Drug Dealing Among US Youth Down 40%: Study

The spread of marijuana legalization may account for some of the decline, say the author of the study in the Addictive Behaviors journal. But they add more research is needed to understand the role that peer pressure and behavioral problems play in substance abuse disorders among young people.

The prevalence of drug selling among adolescents has undergone a significant downward trend, falling from 4.1 percent in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2015, according to a forthcoming study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Addictive Behaviors.

At the same time, arrests of the general population due to possession and trafficking of illegal substances in 2005 have grown by three times, when compared to drug arrests in 1980, notes the study.

Subsequently, “incarceration for drug offenses (has) risen even more steeply over the past 30 years.”

To address continued youth involvement with drugs, researchers and youth workers must explore the role that behavioral problems play in  substance abuse disorders, the study says.

Adolescents’ peers are major sources of obtaining drugs, indicating the pressure teens face to become involved in usage and/or dealing, according to the authors of the study.

Drug dealing is often linked to other risky and delinquent behaviors among youth, making it an imperative topic of research and point of action in our criminal justice system, explains the study.

In order to examine these trends, the study used responses from 233,435 US youth between 12 and 17, collected between 2002 and 2015 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a national survey of persons over the age of 12 about substance use and abuse (tobacco, alcohol, drugs) and mental health issues.

To acquire this data, participants were asked how many times they had sold illegal drugs in the past year. It is important to note that the drug and alcohol portion of the survey were self-reported, meaning the information collected could be subjected to reporting errors due to poor memory or self-biases.

In addition to the prevalence of drug-selling among youth, the survey also recorded the respondents’ gender and ethnicity (restricted to non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic African American and Hispanic) in order to consider additional impactful factors.

The researchers ran a statistical analysis on the prevalence of year among the general sample and then reran the measure to stratify by gender and racial subgroups.

The results found a 40 percent reduction in the prevalence of reported drug-selling among youth—which they called a significant decrease from a 4.1 percent prevalence rate in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2015.

More precisely, this decrease in drug-selling was predominately identified in males across all racial groups. Although a significant reduction in selling was found among girls who did not use an illegal substance in the last year, were African American, or were between 15 and 17 years old, the overall trend remained stable for females.

To explain the overall decrease in drug-selling prevalence, the researchers argued that youth with law enforcement was primarily effected by the spread of marijuana decriminalization.

Though all 30 states which have legalized marijuana require an individual to be over the age of 21 to partake in the benefits of the law, the change in legality and subsequent change in acceptability of society may continue to erode the prevalence of drug-dealing among youths, they said.

The study was conducted by Michael G. Vaugh and Katherine J. Holzer of Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work; Millan A. AbiNader and Christopher P. Salas-Wright of Boston University’s School of Social Work; and Sehun Oh of the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Social Work.

The complete study is available for purchase here.

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Laura Binczewski. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Drug Defendants Who Relapse Can Be Jailed, Court Says

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that a judge can require defendants with substance use disorders to remain drug-free as a condition of probation and send them to jail if they relapse, the New York Times reports. The case, which challenged a requirement routinely imposed by judges across the U.S., has been closely watched by prosecutors, drug courts and addiction medicine specialists.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that a judge can require defendants with substance use disorders to remain drug-free as a condition of probation and send them to jail if they relapse, the New York Times reports. The case, which challenged a requirement routinely imposed by judges across the U.S., has been closely watched by prosecutors, drug courts and addiction medicine specialists. For many, it represented a debate over the nature of addiction. The defense argued that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that compromises an individual’s ability to abstain. The prosecution maintained that addiction varies in intensity and that many people have the ability to overcome it and can be influenced by penalties and rewards, like incarceration or a cleared criminal record.

While acknowledging the many experts who weighed in on each side, the seven justices declined to take a stance. Instead, they said, the defendant in the case should have raised the issue when her probation condition was first imposed, when it could have been fully argued before a trial judge. Justice David Lowy wrote that a judge has the discretion to determine probation requirements tailored to an individual that further probation’s goals of rehabilitation and public safety. Judges, he said, “stand on the front lines of the opioid epidemic” and are “faced with difficult decisions that are especially unpalatable.” The challenge was filed by Julie Eldred, now 30, who was convicted of stealing jewelry to support her heroin habit. In 2016, a judge gave her a year’s probation. The judge ordered her to begin outpatient treatment and remain drug-free. Soon, she relapsed. When she tested positive for fentanyl, the judge ordered her to go to inpatient treatment, but no placement could immediately be found, so he jailed her.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sessions Steps Up Fentanyl Prosecutions in 10 Areas

Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors in 10 areas that have been especially hard-hit by overdose deaths from fentanyl to bring drug charges against anyone suspected of dealing the synthetic opioid, regardless of quantity. An additional prosecutor will be sent to each of the designated areas in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, California, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered federal prosecutors in 10 areas that have been especially hard-hit by overdose deaths from fentanyl to bring drug charges against anyone suspected of dealing the synthetic opioid, regardless of quantity, reports the Washington Post. An additional prosecutor will be sent to each of the designated areas in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maine, California and Pennsylvania as well as in New Hampshire. “Fentanyl is a killer drug,” Sessions said Thursday as he flew to New Hampshire to meet with state and local law enforcement officials about the fentanyl crisis. “Fentanyl is so powerful that the slightest error in how much you take can go from this extremely pleasurable feeling to death.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than 42,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2016, a figure driven by a dramatic surge in deaths from fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. West Virginia had the highest number of drug overdoses, with 52 deaths per 100,000 residents, while New Hampshire and Ohio were the next-highest-ranking states, with 39 deaths per 100,000 residents. “Having a prosecutor solely dedicated to working these fentanyl cases is going to be a huge, enormous benefit to us here,” said Brian Boyle, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent in charge of the New England Field Division, who described the fentanyl problem as “scary.” He added, “The amount of fentanyl we’re seeing is affecting everybody, all walks of life, all communities. You’re seeing it in rural areas, urban areas, big cities, middle-of-nowhere areas in New England.” Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is often mixed into heroin or cocaine. It is 50 times more powerful than heroin, 100 times more powerful than morphine and can kill a user almost instantly.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Safe Injection Advocates Fear DOJ Opposition

There are at least 13 efforts underway in cities and states to start an official supervised injection site — with advocates in several cities saying they want to be the first. The U.S. Justice Department has suggested that it might try to shut down such operations.

In areas hit hard by addiction, some public health officials are considering running sites where people can use heroin and other illegal drugs under medical supervision. Advocates say these facilities, known as supervised injection sites, save lives that would otherwise be lost to overdoses and provide a bridge to treatment. There are at least 13 efforts underway in cities and states to start an official supervised injection site — with advocates in several cities saying they want to be the first, NPR reports. Seattle is planning a safe injection van; Philadelphia is considering pop-up tents; some elected officials in places like Denver, Vermont, Delaware and San Francisco, are seeking support for proposals. Harm reduction advocates hope supervised injection sites can follow the path of needle exchange programs that have gained acceptance, thanks to their role in containing the spread of HIV and AIDS. There are such programs in 39 states.

Many safe injection site proposals seem to be waylaid in community debate and legal uncertainty. Scott Burris of Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law Research says municipalities are worried about a showdown with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “You can talk about cities racing to be first,” Burris says. “But my guess is that you have a lot of cities who are actually racing to be second.” When DOJ is asked where Sessions stands, it offers a statement from a U.S. Attorney in Vermont saying health workers at a supervised injection site would be vulnerable to criminal charges and the property could be at risk of being seized by federal law enforcement. Burris says there could be a public backlash to Justice Department lawyers seeking the arrest of social workers and nurses working to save lives in the facilities, but the fear of a hardline response is giving local officials pause.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Safe Injection Advocates Fear DOJ Opposition

There are at least 13 efforts underway in cities and states to start an official supervised injection site — with advocates in several cities saying they want to be the first. The U.S. Justice Department has suggested that it might try to shut down such operations.

In areas hit hard by addiction, some public health officials are considering running sites where people can use heroin and other illegal drugs under medical supervision. Advocates say these facilities, known as supervised injection sites, save lives that would otherwise be lost to overdoses and provide a bridge to treatment. There are at least 13 efforts underway in cities and states to start an official supervised injection site — with advocates in several cities saying they want to be the first, NPR reports. Seattle is planning a safe injection van; Philadelphia is considering pop-up tents; some elected officials in places like Denver, Vermont, Delaware and San Francisco, are seeking support for proposals. Harm reduction advocates hope supervised injection sites can follow the path of needle exchange programs that have gained acceptance, thanks to their role in containing the spread of HIV and AIDS. There are such programs in 39 states.

