Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jul 1997
Source: Miami New Times (FL)
Copyright: 1997 New Times, Inc.
Author: Kathy Glasgow


If it gets you high, chances are that James Hall knows more about it
than anyone anywhere

The first calls came in mid-1992. Students at high schools in
southwest Dade were talking about little white pills that had begun to
pop up at parties along with the usual cocaine and marijuana.

Some of the callers were seeking more information about the pills,
downers they called "roofies" or "ropies." Other kids were distressed
because they'd gotten into trouble of one kind or another while high
and couldn't remember anything afterward.

James N. Hall, director of Up Front Drug Information Center, and his
administrative director Carlos Zaldivar, who took most of the calls on
Up Front's telephone hotline, didn't know exactly what drug the
students were talking about. "Predominantly young girls were calling,"
Zaldivar says. "They were saying they would take it with beer, that it
would give you a great buzz."

"One caller was pretty messed up and describing it as a Quaalude,"
remembers Hall, a white-haired bespectacled man who looks more like a
well-mannered preacher than the walking drug database he is. "One
person appeared to be rather [addicted]. We looked in the Physicians
Desk Reference and didn't find anything like it. Then we looked in an
international directory.

In there we discovered Rohypnol, which we'd heard of because I'd heard
of abuse by airline personnel with legitimate prescriptions in foreign

We'd also heard of Rohypnol abuse in Europe. But we hadn't seen it in
this country."

Hall, age 53, is now credited with being the first in the U.S. to spot
a trend of recreational Rohypnol use and to enlist the help of
researchers, community leaders, and law enforcement authorities across
the nation in warning of the drug's imminent spread among teenagers
and young adults. The amnesia-inducing sedative, legally prescribed
for insomnia in more than 60 countries but not here, became known as
the date-rape drug because it was frequently used to knock out victims
for purposes of sexual assault or robbery.

But the national mobilization in the wake of publicity about roofies
put the brakes on a possible epidemic; today tougher laws and
regulations on both national and state levels have, according to
researchers, cut down on the supply of the drug, although other pills
are now being sold as roofies.

Use among people under twenty has eased, but it's increased among
older groups.

Ever since the days of Miami's cocaine cowboys in the Eighties, James
Hall and Up Front have occupied a unique place among the scores of
organizations and agencies addressing various aspects of America's
Hydra-headed illicit-drug culture.

Specialists in drug abuse prevention or
treatment can't think of anything in the U.S. exactly like Up Front, a
nonprofit clearinghouse for encyclopedic information about illegal and
controlled drugs and their properties and drug addiction and trafficking.
Hall likens Up Front's role to a variation on the League of Women Voters:
In the same way the League provides objective information geared to
helping voters participate more knowledgeably in the democratic process,
Up Front goes to the grassroots -- what Hall calls "barefoot epidemiology"
-- to ferret out the latest indications of trouble and trends, often
before they emerge as problems.

His expertise is sought by law enforcement and public health
officials, reporters, and educators the world over, and it's always
free. "He's one of the definitive drug sources in the country," says
Miami Herald reporter Jeff Leen, who has done much of the nation's
most authoritative reporting on drugs and drug trafficking. Besides
sounding early alerts about Rohypnol, Hall was among the first to
predict other outbreaks, such as a surge in heroin use in central
Florida -- before a string of teenage overdose deaths in the Orlando
area in 1995 and 1996.

"We work with Jim to identify those specific drugs we need to deal
with," explains Don Byer, senior vice president of New York-based
Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which mounts high-visibility
media campaigns to "unsell" illicit drugs. "For example, when heroin
started its resurgence, the benefit of what Jim does is really having
his ear to the ground, knowing what future trends are. We're still
trying to deal with marijuana going up, very specifically among high
school kids. Attitudes are always a precursor to behavior, and Jim
would assist us in getting a sense of what attitudes lead to that.
Then we are in a position to deal with those trends. It's sort of a
national resource sitting in Miami."

