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Is North Korea Peddling Dope to Get Around Sanctions?

Heroin (STDW) - Sun, 09/24/2017 - 19:14

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Faced with an ever tougher economic sanction regime aimed at forcing the Hermit Kingdom to end its nuclear and ICBM programs, there are increasing signs that North Korea is using drug dealing -- among other illicit activities -- to earn hard currency. Such moves call into question whether economic sanctions can cause enough pain to the regime to force it to modify its behavior since the country's illicit economy is estimated to be larger than its licit one.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]At a deeper level, they also shed light on one of the unintended consequences of drug prohibition. Criminalizing the drug trade means there are huge profits waiting for those willing to scoff at the drug laws, as North Korea has done for decades.

According to Deutsche Welle, which cites South Korean sources with covert contributors in the north, state-run trading companies have begun to manufacture and sell illicit drugs in a move to bust the sanctions regime. The companies have been "ordered to earn foreign currency" and, with legal means of doing so being constrained by United Nations export bans, they "are turning to drugs manufacturing on an industrial scale."

It wouldn't be the first time. The Kim dynasty ordered the production of opium poppies in the 1970s, with the harvest "sent to pharmaceutical plants" where it was "processed and refined into heroin… under the direct control and strict supervision of the central government," regime defectors reported. Drugs would be smuggled across the Yalu River into China, on commercial shipping bound for loosely guarded Southeast Asian ports, and inside the baggage of North Korean diplomats.

After 1998, as famine lingered and torrential rains ruined poppy fields, King Il Sung engineered a switchover of heroin labs to methamphetamine labs. Meth suited the regime both for domestic purposes -- it stimulated workers' energy while reducing their hunger -- and for its ability to generate hard currency.

Within a few short years, the value of North Korean drug production exploded, with the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission estimating that the country earned between $500 million and $1 billion from the drug trade in 2001 alone. A Congressional Research Service report seven years later concurred, also estimating the value of the trade at up to a billion dollars. By 2005, the Chinese were complaining about intercepted shipments of methamphetamine and MDMA being trafficked from North Korea.

Little has changed in the intervening years. North Korean meth is still making its way to China, according to journalist Brendan Hong.

"China has a major meth problem," he wrote last year. "It mostly comes from North Korea and it's been flooding northeastern China for years. I have seen workers abuse meth in Chinese electronics factories so they can stay awake when trudging through unending shifts. Cam girls (models who perform or strip online for a fee) and karaoke hostesses smoke it with their clients, who call the practice, "ice-skating.'"

"The North has a long track record of manufacturing and selling drugs overseas and it is a convenient fallback for the regime to ratchet up production when sanctions are stepped up and it is harder for them to export legitimate goods," said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of international relations at Tokyo's International Christian University. "It is clear that they need hard cash for their new military gadgets and they know there is a big cash market for illegal drugs," he told Deutsche Welle.

North Korea appears bound and determined to become a nuclear state complete with the means to deliver atomic death and destruction across thousands of miles. And if it's got an illicit drug industry as big as its legal economy, sanctions aimed at legal sectors of the economy aren't going to rein in the regime. The primary result of increased sanctions may turn out to be making Kim Jung Un the Walter White of Northeast Asia.

Categories: Heroin

Chronicle AM: Bill to End Federal Man Mins Filed, CA Calls for Pot Rescheduling, More... (9/18/17)

Heroin (STDW) - Mon, 09/18/2017 - 21:01

Bostonians celebrate marijuana legalization, California calls for its rescheduling, state attorneys general urge health insurers to reduce opioid prescriptions, Maxine Waters files a bill to end mandatory minimums for drug sentences, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Marijuana Policy

California Officially Calls for Marijuana Rescheduling. The Assembly last Thursday passed a resolution calling on the federal government to reschedule marijuana. The Senate had approved the resolution earlier. "The Legislature urges the Congress of the United States to pass a law to reschedule marijuana or cannabis and its derivatives from a Schedule I drug to an alternative schedule, therefore allowing the legal research and development of marijuana or cannabis for medical use," reads the joint resolution.

Boston Freedom Rally Draws Thousands to Celebrate Legalization. For the first time since voters legalized marijuana last November, the annual event demanding legalization was held this past weekend. Thousands flocked to Boston Common for the 28th Annual Boston Freedom Rally for live music, speeches, educational panels, and -- of course -- plentiful pot-smoking. Even though public marijuana use is illegal, police reported no arrests.

