Analysis by Terry Gotham
With the country currently gripped in fear that ACA will be repealed, I’ve started to ponder what options will be left for Americans in the throes of physical dependency if the cuts to medical/addiction funding are as deep as the ones currently being floated. While some proponents of the 21st Century Cures Act note that there’s been a scheduled $1 billion increase in funding for treatment, a repeal would remove at least $5.5 billion in funding to almost 3 million people suffering from substance use disorders. As dozens of states grapple with ever-increasing rates of opiate addiction and overdose, states that have legalized cannabis have discovered something startling.
A study published in the Journal of Pain by a trio of researchers out of the University of Michigan documents a reduction in opiate consumption in Chronic Pain patients who use cannabis. Specifically, medical cannabis uses was associated with a 64% reduction in opioid use. Additionally, 45% of the patients (118 out of the 244 sampled), reported reduced side effect frequency & intensity. In states that have medical marijuana available for their citizens, drivers between the age of 21 and 40 who were killed driving accidents tested positive for opiates significantly less often than drivers of the same age in states that didn’t have medical marijuana available. For example, Montana saw a 1.7% reduction in the number of drivers who tested positive for opioids after their MMJ laws went into effect. And that’s just numbers associated with people behind the wheel. When we evaluate the effect of cannabis consumption on opiate overdoses, the evidence becomes even more compelling.
Editorial/Analysis by Terry Gotham
I’ve spent the last week interviewing people and collecting information about the worst thing to happen in live events since Orlando. Last week, the BPM Festival suffered a terrible attack, leaving 5 dead and more than a dozen wounded. Long considered one of the crown jewels of the festival circuit, this heinous attack has resulted in the local government showing BPM and all other music festivals the door. As usual, most commentary on the causes or effects either totally misses the mark or descends into slap fighting.
Before I dig into this story any deeper, I need to make a strong caveat. This commentary is in no way blaming anyone who was shot at, injured or killed for the violence that was done to them. I cannot stress this enough. While macroeconomic forces, drug cartels and America’s ineffectual responses to the growing demands for legalization are to blame for this attack, blaming BPM or BPM ticketholders for narco-terrorism is tone-deaf to the point of brutality. While I assume people will believe that was my aim to engage in some classist/leftist/racist point that serves only to divide, I believe this can be a wake up call for everyone who parties, not just those who take drugs or care about legalization, but for all Americans who believe in Constitutional rights.
According to Miguel Angel Pech Sen (district attorney of Quintana Roo, a Mexican state) at 2:30 AM, Monday morning, the security at Elrow’s closing party at the Blue Parrot was overwhelmed and the club was entered by an as-yet undetermined number of assailants. BPM declared that there was a lone gunman on the FB post about the shooting, but this has been called into question by a number of witnesses who spoke to Billboard and claimed they saw multiple shooters. The Attorney General later said it appeared there were “a lot of people carrying arms” in the club, and that many of those wounded were hit when security personnel were attempting to shoot the attacker. The attacker escaped, he said, and may have been assisted by a taxi in getting away. Three members of security died, a 4th, who seemed to be the target, and a fifth person died in the stampede to escape the club.
After the shooting at the Blue Parrot, the violence raged across Playa Del Carmen for the rest of the week. On Tuesday, a “Code Red” was activated in Cancun when the Control Center for Command, Computing & Communications was attacked by 10 armed men who arrived by motorcycle. Their goal was to extract a local drug cartel leader from holding, not kidding. Avenues in Cancun were attacked with fucking grenades, while shots were reported inside of the Plaza Las Americas Shopping Center. Narco-signs (messages from the cartels) sprang up, with the Zetas claiming responsibility and announcing that more violence was to come. Again, Playa Del Carmen banned not just BPM, but electronic music festivals, in case you had tickets to the Arena Festival, slated to go on in the beginning of February.
At this point, I hope it’s clear that this is a situation that the police and military do not have under control. While plenty of American and Canadian party people live blissfully unaware of the spiral of drug-fueled violence that Mexico is enduring, we need to stop pretending “this is fine.”
Whether it’s the Fast & Furious gun program, Hillary’s refusal to support legalization, or the psychedelic libertarianism I’ve written about before, the indifference to legalization as a priority has put billions into the hands of cartels that have much of Latin America by the balls. MS13, the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and dozens of others we’ve probably never even heard of have rained suffering and death across so much of our hemisphere. Our continued inability to care about the problems that come with drugs, namely opiate abuse by the poor and swelling the coffers of organized crime, has all but ensured that tragedies like the one that befell the Blue Parrot will keep happening anywhere the drug war has touched.
