“Jonathan Wall, a 26-year-old cannabis entrepreneur, has been confined at a federal supermax facility in Maryland for nearly 20 months, awaiting a May 2 trial that could send him to prison for life. Wall is accused of transporting more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana from California, where cannabis is legal for recreational use, to Maryland, which allows only medical use.
Wall’s case illustrates the draconian penalties that can still be imposed on people for selling pot at a time when most states have legalized marijuana businesses. As far as the federal government is concerned, all of those businesses are criminal enterprises. But depending on how federal prosecutors choose to exercise their discretion, selling pot can make you millions of dollars as a state-licensed supplier, or it can send you to prison for decades.”
“Sewage surveillance is becoming more valuable right now as conventional testing is becoming less transparent. More people have been using rapid at-home tests and might not report results to a public health agency. That means the number of positive cases being reported by official sources might not actually provide a full picture of what’s happening with the pandemic.
But no matter how or if they’re testing, infected people — whether they have symptoms or not — flush out the virus when they go to the bathroom, leaving viral RNA that can be detected in wastewater samples. It requires careful collection and testing, but sewage can provide a less biased look at the viral trends in a given community.
Science has not yet reached the point where we can say that X amount of viral load in a community’s sewage means Y number of people are infected in that community. But still, knowing which way viral loads are trending is useful. If they are going up, even before the number of positive tests starts increasing, it could in theory allow public health authorities and the local health system to start preparing for a surge. If they are going down, public health officials (and the general public) can be confident that any waning in official case numbers is real and not the byproduct of, say, less testing.”
“Surveillance programs could watch for other pathogens, too, such as influenza, hepatitis, and norovirus for early warnings of emerging outbreaks. Julianne Nassif, an expert on wastewater surveillance with the Association of Public Health Labs, said we could also monitor for bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that are resistant to current treatments. Public health officials could try to get ahead of an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a nursing home, for example, with the information gleaned from downstream sewage.
Johnson envisioned communities monitoring for narcotics, to better tailor their public health campaigns. Wastewater could be tested to determine whether cocaine or opioid use is rising in a given sewage shed. It could even determine what kind of opioids are being used, which could be helpful to health departments. Widespread heroin use might require a different intervention than diverted prescription opioids or black-market fentanyl.
The possibilities sound almost endless, extending to research that could help us better understand human health. Dennehy described to me one hypothetical experiment that could be run with sewage monitoring, looking for the viral markers associated with colon cancer. By comparing the results from one community with, say, a nearby nuclear power plant and another community somewhere else, we could get a better understanding of how the surrounding environment affects people’s health.
But for all of this potential to be realized, these efforts would require sustained support. The CDC bet on the wastewater boom, launching a national Covid-19 surveillance system in the fall of 2020. But dedicated investments in infrastructure and a workforce would be necessary if the country were to begin conducting wastewater surveillance on a more permanent basis.
In general, the US has not appeared willing to make big investments in public health. Scientists working on these programs hope that the same may not be true of wastewater surveillance, given the opportunities it presents.
“We learned a lot of hard-won lessons with the Covid pandemic. We got caught with our pants down at the beginning. A lot of things that we did were too late,” Dennehy told me. “The hope is we can remember these lessons for the next time this comes around, which may not be that long.””
“In 2018, the Trump administration issued an emergency order that would make it easier to prosecute people for selling so-called fentanyl analogues, drugs that share the same chemical structure of the powerful synthetic painkiller that has helped to fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic. Even as the Trump administration began embracing criminal justice reforms and opioid treatment elsewhere, the temporary order was part of a wider law-and-order crack down on new variations of the substance that had been flourishing in illegal drug markets.
The move was small, but significant. With little fanfare and debate, it gave federal prosecutors across the country sweeping new authority to charge people for federal drug crimes, triggering onerous mandatory minimums without the usual scientific process to determine whether the novel new drugs people peddled were even dangerous.
Yet, it wasn’t just a Trump phenomenon: On Thursday, Congress reauthorized the fentanyl copycat order for the sixth time — and the fifth time since Joe Biden’s inauguration — with broad bipartisan support, extending it to the end of this year. Instead of opposing the stricter enforcement, Biden favors making the order permanent — a move civil rights groups, public health researchers, criminal justice reform experts and other critics argue would further embolden federal law enforcement authorities and disproportionately affect low-income defendants of color. Opponents say it would usher in a remarkable change in drug law, one that criminalizes thousands of substances, some that haven’t even yet been developed, and set a precedent that could eventually extend to other drug categories.”