Nevada Supreme Court Throws a Wrench in Marijuana Distribution Licensing. The state's highest court issued a temporary injunction last Friday barring the Department of Taxation from granting any more pot distribution licenses. This means supply chain issues will continue to plague pot shops in the near term. The initiative that legalized pot in the state reserved such licenses for liquor distributors for the first 18 months, but the Tax Commission had voted to allow other distributors to get in on the action after determining that the booze distributors couldn't keep up with demand. The liquor distributors took legal action to block the new licenses, and here we are. Oral arguments in the case are set for October 3.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

State Attorneys General Urge Insurers to Seek Alternatives for Opioids. Attorneys general from 35 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico announced a bipartisan coalition to fight opioid addiction on Monday and rolled out their effort by jointly calling on health insurers to review pain management treatment policies in a bid to promote more use of alternatives to prescription opioids. The AGs said they didn't want health insurers to unintentionally contribute to the crisis. News articles didn't indicate whether the AGs noted the need to ensure that patients who do need opioids receive them.

Harm Reduction

Philadelphia DA Candidates Are Open to Safe Injection Sites. Larry Krasner, the Democratic frontrunner to be the next district attorney, has come out in support of city-sanctioned safe injection sites for drug users. His Republican foe, Beth Grossman, wouldn't go that far, but said she is open to discussion on the issue. Safe injection sites were mentioned in Mayor Jim Kenney's opioid task force report in May, but they were the most controversial of the report's 18 recommendations. Although efforts are underway in several cities, including New York, San Francisco, and Seattle, no officially-sanctioned safe injection sites operate in the US, although one unsanctioned one is reportedly operating in an unnamed US city.

Sentencing

Maxine Waters Files Bill to End Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) has filed House Resolution 3800 "to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offenses." The bill text is not yet available on the congressional web site.

International

Toronto Pot Lounges Want Right to Exist Under Legalization. Faced with a provincial plan to impose a government monopoly on retail marijuana sales, Toronto's existing pot consumption lounges, some of which have been around since before the turn of the century, are asking the city's Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee to regulate them instead of shutting them down. They argue that the shops are needed in the city, which bans public pot smoking and where many renters and apartment dwellers have no legal place to indulge.

(This article was prepared by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also pays the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Categories: Heroin

US PA: DA Candidate Endorses Safe Injection Sites For Heroin

Heroin (MAP) - Thu, 09/14/2017 - 07:00
Philadelphia Daily News, 14 Sep 2017 - Democrat Larry Krasner, the front-runner to become Philadelphia's next district attorney, says he supports city-sanctioned spaces where people addicted to heroin can inject drugs under medical supervision and access treatment, a move advocates see as a promising step toward making the city the first in the U.S. to open such a site. His Republican opponent, Beth Grossman, says she's open to discussions on the matter.
Categories: Heroin

Chronicle AM: Democratic Senators Call Out Trump on Opioid Inaction, More... (9/12/17)

Heroin (STDW) - Tue, 09/12/2017 - 21:02

Democratic senators want Trump to do more than say pretty words about the opioid epidemic, California's second largest city gets on board with marijuana legalization, Canadian cops seek a delay in rolling out legalization north of the border, and more.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]Marijuana Policy

San Diego City Council Votes to Legalize Marijuana Cultivation, Manufacturing. California's second most populous city has gotten on board with legalization. The city council voted 6-3 Monday night to approve a regulatory framework for the looming legal recreational pot industry instead of trying to ban it.

Medical Marijuana

Michigan Dispensaries Given Three Months to Shut Doors. Existing unlicensed dispensaries must shut their doors by December 15, the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said Monday. On that date, the department begins accepting applications to operate under new medical marijuana regulations approved this year. While closing up shop and then applying for a license isn't exactly a thrill for existing dispensary owners, it's better than an alternative proposal that called for the dispensaries to be shut down immediately.

Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Program Roll-Out Imperiled by Lawsuit. A would-be medical marijuana operator who failed to win a permit to operate in an initial round of permit-issuing filed a lawsuit last Friday challenging the process and seeking an injunction that would require the state to rescind all awarded permits and start over. That's raising concerns about medical marijuana supporters that it could cause needless suffering.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Democratic Senators Demand Trump Take Action on Opioid Epidemic. On Monday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and nine Democratic senatorial colleagues sent a letter to President Trump asking the administration what it is doing about the recommendation that it declare an emergency around the opioid epidemic. Trump called it a national emergency more than a month ago, but nothing has happened since. "Regardless of whether you choose to declare a state of emergency, continued inaction on this issue is deeply concerning," the senators wrote. "Your lack of action -- coupled with your support of policies that would make access to substance use disorder care more difficult for millions of Americans -- causes us to question your commitment to ending the opioid use disorder and overdose crisis," the letter said.

