Pubdate: Wed, 26 Mar 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


The War on Drugs is working. There are fewer and fewer drug addicts
every year - just 4 million "chronic" cocaine and methamphetamine
users in the entire country, according to a RAND Corporation estimate
published last month - but those who do use are in no less trouble.

They are lost. Crack or smack or crystal, it doesn't matter. Once
hooked, they're fallen, reduced to stumbling mindlessly about the
streets, stopping only to swipe up recycling or shit between parked

That's how addiction works, right? Listen to the alcoholics, listen to
the redeemed in recovery. Addiction is a disease. Some of us are born
with it, others aren't - but for the unlucky, the first sip, the first
shot or sniff, is the first step down a deep, dark hole.

This, we hear, is the power of crack cocaine and methamphetamine, the
two most-loathed drugs of our lifetimes. Look at Turk Street, look at
the Faces of Meth website. There's no dabbling - try meth, and there's
a 90 percent chance you'll be hooked and your teeth will fall out in a
year, the hysteria goes.

Certainly the drugs have nasty effects on society. We cast tweakers
and crackheads out of mind and neighborhood, except to trot them out
as needed for a punchline or parable, for a cheap laugh or a way to
scare the relatives. I thought about this on a recent sunny afternoon,
as I walked past the granite benches that face the Pioneer Monument in
front of the Main Library's Fulton Street entrance. Junkie heaven. The
land of no self-control.

I watched an ancient, toothless bearded man sitting on the bench,
about to fire up a crack pipe. A pack of schoolchildren walked by,
oblivious to the human wrecks only a few arm lengths away.

"Put that shit away!" said another man, cleaner in appearance but a
Tenderloin lifer judging by his bearing, waving his cane as he talked.
"There are kids here, man." Chastened, the old dope fiend mumbled as
he pocketed the bit of broken glass. His fix could wait.

Here was your classic hopeless case - with his bare, blackened feet as
hard as a Hobbit's, he may have been outdoors longer than I'd been
alive - yet a stranger got through to him. Maybe he's not lost. Maybe
we've just given up.

That's the conclusion scientists are coming up with. The crack rocks
stuffed into babbling wretches' pockets are made of nearly the exact
same stuff as the cocaine powder white folks "party" with. The effects
are more intense only because cocaine base, aka crack, is smoked.

Meth, the new scary menace, is neither new nor actually scientifically
scary. It, too, is nearly identical to the speed that's been with us
since Neal Cassady, according to research led by Columbia University's
Carl Hart - and is identical to a drug doled out to schoolchildren
daily. Adderall is meth.

America's schools should be awash with tweakers. They're not. Between
80 and 90 percent of the people who try dope don't turn into dope
fiends, notes Hart, who published a book, High Price, on his findings.

So if it's not the drugs, what makes an addict?

Hart did more research. Avowed crack users were given a choice: Every
day, they were given a hit of crack. They were then given a choice:
another hit, or $5 to use once the experiment was over. Given the
choice, about half took the cash over the drugs. Nearly everyone took
the cash when the reward was upped to $20.

Conservatives may chuckle and scoff, but the science points to
opportunity and surroundings as the key factors in determining who
ends up "addicted." Provided choice, people will opt not to start on
the road to being a fiend. Given nothing else to do, they may try drugs.

Abuse of meth is incredibly harmful. It can lead to psychosis.
Meanwhile, society is doling out more damage than drugs do. "The
emotional hysteria that stems from misinformation related to certain
illegal drugs," Hart writes, "often leads to more harm than the drugs

Most commonly held fears about meth are unfounded, just as they were
with crack, just as they were with marijuana. It's the Reefer Madness
script all over again.

So what really makes a crackhead, what turns a citizen into a

We do.
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