#197 LA Times: Is Prohibition Or Reform Better For Kids?

Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2001
Subject: # 197 LA Times: Is Prohibition Or Reform Better For Kids?

LA Times: Is Prohibition Or Reform Better For Kids?


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #197 Wednesday February 7, 2001

DrugSense, Mike Gray and The Lindesmith Center were mentioned in the
LA Times this week. Unfortunately, the author of the oped piece in
question didn’t have much good to say about drug policy reform advocates.

Mike Males’ writing (below) is based on a sound premise, that reducing
and preventing youth drug use is not currently the most crucial aspect
of drug policy, since many more adults than young people use illegal
drugs. He correctly states that current policies scapegoat young
people. Unfortunately, Males goes on to attack drug reform advocates
DrugSense and author Mike Gray for claiming that reforming drug policy
is a better way to keep kids from being harmed by drugs.

Please send a letter the Times to say that it is the drug war that is
causing most drug-related harm, including harm to young people,
however limited that may be. While reform may not make youth drug use
disappear, it is a more rational and humane way to deal with all drug


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is one important way we have of gauging
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Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Contact: letters@latimes.com



US CA: OPED: Fighting A War Armed With Baby-Boomer Myths
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v01/n213/a06.html
Pubdate: Sun, 04 Feb 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Contact: letters@latimes.com
Address: Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-7679
Feedback: http://www.latimes.com/siteservices/talk_contacts.htm
Website: http://www.latimes.com/
Forum: http://www.latimes.com/discuss/
Author: Mike Males
Note: Mike Males, Justice Policy Institute Senior Researcher and UC Santa
Cruz Sociology Instructor, Is the Author of “Kids and Guns: How
Politicians, Experts, and the Press Fabricate Fear of Youth.”
Cited: DrugSense Weekly http://www.drugsense.org/current.htm
Drug Crazy http://www.drugsense.org/crazy.htm
TLC-DPF http://www.drugpolicy.org/


SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. — Remarks by retiring drug czar Barry McCaffrey
and accolades for the Steven Soderbergh film “Traffic” by drug-policy
reform groups frame a vigorous drug-war debate–circa 1970. Thirty
years ago, McCaffrey’s goal to save our children from their own drug
use might have been relevant.

So, too, “Traffic” ‘s scenes of the daughter of the film’s drug czar
sampling heroin in response to the hypocrisies of liquor-swilling and
pill-popping grown-ups.

But these vintage baby-boom notions have little to do with today’s
drug realities.

On one side, the rhetorical distortions and misdirected policies of
the Office of National Drug Control Policy squandered billions of
dollars and locked up millions of drug users — and the United States
is enduring the worst drug-abuse crisis in its history.

As McCaffrey leaves office, the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network
reports that drug abuse soared to record peaks in 1999: An estimated
555,000 Americans were treated in hospitals for drug-related visits;
at least 11,600 died from overdoses. On the other side, reformers
seeking to decriminalize marijuana and relax drug policies perpetrate
so many drug-war myths that they reinforce hard-line attitudes even as
they win minor improvements.

The chief drug-war myth is the “demographic scapegoat.” Wars against
drugs ( including Prohibition ) always seek to link feared drugs to
feared populations: the Chinese and opium; Mexicans and marijuana;
black musicians and cocaine; and Catholic immigrants and alcohol.

Today’s war on drugs sustains itself by depicting white suburban
teenagers menaced by inner-city youths’ habits.

No matter who peddles it, this image is unreal.

In truth, the drug-abuse crisis chiefly concerns aging baby boomers,
mostly whites.

A high schooler is five times more likely to have heroin-, cocaine-or
methamphetamine-addicted parents than the other way around; far more
senior citizens than teenagers die from illegal drugs.

Accordingly, a “war on drugs” that truly cared about protecting
children would make treating parents’ addictions its top priority.

The “teenage heroin resurgence” repeatedly trumpeted in headlines and
drug-war alarms is fabricated; it shows up nowhere in death, hospital,
treatment or survey records.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network’s most recent hospital survey reports
84,500 treatments for heroin abuse nationwide in 1999; just 700 of
these were for adolescents. Of 4,800 Americans who died from heroin
abuse, only 33 were under 18 years old. Press panics over supposed
teenage heroin outbreaks in Portland and Seattle last summer collapsed
when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the
average overdoser was 40 years old.

