Prescription Drugs Kill 300 Percent More Americans than Illegal Drugs

Monday, November 10, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Key concepts: DEA, Prescription drugs and Prescription drug

(NaturalNews) A report by the Florida Medical Examiners Commission has concluded that prescription drugs have outstripped illegal drugs as a cause of death.

An analysis of 168,900 autopsies conducted in Florida in 2007 found that three times as many people were killed by legal drugs as by cocaine, heroin and all methamphetamines put together. According to state law enforcement officials, this is a sign of a burgeoning prescription drug abuse problem.

"The abuse has reached epidemic proportions," said Lisa McElhaney, a sergeant in the pharmaceutical drug diversion unit of the Broward County Sheriff's Office. "It's just explosive."

In 2007, cocaine was responsible for 843 deaths, heroin for 121, methamphetamines for 25 and marijuana for zero, for a total of 989 deaths. In contrast, 2,328 people were killed by opioid painkillers, including Vicodin and Oxycontin, and 743 were killed by drugs containing benzodiazepine, including the depressants Valium and Xanax.

Alcohol directly caused 466 deaths, but was found in the bodies of 4,179 cadavers in all.

While the number of dead bodies containing heroin jumped 14 percent from the prior year, to a total of 110, the number of deaths influenced by the painkiller oxycodone increased by 36 percent, to a total of 1,253.

Across the country, prescription drugs have become an increasingly popular alternative to the more difficult to acquire illegal drugs. Even as illegal drug use among teenagers have fallen, prescription drug abuse has increased. For example, while 4 percent of U.S. 12th graders were using Oxycontin in 2002, by 2005 that number had increased to 5.5 percent.



"We are by far the most violent nation on earth. We have the highest numbers of rape and murder in the world and incarcerate the greatest percentage of our citizens. We are the largest producer and exporter of weapons of mass destruction and have the world's biggest military budget comprising 36 percent of the total world military spending and gobbling up more than 50 percent of our own national budget" Yellow Times
The USA has the most number of people in prison in the world, at 1.725 million. Next is China with 1.4 million. However China's total population is 4.6 times that of the USA, so the number of people in prison per 100,000 of population is very different: 645 people per 100,000 in the USA, 115 per 100,000 in China.


While the U.S. federal government has been waging a phony and hypocritical "war on drugs" as an easy way to increase repression in inner cities and confiscate millions of dollars in private assets through unconstitutional forfeiture laws in order to fund its burgeoning police state, it has also been an active participant in the illegal drug trade, using public resources to bring heroin and cocaine into American inner cities at least since the 1960's.

Links to information about the CIA complicity in the drug trade:

Dark Alliance: The San Jose Mercury News exposé. This excellent web site presents the evidence in a series of compelling articles, along with photographs and sound clips from testimony about the CIA's involvement in the crack trade in South Central.

(Never heard of the contras? Read this.)

Contras, Crack, and the CIA: Editorial by Robert Parry in a recent issue of the Nation which gives evidence that the U.S. government knew about and covered up contra drug dealing for at least the past ten years.

Media Focus on CIA's Cocaine Links is Long Overdue, short article by Norman Solomon, dated Oct. 1 '96.

Media War over CIA and Cocaine, also by Norman Solomon.

The Kerry Report: During the Iran Contra Investigation ten years ago, much evidence linking the CIA to drug dealing came out but was successfully covered up by an obedient and sheep-like mass media. Read excerpts of the Senate Investigative Committee Report which detailed this evidence here, or ask your library for the full document.

Crack Reparations. Argues that the U.S. government should pay reparations to South Central Los Angeles for destroying communities by bringing in crack cocaine. Do you have a friend or loved one whose life has been destroyed by the crack trade? Demand reparations now! From the terrific new Seattle 'zine Eat the State!

How the CIA Created the Crack Epidemic, story from the Revolutionary Worker.

Ex-DEA Agent Castillo Tells All: Excerpt from Castillo's book Powderburns. I have the book and it would be a really good book if Castillo's publisher would LEARN TO FUCKING SPELL! I wouldn't complain but with more than 5-10 errors per page the book becomes unreadable. (sigh) I'm still glad this info is out there though....

Chronology of Events outlining the CIA/Contra Drug Dealing Connection. Note that this chronology was developed in 1990, six years before the most recent revelations.

