Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Drugs

War on drugs' big catch -- 'Viagra man'

The U.S. is spending vast sums and still can't effectively stem the flow of drugs from Latin America, but we are managing to protect the country from the evils of counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills
These just in -- two dispatches from the front of the war on drugs:

"U.S. fails to catch two-thirds of drug boats, general says," and "Man charged with smuggling 40,000 erectile dysfunction pills."

One is about being stupid. The other is about being caught.

I'll let you decide which is which.

First, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters Wednesday that military efforts to stem drug smuggling from Latin America are being hampered because planes and ships have been diverted to combat operations elsewhere.

It's certainly not a problem of funding, though. As The Times' story says:

The military has spent $6.1 billion since 2005 to help detect drug payloads heading to the U.S., as well as on surveillance and other intelligence operations, according to a report last year by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

At prices like that, it might be cheaper for the government to just buy the cocaine from the cartels.

And, of course, there's this little Catch-22:

"Any drug interdiction strategy is a Band-Aid, a temporary fix," said Bruce Bagley, who studies U.S. counter-narcotics efforts at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. "It may reduce the supply for a short time, but what does get in is worth more."

Well, yeah, there's that. Otherwise known as the 800-lb. gorilla of the whole war-on-drugs policy. Drugs are illegal, but people still want them.  So someone supplies them. So we spend a fortune to try to stop them. And whatever we catch just makes the stuff we don't catch more valuable, which makes the guys who supply it richer. 

Legalization, anyone?

Naw, then people might use more drugs, and that would mean more addicts, and that would mean we would have to spend money on treatment. Instead of, uh, spending a large fortune trying to fight cartels that corrupt governments and kill people and -- well, OK, it's a mess.

Honestly, I don't know if legalization would work. But I'm pretty sure that what we're doing now isn't working.

Still, I'll admit that the current system did manage to get its man, one Kil Jun Lee, 71, of Westlake, Calif. 

Lee allegedly tried to slip 29,827 counterfeit Viagra tablets, 8,993 counterfeit Cialis pills and 793 counterfeit Levitra tablets past authorities at LAX by hiding them in his golf bag and luggage. (Which, of course, was his first mistake, because as any wife who's been abandoned for five hours on a Sunday by her golf-addict husband can tell you, golf and sex never mix.)

And it's not as though the law enforcement guys didn't have a sense of humor:

According to the criminal complaint, Lee concealed the tablets in aluminum-foil-wrapped packets, and was questioned by authorities about whether the pills were all for personal use. He responded that he had a heart condition, and using all the pills would kill him.

Oh, ha ha -- "all for your personal use."

Also, Lee didn't come across as your typical hardened drug smuggler:

He also said he "did not believe the pills were genuine," adding that "he was sorry" for bringing the pills and "will not do it again."

Which, really, is good enough for me. A sincere apology and a promise not to be a repeat offender for what is, in a sense, a victimless crime. (Unless, of course, you paid good money for the counterfeit stuff -- but then again, caveat emptor!)

So the Navy and Coast Guard will continue their futile efforts to stop Latin America's cartels. 

And the good folks at LAX will continue to protect us from the evils of phony Viagra.

And we taxpayers will keep paying for it all.

And that's no joke.

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Photo: Colombian police at a cocaine production laboratory in the jungle. Credit: Mauricio Duenas / EPA

More legal mumbo-jumbo on medical marijuana

Medical marijuana

Really, you have to wonder what these judges were smoking.

Here, read for yourself (quick version for those with short attention spans), courtesy of Times staff writer Maura Dolan:

California cities may not ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but the operations may sell only weed that is grown on site, an appeals court ruled in an Orange County case.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge Court of Appeal panel in Santa Ana was the first in the state to prohibit cities from enacting zoning restrictions that effectively ban all marijuana dispensaries. The court was also the first to rule that dispensaries must grow the marijuana they sell, a requirement that would force most of them out of business.