An editor at a small publishing house in New York called Hall recently
at his desk in the downtown office of the Miami Coalition for a Safe
and Drug-Free Community. He has been working as a consultant at the
coalition for the past two and a half years while also running Up
Front. The editor, referred by a New York colleague of Hall, was
editing a book about drugs and wanted Hall to review a chapter about
methamphetamines, stimulants that go by street names like speed and

Elbows planted amid stacks of papers, files, and pharmaceutical
reference books, Hall holds the telephone receiver with his left hand
while the fingers of his right are arrayed against his forehead.

He reads aloud through the manuscript he's been faxed, explaining to
the editor suggested changes he's jotted down. The chapter is a
methamphetamine primer, detailing the various legal and illegal forms
of the drug, its street names, and effects on the body and mind. Hall,
who contributed to a 1988 study of methamphetamine abuse for the
National Institute on Drug Abuse, offers several refinements to the
copy. "I'm avoiding hours [duration of the high] here," he says,
discussing a paragraph about capsules. "Here's the reason: As use
continues, tolerance builds rapidly.

Usually the times you see are for the novice or first-time user." He
rifles off a series of subtle distinctions: "'Ice' in some areas may
refer to a form [of methamphetamine] that may just appear more crystal
or clear than other forms. In Hawaii and throughout the Pacific Rim
nations, ice may mean any methamphetamine that is smoked."

Hall says methamphetamine has been seen only rarely -- at least up
until now -- in drug-friendly Miami. The reason, he and other
researchers have concluded, is that powerful Florida
cocaine-trafficking interests have kept the competition out. But the
market is changing, and recently methamphetamine has been moving into
the state in a big way. "We're about the last untapped area," Hall
notes. "But now we're seeing large-scale manufacturing operations by
Mexicans on both sides of the border, and the cocaine traffickers
can't scare them off like they could the small-time cookers. We were
literally able to track it moving right down I-75."

Hall's tracking system employs methodologies ranging from statistical
analysis to interviews with street people.

He's in contact with every segment of the population -- short of armed
and dangerous ones -- that can give him a look at the reality of drug
use from one perspective or another. He exchanges facts, figures, and
news with other researchers at frequent international, national, and
local professional conferences; his informational network in Dade
includes school and drug-treatment program counselors, police
officers, and other law enforcement and judicial officials. Among his
best sources are jail inmates, recovering addicts in treatment, and
active drug users who call the Up Front hotline or who are surveyed as
part of an occasional University of Miami heroin study.

Up Front's Florida Drug Hotline (757-2566), which offers the advantage
of anonymity to many who would never discuss drug use otherwise, is a
two-way tip line for information from all over the state and even
around the globe.

The Miami Coalition's anonymous survey of Dade public school students,
conducted every other year, sometimes yields unexpected results, such
as the popularity of LSD four years ago and a big jump in marijuana
use two years ago; results of the latest survey are being analyzed by
statisticians at Florida International University. Other statistics on
drug-related deaths and crimes come from the medical examiner's office
and hospital emergency rooms.

Hall used to put all this together in newsletters and faxes, which are
still spoken of with great enthusiasm by local recipients but which
he's discontinued for financial reasons.

He thinks a planned Miami Coalition/Up Front Website and possibly
joint publications will fill that void.

For the past twelve years Hall has been part of the twenty-city
Community Epidemiology Work Group sponsored by the National Institute
on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which presents compilations every six months on
regional drug-use patterns. In June 1993 Hall reported on the first
U.S. Rohypnol abuse at the NIDA conference. "Then I find Rohypnol down
on the Mexican border in November of 1994," recounts Jane Maxwell,
chief of research for the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse
and a member of the NIDA work group. "It was mentioned in some written
testimony from someone talking about problems with kids on the border
-- totally misspelled -- but because we'd been to these meetings I
realized what they were referring to. It turned out they were buying
them in Mexico and bringing them across.

I reported on it to the work group meeting in December."

