Eulogy: For my beautiful friend,Joep Oomen,

In 1997, I came across the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies spearheaded by Joep Oomen, Antwerp. He was based in a tiny office that made me wonder how he managed to generate so much work, creating an International Coalition of

When Joep asked me to make an address to The European Parliament in 2001, I actually thought he was psychologically-unwell! I could not believe that i, this X-Junky a) had the right or b) would be able to. Expressing my feelings about this to Joep: he stood there in shock saying “but Andria, you have been so dedicated to reform for so long, your experience must be heard by those in power in order for them to understand why criminalising drugs users, is not only destructive to them but also to the society in general…” He gave me a hug, saying if you need any help with it, draft it and I will have a look. Considering English was not his Mother Tongue, and his written English was way superior to mine, I agreed that I would indeed if necessary.

However, the truth is, his faith in me made all the difference. And this was the way that Joep inspired hundreds of people around Europe to become devoted drug policy reformers. we arrived passionate, some knowledgeable some not, but we always went out into the world far more informed AND confident enough to express the key issues to any one and anywhere. These are the qualities of a great leader…By the way, he hated it when we referred to him as leader. He would rapidly remind us that we were all leaders in our own countries, and that if we “have to use that word” at least “use it about yourselves also. Even better don’t use it at all!”

There were days when Cannabis/Marijuana was the key subject matter of discussion and I felt out of my depth – (I was a harm reduction/IDU activist) but Joep would quickly remind me of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who were being denied access to medical marijuana or languishing in jails for laws that made no sense to millions of people. “We lock up Marijuana users and yet encourage the legal sale of Whiskey, a much harder drug: there is something wrong with this picture!” As an X-IDU (injection drug user)I knew all to well the dangers of Liqueur: Hepatologists had insisted my liver was scarred by two viral strains of Hepatitis and I should not drink at all, preferably.

In the end, the high expectations Joep had of his fellow reformers was one of his main successes. He basically thought, if he could do it , any one could. And in this humble spirit and knowing that our work was on the “side of the Angels” we proceeded, addressing the UNODC , the European Parliament and many others. He was always there as admin back up as well as teacher and mentor. Hundreds of us can say we have been so lucky to have been compatriots of his. He has fought for over a quarter of a century for humane and just drug policies and an end to the war on drugs. Joep was co-founder of numerous NGO’s for drug reform, including Encod, Cannabis Social Club Trekt Uw Plant in Antwerp and the Union for the abolition of cannabis prohibiton (VOC) in the Netherlands.

Personally, I found Joep to be one of the kindest, honest and most transparent fellow activists I have ever had the privilege to work with. Even when we disagreed, there was direct courageous communication; no backstabbing nonsense. I was so happy for Joep when he married Beatriz, a beautiful Bolivian compatriot. He also leaves behind two sons and a grandson  (Thanks to Gonzo Media for photo)

I miss Joep a great deal

May he rest in Peace and Power…ALWAYS

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Response to Saviano interview

Hey Andria

Thanks loads for posting the Saviano interview, his book ZeroZeroZero is a brilliant description of the workings of what he calls cocaine capitalism or narco-capitalism. One of the most important achievements of the book is the demonstration that the narco-state is not something that is “over there”, “far away” but is rather everywhere and that narco-dollars have thoroughly infiltrated every aspect of, and become the keystone of, contemporary capitalism, he describes the City of London as “the narco-trafficking, money laundering capital of the world” and the seat of many of the major banks that play an indispensable role in laundering narco-dollars and inserting them into the matrix of global capital flows.

Following this claim he shows how the commonly accepted distinction between the licit and illicit economies is completely false, artificial and meaningless. In the dominant narrative narco-states are failed governments in low and middle income countries on the major trading routes (West Africa, Caribbean, Latin America primarily), Saviano goes beyond this and shows that the narco-state is everywhere and is in fact the keystone of the contemporary global economy. The traditional narrative, like so much drugspeak is inherently other, specifically racist, and holds that narco states are over there, far away, in ‘developing countries’ and certainly not in the ‘free west’, ‘civilised’ or ‘first’ world.

The cocaine capitalism that Saviano describes but doesn’t theorise is however much better thought through in the brilliant Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley – the two complement each other perfectly. Paley’s book makes several important points that I’ve long felt to be true but hadn’t previously been able to think through.