“Federal authorities usually go through a multistep checklist to classify, or schedule, an individual drug into a certain category, which then determines how easily it can be researched and whether it merits criminal penalties. Some fentanyl analogues have already been individually tested and scheduled. But the 2018 order puts fentanyl copycats, which can include thousands of substances, into the government’s strictest drug control category — Schedule I, which also includes heroin, marijuana, LSD and ecstasy — without that scientific review. This represents the first time an entire category of drugs has been scheduled based on chemical structure alone.
In some cases, those fentanyl analogues can be more powerful than fentanyl, which is in the slightly less restrictive Schedule II category. But in other cases, analogues can be harmless or even potentially therapeutic. The FDA has testified that at least one new, potential overdose-reversal agent has fallen victim to the class-wide scheduling order.
Prosecutions for fentanyl-related substances soared during the Trump administration as the substance became more ubiquitous. The number of people prosecuted for and convicted of fentanyl-analogue crimes was nearly non-existent in 2016, but grew to 233 in 2019, according to data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Nearly 70 percent of those prosecutions targeted Black and Hispanic people, many of them street dealers rather than major drug kingpins, according to the government data.”
“some defense lawyers worry the impact might be bigger than the data show. Based on her conversations with defense lawyers and independent research, Patricia Richman — national sentencing resource counsel at the Federal Public and Community Defenders, which represents indigent clients in federal cases — argues that many more people are likely being charged under the emergency order. Federal authorities have yet to release updated data on how the law has been used since 2020.”
“Meanwhile, the opioid crisis has worsened: Drug overdose deaths have reached record levels, topping more than 100,000 in the 12 months ending in September 2021 with death rates among Black people catching up to rates among white people. By June of last year, synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl and related substances, accounted for 65 percent of all drug overdose deaths, representing a massive increase from just a few years earlier.”
“So what was her addiction – what is equasy? It is an addiction that produces the release of adrenaline and endorphins and
which is used by many millions of people in the UK including
children and young people. The harmful consequences are well
established – about 10 people a year die of it and many more
suffer permanent neurological damage as had my patient. It has
been estimated that there is a serious adverse event every 350
exposures and these are unpredictable, though more likely in
experienced users who take more risks with equasy. It is also
associated with over 100 road traffic accidents per year – often
with deaths. Equasy leads to gatherings of users that often are
associated with these groups engaging in violent conduct.
Dependence, as defined by the need to continue to use, has
been accepted by the courts in divorce settlements. Based on
these harms, it seems likely that the ACMD would recommend
control under the MDAct perhaps as a class A drug given it
appears more harmful than ecstasy (See Table 1).
Have you worked out what equasy is yet? It stands for
Equine Addiction Syndrome, a condition characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the
consequences especially the harms from falling off/under the
horse. I suspect most people will be surprised that riding is
such a dangerous activity. The data are quite startling – people
die and are permanently damaged from falling – with neck and
spine fracture leading to permanent spinal injury (Silver and
Parry, 1991; Silver 2002). Head injury is four times more com-
mon though often less obvious and is the usual cause of death.
In the USA, approximately 11,500 cases of traumatic head
injury a year are due to riding (Thomas, et al., 2006), and we
can presume a proportionate number in the UK. Personality
change, reduced motor function and even early onset
Parkinson’s disease are well recognised especially in rural clinical practices where horse riding is very common. In some shire counties, it has been estimated that riding causes more head
injury than road traffic accidents. Violence is historically inti-mately associated with equasy – especially those who gather
together in hunting groups; initially, this was interspecies aggression but latterly has become specific person to person violence
between the pro and anti-hunt lobby groups.”
“So why are harmful sporting activities allowed, whereas relatively less harmful drugs are not? I believe this reflects a societal
approach which does not adequately balance the relative risks of
drugs against their harms. It is also a failure to understand the
motivations of, particularly younger people, who take drugs and
their assessment of the perceived risks compared with other
activities. The general public, especially the younger generation,
are disillusioned with the lack of balanced political debate about
drugs. This lack of rational debate can undermine the trust in
government in relation to drug misuse and thereby undermining
the government’s message in public information campaigns.”
“The bulk of the illegal synthetic opioids that reach the U.S. are sourced in China by Mexico’s Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. They buy from legitimate and illicit Chinese suppliers through “purchases made on the open market, smuggling chemicals hidden in legitimate commercial shipments,” the 2020 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment noted.