To which I say: Dudes, what?

You can't bar dispensaries but you can require them to grow their own, right at the store?

Will this also mean that pharmacies can only sell Viagra if they make it on site? That markets have to become wineries or breweries to sell Chardonnay and Bud Light? Is Trader Joe's going to have to slaughter the cows and pigs right there in the store? What about Starbucks?  It’s gonna be tough growing all that coffee in the little shops.

OK, not perfect analogies perhaps. But really, how does this ruling bring clarity to an issue that seriously needs some? As the story says:

The Lake Forest decision added to a stack of rulings that have befuddled local governments and was unlikely to add much clarity.

One appeals court upheld the right of cities to use zoning laws to prohibit dispensaries. Another said city regulations that allow any medical marijuana violate federal law. A federal judge this week threw out a lawsuit to prevent the federal government from shutting down dispensaries.

And it's not even about political ideology. Two of the three judges were Republican appointees, the other a Democratic appointee. 

The real problem here is -- to paraphrase Jack Nicholson's famous line in "A Few Good Men" -- "We can't handle the truth."

Both sides on this issue are trying to achieve something without actually admitting it. Many supporters of medical marijuana, for example, are really advocates for legalizing marijuana, period. And cities that enact ordinances such as Lake Forest's may say they're trying to regulate the industry, but in fact they're trying to shut down legal businesses that they don't want.

For example, from Dolan's story:

Jeffrey Dunn, a lawyer who represented Lake Forest, said the court's requirement that dispensaries sell pot grown only on site would shut down most storefront operations.

"I don't see how you can grow in a tiny, rented space enough pot for over 1,000 customers," Dunn said.

Exactly. You can't. 

Except, the sale of medical marijuana is legal. Californians voted for it. Californians want it. Laws restricting it won't change that.

[For the record: OK, yes, that is incorrect.  The sale of marijuana is not legal in California.  Rather, I should have said that Proposition 215, which Californians passed in 1996, allows people, with a doctor's permission, to grow, possess and use marijuana for medical purposes.]

The real solution, of course, is simple: Just legalize marijuana. 

But if we can't do that, we should at least stop with these silly ordinances, which only spawn equally silly court rulings.

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Photo: Los Angeles Times

 

Contraception and women's rights -- it's still a man's world

President Obama offered a compromise Friday on health insurance coverage for contraceptives

When it comes to contraception, it's still a man's world.

President Obama offered a compromise Friday on health insurance coverage for contraceptives. (For a thoughtful take on how that's likely to work, read my colleague Jon Healey's post, "The White House wishes away the cost of contraception coverage.")

Really, though, this issue isn't about health insurance, or healthcare costs, or even religious freedom and the 1st Amendment. This is about power.

It's about men telling women what they can and can't do with their bodies.

And that's ridiculous.

The Roman Catholic Church is dominated by men. So, for that matter, is Islam. And so are a number of Christian churches -- the Mormon Church, for example.

Which is why we find ourselves, in the 21st century, with these faiths -- and the men who run them --  dictating to women on that most vital issue: the health of their own bodies.

It's a very old story: Men have power over women, and they certainly don't seem to want to give it up.

No, no, it's about religious freedom, you say. That's what the Catholic bishops argue, anyway. You could ask their female peers in the church what they think, but -- oh, that’s right, they don't have any female peers!

Huh.

No. This is about women's freedom -– the freedom too many women don't have.

If a woman chooses not to use birth control, or chooses not to have an abortion, that's freedom.

If a man, whether a religious leader or a pandering politician, tells her what she's able to do, that's, well, it's certainly not freedom.

These same religious leaders and politicians often talk about respecting women. 

Respecting women isn't telling them what to do "for their own good." And hiding behind religion to deny contraceptive coverage is simply another way to perpetuate that abusive, illogical and antiquated notion.

Want to respect women?

Then make sure they have the freedom to decide for themselves.