So a few thoughts (sorry it’s a bit long):

1. The War on Drugs has very little, if anything, to do with drugs at all “Rather than actually dealing with controlling illegal substances, the war on drugs i s a concept invented by the US government […] to serve their interests , both domestically, and abroad” (Paley 43); as Paley bluntly puts it, the war on drugs has nothing to do with prohibition or drug policy “but is instead a war “in which terror is used against the population at large in cities and rural areas” while “parallel to this terror and the panic it generates, policy changes are implemented which facilitate foreign direct investment and economic growth.” She goes on to suggest that the war on drugs is in reality motivated by “the expansion of the capitalist system into new or previously inaccessible territories and social spaces.”

2. It certainly has nothing to do with attempts to improve “the health and welfare of mankind” (as the Preamble to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 claims);

3. Still less is it part of that “humanitarian endeavour” that securing the “dual suppression of the abuse of opium, morphine, and cocaine” is described as in the same convention;

4. The same convention claims that “addiction to narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind”. Regardless of one’s views on the utility or otherwise of the language of ‘addiction’ (personally I find it vague, obfuscating, unhelpful, largely meaningless, entirely subjective, and inherently stigmatising, but that’s for another post), the use of the language of “evil” to describe the problem that an international convention is combating is extraordinary, dangerously theological, profoundly moralising and unique in international law – as Rick Lines has noted – neither “slavery, apartheid, nor torture” are described as “evil” in the conventions prohibiting them (in the convention relevant to it, the sternest language applied to genocide is “odious scourge”‘ whilst the UDHR musters “barbarous acts” t0 describe the totality of human brutality committed in WWII). The war on drugs is definitively not a component – and certainly by no conceivable measure a well functioning component – of the entirely questionable objective of reducing this apparent “social and economic danger to mankind” . A key consequence of the deployment of the language of “evil” has been that the war on drugs has given rise to what political theorist Carl Schmitt called a “state of exception” which he defines as “not a special kind of law (like the law of war) […] rather insofar as it is a suspension of the juridical order itself, it defines law’s threshold or limit concept”. Faced with what is essentially a threat to the very fabric of society – note that the Single Convention calls upon member states to be “Conscious of their duty to prevent and combat this evil” – extraordinary measures are justified, and governments must be freed up to pursue policies, and take measures, that would, under normal circumstances not be acceptable; it is in this light, that the War on Drugs gives cover for the widespread suspension of, and trampling upon, civil liberties, leads to human rights violations on a gross and systemic scale, and is used to justify incursions into the sovereign territory of other states. A clear illustration of the kinds of policies that such rhetoric can give rise to is the legal definition of drug trafficking as a “threat to the national security of the United States” that was introduced by Reagan in 1986, similarly, combating drug trafficking was given as one of the three official justifications of the 1989 American invasion of Panama.

5. The War on Drugs is not about protecting your kiddies from the evil ‘pushers’ who apparently frequent school gates.

6. The War on Drugs, far from being the dogged pursuit of any of the intrinsically highly questionable, yet supposedly noble and laudable aims that it professes to pursue is much more fruitfully understood as a cipher, or a Trojan horse, through which states act out agendas of domestic social control (not least of all through the mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of marginalised, poor, ethnic minority communities).

7. The War on Drugs functions as a vehicle for justifying systemic racism, classism and the protection of the prevailing order of social privilege and as a pretext for the increasing para-militarisation of police forces and their deployment more as hostile occupying armies in the poor, marginalised, and ethnic minority urban areas that they single out as ‘hot spots’. One direct result of this is the still ongoing mass incarceration seen in the US, as John Gibler writes “the use of prohibition for racialised social control is the genesis of the modern drug-prohibition era”. Michelle Alexander has noted that the US “imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid” – this is now so extreme that three out of four young black men can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life, and are therefore better represented in prison than in universities.

8. The War on Drugs functions as one of the principal mechanisms sustaining the seemingly unstoppable growth of the the prison-industrial complex. The latter, apart from functioning as an abstract site into which those deemed to be socially undesirable are deposited (Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?), having been exiled from larger society, is also ever more central to the functioning of capital, as inmates are exploited as a captive source of quasi slave
or bonded labour. These two latter features i.e: a) as a site of exile, or a dumping ground, for the socially undesirable; and b) as a source of slave labour are as true of the Western prison-industrial complex as they are of Asian compulsory drug detention centres.

