Posts tagged ‘narcotics’

Trend That Is Not A Trend: Rape Culture

From Mark Perry:

click to enlarge

I suppose one could argue that there is some change in reporting rates, since rape is well-know to be an under-reported crime.  However, I would struggle to argue that under-reporting rates are going up (which is what it would take to be the prime driver of the trend above).  If anything, my guess is that reporting rates are rising such that the chart above actually understates the improvement.

PS-  Folks commenting on this post saying that by reporting a declining trend I demonstrate that I don't care about rape or don't treat it seriously are idiots.  I have lived through dozens of data-free media scares and witch hunts  -- global cooling, global warming, the great pre-school sexual abuse witch hunt, about 20 different narcotics related scares (vodka tampons, anyone?).    Data is useful.    In this case, knowing there is improvement means we can look for what is driving the improvement and do more of it (though Kevin Drum would likely attribute it to unleaded gasoline).

"Trend that is not a trend" is an occasional feature on this blog.  I could probably write three stories a day on this topic if I wished.  The media is filled with stories of supposed trends based on single data points or anecdotes rather than, you know, actual trend data.  More stories of this type are here.  It is not unusual to find that the trend data often support a trend in the opposite direction as claimed by media articles.  I have a related category I have started of trends extrapolated from single data points.

Holy Cr*p!

via Mark Perry

click to enlarge

 

Four things I would do to help African Americans

  • Legalize drugs.  This would reduce the rents that attract the poor into dealing, would keep people out of jail, and reduce a lot of violent crime associated with narcotics traffic that kills investment and business creation in black neighborhoods.  No its not a good thing to have people addicted to strong narcotics but it is worse to be putting them in jail and having them shooting at each other.
  • Bring real accountability to police forces.  When I see stories of folks absurdly abused by police forces, I can almost always guess the race of the victim in advance
  • Eliminate the minimum wage   (compromise: eliminate the minimum wage before 25).  Originally passed for racist reasons, it still (if unintentionally) keeps young blacks from entering the work force.  Dropping out of high school does not hurt employment because kids learn job skills in high school (they don't); it hurts because finishing high school is a marker of responsibility and other desirable job traits.  Kids who drop out can overcome this, but only if they get a job where they can demonstrate these traits.  No one is going to take that chance at $10 or $15 an hour**
  • Voucherize education.  It's not the middle class that is primarily the victim of awful public schools, it is poor blacks.  Middle and upper class parents have the political pull to get accountability.   It is no coincidence the best public schools are generally in middle and upper class neighborhoods.  Programs such as the one in DC that used to allow urban poor to escape failing schools need to be promoted.

** This might not be enough.  One of the main reasons we do not hire inexperienced youth, regardless of wage rates, is that the legal system has put the entire liability for any boneheaded thing an employee does on the employer.  Even if the employee is wildly breaking clear rules and is terminated immediately for his or her actions, the employer can be liable.  The cost of a bad hire is skyrocketing (at the same time various groups are trying to reign in employers' ability to do due diligence on prospective employees).  I am not positive that in today's legal environment I would take free labor from an untried high school dropout, but I certainly am not going to do it at $10 an hour when there are thousands of experienced people who will work for that.  Some sort of legal safe harbor for the actions of untried workers might be necessary.

Simply Corrupt

The US Justice Department is using decades-old anti-discrimination law to stop poor black families from escaping crappy schools via a school choice program.  The awesome Clint Bolick of Goldwater has the details:

Despite reports of compromise or capitulation, the U.S. Justice Department is continuing its legal assault on the Louisiana school-voucher program—wielding a 40-year-old court order against racial discrimination to stymie the aspirations of black parents to get their children the best education.

The Louisiana Scholarship Program began in 2012. It provides full-tuition scholarships to children from families with incomes below 250% of the poverty level, whose children were assigned to public schools rated C, D or F by the state, or who were enrolling in kindergarten. In the current year, 12,000 children applied for scholarships and nearly 5,000 are using them to attend private schools. Roughly 90% are used by black children.