Many safe injection site proposals seem to be waylaid in community debate and legal uncertainty. Scott Burris of Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law Research says municipalities are worried about a showdown with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “You can talk about cities racing to be first,” Burris says. “But my guess is that you have a lot of cities who are actually racing to be second.” When DOJ is asked where Sessions stands, it offers a statement from a U.S. Attorney in Vermont saying health workers at a supervised injection site would be vulnerable to criminal charges and the property could be at risk of being seized by federal law enforcement. Burris says there could be a public backlash to Justice Department lawyers seeking the arrest of social workers and nurses working to save lives in the facilities, but the fear of a hardline response is giving local officials pause.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DEA Failed to Stop Huge Opioid Shipments, Senator Says

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) says the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration failed to hold major drug distributors accountable as prescription opioids poured into Missouri from 2012 to 2017. Three firms shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids during those years, the equivalent of 260 doses for each resident.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) says a new report shows that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration failed to hold major drug distributors accountable as prescription opioids poured into Missouri from 2012 to 2017, the Kansas City Star reports. The report shows that the three top opioid distributors reported wildly different numbers of suspicious shipments to the DEA and the federal agency didn’t use its most potent enforcement tool — the immediate suspension order — to stop distributors from making questionable shipments. The report “calls into question how effective the DEA is being in terms of overseeing the distribution of opioids,” McCaskill said.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency has initiated about 1,500 cases and made about 2,000 arrests a year over the last seven years. It also ramped up its drug diversion squads from 46 in 2012 to 77 today to address the opioid crisis. McCaskill’s report suggests the agency has come down harder on smaller players like doctors and pharmacies than the major drug distributors that shipped them prescription opioids. The report says McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, the three giants of the pharmaceutical drug distribution industry, shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids to Missouri from 2012 to 2017. That works out to 260 doses for each person in the state. Some drugs were stolen, diverted or sold to people who weren’t medically supposed to be using them, helping fuel an opioid epidemic that causes hundreds of deaths a year and has increased overdose-related trips to Missouri emergency rooms by more than 20 percent. Payne noted that DEA has fined all three distributors for failing to stem suspicious opioid shipments, including a record $150 million settlement with McKesson last year.

from https://thecrimereport.org

DEA Lists Drug Slang, Including “Shoes” for Pot

The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a list for law enforcement personnel of slang terms for drugs. The agency said marijuana might be called “Smoochy Woochy Poochy” and fentanyl is known as “China Girl.”

If you’re looking to purchase some legal marijuana in Massachusetts, you might want to get ready to ask for some “shoes,” the Boston Globe reports. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration this week released a list of slang terms commonly used to refer to street drugs, in a 124-page “intelligence report.” The terms used for “marijuana” made up one of the longest entries, and some of the weirdest names. “99% of these I’ve never heard,” tweeted Christopher Moraff, who writes about drug issues in Philadelphia.

By now, most Americans are familiar with referring to marijuana as “pot,” “weed,” and “reefer.” The DEA list included some names that might be unfamiliar to most: “Shrimp,” “Smoochy Woochy Poochy,” “My Brother,” “Popcorn,” “Arizona,” “Fluffy,” “Baby,” “Mowing the Lawn,” “Big Pillows,” and “Salt and Pepper,” among dozens of others. “Shoes” also appears on the DEA list, which the agency called a reference list for law enforcement personnel, as slang for fentanyl. Other terms on the fentanyl list included “Apache,” “Blue Diamond,” “China Girl,” “Dragon’s Breath,” “Goodfella,” “King Ivory,” and “White Ladies.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-Officials Push Plan to Prosecute Taliban in U.S.

Ex-DEA and Justice Department advisers blame Obama administration for killing a plan called Operation Reciprocity that could have disrupted Afghan drug trafficking that supplies heroin to U.S.

As Afghanistan edged closer to becoming a narco-state five years ago, veteran U.S. officials in Kabul presented the Obama administration with a plan to use U.S. courts to prosecute the Taliban commanders and allied drug lords who supplied more than 90 percent of the world’s heroin, including a growing amount fueling the U.S. opioid crisis,  Politico reports. The authors said the plan would halt the ruinous spread of narcotics around the world and confront the Taliban, whose drug profits were financing the insurgency and killing American troops. The Obama administration’s deputy chief of mission in Kabul, citing political concerns, shelved the plan. Now its authors, including former Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Justice Department legal advisers, hope that the Trump administration will adopt the plan as part of its evolving strategy.