9. In the name of wiping out local drug markets, the war on drugs (which is better thought of as one on people who use illicit drugs and their communities, especially drug consumers from ethnic minorities, the poor, and otherwise disenfranchised) functions as an advance guard in cleansing urban spaces of their ‘undesirable’ minority, poor, disenfranchised residents and making them available for gentrification. This removal of minority communities from their neighbourhoods has been most apparent in the US where released drug felons are evicted from public housing, this progressive exile or expulsion from civic life is compounded by the denial to felons of most forms of employment, of education grants, and of the majority of other forms of social assistance, and finally the stripping of that most basic sign of citizenship ie the right to vote – felony disenfranchisement is the norm in the US, being enshrined in state law in all but two states (given the massively disproportionate weight of incarceration on drugs charges carried by young men of colour, this means that 13% of African-American men are disenfranchised).

10. The War on Drugs gives cover to the reinforcement of the juridical or punitive role of ever changing sub-disciplines of medicine and allied sciences (currently psychiatry and neuroscience) through the provision of a ‘scientific’ justification for architectures of control driven by the construction of the supposedly objective categories of normal, abnormal, pathological, healthy, unhealthy. As Michel Foucault notes,

“…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing”.

Under the cover of the War on Drugs these supposedly scientific categories become particularly potent weapons of social control, used to break up families, remove children from the custody of their parents, and deny access to health care to whole categories of people- most, notably, the exclusion of people who inject drugs from access to treatment for HIV, and hepatitis C; alternatively they are used to justify court ordered or mandatory ‘treatment’, and so further fuse together, or erase the distinctions between, medical and juridical judgement. In this role, ‘addiction medicine’ and psychiatry are very clearly demonstrated to be the “technology of abnormality” that Foucault claimed the latter to be.

11. The cover offered by the War on Drugs has long played a critical role in the execution of foreign policy objectives. The case study explored in most depth by Paley is the complex of ways in which the war on drugs provides cover for American corporate and state interests in Latin America. Here she shows how the agenda of destroying coca crops which brings with it land clearance, and the massive displacement of indigenous peoples and cocaleros is driven by the imperatives of direct corporate investment largely in the name of the extractive industries.

12. The recent HSBC scandal revealed quite how thoroughly interdependent global capital flows and the ‘legitimate’ banking sector on the one hand and the vast sums circulating through the illicit drug trade truly are. The latter is quite literally too large to be allowed to fail.

13. In his book Deterring Democracy, Noam Chomsky illustrates theinterconnectedness between the licit and narco economies by quoting Alberto Galán, brother of murdered Colombian presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán (whose murder triggered US intervention supposedly in pursuit of the cartels). Galán writes that “the drug dealers’ core military power lies in paramilitary groups organised with the support of large landowners and military officers”. He argues that in addition to strengthening “anti-democratic and repressive forces” the strategy pursued by Washington “avoids the core of the problem […] the economic ties between the legal and illegal worlds” which critically includes the major banks that are central to laundering narco-dollars and facilitating the entry of the latter into the mainstream economy. As Galán goes on to point out, if the war on drugs really was about disrupting the production, distribution, sale, and use of those drugs, trade in which is controlled by the cartels, as is claimed, it would make far more sense to “attack and prosecute the few at the top of the drug business” rather than incarcerating the millions of low level street dealers and users as actually happens. That this ‘sensible’ strategy is not that which has been pursued is as clear an indication as any that the objectives of what we call the war on drugs are not those which are claimed for it. By the same token, drug policy reform agendas that fail to grasp this issue end up presenting (whether deliberately or explicitly or not) prohibition as a faulty mechanism
for reaching what are legitimate ends (the most strikingly problematic of such ends is of course “reducing drug use”) – and consequently
limits itself to tinkering with a mechanism that is not designed to, and is incapable of, producing the results that reformers want.

14.  “It is clear that the drug war is is the means by which states are waging a war against poor people, workers, migrants, and others. The drug war model inside the United States provides a mechanism of social control through criminalisation and mass incarceration, which targets communities of colour. In Mexico, Central and South America, the drug war model relies on the use of terror in order to impose social control”.