International

Canadian Cops Want Delay in Marijuana Legalization Rollout. Representatives of various Canadian police forces testifying before the House of Commons said they would not be ready for the roll-out of marijuana legalization next summer and urged a delay. They also urged lawmakers to think again about allowing personal home cultivation, because it would be hard to police.

Colombia Clashes Leave One Coca Grower Dead, Two Wounded. The casualties occurred as coca growers in Morales, Cauca, clashed with soldiers taking part in forced eradication of coca crops. Farmers began throwing rocks at the soldiers, who apparently opened fire on the protestors. This is the second clash between angry coca growers and government forces in the past month, and reflects growing tensions over forced eradication.

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Slams Philippines Drug War. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called out President Rodrigo Duterte for his "lack of respect for due process rights for all Filipinos" and his "open support for a shoot-to-kill policy." Al Hussein added that he was "gravely concerned" not only about the killings, but also about the lack of credible investigations into them.

Categories: Heroin

Trump BS Alert: The Border Wall Won't Stop Drug Smuggling [FEATURE]

Heroin (STDW) - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:15

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

[image:1 align:left caption:true]President Trump sure loves his border wall. It was a staple of his campaign rhetoric, and despite Mexico's firm insistence that there is no way it's ever going to pay for it, Trump's desire for it is unabated. Now, he's threatening to shut down the government unless he can persuade the Congress to make American taxpayers pay for it.

Last week, Trump claimed that "building the wall will stop much of the drugs coming into the county." That claim is yet another example of what CNN contributor Fareed Zakaria pungently referred to as Trump's primary political product: bullshit.

Here's what Trump claimed during his joint press conference last Monday with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto:

"The wall will stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth. So we need the wall. It's imperative… The wall is needed from the standpoint of drug -- tremendous, the drug scourge, what's coming through the areas that we're talking about… So we will build the wall, and we will stop a lot of things, including the drug -- the drugs are pouring in at levels like nobody has ever seen. We'll be able to stop them once the wall is up."

And here's the reality: Trump's own DEA and outside experts agree that building a wall along the 1,700 mile land border with Mexico will have little impact on the drug trade. Not only do drugs from Latin America enter America by sea and air as well as across the Mexican border, but the vast majority of drugs crossing the land border do so not in unfenced desert expanses, but through official ports of entry.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations "transport the bulk of their drugs over the Southwest Border through ports of entry (POEs) using passenger vehicles or tractor trailers," the DEA said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment. "The drugs are typically secreted in hidden compartments when transported in passenger vehicles or comingled with legitimate goods when transported in tractor trailers."

Here's how the DEA detailed trafficking methods for various drugs:

Methamphetamine: "Traffickers most commonly transport methamphetamine in tractor trailers and passenger vehicles with hidden compartments. In addition, traffickers send methamphetamine through various mail services or by couriers traveling via bus or commercial airline.

Heroin: "Most heroin smuggled across the border is transported in privately-owned vehicles, usually through California, as well as through south Texas."

Cocaine: "Tractor trailers and passenger vehicles are frequently used to transport multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine. Cocaine is hidden amongst legitimate cargo or secreted inside of intricate hidden compartments built within passenger vehicles."

Marijuana: "Large quantities of marijuana are smuggled through subterranean tunnels."

A May 2017 DEA intelligence report obtained by Foreign Policy echoed the 2015 assessment. It, too, found that drugs coming from Mexico went indeed cross the border, but they mainly do so concealed in vehicles using ports of entry -- not those unfenced expanses. That report also noted that drugs headed for the Northeast United States, especially from Colombia -- the world's leading cocaine producer, as well as source of opium and heroin second only to Mexico in the US market -- come more often by plane and boat.

Drug traffickers "generally route larger drug shipments destined for the Northeast through the Bahamas and/or South Florida by using a variety of maritime conveyance methods, to include speedboats, fishing vessels, sailboats, yachts, and containerized sea cargo," the report found. "In some cases, Dominican Republic-based traffickers will also transport cocaine into Haiti for subsequent shipment to the United States via the Bahamas and/or South Florida corridor using maritime and air transport."

