As the campaign to provide universal preschool in
Cincinnati kicks into gear, organizations involved in the Preschool
Promise are seeking more volunteers to train as “Promise Ambassadors” who will help raise awareness and gather feedback for the proposal.
Although there’s no major resistance to universal preschool at a local level, the big question is how the city will fund it. Will it take a hike in property or income taxes? Will city and school funds be involved? Will it rely on philanthropic channels? What about a mix of all the options?
As an ambassador, volunteers will gather feedback on the big questions facing the campaign and raise awareness on the study-backed benefits of preschool.
“As an ambassador you can engage however you feel comfortable: hosting house parties, speaking at meetings and events, organizing community forums or simply helping generate awareness about the importance of quality preschool for every child in our city,” the campaign said in a release.
Greg Landsman, executive director of the education-focused Strive Partnership, said on Facebook that more than 40 ambassadors have been trained so far. The goal is to train 100 by President’s Day, Feb. 17.
The policy would mirror a program in Denver that provides tuition credits to families on an income-based sliding scale, so low-income parents would get the most help while the wealthiest would get the least.
Among other benefits, a study from consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich and Associates found the Denver program gives low- and middle-income families more opportunities to climb the economic ladder.
Landsman previously told CityBeat the measure should end up on the November ballot.
The campaign is offering several training sessions, which can be attended with an RVSP to BooneS@strivepartnership.org:
• Jan. 22, 6–7:30 p.m. at 4C for Children, 1924 Dana Ave., Cincinnati.
• Jan. 28, 2:30–4 p.m. at 4C for Children, 1924 Dana Ave, Cincinnati.
• Jan. 29, 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.
• Feb. 5, 6–7:30 p.m. at 4C for Children, 1924 Dana Avenue, Cincinnati.
• Feb. 6, 2:30–4 p.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.
• Feb. 7, 9-10:30 a.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.
• Feb. 10, 10:30 a.m.-noon at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.
• Feb. 11, 2:30-4 p.m. at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, 2400 Reading Road, Cincinnati.
CityBeat covered the Preschool Promise in greater detail here.
Ohio now bans abusive dog breeding practices that previously earned the state a reputation as one of the laxest for dog breeding rules in the nation. With the new rules, dog breeders must maintain improved living conditions for the dogs, including standards for cage size, regular grooming, veterinary examinations and socialization. The rules earned praise from many animal activists as a step forward, but some say the bill should act as a start that leads to even stronger regulations.
City Council advanced a largely progressive agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion. Specifically, the Democratic majority on council acted as the foundation in keeping controversial contracting rules for sewer contracts, continuing support for a permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale and approving a new study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts. With the Democratic coalition seemingly established on most issues facing the city, it’s now much clearer what direction council will take the city over the next four years.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday proposed a compromise with the city over controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works projects. Although both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to carry on with work on a federally mandated overhaul of the local sewer system, the Democratic-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed to reach a resolution. Since the county put MSD projects on hold in protest of the city’s rules, $152 million worth of sewer projects and 649 potential jobs have been put on hold, according to data from Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the rules.
Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Chris Seelbach questioned whether recent personnel changes at City Hall violated the city charter. The concern is whether Mayor John Cranley pushed Interim City Manager Scott Stiles to move John Curp from his previous role as city solicitor to chief counsel of the city’s utilities. Sittenfeld and Seelbach noted the charter prevents the mayor and council members from interfering with personnel decisions. But Stiles declined to answer and sidestepped Seelbach and Sittenfeld’s questions.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Hindering Access to the Ballot.”
Cincy Bike Share still needs more funds to launch.Cincinnati has the most unhappy employees in the country, according to an analysis by CareerBliss.
Ohio Democrats and Republicans have begun a push for a May 6 ballot initiative that would expand state spending on road, bridge, water, sewer and other local public works projects.Micah Kamrass yesterday filed petition signatures with the Hamilton County Board of Elections, making him the likely Democratic candidate to replace State Rep. Connie Pillich, a Democrat, as she runs for state treasurer. Kamrass will likely face off against Republican Rick Bryan.