15.  Metrics and perverse incentives – as Reprieve (the anti-death penalty campaigners) have pointed out, Iranian and Pakistani police carrying out interdiction projects funded by European states via UNODC are positively encouraged to try to ensure that their efforts lead to as many executions as possible (Reprieve, European Aid for Executions 10) – this is inevitable given that these ‘counter-narcotics’ efforts have, as their indicators of success, numbers of arrests, prosecutions, and types of conviction, and amounts seized. This is what the supply reduction demanded by the war on drugs and sought as one of its objectives looks like in reality, and there is no way around this. It seems to me that there can be no better or more humane metrics for a system that is wedded to the conviction that certain behaviours are “evil”. This condemnation of drug use beyond the control of state sanctioned medical practitioners as evil can onlyhave two outcomes: people who use drugs are framed either as criminals or as sick people in need of restorative treatment (coerced if necessary).

16.  Further, the War on Drugs has been a pretext for the increased militarisation of the police – in the US for instance the Colombian cartels were used as a pretext for the 1981 modification of the Posse Comitatus Act, (this forbade the military from participating in domestic policing) this militarisation of domestic police forces started with allowing the US Navy to accompany the civilian law enforcement agencies and the coast guard this has spread to the full militarisation of patrol cops who instead of patrolling local communities occupy them like invading armies.





LEAP UK LAUNCH When the Cops said we refuse to arrest drug users any more

Under the slogan “Legalise all drugs/Ask us why” Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of former & current police-officers that was founded originally in the United States in 2002, came together in Committee Room 10 of the House of Commons on February 29th 2016.Their Mission was to tell Parliament criminalising drugs users has been an expensive waste of time in every imaginable way..

Neil Woods, a former undercover drugs detective and chairman of LEAP UK, chaired the meeting. The LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) Launch UK meeting came immediately after a similar gathering organised by Andria Efthimiou of the John Mordaunt Trust & Frances Sealey of the Globalnet21. Neil Woods mentioned his own drug use, particularly referring to how hard it was to disregard your duty to help as a police officer, because you are carrying out an undercover op. This meant you had to ignore people who were actually in dire need of medical and/or psychological help..

Norman Lamb (LD) MP leant his weight to the Launch and was the only MP who spoke though happily, there were several MPs and a Lord present, including Paul Flynn (L), Keith Vaz (L), Ronnie Cowan (SNP) Dr Paul Monaghan (SNP) & Benjamin Mancroft Conservative Peer, so it was non-partisan as the international drug policy reform movement is around the world. Norman Lamb said “We have managed to criminalise very many of our young people blighting their career prospects for doing something that only affects themselves. We choose to criminalise them whilst at the same time probably 50% of our current government have taken in their time but happened to get away with it, so haven’t had their lives blighted. Yet they maintain the argument that we continue to prosecute people. It is the height of hypocrisy.” This should be addressed as a health issue.

As a foreigner (Colombia) and from the formal meetings and informal interviews organized by Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt, I got the general impression that drug-policy stagnation and even backwards trends in the UK are still taking reformists by surprise, particularly as the UK spearheaded Harm Reduction philosophy and practices years ago. It also became very obvious that that this backward sliding situation is closely tied to how the whole welfare system is being dismantled and de-constructed. Whatever the case might be, our UK colleagues are in there fighting and making a difference.

Among others, they are doing this by strengthening their alliances with MPs and allies in the House of Lords to bring about legislative reform in all of the areas (poverty, housing …. ) which are clearly connected to drug policy reform, impoverished people are often the ones behind bars for drug selling, and the selling of sex by students who cannot afford to pay tuition fees since the Coalition raised them, are but two examples.

The LEAP Launch meeting brought together drug policy advocates from all walks of life but mainly former and active police officers who, because of their attempts at enforcing Prohibition often have been the failures, not to mention the devastation caused.

Rosemary Humphreys, from Anyone’s Child, also gave a very touching testimony which told of how the death of her two children, one 23 years old and the other 39-year-old, could have been avoided if drugs were controlled and not in the hands of criminals who largely couldn’t care less about users. Their friends delayed calling for help incase they were blamed for the drugs use, so that by the time help arrived it was too late.