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Photo: President Obama on Friday announces revamping of the policy on health insurance coverage for contraceptives. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is at left. Credit: Susan Walsh / Associated Press

Drug war: Time for an exit strategy [Blowback]

Drug war
Daniel Robelo, a research associate for the Drug Policy Alliance, responds to The Times' Jan. 11 article, "Mexico government sought to withhold drug war death statistics."
If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy

The Mexican government's reluctant release of updated homicide statistics reveals the grim costs of the failed drug war -- and the growing need for an exit strategy.

As The Times notes, at least 50,000 people have been killed because of the drug war in the last five years -- nearly as many casualties as the U.S. suffered in Vietnam. Many of these victims had no connection to the drug trade.  

Though the Mexican government announced a slightly lower figure (47,515 people as of September), experts and advocates suggest the actual death toll may already be much higher, as only 2% of crimes in Mexico even get investigated. Further, the government has shown a total lack of transparency, exemplified by its drawn-out refusal to make these damning data public.

Regardless of the exact figure, the death toll is incomprehensible and unacceptable. And to this toll must be added the thousands of people disappeared, the hundreds of thousands displaced and the hundreds of thousands of children left orphaned during this same five-year period.

This crisis will only continue unless the U.S. works with Mexico to address the root cause: drug prohibition.

These murders are not drug-related, they are prohibition-related -- committed by cartels that were spawned by drug prohibition, that derive their power from the inflated profits of prohibited but highly demanded commodities, and that operate in an underground economy in which violence is routinely employed to resolve disputes or remove business opponents. It's similar to what occurred in the U.S. during alcohol prohibition, but on a far more horrific scale.

Meanwhile, Mexico's U.S.-backed military response, rather than reducing violence, has resulted in systematic and documented violations of human rights, including rape, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and torture. Abuses have been so grave and widespread that human rights attorneys have asked the International Criminal Court to investigate President Felipe Calderon for crimes against humanity.

What are Mexicans getting in return for this unthinkable price? Not much. Cartels show no signs of weakening, while drugs remain as widely consumed and available in the U.S. as ever before.

The numbers, of course, cannot tell the true story of what this violence means for Mexico. Each person killed was, after all, a son or daughter, brother or sister, father or mother. The Times' article highlights one such person, Juan Francisco Sicilia, a 24-year-old student killed last March, whose father, Javier, has become a leader of the national popular movement against the war on drugs.  United with family members of other victims, along with everyday citizens fed up with being afraid, the elder Sicilia's movement seeks to humanize each victim. Drawing inspiration from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, this growing movement has been commemorating each victim by nailing a plaque with his or her name to the walls of public buildings across Mexico. 

Sicilia has also proposed the regulation of drugs as a way to reduce the devastation that prohibition has inflicted on Mexico.

Regional leaders agree that many of these deaths could have been prevented -- not by hitting the cartels harder but by being smarter about U.S. and global drug policy. In late December, Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Chile and all of Central America issued a joint declaration urging the U.S. to rein in its demand for drugs or, if it cannot do so, "explore the possible alternatives to eliminate the exorbitant profits of the criminals, including regulatory or market oriented options to this end."

The American public is ready for such a change. According to a Gallup poll in October, 50% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana like alcohol -- a modest step that could deprive cartels of their leading source of revenue, diminishing their ability to buy weapons, hire recruits, corrupt officials and terrorize the Mexican people.

These U.S. citizens, no longer the minority, wait impatiently for their government to join the rest of the hemisphere in rethinking the failed drug war.  Our southern neighbors cannot afford to wait any longer. 

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Photo: A Mexican soldier stands near the bodies of two men found slain in Acapulco in February. Credit: Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images

Occupy's freeloading freedom fighters

Crime is up around the Occupy L.A. camp
Quick, someone go rent the Occupy L.A. folks a Robin Hood movie. And make sure everyone's paying attention when it gets to the part about "robbing the rich to give to the poor."

