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This raises some troubling alternatives: Are a growing number of people experiencing psychological troubles? Have we just become better at recognizing them? Or is some other dynamic at work?One possibility is that the criteria for what constitutes a mental illness or disability may have expanded to the point that a vast number appear to have clinical problems. But there’s an even more insidious development: the drugs being used to treat many of the new diagnoses could cause long-term effects that persist after the original trouble has been resolved. That’s the case made by Robert Whitaker in his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.
Speaking of long-term impacts on the brain, we’re also heading toward a world where humans are directly linked with computers that profoundly influence their perceptions and ideas. Despite many potential benefits, there is danger here as well. Rather than simply augmenting our memories by providing neutral information, the brain-computer connection may lead people into separate realities based on their assumptions and politics.
Brain-altering drugs and digital “indoctrination” – a potent combination. Together, they pose a potential threat not only to the stability of many individuals but of society itself. Seduced by the promise that our brains can be managed and enhanced without serious side-effects, we may be creating a future where psychological dysfunction becomes a post-modern plague and powerful forces use cyberspace to reshape “reality” in their private interest.
Do prescription drugs create new mental problems? And if so, how could it be happening? For Whitaker the answer lies in the effects of drugs on neurotransmitters, a process he calls negative feedback. When a drug blocks neurotransmitters or increases the level of serotonin, for instance, neurons initially attempt to counteract the effects. When the drug is used over a long period, however, it can produce “substantial and long-lasting alterations in neural function,” claims Steven Hyman, former director of the National Institutes of Mental Health. The brain begins to function differently. Its ability to compensate starts to fail and side effects created by the drug emerge.
What comes next? More drugs and, along with them, new side effects, an evolving chemical mixture often accompanied by a revised diagnosis. According to Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, it can go this way: use of an antidepressant leads to mania, which leads to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, which leads to the prescription of mood stabilizers. Through such a process people can end up taking several drugs daily for many years.
What may happen after that is deeply troubling. Researcher Nancy Andreasen claims the brain begins to shrink, an effect she links directly to dosage and duration. “The prefrontal cortex doesn’t get the input it needs and is being shut down by drugs,” she explained in The New York Times. “That reduces the psychotic symptoms.” But the pre-frontal cortex gradually atrophies.
Anyone who has been on the psychiatric drug roller coaster understands some of the ride’s risks and how hard it can be to get off. But the new implication is that we may be experiencing a medically-induced outbreak of brain dysfunction caused by the exploding use of drugs. One big unanswered question at the moment: What does Big Pharma really know, and when did they learn it?
Drug companies are not the only ones experimenting with our brains. Bold research is also being pursued to create brain-computer interfaces that can help people overcome problems like memory loss. According to writer Michael Chorost, author of World Wide Mind and interface enthusiast who benefited from ear implants after going deaf, we may soon be directly connected to the Internet through neural implants. It sounds convenient and liberating. Ask yourself a question and, presto, there’s the answer. Google co-founder Larry Page can imagine a not-too-distant future in which you simply think about something and “your cell phone whispers the answer in your ear.”
Beyond the fact that this could become irritating, there’s an unspoken assumption that the information received is basically unbiased, like consulting an excellent encyclopedia or a great library catalog. This is where the trouble starts. As Sue Halperin noted in a New York Review of Books essay, “Mind Control and the Internet,” Search engines like Google use an algorithm to show us what’s important. But even without the manipulation of marketing companies and consultants who influence some listings, each search is increasingly shaped to fit the profile of the person asking. If you think that we both get the same results from the same inquiry, guess again.
What really happens is that you get results assembled just for you. Information is prioritized in a way that reinforces one’s previous choices, influenced by suggested assumptions and preferences. As Eli Pariser argues in The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, environmental activists and energy executives get very different listings when they inquire about climate science. It looks and feels “objective” but they’re being fed data that fits with their existing view – and probably not seeing much that conflicts.
A study discussed in Sociological Quarterly looked at this development by following attitudes about climate science over a decade. Here’s a strange but significant finding: Although a consensus emerged among most scientists over the years, the number of Republicans who accepted their conclusion dropped. Why? Because the Republicans were getting different information than the Democrats and others who embraced the basic premise. In other words, their viewpoint was being reflected back at them.
