Pubdate: Sun, 24 Mar 2002
Source: Spokesman-Review (WA)
Copyright: 2002 The Spokesman-Review
Author: Chuck Armsbury


Does The Inland Northwest Meth Problem Concern You? Here's One 
Solution Many People Probably Haven't Considered Before

The so-called meth epidemic in the Inland Northwest has ignited fears 
of backyard explosions and poor, white people with rotten teeth and 
bad attitudes doing dangerous actions. Seldom does a day go by 
without hearing of another meth bust. Heavily armed soldiers smashing 
through front doors dominate media images.

But I wonder: Is this a war on drugs or a war on people?

More people are coming to the conclusion that prohibition laws and 
zero-tolerance thinking, translated into laws, have driven controlled 
substance manufacture out of the pharmaceutical industry, where it 
was once done competently, and into the hands of bootleggers. 
Remember those jumpin' '50s,'60s and '70s? Amphetamines were the 
nation's diet pills. More plentiful than McDonald's hamburgers, they 
had mainstream public acceptance. Using amphetamines to control a 
super-sized appetite was socially acceptable. To use "speed" as a 
psychological stimulant, or "uppers," was reserved for truckers, then 
bikers, and viewed as serious abuse.

While housewives buzzed around, following any fad diet in 1971, 
Congress, worried only about bikers, considered moving amphetamines 
and methamphetamine to a more restrictive Schedule II. With profits 
on prescriptions sure to plummet, the pharmaceutical industry pointed 
to President John Kennedy's use of uppers in office, especially on 
the grueling occasion of the Khruschev summit. If Kennedy was on 
speed while conducting sensitive global negotiations, what complaint 
could government have about responsible use of amphetamines by 
ordinary people?

Amphetamines were put on the less restrictive schedule, but didn't 
stay there long. Through the '80s unto this day the most popular 
"upper" is RitalinTM, a drug permitted for children who must make 
sensitive school negotiations, and so teachers dispense it to more 
and more children every year. It's a performance-enhancing drug, 
increasing children's ability to focus.

Uppers have been around since 1908 when a group of chemical compounds 
were discovered to have dramatic effects on human behavior. Ninety 
years later, the illegal form of the old drug -- and similar to 
problems with bathtub gin and moonshine -- produces overdoses and 
explosions. Many drug reformers consider this a consequence of 

Many of us can remember how bennies -- the pill-form of amphetamine 
- -- disappeared from the market and were quickly replaced with powders 
of dubious pedigree. Called crank, crystal, and now meth, there is no 
potency or dosage control -- critical factors that were previously 
handled invisibly for consumers by trained, regulated chemists in the 
pharmaceutical industry.

Rotting teeth is an indicator of serious physical damage, and 
clandestine meth-lab chemists perform the most dangerous form of 
chemistry, sometimes resulting in a shotgun reaction. There's a lot 
of amateur chemistry being passed around in this unregulated 
atmosphere, and it's deadly.

Raw chemicals mixed in bathtubs are generally bad news, and a Pew 
Research Poll found three out of four U.S. citizens concluding that 
the war on drugs has failed. In a recent poll conducted by the ACLU, 
75 percent of the population was dissatisfied with the entire 
criminal justice system.

So what is to be done that's better than battering in trailer houses 
and shanty doors of the poor and addicted?

Treatment works.

A 1994 study by the RAND Corp. found that treatment is 10 times more 
cost effective than interdiction in reducing the use of cocaine in 
the United States. The government-ordered study also found that every 
additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment saves 
taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs.

While politicians remain uncritically concerned with increasing 
police departments' budgets to fight meth, voters should know that 
the RAND study also found that additional domestic law enforcement 
efforts cost 15 times as much as treatment to achieve the same 
reduction in societal costs of drug abuse and addiction.

Comparing cost of treatment to cost of incarcerating addicts, 
treatment is fiscally responsible and avoids the harms experienced by 
people sent to prison for drug law violations. In one of many studies 
scrutinizing government policies, the 1997 National Treatment 
Improvement Evaluation Study found that with treatment drug selling 
decreased by 78 percent, shoplifting declined by almost 82 percent 
and assaults declined by 78 percent.

Furthermore, there was a 64 percent decrease in arrests for any 
crime, and the percentage of people who largely supported themselves 
through illegal activity dropped by nearly half, decreasing more than 
48 percent.

A healthy economy works, too. Drug abuse and addiction follow the 
same curve as a community's unemployment rate. Scotland officials 
have recently begun a national discussion, claiming that 
zero-tolerance drug war programs are damaging public health.

International support for humane treatment of addicts and 
legalization of scheduled soft drugs, such as marijuana, is now 
common throughout South America and Europe. Almost one-third of U.S. 
voters support marijuana legalization. The state of Louisiana has 
admitted that harsh drug sentencing laws were not only fiscally 
irresponsible, but also immoral. They are releasing thousands of drug 

It's time for sea changes in our thinking about drugs, legal and 
illegal. In a period of budget restraint, can we afford to continue 
ineffective, expensive, inhumane policies that favor incarceration 
over education and treatment?

It takes a great human being to admit wrong, but that's exactly what 
November Coalition and other drug law reform groups are demanding of 
U.S. leaders. Our policy-makers should admit that the war on drugs 
has failed and adopt humane and effective drug policies.

Chuck Armsbury, formerly of Greenacres, Wash., now lives and works in 
Colville. He is senior editor of the Razor Wire, a publication of the 
November Coalition (, a nonprofit organization 
dedicated to reforming drug laws. You can contact him at  ---
MAP posted-by: Josh