That month Hall and Maxwell helped form the Texas-Florida Rohypnol
Response Group to exchange information and work on prevention
strategies. "Our agency magazine did an alert in January [1995], and
that's when the phones really started ringing," Maxwell recalls. "To
give you an example of how quickly it spread, I got a call from the
dean of students at Southwest Texas State [hundreds of miles north of
the border] saying they found it for the first time on a student who'd
gone to Mexico for a holiday. That was in early March; by the end of
spring break it was all over the school."

Later in 1995 Hall went to Minnesota to speak at rural drug-prevention
seminars and found that even small-town public-health workers had been
seeing kids on roofies but hadn't recognized the drug. "In Minnesota
we were literally able to trace the migrant farmworker route out of
Mexico," Hall says, "and in seven hours we found where you could buy
roofies in front of a Wal-Mart." Another researcher looked at a stack
of U.S. Customs declaration forms in Laredo, Texas, and found that a
million roofies had legally crossed a single border bridge during
1995. (Before Customs banned its importation, a 90-day supply of
Rohypnol could be brought into the country for personal medical use.)

In December 1995 Hall testified before a U.S. Senate Judiciary
Committee hearing on juvenile drug abuse.

Among other things, he urged support for efforts to increase penalties
for possession of drugs like Rohypnol that had recognized medical uses
but a high probability of abuse.

Committee chairman Orrin Hatch apparently wasn't convinced that
Rohypnol should be treated differently from other prescription
sedatives like Valium or Librium, also often abused. "But [those
drugs] haven't been actively marketed or diverted out of the
legitimate system as Rohypnol has," Hall politely argued.

Or, he added, targeted to children's limited budgets.

A hundred roofies cost much less than an ounce of marijuana and could
be resold at a high profit, thus earning enough to then buy the
marijuana, too. "This is a lunch-money drug," he went on. "It's also a
gateway to polydrug abuse.

We call this pattern of selling to children 'kiddie-narco.'"

Ten months later Congress passed a law that essentially made roofies
weapons. The Drug-Induced Rape Prevention and Punishment Act of 1996
mandates up to an additional twenty years in prison for anyone
convicted of using Rohypnol or other knockout drugs in the commission
of a violent crime. In the days before the congressional vote, Phil
Diaz, former director of drug abuse prevention policy for the Bush
administration and now a consultant in Miami, was working in
Saskatchewan, Canada. "I remember turning on CNN, and there was Jim
Hall talking about roofies," Diaz recalls. "I thought, there's Miami
taking the lead again.

Jim was one of the first people in the country to spot abuse of
roofies among young adults back when nobody was seeing it. The feds
are usually behind the curve. Just when the DEA schedules one drug,
the labs make another, or people find a way to abuse a legitimate
drug, so you have that problem constantly, where people are misusing

It's folks like Jim and organizations like Up Front -- which are
terribly underfunded -- that give us the epidemic at the front end,
when we can do something about it."

At about the same time last year that U.S. Customs banned roofie
importation, efforts in Tallahassee to persuade the state legislature
to reclassify Rohypnol as a schedule-one drug (possession and
trafficking, as with heroin, carrying the harshest possible penalties)
were unsuccessful, largely owing to lobbying by its Swiss
manufacturer, Hoffman-LaRoche. But Florida Attorney General Bob
Butterworth issued an administrative rule temporarily decreeing
Rohypnol to be a schedule-one substance; this past March the lobbyists
retreated and the legislature made the rule a law.

Speaking on national television and remonstrating with senators was
probably not what Jim Hall's high school classmates in Silver Spring,
Maryland, thought he'd wind up doing.

The younger of two sons of a Methodist minister, Hall studied history
at a solid Methodist school, West Virginia Wesleyan College in
Buckhannon, West Virginia. After receiving his B.A. in 1966, he found
a job teaching social studies to seventh through twelfth graders in
Frederick County, Maryland. During the summers, he took graduate
courses at the University of Dayton and Indiana University. Despite
his long hair, in the style of the times, Hall says he knew little
about drugs. "I'd seen alcohol, of course, and I knew people were
taking diet pills so they could stay up and get their term papers
done." That, however, was about the extent of his familiarity with the
many mind-altering possibilities in the Sixties. His introduction to
the world of illegal drugs came when the school principal chose him to
present a new "drug curriculum" to his students. "I remember getting
the film strip out of the box and putting it on the projector, putting
a record on -- it had all this psychedelic stuff.