Does this sound dangerous? Pariser thinks so, and suggests that the type of reinforcement made common by search engines is leading to inadvertent self-indoctrination. For democracy to function effectively, people need exposure to various viewpoints, “but instead we’re more and more enclosed in our own bubbles,” he writes. Rather than agreeing on a set of shared facts we’re being led deeper into our different worlds.
Whether this is a problem depends somewhat on your expectations. For some people it is merely a bump in the road, a faltering step in the inevitable evolution of human consciousness. Techno-shamen and other cosmic optimists see the potential of drug-induced enlightenment and an Internet-assisted “hive mind,” and believe that the long-term outcome will be less violence, more trust, and a better world. But others have doubts, questioning whether we’ll really end up with technological liberation and a psychic leap forward. It could go quite differently, they worry. We could instead see millions of brain-addled casualties and even deeper social polarization.
How will current trends influence democracy and basic human relations? Increased trust and participation don’t immediately come to mind. Rather, the result could be more suspicion, denial and paranoia, as if we don’t have enough. In fact, even the recent upsurge in anger and resentment may be drug and Internet-assisted, creating fertile ground for opportunists and demagogues.
In False Alarm: The truth about the epidemic of fear, New York internist Marc Siegel noted that when the amygdala — the Brain’s central station for processing emotions – detects a threatening situation, it pours out stress hormones. If the stress persists too long, however, it can malfunction, overwhelm the hippocampus (center of the "thinking" brain), and be difficult to turn off. In the long term, this "fear biology" can wear people down, inducing paralysis or making them susceptible to diseases and delusions that they might otherwise resist. Addressing this problem with drugs that change the brain’s neural functioning isn’t apt to help. Either will the Internet’s tendency to provide information that reinforces whatever one already thinks.
More than half a century ago, Aldous Huxley – who knew a bit about drugs – issued a dire prediction. He didn’t see the Internet coming, but other than that his vision remains relevant. “There will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude,” he wrote in Brave New World, “and producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods."
Pretty grim, but there’s no going back. Despite any dangers posed by computer algorithms and anti-psychotic drugs, they are with us for the foreseeable future. Still, what we’ve learned about them in recent years could help us to reduce the negatives. Not every illness listed in the DMS – that constantly growing, Big Pharma-influenced psychiatric bible – requires drug treatment. And the results of your online searches will very likely tell you what you want to know, but that does not mean you’re getting a “balanced” or comprehensive picture.
(Originally published on 6/15/11, based on a radio broadcast)
That is a really crazy headline, right? Unfortunately, it is not a joke. Right now, gelatin made with human DNA fragments is already being used in pharmaceutical drugs and vaccines, and scientists believe that recent breakthroughs will soon make it economically feasible to use such gelatin in consumer products such as gummy bears and [...]
Photo Credit: By Neon Tommy (originally posted to Flickr as Jerry Brown) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
October 16, 2013 |
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Over the long weekend, California Gov. Jerry Brown chose to continue the 40 year old failed war on drugs.
Brown rejected the national ‘smart on crime’ trend and pragmatic public policy by vetoing SB649, which aimed to give judges and district attorneys the discretion to charge possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use as a felony or a misdemeanor as the case warrants.
Brown chose to make no advance towards the federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. The governor chose to defy supermajority public opinion on how California should deal with nonviolent drug offenders.
Drug use is a health issue, not a criminal justice one. And the last thing someone struggling with problematic drug use needs is a lifelong felony record. Felony sentences don’t reduce drug use and don’t persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release – three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities. States that currently charge drug use as a misdemeanor actually show higher rates of drug treatment use.
Locking up people for simple drug possession comes at a tremendous cost to the taxpayers, between $40,000 and $52,000/year to be precise, depending on whether they serve their time in a prison bed or a county jail.
According to state data, there are 10,000 convictions for possession of heroin and cocaine for personal use each year in California. The majority of these 10,000 sentences are to felony probation. SB649, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno and supported in the legislature by some Republicans, as well as most Democrats would have helped reduce prison and jail overcrowding in California and provided savings to the financially-strapped courts because felony charges require setting a preliminary hearing, whereas misdemeanor offenses do not.