A condemned Ohio killer will be executed with a new, never-tried lethal injection method adopted after the state’s previous drug supplies dried up.Ohio high-school students could receive some school credit for off-campus religious education attended during regular school hours, thanks to a new bill passed by the Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives.
If damage related to potholes is $10,000 or less, drivers can file a complaint at the little-known Ohio Court of Claims and get their money back. In the past five years, reimbursements for more than 1,300 Ohioans cost the state nearly half a million dollars.
The secretary of state’s office announced early voting hours for the upcoming primary election here. If Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune decides to stay in the gubernatorial race and challenge Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the primary election would decide which Democrat will face off against Republican Gov. Kasich in November.Most Americans avoided vaccinations during the previous flu season — a trend experts attribute to increased complacency toward the virus.
University of Cincinnati researchers say they wants to dispel the belief that drones are only used to kill.
For example, a collapsible, camera-toting drone currently in development could be used just to spy on people.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
Hamilton County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution that seeks a compromise over Cincinnati's controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.
Both sides agree the issue must be resolved soon to avoid a costly legal battle and allow MSD to fully continue work on a federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system. But so far the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county have failed to reach an agreement.
"We really are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city," said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, who proposed the resolution commissioners approved Wednesday.
The county's proposal creates aspirational inclusion goals and funding for local job training programs for MSD and Greater Cincinnati Water Works. The county estimates the resolution will cost $550,000-$700,000 a year.
But it remains unclear if the county's measures will satisfy a majority of City Council, which as of December supported its own set of contracting rules.
The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.
With the county proposal approved, commissioners say it's up to the city to make the next move in the dispute.
The county's proposal:
The latest administrative shakeups at City Hall spurred
controversy after the city administration confirmed City Solicitor John
Curp will leave his current position and one of the new hires — Bill
Moller, a city retiree who will become assistant city manager — will be
able to “double dip” on his pension and salary ($147,000 a year). Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at today’s council meeting. The hiring decisions are up to Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles, but some council members say they should be more closely
informed and involved. (This paragraph was updated after council members called off the special session.)
Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was indicted on a ninth felony charge yesterday. The charge — for misusing her county credit card — comes on top of eight other felony counts for allegedly backdating court documents and stealing from office. In response to the first eight charges, the Ohio Supreme Court disqualified Hunter as she fights the accusations and replaced her with a formerly retired judge, who will be aided by the juvenile court’s permanent and visiting judges in addressing Hunter’s expansive backlog of cases.
A bipartisan proposal would allow Ohioans to recall any elected official in the state.Duke Energy cut a $400,000 check to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for redevelopment projects at Bond Hill, Roselawn and Queensgate.
Sixty-two people will be dropped from Hamilton County voter rolls because they didn’t respond to a letter from the board of elections challenging their voting addresses.
It’s official: Democrat Charlie Luken and Republican Ralph Winkler will face off for the Hamilton County Probate Court judgeship.
Facing state cuts to local funding, a Clermont County village annexed its way to higher revenues. But the village has drawn controversy for its tactics because it explicitly absorbed only public property, which isn’t protected from annexation under state law like private property is.
More Ohio inmates earned high school diplomas over the past three years, putting the state ahead of the national average in this area, according to a report from the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear says he supports legislative efforts to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years.
One Malaysian language describes odors as precisely as English describes colors.
Bill Moller is a city retiree who will be eligible to “double dip” into his pension and a city salary ($147,000 a year) when the city rehires him in February to fill an opening for assistant city manager, city spokesperson Meg Olberding confirmed in an email to CityBeat. Whether he does is entirely up to the interim city manager, Olberding wrote.
The possibility could draw criticism from city officials looking to balance Cincinnati’s structurally imbalanced operating budget. Last year, City Council drew opposition for its decision to hire Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick and allow him to double dip on his pension and a city salary.