Parental satisfaction is off the charts. A 2013 survey by the Louisiana chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national school-choice organization, found that 93.6% of scholarship families are pleased with their children's academic progress and 99.3% believe the schools are safe—a far cry from the dismal public schools to which the children were previously consigned.

But last August, the Justice Department filed a motion to enjoin the program in dozens of school districts that still have desegregation orders from generations ago. It claimed that any change in racial composition would violate the orders. After a tremendous public backlash, Justice withdrew its motion for an injunction, insisting it did not intend to remove kids from the program....

In fact, the children are very much in danger of losing their opportunities. The Justice Department is demanding detailed annual information, including the racial composition of the public schools the voucher students are leaving and the private and parochial schools the students are selecting. If it objects to the award of individual vouchers based on those statistics, the department will challenge them.

If I had to make a list of the top 10 things we could do to actually help African-American families (as opposed to the garbage programs in place now to supposedly help them), #1 would be decriminalization of narcotics and in general stopping the incarceration of black youth for non-violent victim-less offenses.  But #2 would be school choice programs like the one in Louisiana.

PS- I am thinking about what the rest of the top 10 list would be.  #3 would likely be putting real teeth in police department accountability programs, as I think that police departments tend to be the last bastions of true institutionalized racial discrimination.  #4 might be some sort of starter wage program that gives a lower minimum wage for long-term unemployed.  If I weren't a pacifist and committed to free speech and association, I might say #5 was shutting down half the supposed advocacy groups that claim to be working for the benefit of African-Americans but instead merely lock them into dependency.

In New Mexico, Forced Government Anal Probes are Way Better than Having Even One Person Smoke A Joint

Or so I am led to believe by the fine folks in Deming, New Mexico, who forced a man to undergo two forced X-rays, two anal probes, three enemas, and a colonoscopy under anesthesia because they worried that he might be hiding a smidge of illegal narcotics in his nether regions.  Oh, and they made him pay the hospital bills for these procedures as well, sort of like billing someone's estate for the electricity used to execute them in the electric chair.

Details here.

Update:  Orin Kerr has a legal anal-ysis of the case (sorry, couldn't resist).   His conclusion seems to be that the victim may be sh*t out of luck (sorry again) in seeking compensation.  From reading it, he may even be stuck with the medical bills.  I have come to expect cops to display this kind of excessive behavior.  What is particularly disappointing is to see a doctor so eagerly cooperate and even, apparently, take the lead in escalating the intrusiveness of the search.  It is depressing that Kerr believes the doctor may well enjoy qualified immunity for his actions.  Thousands of doctors every day are successfully sued for malpractice over honest mistakes and differences in judgement, but this guy is going to walk?

And People Say Libertarians Lack Empathy

People live every day with excruciating pain that is untreatable with current medications, either because the medication has nasty side effects or they have built a tolerance or both.  So I would have thought the prospect of a new medication to help these folks would be an occasion for good news.

But not according to Chris Hawley of the Associated Press.  I first saw this story in our local paper, and was just staggered at its tone.  The article begins this way:

Drug companies are working to develop a pure, more powerful version of the nation's second most-abused medicine, which has addiction experts worried that it could spur a new wave of abuse.

And it goes on and on in that vein, for paragraph after paragraph.  Through it all there is all kinds of over-wrought speculation, with nary a statistic or fact in sight.   This is not atypical of the tone:

"It's like the wild west," said Peter Jackson, co-founder of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids. "The whole supply-side system is set up to perpetuate this massive unloading of opioid narcotics on the American public."

or this gem:

Critics say they are troubled because of the dark side that has accompanied the boom in sales of narcotic painkillers: Murders, pharmacy robberies and millions of dollars lost by hospitals that must treat overdose victims.

Recognize that murders and robberies associated with narcotics are almost always due to their illegality, not their basic nature.  These are a function of prohibition, not the drug itself, which in fact is more likely to make users docile than amped up to commit crime.