That report did not address the border wall, but its examples of how and where drugs enter the country show that in many cases, building a wall wouldn't make a scintilla of difference: "According to DEA reporting, the majority of the heroin available in New Jersey originates in Colombia and is primarily smuggled into the United States by Colombian and Dominican groups via human couriers on commercial flights to the Newark International Airport," the report found.

The report concluded with recommendations for reducing the drug trade, but none of them were about building a border wall. Instead, targeting foreign drug trafficking networks within the US "would be an essential component to any broad strategy for resolving the current opioid crisis."

It's not just his own DEA that is giving the lie to Trump's bullshit. His own chief of staff, John Kelly contradicted the president's position at a congressional hearing in April. Illegal drugs from Mexico "mostly come through the ports of entry," he said. "We know they come in in relatively small amounts, 10, 15 kilos at a time in automobiles and those kinds of conveyances."

Drug trafficking experts agreed with Kelly and the DEA -- not Trump.

Brookings Institution senior fellow and long-time analyst of drug production and trafficking Vanda Felbab-Brown summed things up bluntly in an essay earlier this month: "A barrier in the form of a wall is increasingly irrelevant to the drug trade as it now practiced because most of the drugs smuggled into the US from Mexico no longer arrive on the backs of those who cross illegally."

"The wall won't stop the flow of drugs into the United States," she told Fact Check last week.

Other experts contacted by Fact Check concurred. University of Maryland criminal justice professor and founder of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center Peter Reuter pronounced himself skeptical that a wall would have any impact on the drug trade.

"The history is that smugglers eventually figure a workaround," he said. "There have been many promising interdiction interventions -- none of them have made more than a temporary dent."

And Middle Tennessee State University political science professor Stephen D. Morris, whose research has largely focused on Mexico, came up with two reasons the border wall would not stop drugs.

"First, as you say, most drug shipments come disguised as commerce and are crossing the border by truck or in cargo containers. Human mules, to my knowledge, bring in a small fraction," he said. "Second, smugglers adapt. Whether it is tunnels, submarines, mules, drones, etc., they are good at figuring out new ways to get drugs to those in the US who will buy them."

It is a shame that Donald Trump's ascendency has so coarsened and vulgarized our national political discourse. But his lies demand a forthright response. Bullshit is bullshit.

Categories: Heroin

Debunking a Republican Myth About Medicaid and Opioids

Heroin (STDW) - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 22:14

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here

Obamacare foes desperate for a new angle of attack on the increasingly popular health care program have come up with an intriguing new theory: The expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may be driving the opioid epidemic.

[image:1 align:right]For the right, tying "failed socialist" Obamacare to the drug epidemic is a two-fer. They get to decry the very notion of government programs as something good for society and they get to link "bleeding heart" efforts to help poor people with outcomes that actually hurt them.

It would be a nice little argument for cutting Medicaid -- if only it were true. But there's little evidence to suggest it is true and a lot of evidence to suggest it isn't.

The notion began circulating in the conservative media echo chamber after the Health and Human Services Department did a private analysis for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that said the opioid overdose rate rose nearly twice as much in states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA than those that didn't.

"These data appear to point to a larger problem," Johnson wrote. "Medicaid expansion may be fueling the opioid epidemic in communities across the country." Johnson pulled up just short of blaming Medicaid, saying more research is needed.

But if Johnson was looking for help from fellow Obamacare foe and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, it wasn't exactly forthcoming. HHS wouldn't address questions about Johnson's analysis and instead issued a statement saying "correlation does not necessary prove causation," but that, yes, more research would be helpful.

But based on what we know so far, here are four reasons the charge that Medicaid is fueling the opioid epidemic is bogus:

1. Medicaid is actually increasing treatment for opioid addiction.

That's according to Temple University economist Catherine Maclean and Brendan Saloner of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who recently published a paper on Medicaid expansion and drug treatment: "Medicaid-reimbursed prescriptions for medications used to treat Substance Use Disorders in outpatient settings increased by 33% in expanding states relative to non-expanding states. Among patients admitted to specialty SUD treatment, we find that in expanding states Medicaid insurance and use of Medicaid to pay for treatment increased by 58% and 57% following the expansion. In an extension to the main analyses we find no evidence that the expansions affected fatal alcohol poisonings or drug-related overdoses," they wrote.

"Medicaid is doing its job," she told the Associated Press last week. "As more time passes, we may see a decline in overdoses in expansion states relative to non-expansion states."