I don’t want to hear that legalizing drugs will just cause the cartels to make money somewhere else. The revenue is non-trivial. Even before legalization hit, the RAND Corporation and the Mexican Institute of Competitiveness estimated that almost 30% of cartel revenue (not profit) came from cannabis. With legalization, we’re already seeing cannabis seizures drop:
In the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, marijuana seizures fell to 8,158 pounds in fiscal 2015, an 88 percent drop compared to a decade-high of 68,825 pounds seized in fiscal 2011…As marijuana seizures have declined, other drugs including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine are skyrocketing at the border. Traffickers are capitalizing on the growing opiate epidemic, as well as their ability to cheaply produce enormous amounts of pure meth from Chinese precursor chemicals in Mexican “superlabs.”
~San Diego Tribune
It’s not just along the California border. According to the US Border Patrol, cannabis is just not showing up at numbers it used to be anywhere they’re seizing it:
But the amount of one drug — marijuana — seems to have finally fallen. U.S. Border Patrol has been seizing steadily smaller quantities of the drug, from 2.5 million pounds in 2011 to 1.9 million pounds in 2014. Mexico’s army has noted an even steeper decline, confiscating 664 tons of cannabis in 2014, a drop of 32% compared to year before.
The Zetas aren’t super-villains from the 50’s. They know how much money they can make getting certain substances over the border and into the hands of eager consumers. This connects back to parties almost depressingly well. How many people do we all know that expect there to be drugs for them to buy at parties? How many of them honestly give a fuck about whether they’re legal or not? Just think of the thousands of party people who demand farm to table, vegan/vegetarian or some other form of “I don’t consume things made unethically” cuisine, but then proceed to put $200 worth of possibly Peruvian Cocaine up their noses. I really think we should be more concerned about the lives of indigenous people living under cartels than whether our almond milk was sprayed with pesticide before it landed in my smoothie. As a dear friend put it, we couldn’t stop the Orlando mass shooting, but decriminalization/legalization probably would have stopped this shooting.
You need to ask yourself, if this shooting happened at a club on the beach that only Mexicans went to, and had nothing to do with BPM, would you have cared? Would you have even seen it on your news feeds? I’ve spoken to dozens of Clinton supporters over the last 18 months who strongly supported her not legalizing. If the Zetas weren’t able to wholesale pot into every city in America outside of a handful of states, would they be able to buy weapons and commit crime? Of course. But certainly not to the levels that they’ve been able to in the last several years.
Not a lot of people remember this, but over a decade ago, we deported a bunch of MS13 members, trying to break the back of the gang. This backfired so spectacularly that MS-13 chapters cropped up all across Latin America, accelerating its growth from a few thousand members in LA to an international cartel, possessing a massive supply chain and a network that rivals most intelligence services. We trained & funded the 34 commandos that eventually flipped the script & became Los Zetas. Remember them from earlier in the article? Yup, the very same. Our efforts to stop people from doing drugs are directly responsible for this shit. The blood of party people is on American hands.
But don’t think this is anything new. Whether it was Al Capone and the bootleggers profiting from prohibition, the evolution of disco and cocaine, house dealers in the superclubs of the 1990s & 2000s or the flood of adulterated psychoactive substances that find their way into the hundreds of music festivals occurring in North America every year, Americans have partied for decades without agitating for legalization. While the mob did move on to other illegal activities once Prohibition ended, you bet your ass they jumped right back into trafficking once drug prohibition returned in the 20th Century. Until we (whether we do drugs or not) demand decriminalization/legalization and an end to the DEA/ATF/FBI/CIA’s fuckery south of our border, we should expect things like this to keep happening. Some people are fine with throwing up our hands, giving up and only partying/consuming illegal drugs made within our national borders, but that still resigns millions of our fellow citizens to a fate of incarceration, underemployment and a life controlled by the scarlet letter of conviction. People demand the ability to modulate the contents of our minds. We should allow them to, and join them in ensuring they can, legally…if only to ensure a horrific attack like this one never happens again.