It is not until paragraph 11 that the article actually acknowledges there might be some folks who benefit from this new medication.  And even this is a dry discussion of side effects by some doctors -- how about heart-rending quotes from pain sufferers?  Newspapers love to include these, except in articles on pain medications where I have yet to see one such quote.

But then the author quickly goes back to arguing that pharmaceutical companies are purposefully addicting patients as part of the business model

"You've got a person on your product for life, and a doctor's got a patient who's never going to miss an appointment, because if they did and they didn't get their prescription, they would feel very sick," said Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "It's a terrific business model, and that's what these companies want to get in on."

That's a pretty ugly way to portray this.  Couldn't you argue the same thing about, say, medications that suppress HIV?  What these opponents never discuss is that they are basically proposing to consign people who have chronic pain to life-long torture.   They are saying "better in pain than addicted."  Really?  I will take the addiction.  Hell, by the same logic I am addicted to water and air too.

The notion that we should force a person to live in lifelong pain because some other person makes choices we don't like regarding their own narcotic use is just awful.  Seriously, these are the same folks who say that libertarians have no empathy.

Postscript.  Only after her death have I really learned about the contributions of Siobhan Reynolds, who died the other day after years of fighting to bring the interests of pain sufferers into this debate.  Radley Balko has a memorial, but this AP article is about all you need to understand what she was fighting, and how easily the plight of pain sufferers is ignored in these discussions.

The Worst Federal Spending?

OK, I know there are lots of strong competitors for the title of worst Federal spending, but transfers to state governments is, to my mind, among the very worst (from here)

Specific problems with this spending include:

  • Terrible accountability, even worse than for most of Federal spending.  Feds appropriate the money but have only limited ways to enforce accountability and almost no ability to track its use
  • Awful incentives, as much of this money is given as matching funds that simply encourage more spending at the state level and create, in difficult budget times, the almost impossible problem of having to cut $2 of spending to save $1 of state appropriations.  Makes matching fund programs almost impossible to cut, though kudos to Wisconsin and Florida for doing the right thing with Federal matching funds for high speed rail
  • Frequently used to undermine the 10th recommended.   Seat belt laws and 55-mile-per-hour speed limits enforced by threats of withdrawal of Federal funds.  Ditto Title IX in state schools.   The Feds are like narcotics pushers, getting the states hooked early on easy money and then using their addiction to these funds in all kinds of abusive ways.

Drug War: Fail

Bravo for Nicholas Kristof's editorial in the Times:

Here in the United States, four decades of drug war have had three consequences:

First, we have vastly increased the proportion of our population in prisons. The United States now incarcerates people at a rate nearly five times the world average. In part, that's because the number of people in prison for drug offenses rose roughly from 41,000 in 1980 to 500,000 today. Until the war on drugs, our incarceration rate was roughly the same as that of other countries.

Second, we have empowered criminals at home and terrorists abroad. One reason many prominent economists have favored easing drug laws is that interdiction raises prices, which increases profit margins for everyone, from the Latin drug cartels to the Taliban. Former presidents of Mexico, Brazil and Colombia this year jointly implored the United States to adopt a new approach to narcotics, based on the public health campaign against tobacco.

Third, we have squandered resources. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, found that federal, state and local governments spend $44.1 billion annually enforcing drug prohibitions. We spend seven times as much on drug interdiction, policing and imprisonment as on treatment. (Of people with drug problems in state prisons, only 14 percent get treatment.)

I've seen lives destroyed by drugs, and many neighbors in my hometown of Yamhill, Oregon, have had their lives ripped apart by crystal meth. Yet I find people like Mr. Stamper persuasive when they argue that if our aim is to reduce the influence of harmful drugs, we can do better.