Teenage “heroin epidemics” breathlessly clarioned in some California
cities are refuted by hospital records that show just nine of San
Francisco’s 3,100 emergency treatments for heroin overdoses in 1999
were teenagers, as were 17 of San Diego’s 1,100 and two of Los
Angeles’s 2,950. Why aren’t there more teen heroin casualties? Few use
it. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, released in September
2000, showed that .2% of 12- to 17-year-olds had used heroin at any
time in the previous year. Nor are the few heroin initiators getting
younger ( most remain over 21 ).

There are preppie kids who smoke heroin, as “Traffic” depicts, but
their numbers pale beside the tens of thousands of baby boomers whose
addictions are rooted in the Vietnam era. Four-fifths of California’s
heroin decedents over the age of 30, and three-fourths of them are
white, a quintessentially mainstream demographic neither drug warrior
nor drug reformer wishes to target.

Thus, policy debate and cinematic representations promote a
comfortable myth: Baby-boom drug days are behind us.

Similarly, drug-reform publications such as DrugSense Weekly allege an
“increase in heroin use among our youth” to indict the drug war. Mike
Gray, author of “Drug Crazy,” and other reformers claim
decriminalizing and regulating marijuana for adults would make it
harder for teenagers to get. Ridiculous. The 1999 National Household
Survey on Drug Abuse reports 12- to 17-year-olds use legal,
adult-regulated cigarettes and alcohol 100 times more than they use
heroin; two to three times more teens drink or smoke than use the most
popular illicit, marijuana.

Teenagers can get alcohol and drugs whenever they want them, yet
suffer very low casualties. Drug reformers’ own research gospel, the
Lindesmith Center’s exhaustive “Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts,”
finds no scientific reason why teenagers should be banned from using
marijuana that would not also apply to adults.

In short, teenagers are not the issue.

Drug policy will change only when compelling new information is
introduced. That means discarding first-wave baby-boomer drug images
and moving toward second-generation realities.

Throughout the Western world, young people are reacting against their
parents’ hard-drug abuse by patronizing softer drugs such as beer and

It’s understandable that baby boomers would indulge moral panic over
any drug use by kids while denying their own middle-aged drug woes,
but these illusions should not govern 2000-era drug policy.

The Netherlands’ 1976 Dutch Opium Act reforms recognized that modern
soft-drug use by young people is separate from the midlife hard-drug
crisis. Dutch studies showed that marijuana and hashish use was
unrelated to hard-drug abuse, except among a small fraction already
inclined to addiction. These conclusions were confirmed by the
National Household Survey on Drug Abuse analysts and long-term studies
by University of California researchers. True, most drug abusers first
tried drugs in their youth, as did most non-abusers. But 90% of the
160 million American adults who used marijuana or alcohol during
adolescence did not find them “gateways” to later addiction.

The Netherlands’ reforms stressing public-health strategies to contain
hard-drug abuse, coupled with tolerance for marijuana use by adults
and teenagers, has produced a spectacular benefit: a 65% decline in
heroin deaths since 1980 ( while U.S. heroin death rates doubled ).

Whether or not Dutch-style reforms are feasible here, the U.S. will
not reduce its worst-ever drug-abuse crisis until politicians
radically revamp the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the
facile demographic scapegoating of young people.

Yet, because drug reformers, copying drug-war hard-liners,
increasingly promote their agendas by exploiting youth as
fear-invoking symbols in today’s anachronistic “debate,” genuine
reform seems remote.


To the editor

Mike Males raises some interesting points (“Fighting a War Armed With
Baby-Boomer Myths” Feb 4, 2001) then misses the target. The war on
drugs is about symbolism, not logic. True, it has been fueled from its
inception by the scapegoating of minorities, but it has always used
“saving our children” as the moral engine.

The drug warriors tell us that prohibition reduces availability and
that an alternative regulatory model of government control and
taxation would cause availability to skyrocket. Males seems to go
along with this even though there is a mountain of evidence to the

We’re now in the midst of the most costly prohibition campaign in
history, yet eight out of ten high school seniors consistently say
they find marijuana “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get – – in fact,
easier to get than alcohol – – which is not surprising since the sale
of alcohol is controlled by the state and the sale of marijuana is
controlled by nobody.

On the other hand there is plenty of evidence that regulation and
taxation might help. When the Netherlands decriminalized adult use of
marijuana in 1976, the prohibitionists warned of disaster but twenty
years later use of the drug among Dutch teenagers and adults is half
that of the United States.

Regulation of the drug trade will not end drug abuse any more than
regulation of alcohol ended alcoholism. But it will clear the decks of
the wreckage of prohibition and let us focus on alcoholics and addicts
as human beings with a medical problem instead of fodder for the
prison-industrial complex.

Mike Gray, author, “Drug Crazy”

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