Because something's gone terribly wrong in our own little City Hall Sherwood Forest.

The Times' headline Monday morning says it all: "Occupy L.A.: Shoplifting, drug violations, drunkenness reported."

Ouch.

The Los Angeles Police Department said arrests in the general area around the camp are up, including charges of disorderly conduct, drug violations, public drunkenness and lewd acts. ...

Serious crimes more than doubled in the area around Occupy Los Angeles during the first 45 days since the protesters began their encampment, LAPD officials said.

Now, I recall that Friar Tuck liked his ale. (Or was it mead? And what's the difference?)  And yes, Robin's merry band stole.

But somehow, today's Occupy L.A. inhabitants seem to have missed the reason for that malfeasance. Take this anecdote from Times staff writer Angel Jennings' story last week:

Salim Virani said his dry-cleaning business has suffered from layoffs in recent months at nearby government facilities downtown, including Los Angeles City Hall. So he wasn't thrilled to have Occupy L.A. campers come by and ask him to clean up to 30 sleeping bags, free of charge…

Virani said the protesters were angry at being turned down, perhaps because many businesses, including restaurants, have provided food, goods and services to the campers for free.

And Virani isn't alone:

A CVS employee said that $730 worth of toiletries, alcohol and first-aid supplies had been stolen from the store over a two-week period in late October. In the report filed Oct. 27 with mall security, the employee said "thefts were occurring because [of] the newly frequent visits from the Occupy L.A. people."

But did the Occupy people take the high road?  Not exactly:

Occupy L.A. representatives didn't dispute the claim, noting that many of the protesters don't have jobs or money.

"Compare [the shoplifting] with the theft of homes by huge banks and I think we have a bit of context," said Mark Lipman, a protester from Mar Vista.

Well, Mark Lipman from Mar Vista, here's some more context (free of charge): When conservatives are calling you the "flea party," and Ann Coulter says your previous movement was "Occupy Our Mothers' Basements," it's not the best strategy to shrug at lawlessness and defend shoplifting by saying "they did it first."

The Occupy movement has an important message. The wealth gap in this country is disgraceful.  Who doesn't applaud those who are seriously trying to make that point?

But Americans don't condone lawlessness. Stealing is stealing.

The majority of people just want a fair deal. They want a level playing field. They want decent jobs at decent pay and a better life for their kids.

The Occupy folks want us to believe that they're freedom fighters. But more and more they're looking like just a bunch of freeloaders.

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-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Occupy protesters block the intersection at Figueroa and 4th streets. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Frisking students: Another bad educational idea

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School officials tend to run into trouble when they play cop instead of educator. So it was with the dean at Porter Middle School in the San Fernando Valley who unsuccessfully (what on earth was she thinking?) tried to devise her own campus drug sting by dragging a 12-year-old in to be the decoy.

Now the ACLU has filed suit against a Glendale high school for reportedly staging its own version of a "Scared Straight" scenario to keep some possibly at-risk students from joining gangs. The lawsuit claims that the school called in police, who detained about 55 Latino students in a classroom, questioned them, examined and asked about their tattoos, demanded their addresses and even threatened them. There was no evidence, at least before the incident, that the students had broken any laws or school rules.

The school district doesn't appear to contest the facts of the matter; in The Times' story on the subject,  a school district spokesman says that this was an educational exercise designed to keep some students who looked like they were on the verge of joining gangs -- hanging out with and admiring known gang members -- from taking the next step.

It's unclear why the ACLU sees this as racial profiling. The students were all of one ethnic group, true; the question is, would school officials have acted the same if they saw a group of white students hanging out with and showing respect for known lawbreakers who were back at school on probation? Were they inclined to bother Latino students whose behavior didn't worry them?

But if the lawsuit is accurate in its description of the incident, the school officials were at least guilty of a really bad idea. Frightening and intimidating students at school, a place where they should feel welcome and safe, could only serve to alienate at-risk teens. Dragging in police when no laws have been broken raised the whole incident to the level of unnecessarily high drama.