The current regime not only has failed, but is absolutely absurd in its assumptions.  The argument that something like marijuana should be illegal is always "to protect the kids."  But the solution is nuts.   I will put it very personally.  It replaces a mildly bad thing (my teenager is smoking rope) with a disasterous, ruin-one's-life thing (my teenager was arrested for possession and may go to jail).  Its just crazy to say it is better to send kids to jail than have them do drugs.  Drugs I can deal with and correct in my household, or at least I can try -- jail and an arrest record I can't fix.

Drug warriors worry about "the message" we send to kids with legalization, but no one is talking about legalizing drugs for kids, any more than we do with tobacco or alcohol.  Use of those are adult decisions and we require one to be an adult to make them.

To be honest, looking at the teens I see, I can't see much difference in teen's perception of smoking tobacco vs. other drugs, despite the fact that the former is legal for adults, and so by drug warrior logic we have sent the message that it is more OK somehow.  In fact, in use statistics, it is hard to see any difference, with teens using legal-for-adults drugs like tobacco at about the same rate as they use other illegal-for-everyone drugs.

Does Anyone Want This Standard Applied to Them?

OK you folks out there -- ask yourself if you would like the following standard for going to jail applied to yourself.

Over the weekend, Dr. Hurwitz was convicted on drug trafficking charges when it was found that some of his patients were reselling their pain pills without his knowledgeJohn Tierney interviewed several of the jurors: (via Hit and Run)

The evidence in the case "“ including conversatons during office
visits that were furtively recorded by patients cooperating with
narcotics agents "“ showed that Dr. Hurwitz was being conned. On one
recording, a patient who'd been selling his OxyContins bragged to his
wife (and fellow dealer) that Dr. Hurwitz "trusts the [expletive] out
of me."

"Those patients used the doctor shamelessly," said a juror I'll call
Juror 1. (All three jurors, citing the controversy over the case, spoke
to me on condition of anonymity, so I'll refer to them by numbers.)
This juror added, "They exploited him. I didn't see him getting
anything financial out of it. Many of his patients weren't even paying
him. He had to believe that he was just treating them for pain."

The other jurors agreed. "There was no financial benefit to him that
was very evident to us," Juror 2 said. "It was a really hard case for
all of us. I think that Dr. Hurwitz really did care about his patients."

So why convict him? "There were just some times he fell down on the
job," Juror 2 said. The third juror echoed that argument using the
prosecution's language: "There were red flags he should have seen."

Plenty of doctors would agree that he should have paid more
attention to those warning signs. Plenty would agree that he fell down
on the job. Some have already said he should have lost his medical
license. But falling down on the job is generally not a criminal
offense, especially when there's no criminal intent.

Any of you want to go to jail for making a mistake on the job?  Note that this was NOT a malpractice case, and jurors were told that it was not.  Hurwitz was convicted, in effect, for caring about and trusting his patients.  Is this the message you want your doctor to get, that he should not trust what you say and should avoid fully treating your pain?  Because that is the message your doctor just received.

Related case of Richard Paey here, who went to jail for 25 years for what a jury decided was over-medicating his pain.

The Drug War -- It's for the Children?

I have written a number of times about the high cost of the war on drugs, and the craziness of locking up drug users for years in prison "for their own good." 

Usually, the argument for the drug war devolves to "its for the children."  The argument is that by keeping various narcotics and other drugs illegal to all, children, who by definition can't make adult decisions well, will find it harder to obtain and use these drugs.  Also, drug warriors argue that full prohibition prevents kids getting the message that drug use is OK, presumably because they might interpret "legality" as "approved for use."

We could prove or disprove this hypothesis that full drug prohibition reduces that drug's use among kids with a simple experiment:  Make some drugs legal for adults, but illegal for children, and make other drugs illegal for everyone, and see what happens. 

