Background: Both early life stress (ELS) and substance abuse, especially cocaine, have robust effects on the inflammatory system. Considering the role of the tumor necrosis factor system in inflammatory signaling and its association with ELS, the aim of the study was to compare plasma levels of TNF-alpha, its soluble receptors and ligands during early abstinence of crack cocaine.
Methods: This study included 24 crack cocaine-dependent women with (CRACK-ELS) and 20 without (CRACK) a history of ELS. A healthy control group (HC), containing 25 participants, was included to provide reference values. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) retrospectively assessed childhood maltreatment history of patients. Plasma levels of TNF-alpha, TNF-related weak inducer of apoptosis (TWEAK), TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), soluble receptors TNFRI (sTNFRI) and TNFRII (sTNFRII) were assessed on the 18th day of treatment.
Results: The CRACK-ELS group had higher TNF-alpha and lower TWEAK levels compared to the CRACK and HC groups. sTNFRII was increased, but only in comparison with the crack cocaine group and the controls. TRAIL levels were slightly higher in the CRACK-ELS group, while no differences were found for sTNFRI levels. Also, TNF-alpha plasma level was positively predicted by abstinence severity and childhood maltreatment severity, and TWEAK was negatively predicted by childhood maltreatment severity.
Conclusions: This is the first study to evaluate the newly secreted tumor necrosis factor superfamily ligands, TWEAK and TRAIL, during crack cocaine abstinence, supporting the association between early life stress and peripheral pro-inflammatory levels.
Jones, who will turn 48 next week, is one of tens of thousands of inmates who received harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses during the crack-cocaine epidemic, and whose cases are drawing new attention.
Jones almost certainly would not receive such a sentence today. Federal sentencing guidelines in similar drug cases have changed, in particular to end disparities in how the courts treat crack cocaine vs. powder cocaine. And, following a 2005 Supreme Court decision, judges have much greater discretion when they mete out punishment. In the past decade, they gave lower sentences by an average of one-third the guideline range, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Two years later, Jones and several others were indicted by a federal grand jury. Jones was charged with six counts of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and aiding and abetting, and one count of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William C. McMurrey argued to the jury that Jones was involved in selling crack in Terrell, along with her brother, sister and mother. Investigators pressed Jones to implicate her business partner, the Dallas police officer, saying it could help reduce her sentence. The officer testified and said she was not involved. And Jones also said the officer had nothing to do with drugs. The officer, who is still with the department, declined to be interviewed.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case involving sentencing disparities between people found guilty of possessing crack cocaine and those possessing powdered forms, and whether recent changes in federal law should apply retroactively to those given long prison terms for small amounts of crack.
The case stems from changes to the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which put in place sentences for crack cocaine possession that were 100 times more severe than those for the powered form of the drug. The disparity was seen by many as racially motivated, as those sentenced for crack possession were proportionally more likely to be Black.
But Congress left out sentences for low levels of crack from the retroactive provision, and justices across the ideological spectrum indicated Tuesday they were skeptical that the court could change that.
"I think they were much too high," said Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the court's more liberal members, of the tough sentences for crack cocaine possession. "I understand that, but I can't get away from this statute."
The plaintiff in the case, Tarahrick Terry, a Black man from Florida, was sentenced in 2008 to 15 1/2 years in prison for possession of less than 4 grams of crack, about $50 worth, his attorney estimated. His sentence is scheduled to end in September.
Pursuant to the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Congress established basic sentencing levels for crack cocaine offenses. Congress amended 21 U.S.C. § 841 to provide for a 100:1 ratio in the quantities of powder cocaine and crack cocaine that trigger a mandatory minimum penalty. As amended, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A) required a mandatory minimum 10-year term of imprisonment and a maximum life term of imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving 5 kilograms of cocaine or 50 grams of cocaine base. In addition, 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B) established a mandatory 5-year term of imprisonment for offenses involving 500 grams of cocaine or 5 grams of cocaine base. 21 U.S.C. § 844(a) called for a 5-year mandatory minimum punishment for simple possession of crack cocaine. Although the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 revises these penalties (as discussed below), there still remains a disparity in the threshold amount of powder cocaine and crack cocaine that triggers the mandatory minimums in 21 U.S.C. § 841.
Federal sentencing guidelines (the Guidelines) established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission reflect the statutory differential treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenders. Until 2005, the Guidelines were binding on federal courts: the judge had discretion to sentence a defendant, but only within the narrow sentencing range that the Guidelines provided. In its 2005 opinion United States v. Booker, the Supreme Court declared that the Guidelines must be considered advisory rather than mandatory, in order to comply with the Constitution. Instead of being bound by the Guidelines, sentencing courts must treat the federal guidelines as just one of a number of sentencing factors (which include the need to avoid undue sentencing disparity).
In the aftermath of Booker, some judges, who did not believe that crack cocaine is 100 times worse than powder cocaine, imposed lower sentences on crack cocaine offenders than the ones recommended by the Guidelines. In 2007, the Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. United States upheld this practice, ruling that a court may impose a below-the-Guidelines sentence based on its conclusion that the 100:1 ratio is greater than necessary or may foster unwarranted disparity.
The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (S. 1789) changes the statutory 100:1 ratio in crack/powder cocaine quantities that trigger the mandatory minimum penalties under 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1). President Obama signed the bill into law on August 3, 2010 (P.L. 111-220). S. 1789 reduces the statutory 100:1 ratio to 18:1, by increasing the threshold amount of crack cocaine to 28 grams (for the 5-year sentence) and 280 grams (for the 10-year sentence). S. 1789 also eliminates the 5-year mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. Other bills introduced in the 111th Congress would completely eliminate the statutory disparity in cocaine sentencing, including H.R. 18, H.R. 265, H.R. 1459, H.R. 2178, and H.R. 3245. Another bill, H.R. 1466, would repeal all statutory mandatory minimums for drug offenses.
Also in 2007, the Sentencing Commission revised the Guidelines by lowering the base offense level for crack cocaine offenses by two levels, thereby eliminating the 100:1 ratio for future sentencing guideline purposes (except at the point at which the statutory mandatory minimums are triggered). In addition, the Sentencing Commission decided to make these amendments retroactively applicable, thus allowing eligible crack cocaine offenders who were sentenced prior to November 1, 2007, to petition a federal judge to reduce their sentences. On June 17, 2010, the Supreme Court decided Dillon v. United States, in which it held that Booker does not apply in a sentence modification proceeding that is based on the retroactive crack cocaine amendment to the Guidelines; thus, district courts do not have the authority to further reduce a crack cocaine offender's sentence in such proceedings below the retroactive, amended Guidelines range. 2b1af7f3a8