Successful bilateral cooperation in combating the fentanyl flow peaked in May 2019 when Xi responded to U.S. pressure by making all forms of fentanyl subject to production controls and anti-trafficking measures. That prompted a drastic reduction in direct shipments of fentanyl and related compounds from China.
But Mexican cartels and their Chinese suppliers quickly pivoted to the export and processing of unregulated chemicals that can be processed into synthetic opioids. The Chinese government moved to block that trade in June by adding six fentanyl precursor chemicals to the list of substances requiring government approval. Chinese suppliers responded by marketing the unregulated raw materials for precursors.
“Drug trafficking organizations adapted to the PRC’s [regulatory controls] of all fentanyl-related substances, and now appear to have increased the purchase of fentanyl precursors from the PRC to manufacture fentanyl in Mexico, indicating a pronounced shift in how fentanyl is trafficked into the United States,” a State Department spokesperson told POLITICO.
The response from Chinese chemical producers and exporters underscores the challenges of regulatory fixes that don’t keep up with the ability of the industry to skirt those laws.
“[Chinese suppliers] are acting like water, they’re just finding the gaps and cracks in the law,” said Bryce Pardo, drug policy researcher at RAND Corp. “They have gone on to [synthetic opioid component chemicals] that are used in all sorts of other medications and other commercial applications that can never be controlled because it would be way too burdensome for industry and genuine consumption purposes to control these other kinds of chemicals.”
On the Hill, China’s role as a drug chemical supplier for illicit synthetic opioids has become a political lightning rod, particularly for lawmakers from states such as Ohio that are suffering soaring increases in synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths.”
“The money for the program was included in the American Rescue Plan—passed back in March—a massive $1.9 trillion spending bill that was sold as a COVID-19 response but contained very little that had to do with the epidemic. The bill set aside $4 billion for use for drug addiction programs and mental health treatment.”
“South Dakota voters made history last November by simultaneously approving ballot initiatives aimed at legalizing recreational and medical use of marijuana. The success of the broader initiative, Amendment A, was especially striking because it prevailed by an eight-point margin in a state that is mostly Republican and largely conservative. But thanks to a legal challenge backed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, Amendment A was almost immediately tied up in litigation, and last Wednesday the South Dakota Supreme Court definitively overturned it, ruling that the measure violated the “single subject” rule for constitutional amendments.”
“State legislators proved more willing to set aside their personal views on marijuana in deference to the policy preferred by voters. “In my mind, [legalization is] inevitable because we’ve already seen the support from the public,” Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack said after Klinger’s decision. “I didn’t vote for recreational marijuana, but my constituents did,” added Greg Jamison, another Republican senator. “Rarely do we get a chance to enact a law and not for sure know what our constituents think of that. Here we know.”
In response to such comments from members of her own party, Noem threatened to veto any legalization bill the legislature might decide to pass. Noem later suggested she might be open to decriminalizing low-level marijuana possession. Possessing two ounces or less is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.”
“Add stress balls to the list of innocuous items that have landed innocent citizens in jail due to shoddy police work and unreliable drug field tests.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled last week that two Atlanta police officers are not entitled to qualified immunity from a civil lawsuit brought against them by Ju’zema Goldring for malicious prosecution. Goldring says the officers falsely accused her of jaywalking and cocaine trafficking, based on a field test of a powdery substance inside a stress ball she had in her purse.
Goldring spent nearly six months in the Fulton County jail because she couldn’t afford bail and told local news outlet NBC 46 that she was occasionally put in solitary confinement. What’s more, she was left in jail for four months after a crime lab concluded that the mysterious powder was sand, not cocaine.
According to the 11th Circuit’s opinion, Atlanta police officers Vladimir Henry and Juan Restrepo stopped Goldring on October 10, 2015, for allegedly jaywalking. Goldring claims she wasn’t jaywalking. In any case, the officers took Goldring to the police station and proceeded to cut open a stress ball they found in her purse and test the powdery substance inside using a Nark II field test for drugs.
As Reason reported earlier this year, such drug field test kits are manufactured by several different companies and are used by police departments and prison systems across the country. The test kits use instant color reactions to indicate the presence of certain compounds found in illegal drugs, but those same compounds are also found in dozens of known licit substances. And although the tests are fairly simple to use, they’re still prone to user error and misinterpretation.”