Losing the War on Drugs

Back in November, Rolling Stone ran a great story, “How America Lost the War on Drugs.”  I printed it out (it's pretty long), and just got around to finishing it.  A truly fascinating read, especially as I had enjoyed reading Mark Bowden's Killing Pablo, about Pablo Escobar's rise and fall, several years ago (special thanks to my friend Jeff P for getting me an autographed copy).  Anyway, I won't say too much about the story, other than to strongly suggest you read it, but I will mention a couple of points…
1) Just in case you were under any illusions we were winning, or even at a draw, in the “War on Drugs,” we're not.
2) Really interesting story about how we probably had the ability quash the spread of meth before it really got going, but pharmaceutical companies lobbied hard to prevent more restrictions on the availability of pseudoephedrine. 
3) Due to a number of studies, we have a pretty good idea of what works and what does not work in the war on drugs.  I'm sure you will be shocked (shocked!!) to realize that George W. Bush's administration does a lot more of what doesn't work and less of what does. 

Well, no sooner do I post this than I come across Jack Shafer's “Stupidest Drug Story of the Week” in Slate.  Apparently, the Drug Czar has decided to make a big deal out of ecstasy being laced with meth, yet it turns out that this has been the situation for years and is actually nothing new.  From the article:

The New York Times' Jan. 9
story about the alleged avalanche of methamphetamine-laced MDMA
(ecstasy) cascading down on the United States from Canada?”Rise Seen in
Trafficking of Enhanced Ecstasy”?harmonizes, almost bar for bar, with
the Jan. 3 press release from the office of White House “drug czar” John Walters.

The “drug czar's” press release attempts to foist as news the frequent adulteration of MDMA with other drugs, and the Times
article helps advance that notion. The “drug czar” would have you
believe that the MDMA-meth recipe is something new. Again, the Times lines up the official sources to make it appear so…

The only significant deviation comes when the Times declines
to confirm the catastrophic public health threat that the “drug czar”
posits. Sheepishly?if a news story can be sheepish?the paper reports
that the MDMA-meth cocktail “has not been the source of emergency room
admissions, overdoses or new clients in substance-abuse programs,
according to experts on both the law enforcement and the treatment
side.”…

Because Canadian authorities and journalists know all about ecstasy
adulteration, they were perplexed by the urgency of “drug czar”
Walters' media event. The Jan. 4, 2008, National Post reported:

Yesterday's
release of the alert by the top American anti-drug official took a
senior RCMP drug officer by surprise but he does not dispute the
message.

“He is not wrong. But this is nothing new. We've been
telling them this for years,” said Superintendent Ron Allen, head of
the RCMP's Drug Section for the Greater Toronto Area.

Furthermore, it turns out that the amount of meth is really not that significant:

the “median amount of meth in the [ecstasy] tablets was eight
milligrams, with 16 mg the high and four mg the low.” How powerful is
16 mg? Consider prescription methamphetamine, which is used to treat obesity and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity in children. The manufacturer's recommendations (PDF) state that children 6 and older take no more than 20 to 25 mg of the drug daily.

Obviously, putting meth and MDMA together creates an
additive, and potentially adverse, effect. I intend no endorsement of
ecstasy tablets by pointing out how little meth often appears in them,
but there you are. But at least I'm giving it to you straight,
something the Chicken Little “drug czar” and the Times didn't do for you this week.

Just a little bit of pointless scaremongering in the War on Drugs. 

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