Norway’s massive oil fortune, which the Scandinavian country has invested in the globe’s largest sovereign wealth fund, has allowed the nation to introduce a slew of progressive policies that have led to its people enjoying one of the highest standards of living in world. The country regularly tops standard of living indices such as the United Nation’s annual Human Development Report, thanks in no small part to its generous welfare state, low levels of crime, focus on equality, lengthy maternal and parental leave and high levels of literacy. Compared to many other European Economic Area countries, drug consumption in Norway is relatively low, but despite its wealth, the nation still has issues with problem substance abuse. Surprisingly, the number of drug seizures taking place in the country has been on the rise over the past decade, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, suggesting the Norwegian government’s drug policy simply is not working, as is the case in many other countries.
While Norway has been pursuing a more progressive approach to drug policy for some time now, rolling out a programme allowing judges to sentence addicts to rehabilitation rather than jail in February last year, the country’s centre-right coalition this month finally accepted that prohibition simply does not work, voting to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. Explaining the move after the vote, Deputy Chairman of the Norwegian Parliament’s Health Committee Sveinung Stensland told Norwegian daily VG that the government was not seeking to legalise drugs, but to stop criminalising people who take them, instead shifting to a position where substance abuse is viewed as a public health issue as opposed to a criminal one. Under the country’s new drug policy plans, instead of facing a jail term and fines, people caught in possession of drugs will be offered treatment as a matter of course, moving the responsibility for dealing with drug users from law enforcement authorities and the judicial system to healthcare providers.
Some right-wing commentators in Norway have objected to the plans, arguing that prison terms and fines act as deterrents to people who might be tempted to use drugs. This is despite the fact that the trafficking and the dealing of drugs would remain criminal offences after decriminalisation comes into effect, with both activities attracting severe penalties in the most extreme cases. Those arguing against decriminalisation in Norway also seem happy to ignore the fact that the global “war on drugs” has proved an abject failure over the many decades over which it has been fought, with substance abuse remaining rife in almost every corner of the globe. Maintaining the status quo simply should not be an option, making Norway’s vote in favour of decriminalising all drugs a brave and necessary move that should hopefully persuade other governments to follow suit.
Norway is far from the first country to make such a move. While the Netherlands is perhaps most-commonly associated with tolerating substances such as marijuana, Switzerland has focused on harm reduction rather than the criminalisation of addicts since the 1980s. Perhaps most notably when it comes to Norway’s plans, Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001. Over the intervening years, the move has widely been seen as a success. Despite initial fears that the removal of punishments for the possession of narcotics might lead to an explosion in drug use across the country, evidence suggests that drug deaths and drug-related HIV infections have actually fallen in Portugal since the policy came in effect. In fact, data from the latest European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and drug addiction report shows that the consumption of most illegal substances among Portugal’s adult population appears to have been in decline over the course of the past decade.
Portugal is just beginning to see the positive results of its programme of decriminalisation, but slowly, evidence of a downward trend in the amount of harm caused by drugs in the country is beginning to emerge. It will likely take some time before a similar pattern is noted in Norway once its programme of decriminalisation is actioned, but the fact that the country has joined Portugal in recognising that punishing drug users is a huge waste of public resources provides hope that the beginning of the end of the failing war on drugs might be on the horizon. The sooner governments around the world accept that people will always want to consume mind-altering substances and that seeking to stop them from doing so is futile, the quicker the misery caused by criminalising their behaviour can be reversed. While it would take full legalisation, standardisation and the licensed sale of all drugs to eliminate the criminal marketplace that prohibition has created, decriminalisation is perhaps at the moment the best opportunity law makers have to make drug use safer, restore people’s rights to decide what they want to put in their bodies and ultimately save lives. While decimalisation is unpopular with electorates in many countries, politicians of substance must be prepared to take a hit at the ballot box to do what is right.
Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public
Authorities in France have been forced to inform the public that taking cocaine will not cure people infected with the coronavirus.
Taking to Twitter on Sunday, the French Ministry for Solidarity and Health told its followers that cocaine is not only ineffective when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, but is also a highly addictive drug that can cause serious harm to users’ health.
The government department was seeking to counter fake news circulating on social media that taking the drug could cure or prevent the virus, including doctored news stories that appeared to confirm the drug’s effectiveness at fighting the disease.
The ministry’s Twitter post included a link to a government information page that provided further guidance on disinformation circulating about the coronavirus outbreak.
As well as encouraging those worried about the coronavirus to start taking cocaine, online trolls have also suggested that bleach can also help fight the disease.
In a post on Twitter that has attracted many thousands of engagements, @Jordan_Sather_ told his followers: “Would you look at that. Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka ‘MMS’) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too.
“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year.”