Cocaine Importing Agency: Dave Feustel maintains a nice collection of articles on CIA drug smuggling over the years.

"WormScan": A collection of news items relating to official complicity and responsibility for the drug trade. Mirrored here, with a longer version here.

Cockburn v. Secord: When Leslie and Andrew Cockburn exposed the CIA's drug connections in 1987, Richard Secord sued them for defaming his character. He lost the suit because he was unable to produce any evidence of malice or distortion. Read the court's decision here!

CIA is Up to Its Eyeballs in Cocaine Deals, by Dierdre Griswold. Could the title be any more plain?

Dark Alliance: Reprint of the SJMercury article with commentary from Arm the Spirit.

CIA's Contras Linked to Crack Trade: nice summary of the San Jose Mercury News exposé

DEA's Finest Details Corruption, by John Viet for MediaFilter.

Congressional Reports on Drug Corruption in the Federal Government, a list of resources available from the government documents collection of your library.

U.S. Officials Joined Mexican Drug Smugglers, from the Sacramento Bee in February of 1996.

Snowbound: A 1989 expose on U.S. government drug smuggling from Penthouse magazine.

Justice Department Investigation Begins: This brief CNN report of 23 September 1996 indicates the first sign that the government is looking into the CIA involvement in drug trafficking. I include it here in spite of its blatant whitewashing of responsible parties (giving plenty of space to Oliver North's mendacious denials and not even pointing out that these denials are in obvious contradiction to what he testified during the Iran-Contra hearings).

Ex-DEA Agent Celerino Castillo announced his intention to confess about the CIA/DEA connection to the drug trade over a year ago. When he told former president George Bush of his intentions, Bush "smiled and walked away." More on the story here.

Haiti's Nightmare: The Haiti connection to the CIA/Contra Drug Operation (mirrored here). See also "Haiti, Thugs, and Drugs."

The De-Central Intelligence Agency, a site dedicated to ending the media blackout on the CIA's involvement in heroin and cocaine trafficking.

A Scandal Unravels in Arkansas: Just because the contra war against Nicaragua was the product of the 12-year reign of the G.O.P. (Greedy Old Pricks), doesn't mean Bill Clinton's hands are clean. 1995 article from the New York Post

Arkansas Drug Probe Could Be Dynamite. Followup of the above. Also a 1995 followup exists.

Starr Investigation Targets Arkansas Police: Read how Arkansas Law Enforcement tried to cover the CIA's tracks while it was dealing drugs.

The MENA Coverup: Wall Street Journal article on Clinton's role in the CIA-drug connection.

More on MENA, from Paul DiRienzo in 1992. See also this post from alt.politics.clinton.

1985: from the Secret History of the United States. Details some of the Clinton-Bush-North connection in the drug scandal. More info in 1996.

The Crimes of MENA: A London Perspective. London's Sunday Telegraph points out that the Whitewater connection to drugs and contras is a smokescreen being used both to smear the Clinton White House and cover up the fact that these operations have been going on for a long time.

Assorted Mena Links: more links to articles on Mena from the Real Change website, exposing the corruption of all of the currently running Presidential candidates.

Drugs and Covert Operations, 1991 article from Convergence magazine.

How the Drug War Created Crack, from Cures not Wars. Excellent article from the Village Voice in 1990 arguing that the U.S. "War on Drugs" led to the crack cocaine epidemic.

Shooting Up in Public, by Ron Reed. Great essay against prohibition which discusses the U.S. involvement in narcoterrorism in Central America and Vietnam. Mirrored here.

The Duplicity of the War on Drugs: a nice USENET post against drug prohibition which discusses the U.S. government's heavy involvement in the Southeast Asian heroin trade in the 1970s.

The Politics of Drugs in America, by Frank Morales. From MediaFilter.

Alfred McCoy discusses U.S. involvement in the Southeast Asian Heroin trade. See also the interview here.

Doping and Duping America: more on the hidden history of heroin.

The Intelligence Connection, designed for the "incurably informed" by the De-Central Intelligence Agency.

Want More Information on CIA Covert Operations Domestically (in explicit violation of Federal Law)? Check out this site for details.