Annie Machon, a former MI5 operative, mentioned how, ever since the 1990s, we have observed an overlapping between drug money and terrorist organizations and how drug prohibition is pushing more and more people underground. Annie also pointed to the fact that what we saw in 2009 was how it was actually drug money that bailed out the crashing banking system.

Prohibition failure is due, firstly, to the fact that you can fight criminals and criminal organizations but it is next to impossible to wage war on a thing. A second consideration is that enforcing prohibition currently implies prosecuting the most vulnerable populations and non-violent offences. Third, it seems pointless and cruel to persecute people who end up using drugs because of their mental health.

Patrick Hennessey, former British Officer Grenadier Guards, Barrister, referred to the war in Afghanistan when he served, and the way this war is tied to poppy production and the enormous amount of soldiers convicted for drug use in service…

James Duffy, former UK Police Inspector explained how the issue is that drug dealers do not ask their buyers for ID so, with drugs the way things are, anything goes. So what we have are unknown chemicals being sold by unknown salesmen to unknown buyers.

A retired Chief Constable pointed to why there is increasing violence in the UK. An example he gave was the theft of a crate of Falstaff, which can be solved by going to the police but when a kilo of cocaine is stolen, traffickers have to solve this among themselves, almost always resorting to violence.

According to Paul Whitehouse, a retired Police Constable of Sussex, what the police are proposing in practice is taking a social and holistic approach: looking into the reasons behind the user’s consumption, their living circumstances, family issues and to try to help them solve his pressing issues. Then money, which had previously been used to enforce the MDA, could, for example, be allocated to helping drug users find gainful employment. This is a more positive approach as opposed to prosecuting people who are already hard up financially.

From the director of LEAP Germany, Hubert Wimber we learnt that there is ongoing and comprehensive access to Needle Exchange services, aside from in Bavaria. What is commonplace is that 75% of drug arrests are for possession for personal use, which means that people who are not doing any harm except maybe to themselves, are being detained.

The fact is that an enormous amount of money is invested in drug prohibition approximately 11 billion pounds a year with 33% of this going to prosecuting fraud tied to crack, cocaine and opiate deals. Meanwhile, one of the worst “unintended” consequences of the drugwar prevails, that is the disenfranchisement of mostly poor communities (though not exclusively), due to drug policy. Officers who are routinely and frequently on the front-line, could make a real difference that does not infer punishment unless there behaviour affects others in a serious way.

We’ll give the last word to a woman X Undercover cop, who sounded repentant:

Suzanne Sharkey (pictured above): Former Constable and Undercover Officer at Northumbria Constabulary

“When I look back at my time in the police I feel ashamed, I feel a sense of failure. I feel ashamed that I wasn’t arresting career criminals. I was arresting people from poor socially deprived areas with little or no hope whose crime was non-violent drug possession, a complete failure of the war on drugs. I believe that one of the biggest barriers for people with problematic substance misuse to seeking help and treatment is the current drug policy. It does nothing, it achieves nothing except creating more harm for individuals, families and society as a whole. All of us know the problems and what we need to do but rather than be united by the problems let’s be united by the solutions. Solutions based in health, education and compassion rather than criminalisation.”


Pic by Katherine Rohan of the GlobalNet21

Maria Mercedes Moreno (left) @ the “Need for Drug Law Reform UK” – Mar 25th with Leigh

Eliot Albers, INPUD leader, speaks to the Users Voice

From all corners of the drugwar: Introducing, an officer transformed

So yesterday, I met an X Undercover Drug Cop! I was afraid and very nervous but I kept remembering the X bit and the fact that he himself had also got messed up on drugs for a bit after the inevitable stress of trying to be many different people finally caught up with him…

This is Peter Bleksley and he also hates the so-called drug war.

BBC Photo 2 PeterB

We met very close to the Shard – cherished memories of “OCCUPY the Media Billionaires” slightly distracting me – hoping that his unique status as now writer and public-speaker, would be another cut in the toxic-tail of punitive prohibition, a term coined by social research friend, Peter McDermott

Peter B had a restless childhood by all accounts, involved with petty crime and truanting from school. So when he got to 16, and it was time to choose a career, his Mum pro-actively invited a Police Officer round to speak with him! That is, to chat about a possible career in the force… He soon became a police cadet and found himself being taught by former military men and taking them very seriously..”I relished the discipline and boundaries they gave that I had never had,” he said. In 1978, Peter was posted to Peckham Police Station and “to my shame found myself victimising and brutalising young black drugs users and other petty criminals.”