But wait!  We already have such an experiment in place.  Drugs like cocaine and marijuana are illegal for everyone, and a drug like tobacco cigarettes are legal for adults but illegal for kids.  If the drug warrior's hypothesis is correct that total bans on drugs reduce childhood use, then we should see tobacco use among children much higher than use by those same kids of drugs that are illegal for all.  Well, here are the stats, from Monitoring the Future (hat tip: Hit and Run), whose funding comes from the war-on-drugs folks.  I will use the 2006 data on drug use in the last 30-days, but any of the table shows the same basic results:

% Using Illegal
Drugs

% Using Tobacco

8th grade

8.1

8.7

10th grade

16.8

14.5

12th grade

21.5

21.6

Can you see the point?  Tobacco use is the same or even lower than the use of illegal drugs in this survey.  Legalizing a habit-forming drug for adults does not seem to increase use of that drug among kids vs. full prohibition.  So what is the war on drugs buying us, anyway?

Failure of the War on Drugs

Frequent readers of this site will know that I support the legalization of most illegal narcotics for adult use, not because I am a secret user who wants to come out of the closet, but because prohibition and efforts to save people from themselves always result in failure.  In particular I remember the old joke that communicates so well the inherent contradictions embodied in the drug war.  It goes: "What is the worst thing that can happen to a teen who smokes marijuana?  Answer: He can get thrown in jail."

Whenever I make the argument for drug legalization, 100 out of 100 times the first response is "what kind of message does that send to kids."  They argue that even if kids under 18 are not allowed access to drugs, legalization for adults will send the message to kids that drug use is more acceptable, and their use of drugs will increase.

What is most surprising about this statement is how easy it is to test.  The approach was suggested to me by something I read in Reason the other day.

Check out this press release from the Department of Health and Human Services on youth drug use:

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration today
announced that current illicit drug use among youth ages 12-17
continues to decline.   The rate has been moving downward from 11.6
percent using drugs in the past month in 2002 to 11.2 percent in 2003,
10.6 percent in 2004 and 9.9 percent in 2005....

The  rate of past month cigarette use among youth ages 12-17 declined from 13.0  percent in 2002 to 10.8 percent in 2005.

The counter proof to the "what about the kids" argument is right here in these two paragraphs.  Tobacco today, which is illegal for teens while legal (but frowned upon) for adults, is a good proxy for post-legalization narcotics.  Note therefore that illicit drug use among teens is 9.9 percent, while tobacco use is 10.8 percent.  There is virtually no difference!  The legal-for-adults substance is used by teens at only slightly higher a rate than illicit drugs, and this from the drug warriors' own figures.  At most, the"message" sent by legalizing tobacco seems to be no different than the "message" sent by making narcotics illegal. Tobacco is legal for adults, does not carry nearly the same stigma as illegal drugs, is far easier for a teen to obtain, and carries much lower penalties for its use, and still it is used by teens at about the same rate as illegal drugs.  In fact, in the figures you can see the legal tobacco use falling faster than illegal drug use.

So what has prohibition, prohibition-related drug violence, and hundreds of thousands of people in jail for drug use achieved?

Congress Votes to Make Schools Fourth Ammendment Free Zones

Via Reasons Hit and Run:

Yesterday, Students for Sensible Drug Policy reports, the House approved the Student and Teacher Safety Act of 2006, which threatens
to withhold federal funding from public schools that do not allow broad
student searches for flimsy reasons, by a voice vote. The bill applies
to any "search by a full-time teacher or school official, acting on any
reasonable suspicion based on professional experience and judgment, of
any minor student on the grounds of any public school, if the search is
conducted to ensure that classrooms, school buildings, school property
and students remain free from the threat of all weapons, dangerous
materials, or illegal narcotics."

An earlier version of the bill used the newfangled standard of
"colorable suspicion," which I reasonably suspect would have amounted
to little more than a hunch. The new standard is stricter in theory,
and the bill stipulates that "the measures used to conduct any search
must be reasonably related to the search's objectives, without being
excessively intrusive in light of the student's age, sex, and the
nature of the offense." Would this allow a mass search of the entire
student body if, say, a teacher suspects that one or two kids have been
smoking pot and is determined to root out the school's marijuana ring?
No doubt these details will be settled in litigation. Since such
litigation can be costly,
it's not surprising that the American Federation of Teachers, the
National Association of School Administrators, and the National School
Boards Association have come out against the bill.