Brown let down the people of California, the majority of whom support going even farther than this bill would have gone. While the law enforcement lobby gained a huge win with this veto, the public opinion that strongly favors this type of drug sentencing reform was dismissed
A statewide 2012 poll showed 75 percent of Californians favoring investment in prevention and alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders, with 62 percent agreeing that the penalty for possessing a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be reduced to a misdemeanor. Leno’s bill provided a safe and logical opportunity to reduce the number of people incarcerated for simple drug possession.
Two months after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the nation’s plan to scale back federal prison sentences for low-level drug crimes, California is still struggling for consensus on how to comply with a federal mandate to reduce prison overcrowding, much of which has been driven by overly harsh drug sentencing.
In fact, today the U.S Supreme Court rejected Brown's appeal in the state's prison overcrowding case, leaving California under federal court order to reduce its prison population by nearly 8,000 inmates byJan. 27, 2014.
Not only would SB649 have helped the governor meet the federal court order, it would have brought California closer to the standard of 13 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government, which already treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states.
Instead, California remains one of worst in the country with harsh drug sentencing standards and overcrowded prisons and jails.
This piece first appeared on the Drug Policy Alliance blog.
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A young woman lights a marijuana joint in May 2012.
On a warm spring afternoon at American colleges, the intoxicating aroma of surely medicinal marijuana will be floating like a soft caress in the breeze, and hard-working students will be stocking up on amphetamine cocktails to sharpen their overstressed young minds for the coming exams.
On a warm spring afternoon at the nation’s poorer public schools, children (and I mean children) will endure a daily police presence, including drug-sniffing dogs, full-body pat-downs, searches of backpacks and lockers, stops in the hallways—all in the name of searching for contraband.
Drugs are ubiquitous in this country, and yet we know that some people have the privilege of doctor-prescribed intoxication, while others are thrown into dungeons for seeking the same relief. We know that the war on drugs is heavily inflected with Jim Crow–ism, economic inequality, gun culture myths and political opportunism. We know that Adam Lanza’s unfortunate mother was not the sole Newtown resident stocking up on military-style weapons; plenty of suburban gun owners keep similar weapons to protect their well-kept homes against darkly imagined, drug-addled marauders from places like Bridgeport. We divert resources from mental health or rehab, and allocate millions to militarize schools.
The result: the war on drugs has metastasized into a war on children.
Best publicized, perhaps, is the plight of young people in Meridian, Mississippi, where a federal investigation is probing into why children as young as 10 are routinely taken to jail for wearing the wrong color socks or flatulence in class. Bob Herbert wrote of a situation in Florida in 2007, where police found themselves faced with the great challenge of placing a 6-year-old girl in handcuffs too big for her wrists. The child was being arrested for throwing a tantrum in her kindergarten class; the solution was to cuff her biceps, after which she was dragged to the precinct house for mug shots and charged with a felony and two misdemeanors.
In New York City, kids who make trouble are routinely removed from school altogether and placed in suspension centers, holding cells or juvenile detention lockups. In the old days, you got a detention slip for scrawling your initials on a desk. Now a student can be given a summons by a school police officer. If the kid loses it or doesn’t want to tell his parents, it becomes a warrant—and a basis for arrest.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, some 77 percent of New York’s school police interventions are for noncriminal matters like having food outside the cafeteria, having a cellphone or being late. Other minor offenses like shouting, getting into petty scuffles or being on school grounds after hours fall into the category of “disruptive behavior”—an offense that can get a student suspended. Just 4 percent of police interventions are in response to “major crimes against persons.”
But what’s a teacher to do? In New York City, police officers outnumber guidance counselors by more than 2,000.
Yet as Newtown should teach us, we love our guns as much as we love our drugs. We know that even our best efforts at gun control will not undo a simultaneous and enthusiastic installation of armed overseers in our public schools. As such forces grow exponentially across the country, we keep them busy by installing zero-tolerance policies that take disciplinary discretion out of teachers’ hands and put it in the hands of law enforcement officers with little to no training in child psychology, mediation or anger management. Indeed, the NYCLU recently filed a complaint after the NYPD arrested Mark Federman, the principal of East Side Community High School, for intervening as the in-school officers hauled away an honor student.
