Tessie Castillo

The real reason cocaine, heroin and marijuana are illegal has nothing to do with addiction

Looking out at the trail of devastation and death that the heroin epidemic has left in its wake, it’s hard to imagine that not long ago one could purchase the drug from a Sears catalogue.

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"Narcan Party" Hysteria Puts a Value on Drug Users' Lives

While the country is obsessing over the idea of “fake news,” let’s talk about some actual fake news: Narcan parties. Increasingly, media outlets are publishing stories with attention-grabbing headlines such as Narcan Parties Becoming Disturbing Trend, Police Say and People Intentionally OD to be Revived at ‘Narcan Parties.’ The stories usually involve grave reports that the increasing availability of Narcan (naloxone), a medicine that reverses opioid overdose, is causing people to overdose on purpose because they know that Narcan can be used to save them. The reports often originate from paramedics and law enforcement responding to overdose-related 911 calls, though most harm reductionists and drug users vehemently deny the existence of so-called Narcan parties. So who is telling the truth?

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Is Involuntary Drug Treatment Ethical or Even Effective?

The first time Deirdre Sampson (name changed) ever tried to have her younger sister, Kelly, involuntarily committed to drug treatment was after police found Kelly standing on an overpass threatening to jump. Kelly’s opioid use, once manageable enough to allow her to work as a veterinarian, had spiraled out of control. Kelly was threatening suicide, using drugs chaotically, and involved in violent, abusive relationships.

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Who Becomes a Drug Dealer?

It’s time to talk about people who sell drugs. While the national conversation is trending towards a more humane approach to people who use drugs, sellers are still portrayed as greedy criminals who “profit off the misery of others.” We hear stories of dealers peddling drugs to children, giving out free samples to hook new customers, or showing up at recovery meetings to tempt people to relapse. We even see many prosecutors charge drug dealers with murder when a customer overdoses on their product. Although there are many drug sellers who have committed deplorable acts to win customers or expand their markets, this is not the whole picture of most people who sell drugs.

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Inside the Life of Heroin User and Crusader for Harm Reduction for Addicts

The old "this is your brain on drugs!" sizzling egg TV ads have nothing on Mark Kinzly. He knows what a life looks like on drugs: jail, homelessness, street dealing, a chest of stab wounds and bullet scars, a family left behind. And yet the 54-year-old also credits drugs with saving his life.

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Should Pregnant Women Who Use Drugs Be Punished?

The issue of drug use is fraught with stigma and strong opinions, but no topic causes such lightning rod reactions as pregnant women who use drugs or have drug-exposed newborns. Last week, North Carolina joined a growing list of states that have introduced or passed bills criminalizing pregnant women who use drugs, even punishing them with jail time if they don’t seek treatment. But while the intention behind these laws may be to deter pregnant women from using drugs, they often have the opposite effect, driving a resource-poor population away from treatment and towards behaviors that can further harm mothers and babies.

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Cruel and Illegal: Police Are Stalking Methadone Clinics to Target and Harass Patients

Courtney’s life spiraled out of control when she became dependent on opiates. After years of struggling with addiction, the 31-year-old Texas native heard about methadone treatment, a therapy in which patients take daily doses of medicine to control cravings for illicit opiates. Courtney enrolled as a patient at a methadone clinic outside Austin. She began visiting the clinic daily for a dose of methadone, which helped eliminate her cravings, and slowly, began to pick up the other pieces of her life. That changed the day she became the victim of illegal profiling by police.

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How the Drug War Destroys Women's Lives

One glance at the mass of black and brown faces locked in prison on nonviolent drug charges and it’s clear that the so-called War on Drugs has deep roots in racism. But what about the drug war’s impact on gender? While not as widely discussed as racism, sexism infiltrates every aspect of drug policy, even within the reform movement itself, impacting how women who use drugs are viewed, treated and punished.

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Will 2015 Be the Year of Harm Reduction?

The past couple of years have been game-changers for harm reduction. The movement to reclaim the health and dignity of people who use drugs has celebrated the rapid passage of overdose prevention and syringe decriminalization laws, expanded access to the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone, and welcomed endorsements from such prominent, previously skeptical agencies as the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control.

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Kindness, Not Punishment, Helps Drug Users Quit

Cat Nelson* took her first shot of heroin when she was 13 years old. By 17, she was using drugs regularly. By 20, she was in and out of rehab, trying to get clean. Today she is 28. She has legal problems. She has been homeless. She does sex work to support her habit. She has hepatitis C. And she still uses drugs.