Update: Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at Wednesday’s full council meeting, instead of a special session on Thursday as originally planned.
Moller will eventually replace Assistant City Manager David Holmes, who helped oversee efforts for The Banks and 2012 World Choir Games and filed to retire on April 1, Interim City Manager Scott Stiles wrote in a memo to City Council and the mayor.
“At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller has that experience,” Stiles wrote, noting Moller’s budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington.
City Solicitor John Curp will also leave his current position to instead act as chief counsel for the city’s two utilities, the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works.
“The utility has been undergoing a merger of back office functions to save ratepayers money, and also has been expanding services and service areas to decrease costs,” Stiles wrote. “John (Curp) has the private sector experience to assist the utilities with a market-oriented approach, and is uniquely positioned to understand both the particulars of MSD and GCWW as well as the areas in which they can expand.”
The move should save ratepayers money by allowing both utilities to rely on Curp instead of outside legal counsel when legal issues arise, according to Stiles.
Although widely praised by city officials, Curp’s move is unsurprising given the politics surrounding Mayor John Cranley’s election. Curp offered legal guidance for the parking privatization plan and streetcar project, both of which Cranley opposes.
Terrence Nestor, currently the city’s chief litigator, will replace Curp as city solicitor until a permanent appointment is made.
Stiles announced other changes as well:
• Markiea Carter, currently a development officer, will move to the city manager’s office to act as assistant to the city manager.
• Karen Alder, currently risk manager for the city, will begin assisting Finance Director Reginald Zeno as the city’s deputy finance director.
Stiles is currently filling as interim city manager while the city conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. Stiles could apply for the permanent role, but his application would need City Council support to win out over other potential candidates.
The city expects the city manager search to last through June, at which point further administrative changes could be expected if the city hires a new permanent city manager.
In the third month of open enrollment, Obamacare failed to hit key demographic targets for young adults in Ohio and across the nation. White House officials say about about 39 percent of those who sign up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run marketplaces must be young adults. The idea is to get enough young, healthy enrollees to hold down costs as an older, sicker population signs up for health insurance made more easily available through Obamacare’s systems and regulations. But in December, only 19 percent of signups in Ohio and 24 percent of signups nationwide were young adults.The Ohio Department of Education will recalculate report card data and investigate whether to punish staff after Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and six other Ohio school districts that scrubbed student attendance data. By manipulating the data, schools can appear to be performing better, but the actions obviously jeopardize the authenticity of Ohio’s school accountability system. CPS says its internal investigations found no evidence of deliberate manipulation and the data errors shouldn’t be enough to alter the school’s standing in state report cards. For CPS and the six other school districts, the issues began after the state auditor in 2012 launched an investigation into school data scrubbing.
To avoid contamination from a W. Va. chemical spill, Cincinnati Water Works will shut down its water intake system along the Ohio River and instead rely on the water intake system at the groundwater treatment facility in Fairfield. Mayor John Cranley said the shutdown will last two days, or more than twice the roughly 20 hours required for the chemical slick to pass by. Consumers shouldn’t notice a difference, according to Water Works officials.In the coming weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard will decide whether to allow fracking wastewater to travel along the Ohio River and other federal waterways and how strictly regulated the shipments should be. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves, but the process produces a lot of wastewater as a result. CityBeat previously covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.
With legislation repealing Ohio’s energy rules now stalled, Champaign County residents are challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s in-state renewable energy requirements in court. Supporters of the law claim the rules help foster a green energy sector in the state, while opponents argue the rules increase costs for businesses and consumers. CityBeat previously covered State Sen. Bill Seitz’s legislative attempts to repeal the rules here.
Another tea party-backed candidate might challenge Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primary. The reveal comes just days after a tea party leader abruptly dropped his challenge against the incumbent governor.
If state legislators approve, Gov. Kasich will hold his state of the state address this year at Medina, Ohio, on Feb. 24.Three judges will cover for Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter while she fights felony charges in court.