A few years later, Peter was promoted to Detective and posted in Kensington, a very different neighbourhood, where many moneyed people lived. There was still crime, lots of it, murder, fraud and some high-end drug dealing. Peter worked hard and was dedicated to his job, “I loved nicking people and sending them to prison.”

“I had come to prominence as a successful young detective and Scotland Yard heard about me. I could see where the money was going in the Force, what with Thatcher and Reagan, in international collaboration calling for an all out war on enemy No 1: Drugs!” He was transferred to Scotland Yard and soon after he became an undercover officer. From arresting lots of drug dealers and living in South London he knew the industry well and was good at ” the high-octane adrenaline-pumping gangster act” as he put it. Still only 26 years old, this was an exciting and interesting part of his journey, so was perfectly happy to go off in some ones car into “enemy” territory. If a criminal was being met in a hotel lobby, it became known that the rendezvous was likely to be with an undercover cop, and so there was a change of strategy.
“I did this job for ten years and eventually negotiated with someone about a 15Kg heroin deal going down in a hotel in Gatwick. The sellers got arrested and were working on the theory that if they killed me, they would kill the evidence so they tried to hire an assassin” to have him murdered.. Then a report detailing his involvement in this case mysteriously disappeared from the back of a Police Car and that report, contrary to force instructions, contained his real name, so “the threat to my life was increased substantially” he comments calmly! He’s told this Hollywood epic before..

Peter was put into the Witness Protection Program where in any one day he could be three different people; Firstly he would be the new to the neighbourhood man who had to be anonymous, in order to be safe within witness protection. Next he would perform whatever undercover role was required of him at work. And occasionally, just occasionally say in the car going to and from work, he could actually be himself He was cut off from his “downtime”, Sunday Lunch at Mums and beers with mates down the pub. While undercover he was often plastered up against a wall by a gun-toting paranoid dealer aggressively searching for wire-taps. “This was daily fair for me..” he states pragmatically.

“So I began drinking to cope with the stress. The constant fear of an assassin’s bullet or bomb, the undercover work and all that went with that became too much’. He had a complete breakdown, and was locked up for 24 days in a secure unit on the first admission. There he received treatment and counselling. “The NHS was brilliant” Peter is keen to acknowledge and when I ask what label he was given he replies ” oh everything from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia!” Peter was put on Stellazine, which stabilised him. His superiors decided it was time for him to leave the National Crime Squad in 1999, and he was returned to a local Police Station.
“There I felt stigmatised as my reputation – both good and bad – went before me.” Peter knew he was getting ill again and was soon medically retired. That was 16 years ago. He missed the adrenaline-rushes, status and sense of self-worth and says he didn’t choose his friends wisely. He got seriously into cannabis and problematically, Coke. He went from enjoyable usage on a Friday evening to it becoming a necessity. His wife kicked him out, rightly so he says and he sought help from a drug agency in Woolwich who were enormously helpful.

Peter’s wife, also a Police Officer and his Mother were there for him: the “door had not been slammed in my face but it was clear I had to stop using.” He was then as is now, also a Father.

“We convinced ourselves that we were Thatchers Storm-Troopers fighting the ‘war on drugs'” but as with increasing numbers of law enforcers, Peter realised there was a desperate need for a rethink..

” I’ve seen the drugs industry from all sides. I’ve nicked international kingpins through to problematic users, and faced the biggest struggle of my life in getting clean. I’ve fought the culture and been part of the culture. I’ve had an almost unique insight. And I realise that things have to change”.

The Need for Drug Policy Reform House of Lords 25th Feb 2016


Baron Brian Paddick has agreed to host a meeting in the House of Lords on the controversial question of drug reform in the UK.

Many countries across Europe and beyond are finally tackling ineffective drug policies by freeing users from the criminal implications of addiction and plenty of evidence shows the beneficial impact this has on entire communities.

Meanwhile, the UK seems to be stubbornly anchored in the past, determined to entrench the harmful divide between drug users and the rest of society.

Added to this, the portrayal of the issue in British media is weak at best and demonising at worst; tabloids in particular have reinforced harmful, dehumanizing stereotypes of drug addicts as criminals.