You may want to think twice about buying roses this Valentine's Day.
Photo Credit: © Grigoriy Pil/ Shutterstock.com
February 14, 2013 |
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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
When your love hands you a gorgeous bouquet of large, red, long-stemmed roses this Valentine’s Day, as any botanist will tell you, you’re getting a bunch of sex organs. Although the roses are more beautiful, fragrant and socially acceptable than other methods that might get the same point across (just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner), there’s a lot more to those roses than meets the eye.
Unfortunately, the romancing of women in the United States often means the exploitation of women in countries like Colombia and Ecuador.
The preference the U.S. gives Colombian and Ecuadorian flower exports has a lot to do with another export from those nations: cocaine. By 1990, South American imports already accounted for more than 40 percent of roses sold in the United States. Then, in 1991, Congress passed the Andean Trade Preference Act. The idea was simple: maybe if we help cocaine-producing nations sell us other things, like roses, they’ll be less interested in selling us cocaine.
Back then, a wholesale rose sold in San Francisco for about 52 cents. How could it compete with a rose imported to Miami from Colombia, tariff-free, that sold for as little as 6 cents? By 2007, 60 percent of all flowers sold in the U.S. – including 70 percent of all roses – came from Colombia. Simultaneously, 85 percent of Colombia’s flowers were sold to the U.S.
In Colombia, most roses are grown in an area known as the Savannah of Bogota, an area around the capital at an altitude of 8,000 feet. There, the floriculture industry has covered thousands of hectares with plastic greenhouses to grow roses and sucked up much of the groundwater to irrigate them. Nearby springs, streams and wetlands began disappearing. The majority of workers in the industry are women, and as of 2007, the flower industry represented one quarter of all rural employment for Colombian women.
Ecuador’s rose industry got a late start compared to Colombia’s, and although Colombia still leads in the U.S. market, Ecuador accounts for a sizable chunk. By 2003, Ecuador exported two-thirds of its 500 million roses to the United States. As in Colombia, the majority of floriculture workers in Ecuador are women.
Throughout the two decades South American imports have enjoyed tariff-free entry to the U.S., a host of criticisms have been repeated year after year, from excessive pesticide use and occupational health hazards to low pay and sexual harassment of workers.
Roses, which are not (usually) eaten, are not subject to the same pesticide regulations as food. According to one estimate, nearly one quarter of the cost of rose production comes from pesticides, mostly fungicides and insecticides. When grown in chemically based monocultures, roses are susceptible to fungal diseases like downy mildew and infestations from mites, tiny arachnids no larger than the period at the end of a sentence. Neither can be allowed on a rose, both because of fears of importing exotic pests into the United States from South America, and because nobody would buy a bouquet covered in bugs and fungus.
Once the negative reports began rolling in, the South American rose growers began working to clean up their acts. After all, with so much of their production going to the U.S., it would devastate them if American consumers decided they could not buy roses that were grown using child labor (a common complaint at the time) or environmentally dangerous practices.
The Colombian flower industry launched the voluntary “Florverde” (“Green Flower”) certification. It promises better water management, such as rainwater harvesting, and safer use of agrochemicals. Still, as of 2011, fewer than half of Colombia’s flower operations participated in the Florverde self-regulation scheme. A report by War on Want claims it is a mere greenwashing scheme, noting that 36 percent of the pesticides used were considered "extremely" or "highly" toxic by the World Trade Organization.
Why does the suicide rate among military personnel continue to climb--even among those who never saw combat? This week the Pentagon announced there were more suicides among active-duty members of the armed services in 2012 than combat deaths--a staggering 349. Eighty-five percent had not even seen combat, reported Bloomberg.