Editorial by Terry Gotham
Last week, we spoke about the gendering of drug use in America and how that may have led to the original wave of drug prohibition laws. This was one example of the many times where drug use was distorted as a justification for it to be outlawed. One of the biggest myths associated with heroin usage was that the Civil War “created 500,000 addicts.” This is of course not the case, so let’s unpack the various reasons brought up to justify this erroneous attribution. An exceptional paper published in War In History by Jonathan Lewy of Harvard University helps to round up the main reasons this assumption is wrong, which I’ll be quoting from liberally.
One of the easiest ways people explain the deluge of opiate & whiskey addicts during the last quarter of the 19th century & the first 2 decades of the 20th was the invention of the hypodermic syringe. The Civil War doctor did use opium for much more than just killing pain. Opium was used for diarrhea, dysentery, stomachache, gallstones, hemorrhoids, tetanus, typhus, syphilus & “neuralgia” (an anachronistic diagnosis that loosely translates to peripheral neuropathy today). But, remember, it’s 1860. Opium powder was usually sprinkled on top of the wounds suffered by soldiers in the field. By the end of the Civil War, a little over 2,000 hypodermic syringes had been fabricated & distributed to the 11,000 surgeons employed by the Union Army, which is one of the pieces of evidence used to support the claim that the modern heroin addict was created by the Civil War.
There’s one crucial difference between a modern syringe & those that were used, especially at the beginning of the Civil War. The first syringes were dull. That’s right, doctors had to puncture your skin first using a lancet (yes, that’s where the journal name comes from), before using the dull and large gauge syringe to deliver the medicine. So, the most hyperbolic claim, that soldiers were shooting up because they were taught to do so at field hospitals and by doctors, can immediately be dismissed. If any of you had nightmares that involved Requiem For A Dream and civil war uniforms, you can put that aside.
Not only was injection drug use essentially impossible, Confederate surgeons had little to no access to spare opium. The Confederacy attempted to grow poppy fields to supply their armies with opium. This sounds like a good idea in theory, but resulted in exceptionally poor quality poppy crops and an inferior supply of pain killers for the Confederate Army. Resulted in the Confederacy relying on smugglers & blockade runners to bring it down from the North, as one of the first examples of drug running in the USA. The North was buying opium on the world market, as their Navy gave them access to trade with Europe. And boy did they take advantage of that. The Federal Army consumed 10 million opium pills and 80 tons of opium powder & laudanum tinctures before the surrender at Appomattox was signed.
People weren’t converting pills into inject-ready substance in the field, and the Confederacy couldn’t even get its hands on syringes and medical staff/training using them. When you’re taking a small pile of opium and spreading it over a wound with a knife, the person receiving care doesn’t know they’re “doing heroin.” It’s hard to develop a drug habit when you don’t know what drug you’re craving.
There were anecdotal cases of physicians becoming addicted to the morphine, but as a record, this was always classified as misuse, not addiction. General Benjamin Butler discovered one such doctor, and relieved him of his duty. However, no note of addiction, health problems, or vice was mentioned, merely a note of dereliction of duty. This is corroborated by The Medical & Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, a six-volume epic tome documenting the case histories of the various field surgeons across the US Army. 13 years of records were submitted, accounting for all of the ailments, diseases and afflictions that these doctors, surgeons and field hospital directors encountered. Zero cases of addiction, or anything resembling the modern, conventional definitions of substance abuse/addiction appear.
This isn’t to say that the maladies associated with excess substance use weren’t known. But the idea that the substance use, if continued, would cause dependence or other negative consequences, hadn’t entered the greater medical world, and wouldn’t for years. The Manual of Military Surgery, introduced in 1861, noted that morphine & laudanum (tincture of 10% opium in alcohol) should be used in managing pain and amputation-related hardship. Interestingly, and without further definition, the reader is warned to not abuse the drugs “lest they induce fatal oppression of the brain.” For serious, no other context is given, you can see for yourself on page 50:
“Reaction must be promoted by the cautious use of stimulants ;while pain is allayed by morphia orlaudanum given with more than ordinary circumspection, lest it induce fatal oppression of the brain.” ~Samuel Gross
Could “fatal oppression” be like our modern definition of “brain death?” You betcha. Will we ever know if it was, definitively, and not the fog, memory loss or other neurological side effects of opiate use described at the time? No, which is a huge problem. It’s really easy to assume, but we need confirming evidence and there simply isn’t any. And, to put this lack of information in context, in the late 19th Century, the closest thing to “addiction” most people were aware of was the “habit” (Source Bias warning: Vaguely pearl clutchy, but still relevant historical portrayal of the time). Alcohol had been seen to be habit forming as early as 1819, but morphine wasn’t seen in the same light. Using opium was seen as roughly equivalent to swearing, paying for sex, gambling and gossiping. If you couldn’t resist the temptation of drink or poon or dope, you were a sinner, or morally weak, not sick. But in 1877, 12 years after the end of the Civil War, that changed. Die Morphiumsucht was published by Eduard Levinstein, connecting drug use with a craving for more drugs, for the first time in the wider, respected medical literature. And I do really mean for the first time. Between 1864 & 1875, when Levinstein lectured publicly on the topic for the first time, only 24 articles discussed pathology stemming from drug use. In the decade after? Over 230. It’s kind of hard to have a mass of people “addicted to drugs” when they couldn’t access the drugs, and “addiction” wasn’t a word at the time. Oh, and the people weren’t there either.
