Roger Clemens took performance-enhancing drugs to extend his career, then lied about it to Congress, federal prosecutors told jurors in openings statements at the baseball legend’s trial on perjury charges. Clemens has won more awards than any pitcher in baseball history. Why would he lie? Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Durham provided an answer: “To admit something like this would have a negative influence” on Clemens’ ability to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. “This is something that Mr. Clemens wants,” Durham said. As the Washington Post summarized it: “Clemens is accused of lying about taking steroids and Human Growth Hormone in 2008 to a Congressional committee investigating the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. His trainer, Brian McNamee, testified that he had injected Clemens with those substances with the pitcher’s knowledge between 1998 and 2001.” The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had been holding hearings over concerns about young athletes taking steroids.
This afternoon, in his opening statement, Clemens’ defense attorney Rusty Hardin fired back, claiming that former trainer Brian McNamee “is a liar.” As for the charge that Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs to extend his career, Hardin pointed out that Clemens “continued to dominate Major League Baseball in the years after McNamee alleges he last injected Clemens with steroids in 2001.” Hardin also questioned the amount of state and federal resources devoted to the case, noting that more than 100 law enforcement officials had been involved.
The government in Portugal has no plans to back down. Although the Netherlands is the European country most associated with liberal drug laws, it has already been ten years since Portugal became the first European nation to take the brave step of decriminalizing possession of all drugs within its borders—from marijuana to heroin, and everything in between. This controversial move went into effect in June of 2001, in response to the country’s spiraling HIV/AIDS statistics. While many critics in the poor and largely conservative country attacked the sea change in drug policy, fearing it would lead to drug tourism while simultaneously worsening the country’s already shockingly high rate of hard drug use, a report published in 2009 by the Cato Institute tells a different story. Glenn Greenwald, the attorney and author who conducted the research, told Time: “Judging by every metric, drug decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success. It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country."
Back in 2001, Portugal had the highest rate of HIV among injecting drug users in the European Union—an incredible 2,000 new cases a year, in a country with a population of just 10 million. Despite the predictable controversy the move stirred up at home and abroad, the Portuguese government felt there was no other way they could effectively quell this ballooning problem. While here in the U.S. calls for full drug decriminalization are still dismissed as something of a fringe concern, the Portuguese decided to do it, and have been quietly getting on with it now for a decade. Surprisingly, most credible reports appear to show that decriminalization has been a staggering success.
The DEA sees it a bit differently. Portugal, they say, was a disaster, with heroin and HIV rates out of control. "Portugal's addict population and the problems that go along with addiction continue to increase," the DEA maintains. "In an effort to reduce the number of addicts in the prison system, the Portuguese government has an enacted some radical policies in the last few years with the eventual decriminalization of all illicit drugs in July of 2001."
However, as Greenwald concludes: "By freeing its citizens from the fear of prosecution and imprisonment for drug usage, Portugal has dramatically improved its ability to encourage drug addicts to avail themselves of treatment. The resources that were previously devoted to prosecuting and imprisoning drug addicts are now available to provide treatment programs to addicts." Under the perfect system, treatment would also be voluntary, but as an alternative to jail, mandatory treatment save money. But for now, "the majority of EU states have rates that are double and triple the rate for post-decriminalization Portugal," Greenwald says.
For those looking for clues about how the U.S. government can tackle its domestic drug problem, the figures are enticing. Following decriminalization, Portugal eventually found itself with the lowest rates of marijuana usage in people over 15 in the EU: about 10%. Compare this to the 40% of people over 12 who regularly smoke pot in the U.S., a country with some of the most punitive drugs laws in the developed world. Drug use of all kinds has declined in Portugal: Lifetime use among seventh to ninth graders fell from 14.01% to 10.6%. Lifetime heroin use among 16-18 year olds fell from 2.5% to 1.8%. And what about those horrific HIV infection rates that prompted the move in the first place? HIV infection rates among drug users fell by an incredible 17%, while drug related deaths were reduced by more than half. "There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal," said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, at a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.
We’re not holding our breath that the Portuguese example will lead to any kind of abrupt about-face in America's own drug war, which is still sputtering steadily along at a cost of trillions a year. However, with the medical marijuana movement so far refusing to be strangled out of existence by the DEA, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter recently made a proposal to create a blue ribbon commission to look at prison and drug sentencing reform. And for any pro-legalization presidential hopefuls in 2012, the movement for a common sense drug policy in the United States may be finally moving into the mainstream.