The suicide rate rose similarly last year and also included troops who had not faced combat. There were 38 Army suicides in July of 2012 compared with 32 suicides in July of 2011. In a 2010 Army report called Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Report, 36 percent of the troops who killed themselves had never even deployed. The suicide rate increased by more than 150 percent in the Army and more than 50 percent in the Marine Corps between 2001 to 2009, reported Military Times in a series of in-depth articles.
One in six service members was on a psychoactive drug in 2010 and "many troops are taking more than one kind, mixing several pills in daily 'cocktails' for example, an antidepressant with an antipsychotic to prevent nightmares, plus an anti-epileptic to reduce headaches--despite minimal clinical research testing such combinations," said Military Times.
The pills and pill cocktails many troops are prescribed are clearly linked to suicidal thoughts and behavior. Antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil, antipsychotics like Seroquel and Zyprexa and anti-seizure drugs like Lyrica and Neurontin all carry clear suicide warnings and all are widely used in the military. Almost 5,000 newspaper reports link antidepressants to suicide, homicide and bizarre behavior on the website SSRIstories.com. The malaria drug Lariam is also highly correlated with suicide and its use actually increased in the Navy and Marine Corps in 2011, according to the Associated Press.
Eighty-nine percent of troops with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are now given psychoactive drugs and between 2005 and 2009, half of all TRICARE (the military health plan) prescriptions for people between 18 and 34 were for antidepressants. During the same time period, epilepsy drugs like Topamax and Neurontin, increasingly given off-label for mental conditions, increased 56 percent, reports Military Times. In 2008 , 578,000 epilepsy pills and 89,000 antipsychotics were prescribed to deploying troops.
Both the increase in the overall suicide rate in the US (rising to 36,000 a year after falling in the 1990s according to USA Today) and in the military coincide with the debut of direct-to-consumer drug advertising in the late 1990s. They are also correlated with the FDA's approval of many drugs with suicide links and a population that is increasingly taking psychoactive drugs for minor problems and symptoms. Several powerful military psychiatrists and administrators are also consultants to Big Pharma who shamelessly enroll veterans in drug studies and promote the pills that drug companies pay them to promote. Who can say conflict of interest?
When concerns about the rise in the general suicide rate in the US surfaced last fall, US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced federal grants for suicide hotlines, more mental health workers, better depression screening and Facebook tracking of suicidal messages. Nowhere, did she mention examining the role of suicide-linked drugs on, ahem, suicide. The Pentagon is apparently in similar denial.
More information about overmedication of troops and suicide-linked drugs is found in Martha Rosenberg's recently publishedBorn With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health.
British national Julian Ponder has been jailed for six years for cocaine possession in Bali.
Prosecutors in Indonesia had asked for a seven-year prison term, and he could have faced a maximum sentence of life.
Lindsay Sandiford, the British grandmother sentenced to death for smuggling cocaine worth £1.5m onto the island, said Ponder was the man she was going to deliver the cocaine to.
He was originally charged with drug trafficking, but that was later reduced to possession.
AMY GOODMAN: We're broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. We had an extended break because we lost a link with the satellite. And I want to thank Jennifer Robinson for having joined us, a legal adviser to Julian Assange. As we turn now to another film about what some have described as the crime of the century. The new documentary, Fire in the Blood, explores how major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as the United States, prevented tens of millions of people in the developing world from receiving affordable generic AIDS drugs. Millions died as a result. This is a part of the trailer of Fire in the Blood.
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Over two million people were reported to have died in that year alone.
YUSUF HAMIED: The whole of Africa was being taken for a ride.
BILL CLINTON: It's fine for people in rich countries to say this is what it ought to be. They don't have to live in these little villages and watch people die like flies.
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Where are the drugs? The drugs are where the disease is not.
DONALD McNEIL: "You fight our patent monopolies, we will make sure you die."
NELSON MANDELA: As long as drugs are not available to everybody, he will not take them.
JAMES LOVE: It was just kind of a crisis of humanity. People just weren't really human for a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: That's an excerpt of Fire in the Blood, the film tracing how Big Pharma refused to allow countries to break patents and allow for the importation of cheap generic AIDS drugs. The problem continues today, as the World Trade Organization continues to block the importation of generic drugs in many countries because of a trade deal known as the TRIPS Agreement. Fire in the Blood just had its North American premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival.