Cops and Drugs: Details corruption of Law Enforcement Agencies Across the Nation.

Rhetorical Genealogy of the War on Drugs: a Drug War History I wrote a few years ago. Mentions some of the U.S. government complicity in the heroin trade, as well as the CIA's use of LSD in the 1950s and 1960s. Also see my links to drug legalization resources for further information.

US Govt. largest illegal drug dealer in world history

War on Drugs (The Prison Industrial Complex) (1999)

***The first few minutes are in dutch, but the rest is in english.

The war on drugs has been going on for more than three decades.
Today, nearly 500,000 Americans are imprisoned on drug charges. In 1980 the number was 50,000. Last year $40 billion in taxpayer dollars were spent in fighting the war on drugs.

As a result of the incarceration obsession, the United States operates the largest prison system on the planet, and the U.S. nonviolent prisoner population is larger than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska. Try to imagine the Drug Enforcement Administration erecting razor wire barricades around two states to control crime and you'll get the picture.

According to the U.S. Dept of Justice, the number of offenders under age 18 imprisoned for drug offenses increased twelvefold from 1985 to 1997. The group most affected by this propensity for incarceration is African-Americans. From 1985 to 1997, the percentage of African-American young people put in prison increased from 53 to 62 percent.

Today, 89 percent of police departments have paramilitary units, and 46 percent have been trained by active duty armed forces. The most common use of paramilitary units is serving drug-related search warrants, which usually involve no-knock entries into private homes.

CIA Drug Ops

US: America's Private Gulag

US: America's Private Gulag

by Ken Silverstein, Prison Legal News
June 1st, 2000

What is the most profitable industry in America? Weapons, oil and computer technology all offer high rates of return, but there is probably no sector of the economy so abloom with money as the privately run prison industry.

Consider the growth of the Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader whose stock price has climbed from $8 a share in 1992 to about $30 today and whose revenue rose by 81 per cent in 1995 alone. Investors in Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have enjoyed an average return of 18 per cent during the past five years and the company is rated by Forbes as one of the top 200 small businesses in the country. At Esmor, another big private prison contractor, revenues have soared from $4.6 million in 1990 to more than $25 million in 1995.

Ten years ago there were just five privately-run prisons in the country, housing a population of 2,000. Today nearly a score of private firms run more than 100 prisons with about 62,000 beds. That's still less than five per cent of the total market but the industry is expanding fast, with the number of private prison beds expected to grow to 360,000 during the next decade.

The exhilaration among leaders and observers of the private prison sector was cheerfully summed up by a headline in USA Today: "Everybody's doin' the jailhouse stock". An equally upbeat mood imbued a conference on private prisons held last December at the Four Seasons Resort in Dallas. The brochure for the conference, organized by the World Research Group, a New York-based investment firm, called the corporate takeover of correctional facilities the "newest trend in the area of privatizing previously government-run programs... While arrests and convictions are steadily on the rise, profits are to be made -- profits from crime. Get in on the ground floor of this booming industry now!"

A hundred years ago private prisons were a familiar feature of American life, with disastrous consequences. Prisoners were farmed out as slave labor. They were routinely beaten and abused, fed slop and kept in horribly overcrowded cells. Conditions were so wretched that by the end of the nineteenth century private prisons were outlawed in most states.

During the past decade, private prisons have made a comeback. Already 28 states have passed legislation making it legal for private contractors to run correctional facilities and many more states are expected to follow suit.

The reasons for the rapid expansion include the 1990's free-market ideological fervor, large budget deficits for the federal and state governments and the discovery and creation of vast new reserves of "raw materials" -- prisoners. The rate for most serious crimes has been dropping or stagnant for the past 15 years, but during the same period severe repeat offender provisions and a racist "get-tough" policy on drugs have helped push the US prison population up from 300,000 to around 1.5 million during the same period. This has produced a corresponding boom in prison construction and costs, with the federal government's annual expenditures in the area, now $17 billion. In California, passage of the infamous "three strikes" bill will result in the construction of an additional 20 prisons during the next few years.

The private prison business is most entrenched at the state level but is expanding into the federal prison system as well. Last year Attorney General Janet Reno announced that five of seven new federal prisons being built will be run by the private sector. Almost all of the prisons run by private firms are low or medium security, but the companies are trying to break into the high-security field. They have also begun taking charge of management at INS detention centers, boot camps for juvenile offenders and substance abuse programs.