The Obama administration may be clamping down on medical marijuana, but Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams talks about his city’s new liberal approach to pot use in a fascinating interview over at Philly.com. Williams explains what he calls the SAM, or Small Amount of Marijuana program, which the city implemented a year ago: “For far too long we … clogged our courts and took up valuable time that assistant district attorneys and police could have devoted to cases involving firearms and other forms of violence.” Williams also notes the savings the city has realized—$2 million by his estimate—and how the program has freed up prosecutors to concentrate on more serious crimes than booking and processing stoners. Under the new program, possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is treated as a summary offense instead of a misdemeanor. When offenders pick the SAM program, there are no legal fees, no formal discovery, no drug testing of “green leafy substance,” no subpoenas, no court costs... and no criminal record for the offender. Under the old system, a small pot bust could cost you up to $500 dollars in fines, 30 days probation, and even jail time. Under the SAM program, marijuana offenders pay $200 for a three-hour class about drug abuse, and are left with a clean record once the class has been completed. Said Williams at a budget hearing: “This is faster, cheaper—and actually yields more significant penalties. We were spending thousands of dollars for when someone possessed $10 or $15 worth of weed. It just didn’t make any sense.” More than 4,000 people enrolled in the SAM program during its first year.
Of course, not everybody is happy about what some are calling “backdoor decriminalization.” Former Philly DA Lynne Abraham adamantly believes that the program is a failure, despite the enticing financial figures. Abrahams claims that “untold numbers” of crimes are committed by pot smokers (although she didn’t offer concrete figures). When asked about the polls that show growing support for marijuana legalization, Abraham remains unmoved. "Don't tell me about polls. I don't want to hear it," Abraham reportedly said. "People want to drive 100 miles an hour. They want to smoke pot. They want to do everything!"
But advocates see the SAM program as part of a larger movement towards marijuana decriminalization. “Drug prohibition is the biggest failed policy in the history of our country, second to slavery,” said Jim Gray, a former Superior Court judge in Orange County, who now works with the advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Williams too has begun to see the war on drugs in a different light. “We have to treat drug addiction as a public-health problem, not just a criminal-justice problem,” he said. “I can put someone in jail for 90 days because they possess crack. But if we don’t get them the help they need for their addiction, when they get out of jail, they’re just going to be a 90-day-older crack addict.”
Recently released research conducted by several social scientists at the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions appears to show a pronounced link between the consumption of energy drinks like Red Bull, Rock Star, and Four Loko and abuse of other more illicit substances. In a recent study published by the Journal of Caffeine Research, scientists at the university surveyed the drug habits of 226 musicians ranging in age from 18-45, most of whom were regular caffeine-consumers, and compared them with their counterparts who consumed mostly energy drinks They found that more than 50% of the Red-Bull swigging respondents also confessed to “misusing” prescriptions pills, while only 13% of of old-school coffee drinkers reported abuse of prescription drugs. Not surprisingly, the most jarring finding is the huge correlation between energy drinks and binge drinking. A whopping 76% of test subjects who regularly consumed energy drinks admitted to binge drinking. Only 59% of non-energy drink consumers reported binge drinking experiences.
Previous studies using college students and athletes as respondents drew similar results, said the report. This may simply be a generational pattern, as younger adults and teens are more prone to consume so-called “high performance energy drinks” than their graying companions. Similarly, both musicians and college students tend to be younger adults and are more apt to binge drink. Still, while it's probably too early to draw any major conclusions from this minor, but, uh, stimulating study, you might want to give it a little thought before grabbing the Red Bull by the horns.
- Irish Teens the Biggest Users of Legal Highs in Europe [Independent]
- New N.J. Plan Targets Steroid Use by Police [Philly.com]
- Indiana to Require Drug Testing for State-Funded Job Training [Join Together]
- Golfer Robert Garrigus Beats Drug Addiction For his Debut at U.S. Open [The Independent]
- Next Up for FDA: Dissolvable Tobacco [FDA]
- Record Drug Shortages Strain Hospitals' Ability To Cope [NPR]
- Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC Talks Alcoholism, Depression [HipHop DX]
Every day, we thank our sainted mothers for steering us away from the practical arts—like high energy physics and statistics. Especially statistics. Scientists at the Tobacco Free Research Institute in Dublin, Ireland, have uncovered what they say is an intriguing statistical association between children exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke and a host of neurobehavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and assorted learning disabilities. The researchers caution strongly against drawing premature conclusions, but based on data about 55,000 American children under 12, published in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers found that children living in smoke-free homes were half as likely to develop such disorders as children growing up among smokers. “The findings of the study, which are associational and not necessarily causal, underscore the health burden of childhood neurobehavioral disorders that may be attributable to secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure in homes in the United States.”
Note that word, “may.” Here are the numbers: In smoke-free homes, 8.6% of kids developed a neurobehaviorial disorder. That’s about one child out of 12. In contrast, 20.4% of kids in homes with smokers ended up with a diagnosis of ADHD, a learning disability, or a conduct disorder. That’s one out of five, which is mind-boggling enough to be suspicious. We can’t know for certain yet whether it is the smoking itself, or something else related to a smoking household, that accounts for this increase—if the increase itself holds true. Much more research will be needed on this one. We’ll tell you when it’s time to panic. But it may be time to furrow your brow. The researchers conclude: “A total of 4.8 million US children younger than 12 years are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes, and 3% to 8% suffer from 1 or more neurobehavioral disorders.”