For more, we're joined by two guests: Dylan Mohan Gray, director of Fire in the Blood, based in Mumbai, India, and Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, a Ugandan AIDS doctor featured in the film, recognized as one of the world's foremost specialists and researchers in the field of HIV/AIDS. He played a key role in founding Uganda's HIV/AIDS Joint Clinical Research Centre, and is author of a new book, Genocide by Denial: How Profiteering from HIV/AIDS Killed Millions.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dylan, let's begin with you, why you made this film.
DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, basically, I think the story sort of came to me by accident, to be honest. I was working on a film in Sri Lanka in 2004, and I had a day off and just happened to read an article in The Economist, of all things, which—it struck me as very interesting, because it was about one of the characters in our film, Dr. Yusuf Hamied, who's an Indian generic drug maker, and it was talking about how he was bringing in low-cost antiretroviral medications to Africa. Yet it seemed something interesting was going on beneath the surface. It seemed like this was obviously, you know, to my mind, a very good thing that he was doing, but they were going out of their way, I felt, to attack him, but it wasn't clear why. So, it piqued my interest. And, you know, not long later, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Hamied. And through him, I met several of the other people that became contributors to the film.
And I used to be in the academic world, and, you know, the historian in me was just completely shocked and scandalized that, A, I didn't know more about the story, and, B, that there was so little written about it or, you know, there were no comprehensive accounts of what had happened—you know, something that had killed 10, 12 million people, and it seemed to have happened almost without a record. So, you know, the impetus to make the film, primarily, was actually to create a record, a memorial and a chronicle of what happened. And as you say, I mean, we consider this to be the crime of the century.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi is featured in the film. And it's an honor to have you here with us—
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: —before you head back home to Uganda, where you had been imprisoned, jailed, as you tried to bring generic drugs into Uganda, to get these drugs at a cheaper amount. Explain what Dr. Hamied did, this—I mean, what Cipla, the head of Cipla did, this drug company, how he challenged the rest of the world in saying he would cut the prices of AIDS drugs from—what was it? The amount that people would have to pay for the triple cocktail, before and after Hamied?
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, there was a misinformation, worldwide misinformation, that AIDS drugs were too expensive to manufacture. The second misinformation that was there was that Africans would not be able to use these drugs, that it was impossible to use these drugs in the African condition. Dr. Hamied called the bluff of all of those who were propagating this false information that cost so many lives of people.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, he just literally announced that it is not true that these drugs can only be manufactured at such an exorbitant cost. He demonstrated that they could be demonstrated at relatively affordable cost, which would save millions of lives because of affordability. So it was the issue of affordability and access where Hamied came in and acted.
AMY GOODMAN: So before him, drug companies were charging like $15,000 for a year for one patient to get a triple cocktail for the year. And he cut that price to less than a dollar a day? $15,000 to $350 for the year?
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Yes, and that action was incredible. For the first time, millions of people who were dying stopped dying in Africa, because they started accessing life-saving drugs.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did you end up in jail in Uganda?
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, it was—I was arrested, but I was rescued because Uganda government was concerned about the plight of the citizens who were dying in such a big number. So an emergency meeting that rescued me from arrest took place in front of the government ministers, and at that meeting I made it clear: I said to the meeting that, "Look, your relatives are dying of AIDS. Your citizens are dying of AIDS. I'm a doctor working among the AIDS patients, and I have no tools to save my patients' lives. All I have done is to import affordable drugs, which will increase access. These drugs are at the airport. They are under your care. You can block them from coming in, but as far as I'm concerned, I have done my job of bringing life-saving drugs to Uganda." And I think they understood. And every one of them had relatives who were suffering from AIDS, or at least a friend whom they knew who had died from AIDS. And so, this was—it was not very difficult to convince them that this action was necessary, and I needed to be out saving lives with drugs instead of being arrested.
AMY GOODMAN: Another of the heroes in the fight to bring life-saving drugs to HIV/AIDS patients is Zackie Achmat of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign. In 1999, Achmat, who is HIV-positive, went on a treatment strike in solidarity with others who couldn't afford medication. He's featured in Fire in the Blood.