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To Save Lives, Give Drug Users the Overdose Antidote

As drug overdose continues as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, everyone who knows someone struggling with addiction has one word on their mind: naloxone. Also known by its brand name, Narcan, naloxone is a medication that can reverse potentially fatal overdoses from opioids like heroin, methadone or prescription pain relievers.

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'I Arrested My Own Daughter For Heroin'

When Lieutenant Tanya Smith strides through the halls of Georgia’s general assembly, all eyes are upon her. When she addresses her audience, partisan squabbling ceases and a rare silence washes over the assembly. Smith advocates for a law enacted last Thursday in Georgia, which aims to reduce deaths from drug overdose by granting immunity from some drug charges to those who experience or seek help for an overdose. After 20 years of enforcing the punitive drug policies she now calls into question, Smith knows a lot about addiction and law. But she also knows as a mother. It is her story that captivates the room—a story of the love and loss of a mother sworn to uphold the law and a daughter determined to break it.

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Why Every State Should Let Law Enforcement Use Lifesaving Overdose Prevention Drug Naloxone

Lieutenant Tanya Smith of Georgia rushed to the scene of a heroin overdose unlike any other in her law enforcement career in February 2012. Kneeling to check the victim’s pulse, her heart sank as she gazed into the ashen face of her own daughter.

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Why I Gave Condoms, Lube and Conversation to a Drug-Addicted Sex Worker

Thick shining copper hair. That’s what I picture when I think of April. I try to block out the rest of the memory: the hair splayed on a dirty linoleum floor, the purple slip barely covering a body ravaged by hard living, the heroin needle stuck in her arm.

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How a Former Drug Dealer Survived Hepatitis C, HIV and Cancer and Overcame Addiction

The scars on his face tell stories. Outside a coffee shop in downtown Winston Salem, North Carolina, Steve Daniels aka “Gator” sits straight and proud, eyeing the small tape recorder in my hand. I lay it down and press ‘record’.

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911 Callers Who Report Overdoses Shouldn't Get Hit with Drug Charges

Most people wouldn’t hesitate to call 911 if a loved one was having a heart attack. During those moments of panic and fear, it’s comforting to reach for the phone where a calm voice on the other end assures us help is on the way.

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Big Pharma Company Jacks Up Price of Overdose Life Saver by 1100%: Now, More People Will Die

A remarkable thing happened in 2008: drug overdose surpassed auto fatalities as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Public health officials declared an epidemic, and communities united to battle this new enemy that had left a staggering body count in its wake. The people had a weapon, naloxone, an antidote that reverses opiate overdose, and programs began popping up across the country to provide training and free naloxone to people at risk for overdose. But then Big Pharma stepped in. The same year that naloxone became so critical to saving lives, one pharmaceutical company secured a monopoly on its production and jacked up the prices by 1,100%.

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Southern States Outlaw Syringe Exchanges Used to Prevent Disease

In the pale light of early morning, a mobile unit sits curbside in Atlanta, Georgia’s most notorious crime zone. A woman in a tattered coat shuffles up to the vehicle. She’s diabetic and carries a bag of over 300 used syringes. The people in the mobile unit are happy to accept the needles, and they offer her clean insulin syringes in exchange. Mostly volunteers, they have braved the cold to bring public health services to the neighborhood’s residents. In doing so, they are breaking the law.

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Role-Reversal: Some Cops Have Started Saving Lives From Overdose, Not Just Arresting Drug Users

On August 1, 2012, Officer Michael Alfieri of Suffolk County, New York, responded to a 911 call about an unconscious man in an apartment. Arriving at the scene, Alfieri noted the man’s bluish skin, labored breathing and track marks in his arms, all indicative of a heroin overdose. Kneeling beside the victim, Officer Alfieri administered two doses of Narcan, a drug that blocks the effects of opiates to the brain, through an intranasal spray. Minutes later the man woke up, shocked and confused, but grateful to be alive.

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In Its Mad and Hopeless War on Cocaine, the US Has Destroyed the Lives of Millions of Innocent Farmers in Colombia

Imagine for a moment that China, in an effort to reduce cigarette smoking and associated health costs among its population, declared war on U.S. tobacco production. Imagine Chinese planes flying over American tobacco fields, spraying crop-killing poison that destroys not just tobacco, but all vegetation, wiping out farmers’ livelihoods, displacing millions of families, and contaminating the environment. Such an act of hostility and disregard for national sovereignty would provoke, at the very least, military aggression from the United States. Yet, unbeknownst to most Americans, for the past 20 years the U.S. has conducted just such a campaign against Colombian coca farmers.

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