State Rep. Pete Beck of Mason, who was indicted on 16 felony counts for alleged fraud and theft, is facing a primary challenger.Cincinnati repaved 130 lane miles of road in 2013, according to city officials.
Duke Energy cut a check for the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today to help redevelop Bond Hill and Queensgate.A blind student is suing Miami University for alleged discrimination that prevented her from completing coursework.
One vote made the difference in 43 of Ohio’s 2013 elections, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.Ky. developers are still pursuing the Noah’s Ark theme park, despite troubles raising funds for the project.
Today is the last day to vote for the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.
An infection can turn swarming locusts into solitary grasshoppers, a study found.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
Prior to the launch of HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration said it needs to enroll about 2.7 million young adults out of 7 million projected enrollees — nearly 39 percent of all signups — for the law to succeed.
The reasoning: Because young adults tend to be healthier,
they can keep premiums down as sicker, older people claim health
insurance after the law opens up the health insurance market to more Americans.
But the numbers released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Monday — the first time the agency provided demographic information — show the law missing the target both nationally and in Ohio.
Roughly 19 percent of nearly 40,000 Ohioans who signed up for Obamacare were young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, according to the report. Not only does that fall below the 39 percent goal, but it also lags behind the national average of 24 percent.
In defense of the demographic numbers, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post Monday that enrollments are demographically on pace with the 2007 experience of Massachusett, where state officials implemented health care reforms and systems similar to Obamacare through Romneycare.
Indeed, a report from The New Republic found just
22.6 percent of enrollees through the third month of Romneycare were young adults. That number rose to 31.7
percent by the end of the law’s first year.
If Obamacare ends up at Massachusetts’ year-end rate, it will still fall behind goals established by the White House. Still, Obamacare would be in a considerably better place than it finds itself today.
The disappointing demographic figure comes after months of technical issues snared HealthCare.gov’s launch. Most of the issues were fixed in December, which allowed Obamacare to report considerably better enrollment numbers by the end of the year.
But the enrollment numbers — nearly 2.2 million selected a plan between Oct. 1 to Dec. 28 — still fall below the administration’s projections to enroll 3.3 million by the end of December.
It’s also unclear how many of those signing up for Obamacare actually paid for their first premium, which is the final step to becoming enrolled in a health insurance plan.
Given how Romneycare worked out in Massachusetts, it’s possible signups for Obamacare could pick up before open enrollment closes at the end of March. Based on previous statements from the White House, Obamacare’s success could depend on it.
Ohio officials will appeal a court ruling that blocked tougher requirements on minor political parties and allows them to run in the 2014 primary and general elections under previous rules. The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich approved the stricter rules last year. Democrats and Libertarians argued the new law, which they labeled the John Kasich Re-election Protection Act, was put in place to protect Kasich from conservative electoral challengers upset with his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion.
The Ohio Supreme Court disqualified Hamilton County Juvenile Judge Tracie Hunter Friday after she was indicted on eight felony charges for, among other accusations, backdating and forging court documents. The disqualification could further burden a court that’s already known for a large backlog of cases. It remains unclear how long Hunter’s case and disqualification will last and whether she’ll be replaced while the legal battle unfolds.
Many streetcar supporters oppose the Oasis rail line and the rest of the Eastern Corridor project. Critics of the project point to a recent study that found the Oasis line would generate low economic development in seven of 10 planned stations. Instead of supporting the Oasis line, Cincinnatians for Progress says local officials should work to first establish a transit line — perhaps through a piece-by-piece approach of the defunct MetroMoves plan that voters rejected in 2002 — that could act as a central spine for a broader light rail network. Opposition to the Oasis line is also rooted in a general movement against the Eastern Corridor project, which some say would expand and rework roads and highways in a way that could damage and divide the East Side and eastern Hamilton County. Officials are taking feedback for the Eastern Corridor and Oasis rail line at EasternCorridor.org.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who might challenge Democratic gubernatorial Ed FitzGerald in the May primary, discussed the gubernatorial race in a nearly 40-minute interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board Friday. View the full interview here.The U.S. Supreme Court will hear whether groups have the right to sue in a local case that could have broader implications for free-speech rights and limitations. The legal fight between former Rep. Steve Driehaus and the Susan B. Anthony List could resolve whether political campaigns have the right to lie.