ZAKIE ACHMAT: If my sisters or brothers or cousins had HIV or had AIDS and needed medicines, they wouldn't have been able to get it. And I grew up in a house where your mom would say, "If all the kids can't have chocolate, one is not going to have it."
NARRATOR: Having made up his mind, Zackie Achmat announced that he would boycott antiretrovirals until the South African government made them available to everyone.
AMY GOODMAN: Dylan Mohan Gray, talk about the significance of Zackie Achmat and what the whole issue of patents is about in these U.S. companies.
DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: Well, Zackie Achmat, as you said, is one of the great heroes of this story. And I think the boycott that he undertook, very much with a sort of a Gandhian impetus in mind, you know, it was a very deliberate action that he took. And as he says in the film, you know, he grew up in a family where his mother said, if one child couldn't have chocolate, then none of the children were going to get it. And that's a very simple way of looking at it, but that's something I think we can all identify with. He grew up, you know, struggling against apartheid in South Africa, a very strong sense of solidarity with his fellow man. And, you know, he could easily have accessed the drugs, because he was an internationally known activist, but he said, "No, I'm not going to do it." And he came very close to death by taking that decision. And I think, you know, it had a very, very big impact on waking people, especially in the Western world, up to the reality of the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. So, you know, the gamble paid off, so to speak.
AMY GOODMAN: Say that last part.
DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: I said the gamble paid off. I feel like his gamble that he took—I mean, he risked his life—but in a sense, the gamble paid off, because the impact of what he did, you know, had repercussions throughout the world and woke a lot of people up to the situation of access to medicine in Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain how the patents work.
DYLAN MOHAN GRAY: A patent is a government-granted monopoly or a grant of exclusivity which is given to companies, generally, or individuals, with the idea that by giving a period of the exclusivity, one would incentivize investment. So, what typically happens with pharmaceutical companies is they will purchase technology from others, whether it be universities or small biotech companies or other small innovative outfits, and they will then commercialize these products. And because they will have a monopoly for a period of time, usually a minimum of 20 years, they will be able to set the price at any level they wish. And we have the former vice president of Pfizer in our film, who says very openly the concept is to maximize revenue. It has nothing to do with the cost of research and development.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Mugyenyi, what needs to happen right now, in these last 30 seconds?
DR. PETER MUGYENYI: Well, what needs to happen is the realization that an inequitable, unethical situation exists with the related TRIPS Agreement, and that lives, millions of lives, are at stake unless this TRIPS Agreement and patents issue are addressed—not to hurt business, but to make sure that they do not hurt patients and result in a bloodbath, that we have seen in the case of HIV/AIDS.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi from Uganda and Dylan Mohan Gray, director of the new film that has just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival, Fire in the Blood.
Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjari (R) meets with Russian Minister of Internal Affairs Vladimir Alexandrovich Kolokoltsev in Tehran, Monday, January 21, 2013.
Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar says Tehran and Moscow hold common views in the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking.
“Tehran and Moscow share the same views on fighting international terrorism, drug smuggling and many [other] issues,” Mohammad-Najjar said in a meeting with his visiting Russian counterpart Vladimir Alexandrovich Kolokoltsev on Monday.
During the meeting, the officials discussed ways to widen the Tehran-Moscow relations, the implementation of security and border agreements between the two countries as well as regional developments.
Kolokoltsev said Iran and Russia face common challenges and reiterated, “Today’s crimes, particularly the issue of anti-drug campaigns, human trafficking and terrorism require a swift reaction.”
The Russian minister described the establishment of “legal unions” as "a first priority" for the enhancement of cooperation between Iran and Russia.
He also said that the interior ministries of Iran and Russia enjoy “multi level cooperation in various fields,” adding that signing agreements can help strengthen cooperation between the two countries.
Heading a political delegation, Kolokoltsev arrived in Tehran on Monday on a two-day official visit upon the invitation of the Iranian interior minister.
This is the first visit to Iran by a Russian minister of internal affairs since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Iran has a 900-kilometer border with Afghanistan, where narcotics production is very high. Smugglers have sought to use Iran as a main route to transfer drugs to Europe.