“This was the most effective and sustainable tool we had for disrupting and dismantling Afghan drug trafficking organizations and separating them from the Taliban,” said Michael Marsac, former DEA director for South West Asia. Poppy cultivation, heroin production, terrorist attacks and territory controlled by the Taliban are now at or near record highs. While President Trump has sharply criticized Obama’s approach in Afghanistan, his team is using a similar one. The top-secret legal document that forms the plan’s foundation remains in a vault at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and would need to be updated to reflect the significant expansion of the Taliban-led insurgency, said retired DEA agent John Seaman, who helped draft it. He said the organizational structure of the Taliban leadership has remained mostly the same. The plan, code-named Operation Reciprocity, was modeled after a legal strategy that the Justice Department began using a decade earlier against the cocaine-funded leftist FARC guerrillas in Colombia.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Tariffs Could Halt China Help in Curbing Fentanyl Trade

The U.S. struggle to curb opioid addiction could become collateral damage in President  Trump’s showdown on trade. If the tariffs become permanent, “China could say ‘We are no longer going to cooperate with the United States on controlling these synthetic opioids,’ ” says a former DEA agent.

The U.S. struggle to curb opioid addiction could become collateral damage in President  Trump’s showdown on trade. Trade tensions with allies were heightened by the White House announcement in March of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Another round specifically targeting China is set to take effect Friday. That China focus could interrupt other trade-related issues — specifically, those targeting the flow of dangerous drugs like fentanyl into the U.S., reports Kaiser Health News. Though Chinese officials deny that most of the fentanyl or other opioid substances originate in their country, they have in the past cooperated with U.S. efforts to control the flow of fentanyl onto U.S. soil. If the tariffs become permanent, “it’s most likely going to have a negative effect on other areas” beyond trade, said Jeffrey Higgins, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent. “China could say ‘We are no longer going to cooperate with the United States on controlling these synthetic opioids,’ ” he said.

Fentanyl, one of the deadliest synthetic opioids, is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and can be 100 times more potent than morphine. Of the 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, more than 20,000 were related to some form of fentanyl, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said. U.S. law enforcement and drug investigators consider China the primary source of this illicit drug and responsible for as much as 90 percent of the world’s supply. Until recently, “illicit fentanyl [was] not widely used in China, [so] authorities [placed] little emphasis on controlling its production and export,” a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission staff research report notes.

Allow Doctors to Prescribe Buprenorphine for Opioid Addicts: Study

Buprenorphine should be part of the toolkit of primary care physicians for treating opioid patients, says a New England Journal of Medicine study. The authors disagree with critics who call it a “replacement” drug that can trigger new addictions.

Primary care physicians should be able to prescribe opioid addiction treatment with buprenorphine, according to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Authored by medical doctors Sarah Wakeman and Michael Barnett, the report highlights the importance of normalizing buprenorphine as an office-based addiction treatment. Distribution of the medicine has slowed in annual growth despite an increase in access to buprenorphine. In 2015, 16 percent of 52,000 active psychiatrists were allowed to prescribe it in the U.S., according to the article.

The authors addressed several stigmas and myths surrounding the usage of buprenorphine, which have inhibited its use as a mainstay treatment.

Rather than train new specialists to prescribe the medicine, the authors suggest mobilizing current primary care physicians (PCP) and other generalists such as pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, and HIV physicians to provide treatment with buprenorphine.

Historical precedent has proven this a successful approach, the study argues.

“The importance of mobilizing the PCP workforce while ensuring the availability of sufficient specialists is not unique to the opioid-overdose crisis,” the study says. “During the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, for example, access to antiretroviral therapy was urgently needed. Although initially specialists were more likely to prescribe antiretrovirals, by 1990 equal percentages of patients were receiving antiretroviral therapy from PCPs and from specialists.”

The Drug Addiction Treatment Act of 2000 mandates that physicians must complete eight hours of training and apply for a waiver before prescribing buprenorphine; they then can only treat a limited number of patients.

The authors suggest scaling back the regulations and incorporating this training into the education that physicians already must go through. Buprenorphine is a less-complicated medicine to administer than many other routine primary care treatments, according to the study.

Some critics view buprenorphine as a “replacement” drug that patients can become addicted to; the authors disagree. They say addiction is defined by compulsive use of a drug despite harm, which is not applicable to a prescription drug used for managing a chronic illness.

They suggest a public health campaign to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction treatment, again drawing comparison to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

There is no evidence supporting the effectiveness of detoxification programs for opioid use, but there is strong evidence supporting the success of buprenorphine and methadone treatments, the study states.

“Buprenorphine treatment provides one of the rare opportunities in primary care to see dramatic clinical improvement: it’s hard to imagine a more satisfying clinical experience than helping a patient escape the cycle of active addiction,” the study says.

The study warns against cutting out opioid prescriptions as a means of treatment, since overdose deaths have accelerated since 2011 despite a decrease in prescriptions. In 2016, opioid-overdose deaths increased by 28 percent from the previous year. 

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern Marianne Dodson. Readers’ comments welcomed.

from https://thecrimereport.org