2. States that expanded Medicaid did so in part because they already suffered higher overdose rates.

That same research by Maclean and Saloner also found that overdose rates were higher to begin with in states that expanded Medicaid. That suggests that pre-existing drug problems may have played a role in states deciding to expand Medicaid so they could leverage more federal money to fight addiction.

Republican labor economist Craig Garthwaite of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management told the AP that such a desire helped propel Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich toward expanding Medicaid. When Kasich talks about why, he said, "it has a lot to do with mental health and substance use disorders." The claim that Medicaid is fueling opioid overdoses is "fundamentally flawed," Garthwaite added.

In other words, overdoses aren't increasing because of Medicaid; instead, Medicaid is expanding in part because of an effort to reduce overdoses.

3. Counties where insurance coverage has expanded the most have seen smaller increases in overdose deaths than those with smaller coverage gains.

A recent analysis by Vanderbilt University economist Andrew Goodman-Bacon and Harvard researcher Emma Sandoe compared trends in drug-related deaths at the county level, contrasting counties that had high levels of uninsured residents pre-ACA with those that didn't. Under the theory that Medicaid expansion is causing increased overdose deaths, we would expect to see the largest increase in deaths in those high-insured counties because that's where more people took advantage of expanded Medicaid. But that wasn't the case:

"Drug-related deaths increased at a lower rate in high-uninsurance counties than in low-uninsurance counties," the researchers found. "This does not support the notion that the ACA worsened the opioid epidemic."

In other words, the more people on expanded Medicaid, the lower the rate of increase in overdose deaths.

4. The Medicaid theory lumps all opioid overdose deaths together when many are not caused by prescription opioids.

This is bad science. If you want to measure prescription opioid deaths, you need to measure only prescription opioid deaths. But the HHS analysis for Sen. Johnson didn't do that. Instead, it lumped in deaths from non-prescription street drugs, such as heroin or illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Having a Medicaid card doesn't provide access to street drugs, and it is precisely heroin and illicit fentanyl that are driving the surge in opioid deaths since 2010.

"It's worrisome because this is the type of numerical evidence that's used to propose bad policy," Garthwaite told the AP.

Categories: Heroin

Chronicle AM: MA Gov Wants Harsh Sentences for Drug Deaths, More... (8/31/17)

Heroin (STDW) - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 20:29

Connecticut continues to grapple with opioids, the Massachusetts governor and cops want mandatory minimums and a possible life sentence for dealers whose clients die, and more.

[image:1 align:right caption:true]Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Fentanyl Overdoses Now Exceed Heroin Overdoses in Connecticut. The state saw 539 opioid overdose deaths in the first half of this year, and for the first time, more people died using fentanyl than heroin. While 257 people died of heroin overdoses, 322 died of fentanyl overdoses. The state medical examiner's office projects overdose deaths this year will reach 1,100, a 20% increase over last year.

Connecticut Governor Signs Opioid Bill. Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) on Thursday signed into law a bill aimed at slowing the state's opioid epidemic. The bill increases monitoring of opioid prescriptions and requires health insurers to cover inpatient detoxification. The bill passed the legislature unanimously. This is the third year in a row the state has passed bills aimed at the opioid epidemic.

Drug Policy

Massachusetts Governor Wants Harsher Penalties for Drug Deals That Lead to Death. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has sent a letter to the legislature proposing a bill that would increase sentences for dealers who sold drugs to people who overdosed and died -- up to life in prison. "When illegal drug distribution causes a death, laws that were designed to punish the act are inadequate to recognize the seriousness of the resulting harm," Baker wrote, according to MassLive. "This legislation would provide for a penalty of up to life in prison and, like the offense of manslaughter while driving drunk, would also require a mandatory minimum sentence of at least five years," he added. The bill has the support of law enforcement.

Santa Fe Mayor to Introduce Resolution to Establish A Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force. Javier Gonzalez, the mayor of New Mexico's fourth largest city, will on Thursday introduce a resolution establishing a Municipal Drug Strategy Task Force charged with recommending innovative public health and safety approaches to problematic drug use in the city. "This isn't a problem we can solve by simply declaring a new, top-down policy. It has to be something we take on together, and the strategy has to come from the community. From harm reduction, to law enforcement, to prevention, to treatment, there is a huge range of expertise already developing in Santa Fe, and to find success we will need every one of those voices at the table," said Mayor Gonzales. He added, "So we're doing what we often can do best -- bringing people together."

Categories: Heroin
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