How about an assembly or series of assemblies for all students, featuring anti-gang programs and former gangsters who can talk about what they lost through their involvement? Maybe bringing the students into a counselor's office, on an individual basis, for a heart-to-heart? Or, if the administrators needed to get tougher, calling their parents in for a conference?

Being treated like a criminal by school administrators isn't all that likely to prevent a kid from becoming one.

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Photo: ACLU attorney David Sapp speaks to the media during a news conference about the lawsuit alleging that students searched by police were racially profiled. Credit: Raul Roa / Times Community News

Drug war: What prohibition costs us [Blowback]

Weed
Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, responds to The Times' Oct. 5 Op-Ed article, "Prohibition's real lessons for drug policy." If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.


Drug prohibitionists like former White House drug czar staffer Kevin A. Sabet seem to be in a panic over Ken Burns' PBS documentary broadcast "Prohibition" because of its clear and convincing parallel to today's equally disastrous war on drugs. The earlier experiment lasted less than 14 years, but today’s failed prohibition was declared by President Nixon 40 years ago and has cost our country more than $1 trillion  in cash and much more in immeasurable social harm.

As a student of history and a retired deputy chief of police with the Los Angeles Police Department, I can attest that the damage that came from the prohibition of alcohol pales in comparison to the harm wrought by drug prohibition. In the last 40 years drug money has fueled the growth of violent street gangs in Los Angeles, from two (Bloods and Crips) with a membership of less than 50 people before the drug war to 20,000 gangs with a membership of about 1 million across the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These gangs serve as the distributors, collection agents and enforcers for the Mexican cartels that the Justice Department says occupy more than 1,000 U.S. cities.

Sabet, a former advisor to the White House drug policy advisor, ignores these prohibition-created harms, making no mention of the nearly 50,000 people killed in Mexico over the last five years as cartels have battled it out to control drug routes, territories and enforce collections. When one cartel leader is arrested or killed, it makes no impact on the drug trade and only serves to create more violence, as lower-level traffickers fight for the newly open top spot.

U.S. law enforcement officials report that as much as 70% of cartel profits come from marijuana alone.  There's no question that ending today's prohibition on drugs -- starting with marijuana -- would do more to hurt the cartels than any level of law enforcement skill or dedication ever can.

Worse than being ineffective, though, the war on drugs creates dangerous distractions for police officers who would rather focus on improving public safety. For example, the LAPD announced this week that it will take 150 police officers off the streets to accommodate the state's shuffling of prisoners to the county level. The state must do this to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's order to cut our drug-war-induced overcrowded prison population by 30,000 -- and our state has already laid off thousands of teachers thanks in part to funding diverted to building more prisons and hiring more guards.  

This follows on the heels of another reallocation of police resources in Los Angeles when the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff's Department woke up to a three-year backlog of rape kits. Police labs have only a finite amount of resources, and drug testing often takes priority over other cases that demand attention. Detectives (and victims) waiting for lab results related to rape and other serious crimes stood in line for months while tests for custody-related possession of pot and other drugs took precedence.

There's no doubt that the violence, the growth of cartels and gangs, the overpopulation of our prisons and the squandering of our police resources would not occur if we eliminated illegal drug profits and implemented a non-criminal approach to regulating drugs. We did this once with alcohol, and there's no reason we can't do it with other drugs today. 

-- Stephen Downing

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Photo: A glaucoma patient smokes a marijuana cigarette. Credit: Don Ryan / Associated Press

End drug prohibition [Most commented]

Prohibition

Drug legalization supporters shouldn't compare their plight to Prohibition, writes Kevin A. Sabet in Wednesday's Op-Ed pages. The former senior adviser to President Obama's drug czar says it's too nuanced a situation -- legally, historically and culturally --  to compare alcohol to drugs. He writes:

Still, a favorite argument of drug legalization supporters is that because "we all know" alcohol prohibition failed, drug prohibition is destined to fail too. Given modern America's thirst for liquor, it is a clever political maneuver to link the two policies in this way. But notwithstanding one's position on the success or failure of alcohol prohibition, there are key differences between that policy and modern-day drug enforcement that render a comparison almost useless for serious policy analysis.