As local and state officials work to address the opiate epidemic, a drug history scholar from the University of Cincinnati proposes alternatives to the failing war on drugs.One drug helps prevent opiate addicts from getting high.
The Ohio Department of Health says flu activity in Ohio is now widespread.Ohio’s chief justice says it’s time to reform how judges are elected. It remains unclear exactly how Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor would reform the system, but she says she wants to uphold courts’ attempts at impartiality.
Reminder: January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Find out more at HumanTrafficking.Ohio.gov.Ohio gas prices increased in time for the new workweek.
Racism could accelerate aging among black men, according to a new study.
Rises in heroin and prescription
painkiller abuse have languished lawmakers in Ohio and across the
country in the past year, with some calling it an epidemic and others blaming it for an increase in crimes and deaths.
The issue has taken particular root in Ohio, where lawmakers have joined a chorus of advocates to prevent more drug abuse. On Thursday, Gov. John Kasich announced an initiative that encourages parents and schools to talk with their children about the dangers of drug abuse. In the Ohio legislature, lawmakers are hashing out harsher penalties and regulations in an attempt to prevent prescription painkiller and heroin abuse.
But many of these ideas, while genuine in their effort to address the problem, fall under the same framework of the war on drugs, a policy that has largely failed in reducing the demand or supply of illicit drugs over the past few decades.
Isaac Campos, a drug history professor at the University of Cincinnati and author of Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs, is highly critical of the war on drugs. He talked to CityBeat over the phone Friday. The interview, below, is edited for length and clarity.
CityBeat: What do you make of the ongoing discussion about an opiate epidemic?
Isaac Campos: From what I’ve read, there’s been a big increase in overdoses throughout the Midwest. The most interesting and plausible thing is that the Mexican distributors started distributing much higher-potency heroin as the crackdowns of cocaine and other things have had some effect. They moved into the heroin business and started distributing higher potency of heroin, which allows the people along the supply chain to make higher profits by cutting the heroin so they can get a lot more bang for their buck, basically. It also means users can get heroin for much cheaper than OxyContin or whatever they normally use. That’s No. 1.
No. 2 is they can not only get it cheaper, but it tends to be much higher potency than what they got before and maybe what they’re used to. That’s the No. 1 cause of heroin doses: the lack of knowledge about the potency of the particular drug that somebody’s taking. So if the potencies are substantially higher, you’re very likely to get tons of overdoses.
CB: The governor unveiled an initiative essentially asking parents and schools to more openly discuss drug use with students. And then the state legislature is considering strengthening rules on prescription painkillers. Based on what you know, do these kind of solutions work?
IC: The thing about it is clearly the problem is a mini-balloon effect that always happens. In this case, you put pressure on prescription opiates, and that has led to being harder to get them. They’ve also changed the formula to make OxyContin less pleasurable for users. And so they made it less desirable to take the stuff that people were taking before, so what people have done is started taking something else.
They’ve also made it more difficult for the drug distributors to make a profit with what they were distributing before, so they’ve changed to something else.
I think the idea that students don’t know that heroin is dangerous is utterly preposterous. … I suppose it’s a good thing to tell students — if they are actually going to tell them the truth — that these potencies are unpredictable and could kill them. But I imagine they might not tell them that; they might just tell them, “Heroin is dangerous for you.” You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that.
CB: As you alluded to, one study found cracking down on prescription painkillers might push people to use heroin. We’ve talked about the hydra effect before, in which one drug or dealer inevitably replaces a suppressed drug or dealer. Do you think this situation shows the same cause-and-effect?IC: Absolutely. The hydra effect is usually used in respect to dealers, but we’ve seen this before back in the 1930s. A lot of people were smoking opium. It was the fashionable thing to do — and smoking opium really isn’t that bad for you — but there was a crackdown on that.