It's sure good to see Congress overturning fundamental Constitutional principles on a voice vote.  Here is a good libertarian poll question:  Which do you think will be used more often in the next five years as an excuse to pare down the Bill of Rights, the "war on drugs" or the "war on terrorism"?

Longing for Concentration Camps

Of the more partisan blogs I read, I have always enjoyed Captains Quarters for being thoughtful and well-written.  Ed Morrissy is clearly as skeptical about open immigration as I am supportive of it, which  I am generally willing to put into the "intelligent people will disagree" category, until I found this bit a little frightening (emphasis added):

As I have written repeatedly over the past two years, we simply cannot
throw out 12 million people overnight, so some sort of guest-worker
program is inevitable, if for no other reason than to get an accurate
accounting of the aliens in our nation. Either that, or we will have to
herd people into concentration camps, a solution that will never pass
political muster even if were remotely possible logistically
. That
program could form a basis of a comprehensive immigration "reform", if
properly written.

Is the implication that his only real problems with American concentration camps for people born in Mexico are logistical?  When one typically says that an idea can't pass political muster, they generally are referring (with a wistful sigh) to what they consider a good idea that for whatever reason could not survive the legislative process.  Let's be clear: herding people into concentration camps based arbitrarily on their birth location is abhorrent, not logistically difficult. 

I haven't called myself conservative for over 20 years, but I thought that most good conservatives would agree with the following statement:

"Our fundamental rights, from speech to association to property, are not granted to us by any government, but belong to us as a fact of our human existence."

Do conservatives still believe this?  I know liberals gave up on it a while back - that is why I pay a transaction "privilege" tax in Arizona, which presumes that the ability to conduct commerce is a privilege that is granted by the government.  But I thought conservatives stood by this statement.  But if they still do, then on what basis can they argue that people not born within the US border somehow have lesser (or no) right to conduct commerce in this country, to buy and live in a home in this country, to sell their labor in this country, etc.?   The only rights or activities or privileges a country should be able to deny non-citizens are those rights and privileges that flow from the government and not from our basic humanity.  Which are.... none (update: OK, maybe one: Voting, since this is inherently tied up with government.  I have written before about why I think voting is one of our less important rights).

I understand there are good and valid concerns about government handouts and taxpayer-paid services flowing to recent immigrants, but to solve this narrow concern, "reform" discussion should be about setting minimum qualification standards for such services or handouts, and not about putting Mexicans in concentration camps.

Update:  A number of readers have scolded me for overreacting to the Morrissey quote, arguing that the quote is just dry understatement rather than any revelation of sinister plans.  Fine.  I have friends who are both legal and illegal immigrants her in Phoenix, as well as several who are in-between (i.e. are constantly battling to hang on to their visa status by their fingernails) so I have personal emotions in the game here that may make me overly sensitive.

I will admit to a huge blind spot:  I just cannot comprehend why Americans, none of whose families are native to this land, get so upset about high levels of immigration, beyond the public services issue.  And the more I think about this latter, the more I am convinced making everyone legal combined with some eligibility waiting periods (for voting, welfare, etc) would generate more tax revenue than it would consume.  In fact, high levels of immigration may be the only viable solution to the demographic bomb we have with social security and medicare.  (By the way, the public services issue is one reason the Democrats have, if possible, an even less viable position than Republicans.  Our Democratic governor has publicly supported continuing free government services to illegal immigrants but opposed allowing them to work.  This makes sense, how?)

I do understand there is "law and order" argument that goes "well, those folks are breaking the law, and we have got to have respect for the law."  Here's a proposal.  Everyone who has never knowingly violated the speed limit, never done a rolling stop at a stop sign, and never tried illegal narcotics in college are all welcome to make the argument to me about the need to strictly enforce every law on the books.  This same logic is used to send refugees escaping Cuba back to Cuba, and it sucks.