Sabet follows this with a list of differences, including:

[I]t should be remembered that unlike illegal drugs today, alcohol was never prohibited altogether. Laws forbade the sale and distribution of liquor, but personal use was not against the law.

Reader "vesaldini" writes on our discussion board: "This is a wonderful example of clear-headed analysis." And "Socorro V" asks: "Are not alcohol and tobacco problems enough? Must we increase the list of substances that kill our citizens?"

But the majority of readers take issue with Sabet's Op-Ed. Some support drug legalization for economic reasons, while others argue that government shouldn't be in the business of telling Americans what we can and can't consume. There are also readers who claim alcohol is more hazardous than marijuana. Here they are in their own words.

Prohibition is not the solution

I am totally against the Drug Prohibition Regime and can't wait to see it thrown away into the dustbin of history greatest inequities humankind has inflicted on itself. I would have thought that any rational, responsible and caring individual could see that drug abuse and its profoundly disruptive consequences calls for enlightened policies where education, health and regulation would play central roles; that it calls for policies where no room is left for the Victorian values Prohibitionists seem so keen on: abstinence or punishment.

One can only assume that something deeply ideological, prejudicial or irrational prevents people from understanding that the problem is prohibition, and not the drugs themselves; that no matter what drug one is considering, prohibition is not the solution … far from it. If anything, what decades of pursuing and enforcing the prohibition regime and its dastardly offshoot, the so-called War on Drugs, have taught us is that it can only make things worse! […]

--GartValenc

The government's hypocrisy 

It is a stretch to assume that the social and health problems associated with alcohol abuse can in any way be compared to those caused by the use of cannabis.  Alcohol destroys the internal organs of abusers.  Marijuana has no known long-term effects.  Alcohol is highly addictive.  Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.  Cannabis is less addictive than caffeine and withdrawal, at worst, amounts to a few restless nights and a few days of low appetite.  Alcohol is the fuel of all kinds of violence.  Marijuana users tend to be quiet and communal.

What is amazing to me is that our government supports and collects taxes on the two deadliest drugs in our society, alcohol and tobacco, but wants to send people to jail for making the much more rational choice to use marijuana recreationally instead.

-- herbalmagick

What would Thomas Jefferson do?

The cruelest irony of this issue is that many far right goons, the so called champions of getting the government out of our lives and expanding freedom, have always been the biggest advocates of this outdated, morally wrong,  government intrusion into our lives and denying us our "right to happiness", which Thomas Jefferson, the hard drug alcohol drinker, so correctly protected us with.  George Washington gave his troops rum every day to keep them happy.

--shndlr

My life, my decision

The overriding question that the Mr Sabet clearly misses is this: Should the government be in the business of telling responsible adults what they can and cannot ingest? Many of us say "no" to that, while many folks who call themselves conservative and say they want less government in their lives nonetheless accept that nanny-state role. What I believe government should do is offer factual education regarding what drugs of all kinds can do to people, regulate the purity of drugs, continue to punish irresponsible behavior that endangers innocent people (such as driving under the influence, etc), and then trust the rest of us grown ups to enjoy life responsibly in whatever way we choose.

--Username99

Nothing will change

This article is a laugher for many reasons:

1. Part of the human condition is to seek mood-altering substances, aka get "buzzed." Been going on for about 100,000 years or so, live with it.

2. In spite of all the laws that prohibit it, Americans continue to pursue an artificial high, regardless of the consequences. Laws DO NOT have a deterrent effect on consumption.