Also, when the Italian mafia took over the business, they
decided to make it more profitable and squeeze out the smoking opium.
So all these smoking opium users switched to morphine or heroin, which are more dangerous and harder to predict. So you end up getting more deaths because the really dangerous thing about heroin is you just don’t know what the dosage is.
CB: Based on your research, what kind of solutions do you think would work? I know before we talked about Switzerland and the success they’ve had there with a maintenance-dose program.IC: I always thought the much smarter course of action is to allow opiate addicts to have safe doses of opiates while trying to get them help to stop using opiates if that’s what they want to do. Most of these addicts I’m sure would love to stop using at one point, but maybe they’re not ready yet. But they would be much better off knowing what they’re taking while they’re not ready yet than overdosing on the street and buying from black-market dealers.
CB: Another aspect is how rarely officials go after the root of drug habits. It’s mostly more penalties, criminalization, imprisonment and attempts to cut supply. But there are huge socioeconomic problems surrounding drug use. What do you think they could be doing better in this regard?
IC: One of the big problems is people don’t realize drug problems are complex, so addiction is not simply a biological issue. The disease model does not explain what addiction really is. Addiction is a social, cultural and psychological problem; it’s not simply a disease of the brain.
I think that’s a big problem because that suggests the root of the problem is these drugs that hijack your brain, as some like to say, when really the problem is a much broader one that involves what’s going on in your life when you become a drug addict.
Of course, that’s way too complicated for politicians to utter. …
But addiction problems are real problems. People really do become addicted to drugs and it ends up being bad for their lives. But most of the bad things that happen to them are because the drugs are illegal. …
We can’t really expect the government to figure out all these issues. But we could hope that the government would have a more rational policy, like, for example, what’s going on in Colorado and Washington, where they’re dealing with marijuana in a more rational way.
CB: Switching subjects a bit, in the past year, Cincinnati saw a rise in local homicides and gun violence. Police say gang-related activity and drug trafficking is to blame. We’ve talked about this before, but do you think decriminalization or legalization could help put an end to this kind of violence?
IC: Oh, yeah. I don’t know what percent of shootings and that sort of thing in Cincinnati are related to drugs, but they’re related to illicit drugs, not people taking drugs.
Changing policy would have a big impact. You wouldn’t have these people fighting out this black-market turf over these drugs that are incredibly profitable because they’re illegal.
It would also have a huge effect in not sending so many people to prison, which are essentially schools of crime that totally screw people up psychologically and are places where you’re breeding more violence.
CB: Do you think that creates a vicious cycle in which people are moving in and out of prisons?
IC: Absolutely. And not only the people who are actually going in and out of prison, but all the kids of the parents who are in prison who are growing out without their parents. I think it has a massive effect. There’s so many pernicious effects to this policy. It’s incredible.
CB: Last time you and I talked about this, I mentioned that some war on drug supporters say gangs would just resort to selling other contraband if drugs were legalized. But you said, “How much easier is it to move two kilos of cocaine, which are worth $50,000 or so, across the U.S. border than it is to move $50,000 worth of assault rifles?” That stuck with me. Could you elaborate on that?
IC: There’s no doubt that even if we legalized all drugs tomorrow, you’d still have these big criminal organizations that have been making a lot of money off them. But over the long-term — or medium- or short-term, even — they’d start feeling a really strong pinch from losing all this drug revenue. They’ll still try to make money, but they’re not going to sustain their operations without the incredible revenue stream that they’re getting from drugs. Ultimately, all those organization will be weakened.
I mean, they’re so strong today because they can afford to arm themselves like an army and they can afford the kind of technology to thwart the high technology being directed at them. …
Right now, they’re legitimate security threats to states. But they would never be that on just arms running, prostitution or that sort of thing.