In August of 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about that dangers of consuming bleach, noting: “Drinking any… chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”
As well as warning about cocaine’s inability to fight the coronavirus, the French government has also told members of the public that spraying bleach or alcohol on their bodies will not neutralise viruses they have already been infected with.
Elsewhere, US Vodka maker Tito’s Homemade was last week forced to urge people not to make DIY hand sanitiser out of its products.
Responding to one of its customers who said they had done just that, the company said on Twitter: “Per the CDC [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention], hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.”
For its part, the World Health Organisation, which today officially categorised the coronavirus as a pandemic, has published a webpage dispelling misinformation about the disease, noting that the virus cannot be killed of avoided by taking a hot bath or using hand dryers.
Californian border officers catch Mexican man with enough fentanyl to kill 1.2 million people
Customs workers in California have arrested a Mexican man after finding enough fentanyl stashed in his vehicle to kill 1.2 million people.
Officers from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pulled the man over during a traffic stop while he was travelling in a Toyota Camry close to the city of Escondido.
During a search of the man’s vehicle, a sniffer dog indicated that the car contained illicit drugs.
After investigating further, CBP agents discovered several secret compartments that had been created in both the front and rear seats of the vehicle.
These were found to be concealing 18 foil-wrapped packages that tests later confirmed to contain nearly 19kgs of cocaine and just over 2.4kgs of fentanyl.
In total, the drugs found in the man’s vehicle had an estimated street value of almost $560,000.
The 49-year-old Mexican was handed over to officers from the US Drug Enforcement Administration, while the vehicle was seized by US Border Patrol.
Last week, CBP said agents working in Arizona close to the US border with Mexico had detained two 15-year-old US nationals who were alleged to have been attempting to smuggle fentanyl through a checkpoint while travelling as passengers in a van.
The occupants of the vehicle were referred for searches after a sniffer dog alerted its handlers to the fact that drugs might be present.
On further inspection, officers found the two teenagers had a combined total of more than 1kg of fentanyl taped to their legs, roughly equal to 540,000 lethal doses.
The two juveniles were held by police on drug smuggling charges, while the fentanyl they were carrying and the vehicle they were travelling in were seized.
As little as two milligrams of fentanyl can prove fatal for humans if absorbed through the skin, inhaled or swallowed.
In April of last year, an internal memo obtained by military news site Task & Purpose revealed that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was considering reclassifying fentanyl as “a weapon of mass destruction”.
The DHS said in its memo that the toxicity of the drug made it a suitable candidate to be categorised as a non-conventional chemical weapon, adding: “Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking non-conventional materials for a chemical weapons attack.”
DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction James McDonnell wrote: “In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that… fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals.”
European crackdown on illicit pharmaceutical traffickers breaks up 12 organised crime networks
A Europe-wide operation targeting illicit pharmaceutical traffickers has resulted in the dismantling of 12 organised crime networks and 165 arrests.
Supported by Europol, the third iteration of Operation MISMED involved customs, law enforcement and health and regulatory authorities in France, Finland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Britain and the US, among other countries.
In total, the third Operation MISMED saw investigators seize almost 36 million units of medicine, including pseudoephedrine, anti-cancer drugs, antihistamines, anxiolytics, erectile dysfunction tablets, hormone and metabolic regulators, narcotics, painkillers, antioestrogens, antivirals, hypnotics and doping substances.
The initiative, which took place between July and October last year, saw assets worth almost €1.5 million ($1.66 million) recovered, and some €7.9 million confiscated from the criminal organisations targeted in the operation.
In a statement outlining the success of the effort, Europol outlined a range of worrying new trends in the trafficking of illicit pharmaceuticals across Europe, including a growing market for oncologic medicines stolen from hospitals.
The agency also said that Asia remains the main source of illicit medicines and doping products that are sold in Europe.
“Medicines are diverted from the legal supply chain by wholesalers and resold to criminal groups,” Europol said.
“Medicines are illegally obtained with forged or stolen medical prescriptions, with or without the help of doctors and pharmacists, and then resold to criminal groups or individuals directly.”
Over the course of the three years it has been running, Operation MISMED has resulted in 123 million units of illegal medicines and doping substances worth €500 million being taken off the streets, the arrest of 600 suspects, and the breakup of 49 organised crime groups.
The first iteration of the initiative, which took place back in 2017, resulted in the seizure of 75 million units of medicine and doping substances with a combined estimated street value of over €230 million.
The operation also led to the launch of 205 separate investigations and the identification of 277 suspects, of whom 111 were arrested.
Operation MISMED 2, which as carried out between April and October in 2018, saw the seizure of smuggled medicines estimated to be worth more than €165 million, as well as the arrest of 435 people suspected of being involved in the illicit trafficking of misused medicines.
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