The USA documented approximately 10,000 habitual opium uses (referred to as habitues) in 1842, with that number peaking at 313,000 in 1896, according to some. However that number gets turned on its head when it’s documented in the same source that there were more women habitues than men. Grief caused by becoming a widow explains why all the women are getting high, but, if all of the soldiers are dead, where is the epidemic of strung out veterans? They weren’t in the Sanatoriums, as a casual review of the Second Annual Report to the Citizens in the Delaware County American shows. Even back in 1868, right at the end of the war, when soldiers were most vulnerable to opiates, 2 out of 26 under his care, were there for opium. The rest? Booze. Additionally, they were in there because of social use or physician prescription, not because they even fought in the war. In the “National Homes” in and around Milwaukee, only one veteran was admitted to the entire system for non-alcoholic drug use between 1867 & 1872. To put that in perspective, 36 people have died from Fentanyl overdoses alone in Milwaukee this year
Were there people who developed habits? Absolutely. The Confederate vet Doc Pemberton was wounded at the battle of Athens, Georgia and became addicted to cocaine after being given it on the battlefield. After the war, as an unemployed chemist, he created a brew of cocaine and kola nut extract, as an attempt to keep up with the hooch being slung at the saloon across the street. Were there a giant pile of strung out drug addicts walking around after the war? No. What were there? A bunch of wounded veterans.
Lewy really does sum it up quite nicely in his conclusion, so I won’t try to out do his words:
Some contemporaries claimed their experience in the war prompted their addiction. A few decades later, Crothers and other physicians supported the notion that the war caused addiction, but not based on fact, at least statistical fact, but was due to the understanding that wars caused trauma. One can only assume that, with the amount of drugs consumed by the armies of the Civil War, a few soldiers and perhaps even a General or two became addicted to drugs, but it would be next to impossible to determine how many (were), and whether this was, indeed, a historical trend. Especially since addiction was only recognized as a full fledged disease several decades after the war.
~Johnathan Lewy, The Army Disease: Drug Addiction and The Civil War (2013)
Finally, it’s important to note that this fear of drug zombie veterans have been used as a justification for drug laws ever since. A heroin resurgence coincided with the end of World War II, the Korean war sparked rumors that Communists were attempting to dope American youth to beguile them, Vietnam managed to vilify drafted soldiers, decrying their drug habits before they even returned, and the war in Afghanistan is already being blamed for heroin use among soldiers. There will always be people attempting to justify drug prohibition using the trope that veterans would be the most vulnerable of American citizens. Yet, this continues not to be the case, even to this day. Don’t believe the hype. Drug use is an ineffective, yet popular way to cope with trauma, whether you were part of a unit that saw incoming fire at the Battle of Gettysburg or if you’re just growing up in rural America after Bain Capital sent all of the jobs in your town away.
I’m taking a quick break from my series on the History of Addiction & Society because I’ve been tracking a disconcerting story for the last week. You may have seen it posted by one of your more conservative/pearl clutch-y friends this week, and if not, expect it before election day.
A smattering of local coverage, based around Toledo, Ohio, describes a Lazarus or “Narc” party. Heroin users will do heroin with other users, and in case one of the users overdoses, a sober person who isn’t using, administers Naloxone, or by its common retail name, Narcan. The implication is that because a user was standing by with Narcan, that’s the actual problem. The presence of the OD reversal substance is emboldening heroin users. To test their limits, or to even try using it in different ways, like shooting it, instead of just snorting or smoking it. Instead of preventing death, some are attempting to claim it’s making some people’s use more adventurous.