The evidence of the successful Canadian, Swiss and Portuguese cases for drug decriminalisation and the intention of the Irish Government to follow a similar path, highlight how stagnant the British drug debate has become.

The UK seems to be stubbornly anchored in the past, determined to entrench the harmful divide between drug users and the rest of society.

This meeting discusses why Britain is lagging behind so many other countries and why there is the need for radical reform.

Thursday, February 25, 2016
6:30 PM to 8:30 PM
Committee Room 4A

Palace of Westminster, London SW1A OAA

This meeting is being arranged jointly with GlobalNet21 and the John Mordaunt Trust. Thanks also to support from the Open Society Foundation and Release.

More information at Facebook Event Page

Responsible Research and Development Affordable Medicines Seminar/Dec 2015

Athens December 2015:

It does seem outrageously unjust that depending on where you live on the planet, you will or will not be able to get medicines to stop these three illnesses/conditions from hurting your life terribly or even killing you.  For example charging patients $1,000 for one pill.. In the US, for example, Hep C kills between 12 and 15,000 people a year.
I was given the opportunity to attend a meeting that was mostly about ways to campaign to make Hep, HIV and Cancer medicines affordable for the majority of people who need them, as opposed to Only those who live in India (with their own patent) or Egypt – as is the case for the Hep C drug, Sovaldi.

I was surprised and happy to meet people there from such a diversity of different organisations: from WHICH , the Consumers Association, that represents millions to a  small group like Prometheus, which represents PLWHCV in Greece; they were all there. In all, there were 64 people there. Diarmid McDonald was also there from London as a Steering Committee Member of this European Alliance.
The key issue that we are confronting is that most Pharmas have financial-profiteering as a primary goal, when curing disease is what our key concern is as citizens trying to represent the many living with this three life-threatening conditions. At the very least, those medicines need to be accessible so that peoples lives are made manageable.
Thanks to Azzi Momenghalibaf from the Open Society Foundation for this
In the USA, patients and their allies have taken to the streets in their thousands to challenge GILEAD and other multinational pharmaceutical companies about their over-priced medicines. Half of biomedical R&D is actually paid for by the public. When Gilead Sciences launched its new hepatitis C drug Sovaldi at $1,000 per pill in 2013, and then charged even more for the follow-up combination drug Harvoni, it sparked public outrage and forced unprecedented rationing of these life-saving medicines.

Early December, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee concluded that Gilead “pursued a calculated scheme for pricing and marketing its hepatitis C drugs based on one goal: maximizing revenue, regardless of the human cost.”  Gilead knew that its pricing would deny access to its cure to the vast majority of the three million Americans living with hepatitis C but it didn’t care. “Let’s hold our position … no matter the headlines,” wrote Gilead’s executive vice president for commercial operations!!
Gilead (and other Pharmas) say that high prices are needed to spur innovation and recoup investment in research and development. It found that R&D costs did not factor into Gilead’s pricing at all—and neither did its $11 billion outlay to acquire Pharmasett, the company that developed the active ingredient behind the hepatitis C medicines. Rather, the company set the price based on what they thought they could get away with…
What’s most troubling, however, is that a lack of any limits on pharmaceutical profit-seeking means that the United States pays the highest prices for medicines of any country in the world. A course of Sovaldi, for example, priced at $84,000 in the United States, is available for less than $900 in India and Egypt, and between $46,000 and $53,000 in France, Germany, and the UK. The case  of Sovaldi is emblematic of a much larger problem. In the build up to next year’s U.S. presidential election, voters may start to have their say. Candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have responded to a worried electorate by beginning to put forward proposals for reform. The public now has an opportunity to demand approaches that rein in the pharmaceutical industry’s monopoly over who gets what medicines and at what price.
The question is, will we/they take it..