The Players
Roughly half of the industry is controlled by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which runs 46 penal institutions in 11 states. It took ten years for the company to reach 10,000 beds; it is now growing by that same number every year.

CCA's chief competitor is Wackenhut, which was founded in 1954 by George Wackenhut, a former FBI official. Over the years its board and staff have included such veterans of the US national security state as Frank Carlucci, Bobby Ray Inman and William Casey, as well as Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the fanatic Cuban American National Foundation. The company also provides security services to private corporations. It has provided strikebreakers at the Pittston mine strike in Kentucky, hired unlicensed investigators to ferret out whistle blowers at Alyeska, the company that controls the Alaskan Oil pipeline, and beaten anti-nuclear demonstrators at facilities it guards for the Department of Energy.

Esmor, the number three firm in the field, was founded only a few years ago and already operates ten corrections or detention facilities. The company's board includes William Barrett, a director of Frederick's of Hollywood, and company CEO James Slattery, whose previous experience was investing in and managing hotels.

US companies also have been expanding abroad. The big three have facilities in Australia, England and Puerto Rico and are now looking at opportunities in Europe, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and China.

Greasing the Wheels of Power to Keep Jails Full
To be profitable, private prison firms must ensure that prisons are not only built but also filled. Industry experts say a 90-95 per cent capacity rate is needed to guarantee the hefty rates of return needed to lure investors. Prudential Securities issued a wildly bullish report on CCA a few years ago but cautioned, "It takes time to bring inmate population levels up to where they cover costs. Low occupancy is a drag on profits." Still, said the report, company earnings would be strong if CCA succeeded in ramp(ing) up population levels in its new facilities at an acceptable rate".

"(There is a) basic philosophical problem when you begin turning over administration of prisons to people who have an interest in keeping people locked up" notes Jenni Gainsborough of the ACLU's National Prison Project.

Private prison companies have also begun to push, even if discreetly, for the type of get-tough policies needed to ensure their continued growth. All the major firms in the field have hired big-time lobbyists. When it was seeking a contract to run a halfway house in New York City, Esmor hired a onetime aide to State Representative Edolphus Towns to lobby on its behalf. The aide succeeded in winning the contract and also the vote of his former boss, who had been an opponent of the project. In 1995, Wackenhut Chairman Tim Cole testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge support for amendments to the Violent Crime Control Act -- which subsequently passed -- that authorized the expenditure of $10 billion to construct and repair state prisons.

CCA has been especially adept at expansion via political payoffs. The first prison the company managed was the Silverdale Workhouse in Hamilton County, Tennessee. After commissioner Bob Long voted to accept CCA's bid for the project, the company awarded Long's pest control firm a lucrative contract. When Long decided the time was right to quit public life, CCA hired him to lobby on its behalf. CCA has been a major financial supporter of Lamar Alexander, the former Tennessee governor and failed presidential candidate. In one of a number of sweetheart deals, Lamar's wife, Honey Alexander, made more than $130,000 on a $5,000 investment in CCA. Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter is another CCA stockholder and is quoted in the company's 1995 annual report as saying that "the federal government would be well served to privatize all of their corrections."

In another ominous development, the revolving door between the public and private sector has led to the type of company boards that are typical of those found in the military-industrial complex. CCA co-founders were T. Don Hutto, an ex-corrections commissioner in Virginia, and Tom Beasley, a former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. A top company official is Michael Quinlan, once director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The board of Wackenhut is graced by a former Marine Corps commander, two retired Air Force generals and a former under secretary of the Air Force, as well as James Thompson, ex-governer of Illinois, Stuart Gerson, a former assistant US attorney general and Richard Staley, who previously worked with the INS.

Leaner and Meaner?
The companies that dominate the private prison business claim that they offer the taxpayers a bargain because they operate far more cheaply than do state firms. As one industry report put it, "CEOs of privatized companies... are leaner and more motivated than their public-sector counterparts."

Because they are private firms that answer to shareholders, prison companies have been predictably vigorous in seeking ways to cut costs. In 1985, a private firm tried to site a prison on a toxic waste dump in Pennsylvania, which it had bought at the bargain rate of $1. Fortunately, that plan was rejected.