The Islamic Republic has spent more than USD 700 million to seal the borders and prevent the transit of narcotics destined for European, Arab and Central Asian countries.
The war on drug trade originating from Afghanistan has claimed the lives of nearly 4,000 Iranian police officers over the past 33 years.
Pres. Obama came out with some sensible proposals on gun violence Wednesday.
By advocating reinstituting a ban on semi-automatic weapons and establishing a ban on high-capacity magazines, he would at least make it more difficult for mass killers such as we saw in Aurora or at Sandy Hook.
Some of his other ideas are welcome, as well, like getting armored-piercing bullets off the street, and increasing mental health services.
But not only do we need to increase mental health services; we also need a national public awareness campaign on suicide warning signs.
Let’s be real here: Of the 31,000 people killed by guns in the United States in 2010, 19,000 of them were suicides. So let’s work seriously on suicide prevention.
I also doubt this assertion by the White House: “The single most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence and mass shootings, like the one in Newtown, is to make sure those who would commit acts of violence cannot get access to guns.”
First of all, it’s unclear whether the shooters in Newtown and Aurora wouldn’t have been able to get access to some kind of guns even under Obama’s new regulations.
And secondly, is that “the single most important thing”?
I’d hazard a guess that, other than bolstering suicide prevention efforts, the single most important thing we can do is to end the war on drugs.
By legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, the rampant gun violence that is plaguing places like Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and Oakland would go way down. (And those involved in the violent gun trade will manage to get a hold of firearms somehow, even with bans and increased registration efforts in place.)
While we’re at it, we also might try solving the problem of poverty, which is closely associated with the problem of gun violence.
“Poverty is a substantial factor in gun deaths” in metro areas, according to a recent report by the Atlantic Cities.
Yes, it’s easier to place more cops in schools, which Obama now advocates, than it is to end the war on drugs or tackle poverty. (And Obama’s willingness to place more cops in school puts the lie to the hideous NRA ad about Obama carrying more about his kids, who have armed guards at their school, then everyone else’s kids.)
But we’re kidding ourselves if we think Obama’s efforts are going to make a big dent in gun violence.
© 2012 The Progressive
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
The possession and use of all illegal drugs should be decriminalised and the least harmful substances should be regulated and sold in licensed shops, an inquiry by a group of cross-party peers has found.
A system for testing the safety of new drugs should be introduced with low-risk substances sold with labels detailing their risks, like cigarette packaging, members of the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform said.
While the supply of the most dangerous substances should remain banned, users caught with a small quantity of any drug should not be penalised, the inquiry found.
The controversial proposals are likely to irk the Prime Minister, who recently rejected calls by MPs to set up a royal commission to consider the decriminalisation of illegal drugs.
A panel of nine Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Labour and Crossbench peers from the all-party group conducted a parliamentary inquiry into new psychoactive substances. Presenting the inquiry findings, chair Baroness Meacher, who is also a chair of an NHS trust, said: "The Misuse of Drugs Act is counter-productive in attempting to reduce drug addiction and other drug harms to young people."
The Act, which has been in force for 40 years, is in desperate need of reform, the group said. The remaining sections of the act in use are causing "serious risks to the many young people who are determined to experiment with drugs", the group said.
The Act has forced thousands of young people into unemployment, homelessness and broken relationships, it added. In support of decriminalising the use of all drugs, the report alluded to the model in Portugal, where the numbers of young addicts has fallen under decriminalisation. And the proposals for regulating low-risk drugs echo those planned for New Zealand.
The group said strict regulatory controls could be introduced with an enhanced role for Trading Standards Services in the UK.
"Under these controls suppliers would, as is planned in New Zealand, be limited to certain outlets and required to label their product with a clear description of its contents, its risks and the maximum advisable dose," the group said. The licensed supplier would also be responsible for assuring that the product causes an "agreed level of limited harm".
Prevention programmes should also be promoted much more widely within schools and the community, the group said. It also recommended that that a minimum of £1.5 million be made available for a targeted pilot of Club Drug Clinics in 10 major hot spots across the UK with a duty to train front line accident and emergency and general practitioner staff.