

Before we get to the question of legalization – that is, what a post-prohibition regime might look like, and how it might affect society – we must first answer the moral question of what justifies the state’s punishment of people who have not done anything other than possessed and used a drug.

Sphere: Related Content