Many states pay private contractors a per diem rate, as low as $31 a prisoner in Texas. A federal investigation traced a 1994 riot at an Esmor immigration detention center to the company's having skimped on food, building repairs and guard salaries. At an Esmor-run halfway house in Manhattan, inspectors turned up leaky plumbing, exposed electrical wires, vermin and inadequate food.

To rachet up profit margins, companies have cut corners on drug rehabilitation, counseling and literacy programs. In 1995, Wackenhut was investigated for diverting $700,000 intended for drug treatment programs at a Texas prison. In Florida the US Corrections Corporation was found to be in violation of a provision in its state contract that requires prisoners to be placed in meaningful work or educational assignments. The company had assigned 235 prisoners as dorm orderlies when no more than 48 were needed and enrollment in education programs was well below what the contract called for. Such incidents led a prisoner at a CCA facility in Tennessee to conclude, "There is something inherently sinister about making money from the incarceration of prisoners, and in putting CCA's bottom line (money) before society's bottom line (rehabilitation)."

The companies try to cut costs by offering less training and pay to staff. Almost all workers at state prisons get union-scale pay but salaries for private prison guards range from about $7 to $10 per hour. Of course the companies are anti-union. When workers attempted to organize at Tennessee's South Central prison, CCA sent officials down from Nashville to quash the effort.

Poor pay and work conditions have led to huge turnover rates at private prisons. A report by the Florida auditor's office found that turnover at the Gadsden Correctional Facility for women, run by the US Corrections Corporation, was ten times the rate at state prisons. Minutes from an administrative meeting at a CCA prison in Tennessee have the "chief" recorded as saying, "We all know that we have lots of new staff and are constantly in the training mode... Many employees (are) totally lost and have never worked in corrections."

Private companies also try to nickel and dime prisoners in the effort to boost revenue. "Canteen prices are outrageous," wrote a prisoner at the Gadsden facility in Florida. "(We) pay more for a pack of cigarettes than in the free world." Neither do private firms provide prisoners with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes or writing paper. One female prisoner at a CCA prison in New Mexico said: "The state gives five free postage paid envelopes per month to prisoners, nothing at CCA. State provides new coats, jeans, shirts, and underwear and replaces them as needed. CCA rarely buys new clothing and inmates are often issued tattered and stained clothing. Same goes of linens. Also ration toilet paper and paper towels. If you run out, too bad -- 3 rolls every two weeks."

Cashing in on Crime
In addition to the companies that directly manage America's prisons, many other firms are getting a piece of the private prison action. American Express has invested millions of dollars in private prison construction in Oklahoma and General Electric has helped finance construction in Tennessee. Goldman Sachs & Co., Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, among other Wall Street firms, have made huge sums by underwriting prison construction with the sale of tax exempt bonds, this now a thriving $2.3 billion industry.

Weapons manufacturers see both public and private prisons as a new outlet for "defense" technology, such as electronic bracelets and stun guns. Private transport companies have lucrative contracts to move prisoners within and across state lines; health care companies supply jails with doctors and nurses; food service firms provide prisoners with meals. High-tech firms are also moving into the field; the Que-Tel Corp. hopes for vigorous sales of its new system whereby prisoners are bar coded and guards carry scanners to monitor their movements. Phone companies such as AT&T chase after the enormously lucrative prison business.

About three-quarters of new admissions to American jails and prisons are now African-American and Hispanic men. This trend, combined with an increasingly privatized and profitable prison system run largely by whites, makes for what Jerome Miller, a former youth corrections officer in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, calls the emerging Gulag State.

Miller predicts that the Gulag State will be in place within 15 years. He expects three to five million people to be behind bars, including an absolute majority of African-American men. It's comparable, he says, to the post-Civil War period, when authorities came to view the prison system as a cheaper, more efficient substitute for slavery. Of the state's current approach to crime and law enforcement, Miller says, "The race card has changed the whole playing field. Because the prison system doesn't affect a significant percentage of young white men we'll increasingly see prisoners treated as commodities. For now the situation is a bit more benign than it was back in the nineteenth century but I'm not sure it will stay that way for long."

This article originally appeared in CounterPunch, a Washington DC-based political newsletter.