3. The cost of drug laws on society has been astounding.  We have incarcerated generations of minorities, forced the status of "convicted felon" on hundreds of thousands of people with the attendant impact on society - with no impact on drug consumption.

4. The war on drugs has been an epic failure in every measurable category except one: a growth industry for the criminal justice system.

5. The public is already saturated with the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.  A change of legalization will not change consumption patterns that much.  Those inclined to use will continue to, those that do not want the risk will refuse.

6. The odds of getting busted for drug possession, unless you are a minority in a gang neighborhood, is virtually non-existent.  Therefore, in practical terms, it's already available on demand.

7. The impact of alcohol and tobacco dwarfs the impact of drugs, legal or not.  We lose over 400,000 to nicotine addiction, and another 50,000 or so to booze EVERY YEAR.

Secret: nothing will change.

--zgonina1

*Spelling errors in the above comments have been corrected.

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Photo: Women led the first campaigns for temperance, but later men, spurred by the Anti-Saloon League, rallied for dry laws in states throughout the country. Credit: John Binder Collection / PBS

Drug overdose deaths: Common-sense solutions [Blowback]

RX 
Meghan Ralston, harm reduction coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, responds to The Times' Sept. 17 article, "Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the U.S., data show." If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

The Times broke a major story this month about the skyrocketing number of drug-related deaths now appearing to exceed the number of car accident fatalities nationally. Indeed, the overdose crisis in the U.S. is exploding, largely due to prescription painkiller drugs like hydrocodone and oxycodone. Some well-intentioned officials are now publicly addressing the problem.

However, it's more than just a bit disheartening to hear, "We don't know a lot about how to reduce prescription [drug] deaths," as one public health expert told The Times.

In fact, we do know how to reduce the number of overdose deaths. We have a range of solutions that work and cost taxpayers nothing.

Prescription drug overdoses result from lack of information, fear of police, bad policy and a range of other factors. In the public health world, the solutions and responses to the overdose crisis are not just extremely well known, they're also already being widely implemented in a variety of states and communities across the country.

Naloxone is the "life or death" medicine, the antidote for people experiencing an overdose from an opiate such as oxycodone or heroin. It's usually the last-ditch effort, and it works in the majority of cases. Naloxone has been the first line of defense against opiate overdose in emergency rooms and ambulances across the country for more than 40 years. Its safety and efficacy are so well known and so well documented that it's now being made available to opiate users by physicians in dozens of communities across the country. Naloxone works, saves lives and usually costs less than $20 per dose. Every person in America who uses any kind of opiate shouldn't just know about it, they should have it at home right now.

States across the country have passed what are known as "Good Samaritan 911" laws, which encourage people witnessing or experiencing an overdose to call 911 without fear of arrest for minor drug law violations. New York, New Mexico and Washington have already adopted this common-sense reform, and other states should follow suit.

Other solutions that experts have been advocating for years include requiring drug treatment facilities to teach their clients about overdose prevention, recognition and response. Jails and prisons should also be required to do so upon a prisoner's release. High schools and colleges should incorporate such lifesaving information in their current alcohol and drug abuse prevention curricula.

These are just a few of the low-cost, practical responses to this crisis we could implement right away. So why don't most people know about them? Even more curiously, why aren't government officials promoting these reforms? 

Sadly, the prevailing war on drugs ideology requires bureaucrats and politicians to ignore the obvious and stick to the punitive. Public health officials who know better are drowned out when talking about an approach to drug use that focuses on keeping people alive and healthy and keeping families intact. Prescription drugs are already plentiful throughout the United States. Limiting access to them alone cannot address the harms caused by their misuse and does nothing to address any addiction issues that may be driving their use.

We need to hold officials accountable not just for the skyrocketing overdose death rate but for their refusal to advocate proven, low-cost solutions that go beyond simply making it harder for people to get prescription drugs. We have to admit the complexity of the problem and start aggressively pursuing better strategies.