To research the work I release here on Burners.me, I maintain a quiet presence in a lot of different circles, so a lot of the time, I get to experience how mutually exclusive groups respond to stories. Today, I saw both a pool of researchers, doctors, law enforcement officials AND a group of ravers, talking about the same story, this “Lazarus Party” story. Oh yea, and in case you didn’t go to Sunday School, it’s called a Lazarus Party, because Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead as proof of his Jesus-ness. But, here’s the thing. Are there any actual, confirmed reports of recreational users calling them Lazarus Parties? No, of course there aren’t. But there “might” be, especially if you believe poorly sourced news & blowhards with agendas. Just in case you don’t believe me, ask a member of each political party their thoughts on FBI Director Comey & his investigation, and you’ll see how easily facts can be distorted or ignored to suit a pre-existing bias.
What was amazing about what I saw, was the same mixed field of ignorance, trolling and reason within two opposite populations of commenters. One was a thread where you saw users, scenesters, and sober party attendees, the other was entirely by people with respectable, well paying jobs, in and around the substance use, abuse & control sectors. Having the same argument. It’s one thing when two of your hippie festival friends argue about the purpose of “Narc” parties, with the dude who has the Deep Mind Acid filter on his profile picture, correcting a burn out when it comes to how Naloxone is used. It’s quite another thing when an ER Coordinator makes the same correction to someone who works in a rehab program. The two arguments raged all day. At the time of writing, the festie kid argument had died down, but the med/substance abuse professionals was still going back and forth, and did so long into the night. And you thought you took your job home with you.
The facts of the situation are slightly less terrifying. Because Fentanyl, Carfentanyl, U-47700, W-18 and an array of other substances are present in the recreational opiate supply, opiate users have begun to switch off dosing to ensure they’re not all high if someone OD’s. The reports elaborated that people were starting to do heroin in groups more, in response to the tidal wave of Fentanyl-exacerbated OD deaths currently plaguing North America. Of course, if more than 1 person is doing an illegal drug in a room, the media thinks it’s a party.
The inherent idiocy in this line of reasoning should be apparent to everyone who has watched fear mongering and confusion go hand in hand. Thankfully, every time I saw this discussion occur, the intelligent and sensible among those willing to comment rose to the occasion and reminded everyone involved that harm reduction and opiate usage patterns evolve with time. In this case, it looks like people are starting to understand the inherent dangers of their habit, and pivoting around them. Not because they want to do “more drugs” or have a party, but because they don’t want to die. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually deeply subversive when it comes to the traditional line of reasoning that prohibitionists use.
In both this case, and the example from last week, the idea that drugs take control of you, or that you can’t engage in rational thought while under the influence, was the central pylon in the argumentative infrastructure supporting the case that all drugs are bad and humans shouldn’t have the choice to consume substances, especially to excess. But the narrative that I heard from both elder ravers and MD’s who ran emergency rooms was just the opposite. These “Narc” parties are nothing more than opiate users understanding the conditions on the ground and attempting to prevent bad things from happen to people they care about. Which is the very definition of harm reduction. They know no one is going to stop doing heroin, even when it might be spiked or adulterated with a substance that could kill them.
This point was so well defended, that opiates don’t turn people into zombies, people actually started to understand individuals with physical addiction and a fear/aversion to withdrawal exist. They were looking out for each other, and will continue to do so. I got to see some excellent harm reduction advice dispensed by a forensic toxicologist, so I wanted to share it with y’all, in case this stuff was useful for you:
- Don’t use alone. Use a buddy system, to have someone who can call 911 ( and give Narcan) in case you stop breathing.
- Learn how to use Narcan if you plan on using street heroin.
- Even if you know how to use Narcan, test your drugs.
- Do the same for another addict.
- Don’t inject at the same time. Stagger your injection times.
These seem like no-brainers to most of us, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. Phillip Seymour Hoffman forgot. So did Prince. We live in an age where adulterants are far more dangerous than even some of the most problematic recreational drugs. And users are recognizing that, leading them to consume with others, and to learn how to reverse overdoses. That sounds like progress to me. Not something to be afraid of, and certainly not a reason to remove Narcan from the hands of those that consume opiates. Let the people save each other, since the powers that be don’t seem all that concerned about saving them.