We obviously need to increase awareness and one way we can do that is through one of ACT.UPs expertise i.e.: Non– Violent Direct Action (NVDA) which often attracts Media and so people read about it, watch it or get active on social media about it. We could mobilise thousands to demonstrate on the streets, though, apart from AIDS Activists, I have not known patients to do this in large enough numbers…  Oh yeh we are AIDS Activists! Brilliant
If that still leaves people like Martin Shkreli, a pharmaceutical executive, over-pricing life-saving medicines, we need to be lobbying our national governments and multi-national institutions to stop these corporations, through changing legislation, so that monopolies cannot be the order of the day , and Patents are not international. I’ve written all that in very few words and it is a lot of work and we need to be galvanising support from ethical media and lawyers, who can advise us on this stuff
In the meantime, did y’all see the incredible action that ACT.UP did a month ago outside the GILEAD Conference? See pic here on their website: Fab!
See Yas! Xx Andria E-Mordaunt

Marsha B’s speech to the UNGASS 1998

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you for allowing me to address you here today. My name is Marsha and I am a recovering addict living with HIV disease. I am a 43 year old mother of four children , two of whom are still in foster care, in the State of Vermont. I am in process of getting my children back by September. I have been drug free since 1991, [seven years] and I bring my experiences to all the activism I am involved in

These are the things I want to say to you today:
First of all, if we really care about the pain, suffering and isolation of addicted drug users, we must be willing to listen to what they say they need: it is a fact that some of the most useful strategies used to reduce or try and eliminate the death, disease and crime associated with this level of drug use were designed by drugs users themselves.

But user-participation is not possible while we are prosecuted for being users. I decided to come here today to tell you how the “War on Drugs” directly affects my life and the lives of countless others in the hope that we might all be willing to reconsider the repressive drug policy paradigm, which has been the norm for decades all over the world.

First of all, a basic human right is infringed, as we are persecuted for using certain arbitrarily-decreed illegal drugs. As a result of this persecution, criminalisation and isolation, it is very difficult to prioritise our health and other important matters of our lives. Even if this were not the case, policies all over the world have been so focused on getting us off drugs that some greater priorities have been overlooked. The most obvious of these is the primary prevention of Blood Borne Diseases (BBDs): needle exchange research from all over the world has proved the efficacy of the programs to reduce the spread of these infectious diseases, but for example, the U.S federal government has systematically refused for over a decade to support the establishment of these programs on the grounds that they would encourage people to use drugs. However, the result of this has been the rapid spread of HIV, Hepatitis, and other diseases, which have killed thousands of drug injectors and their children, and has placed enormous financial burdens on our public health and social services. For anybody who may be wondering, there is absolutely no evidence that the existence of needle-exchange programs have increased the number of injection drug users in any given community.

In a Harm Reduction model of Public Health, we accept that people use drugs:moreover there has never been a time in history when they didn’t. Therefore, the most compassionate and pragmatic way to deal with this is to focus on minimizing the harms especially for those whose drug use has gotten out of control, and it is very important to remember that the vast majority of people do not become is especially important to remember this when the fear of our loved ones using drugs destructively overwhelms us. In fact, millions of people regularly use drugs and are leading normal, healthy law-abiding lives. We therefore wonder why they are punished by the law…

Another big problem of this “war” is the fact that black market supplies of drugs are very expensive and therefore some drug-dependents have resorted to all manner of opportunistic crime to fund their drug addictions. This is not because we are evil or sociopathic, as many appear to assume. No! It is because the criminalisation that comes to bear on our lives pushes us into the periphery of society where crime is a constant, and where there may be no other alternative. Besides, known drug users are hardly likely to get jobs easily unless they are privileged in some other social or economic way. Ergo, our involvement in petty crime to fund the monster-addiction inside.

The apparent desire for a drug-free world is unrealistic. Our thinking/attitude is not about defeatism or capitulation; it is simply about facing facts. We have never had totally drug-free societies. Moreover, would any of us be happy if alcohol was on a total licit ban?

So as an ex-user myself living with AIDS, I would appeal to you to reconsider your current drug policies. Is Universal needle-exchange really a lot to ask for, given the fact that we would be preventing so much decimating illness amongst us, and also not burdening our societies with enormous public health bills? Is it really so much to ask?

Before I end, I want to say this. We are not asking you to condone drug use. We are simply saying that current policies are not working for the good of ALL humanity and therefore we would ask you to be open to a more thorough debate on the subject matter. Is it really OK in your heart if we sacrifice the lives of millions of people at the alter of economic and military interests?

I would like to thank my colleagues Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt and Martin Barriuso – European advocates – for helping with the preparation of this speech

Thank you for listening
Marsha B (RIP)

We Can End AIDS – March in Washington DC

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