-- Meghan Ralston

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Michael Jackson's death: La La Land at its (worst) best

LaToya Jackson

La La Land.

That's what L.A. is often called. And it's usually not a compliment.

And you know what? Sometimes we deserve it. And this is one of those times.

Just take a look at what's making news here this week:

"Michael Jackson death: Doctor's jury hears drugged singer's voice"

The voice of a heavily drugged, rambling Michael Jackson echoed through the courtroom during opening arguments Tuesday in the trial of his personal doctor.

"When people leave my show, I want them to say, 'I've never seen nothing like this in my life,' " the singer mumbled on a recording that the prosecution said was made on Dr. Conrad Murray’s iPhone.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren told jurors that Murray recorded his famous patient about six weeks before his death when he was "under the influence of unknown agents."

Now, this is serious stuff. After all, CNN, Fox and half the world's media outlets are parked outside the courtroom. A man, a famous man, is dead. No news nugget is insignificant.  As The Times reported breathlessly Tuesday:

Some fans reported that Jackson's magician, Majestic Magnificent, was present at the courthouse.

Of course, bizarre isn't limited to Michael Jackson. Here's a little tidbit that's sure to further endear L.A. to the "tea party" movement:

"Drug lord's wife has twins in Los Angeles County hospital."

The spaces for "Name of Father" are blank. But the L.A. County birth certificates list the mother, who happens to be the young wife of one of history’s biggest and most sought-after drug lords, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Emma Coronel traveled to Southern California in mid-July, and on Aug. 15 gave birth to twin girls at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, according to birth records and a senior U.S. law enforcement official.

Turns out Coronel, a 22-year-old former beauty queen, holds U.S. citizenship, which entitles her to travel freely to the U.S. and to use its hospitals. By being born in California, her little girls now also have U.S. citizenship.

Oh good, a twofer:  Her husband's a wanted drug lord, and now their kids are American citizens.

But look on the bright side, tea partyers: When those little El Chapos grow up, want to go to a U.S. college, and apply for financial aid, it won't be a case of giving assistance to illegal immigrants.    

And don't blame lax law enforcement for this. As the story says:

U.S. federal agents apparently kept tabs on Emma Coronel even before she crossed the border at Calexico, through her hospital stay and until she left the country to return to Mexico. Although her husband tops most-wanted lists on both sides of the border, Coronel was not arrested because there are no charges against her, the law enforcement official said.

But what I really want to know is, how did she pay for her hospital stay?  A suitcase full of cash? Or does she have insurance? If so, will she and her husband be dunned by a collection agency if they don't pay?

And speaking of law enforcement, how about those L.A. County jails?

"FBI paid deputy to smuggle cellphone in jail sting."

FBI agents probing misconduct allegations in the L.A. County Jail orchestrated an undercover sting in which they paid about $1,500 to a sheriff's deputy to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate, sources said.

The revelation is the first public indication that the FBI's investigations into allegations of inmate beatings and other deputy misconduct in the jails have uncovered possible criminal wrongdoing.

The FBI conducted the cellphone sting without notifying top Sheriff's Department brass, enraging Sheriff Lee Baca and causing a rift between the two law enforcement agencies.

So, let's see: Sheriff's deputies are allegedly beating up inmates; the FBI is looking into it; the agency found a seemingly crooked deputy to help them get a phone to an informant; and Baca isn't concerned about that and the beating allegations, he's just mad at the FBI.

Baca's bottom line? "We police ourselves," he said.

Gee, I think that's what Richard Nixon said too.

And, on top of all this, President Obama was in town for a series of appearances and fundraisers.

And yes, you know what that meant: People complaining about traffic tie-ups.

Ah, just another week in La La Land. 

RELATED:

Live video: Coverage of Murray trial

35 bodies dumped on street in Mexico

What else will surface at Echo Park Lake?

FBI probing reports of beatings in L.A. County jails

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: La Toya Jackson enters the courthouse Tuesday for opening statements in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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