- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2005

The Department of Health and Human Services is one of the “primary sponsors” for an upcoming Salt Lake City conference on methamphetamines whose organizers back the “harm reduction” approach to drug policy, which Republicans see as form of legalization.

Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, said in an angry letter sent Friday to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael O. Leavitt that the conference’s approach to end the nation’s “war on drugs” in favor of programs that try to limit drugs’ harmful effects undercuts federal policy.

“That administration officials from your department are consulting with harm reduction advocates … and sponsoring conferences controlled by the harm reduction network completely undermines the work of the President, the Congress and the men and women who work in law enforcement across the nation who are trying desperately to fight the meth epidemic,” wrote Mr. Souder, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources.

Mr. Souder asked Mr. Leavitt to respond to him by this afternoon with an explanation about why HHS is involved with the conference and the names and contact information of HHS staff members who plan to attend.

A phone call to HHS was not returned yesterday.

Luciano Colonna, executive director of the Harm Reduction Project and conference organizer, said HHS was listed as a primary sponsor of the conference because it gave $3,000 in travel scholarships to participants.

Other government agencies funding the conference include the Utah Department of Health, the Utah State Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, and the California Department of Health Services.

Mr. Colonna said his conference will explore the methamphetamine issue and how it is playing a role in the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

The conference was praised in March by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and in May by Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah Democrat.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance and a conference speaker, said “harm reduction” is a proven approach used in other countries.

Mr. Souder and others, however, see “harm reduction” as a cover for those who want to legalize drugs.

The Drug Policy Alliance is funded by billionaire George Soros, who supports drug legalization. Mr. Nadelmann has appeared on PBS “Firing Line” debates supporting the legalization of at least some drugs.

Shepherd Smith, president of the Institute for Youth Development in Washington, said even the titles of the conference sessions show they aren’t connected to healthy anti-drug policies.

As examples, he pointed to “We Don’t Need a ‘War’ on Methamphetamine,” “You Don’t Have To Be Clean & Sober. Or Even Want To Be” and “Without Condoms” on the “harm reduction” approach to unprotected homosexual sex.

Such sessions “really lead kids into harm and not away from it,” Mr. Smith said.

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