It was some of the earliest modern drug education in a period when
probably more college-age students than high school students were
getting involved.

I guess that was kind of like the first time I realized this field

In 1970, after four years of teaching, Hall left the classroom to
become the national director of a college fraternity, Theta Xi, a job
that took him to more than 200 campuses per year. His interest was in
management, not really in social issues, but he recalls being
impressed with the great changes that had occurred on college campuses
during the years he'd been away and that continued while he was with
the fraternity, until 1978. That year his brother persuaded him to
move to the remote coal-mining country of Matewan, West Virginia, to
manage three mines he was opening.

After two years Hall was ready to leave the isolation of the
Appalachians. He moved to Washington, D.C., about the time Ronald
Reagan became president. "I wanted to go back into association
management," he recalls. "I was in Washington, the association capital
of the world.

I was interested in getting more public policy focus, and one of the
jobs that was available was working with a drug policy group."

Hall's new employer was a foundation whose staff generally favored
liberalizing drug laws, he says. He wasn't especially conservative,
but his co-workers were definitely more left-leaning. "I think
probably they hired me," he recalls, "because they thought I would fit
well with the Reagan administration in my three-piece suit."

After a year with the foundation, Hall had become quite interested in
drug policy and quite disillusioned with how it worked in real life.
"It was an area in which I saw great ambivalence and lack of
understanding," he says. "Many people had ideas based more on ideology
than reality."

That was when Hall read "Paradise Lost," a 1981 Time magazine cover
story about Miami in the wake of the notorious Dadeland shootout among
cocaine traffickers, an incident that revealed the spectacular extent
of the drug trade in Dade and its destructive effects on life in paradise.

The soft-spoken Hall quit his job in early 1982 and took his
three-piece suits to Miami. "The War on Drugs was starting, and in
wartime it's best to go to the front lines," he explains. "I think my
family background gave me the sense of wanting to do something about a
complex issue that seemed to baffle everyone." The first time he
opened the Miami Herald classified section he saw an ad seeking an
executive director for the Up Front Drug Information Center. The
organization, founded in 1973 by attorney Tracy Brown, was then
basically a reading room in Coconut Grove. The director at the time,
University of Miami anthropologist Pat Morningstar, was leaving, and
Up Front's federal funding was not certain beyond one year. Hall was
hired by the board of directors with a mandate "to keep the
organization alive for another year." He has been able since then to
maintain Up Front's principal source of funding from the state agency
then called Health and Rehabilitative Services (now the Department of
Children and Families) and to supplement that with contracts for
writing reports and manuals and holding classes and workshops.

Even before he was hired, Hall says, he told Up Front's board of
directors about his goal of making Up Front an independent, unbiased,
and comprehensive source of information. "The drug issue was so
polarized," he explains, "that nobody believed anyone."

Through the early and mid-Eighties, Miami Vice was making Miami famous
as the glitzy, violent cocaine capital of the world.

The powder was so plentiful that its residue contaminated vast
quantities of circulating currency. But then, starting in 1983, Hall
began hearing several variations on a disturbing new theme: smoking
coke. Not freebasing (the expensive and dangerous method of
transforming pure cocaine into a vapor), but smoking cheap forms of
the stuff, such as coca paste cooked with high-proof rum and baking
soda -- an early prototype of what would eventually become known as
crack. "We knew something was going on with smoking cocaine," Hall
says, "because we knew the people who were smoking it couldn't afford
[the powdered form]."

By 1985 Hall and other researchers across the country were alarmed at
the deplorable inroads the new cheap cocaine was making in poor urban
neighborhoods, but the news media generally ignored their warnings.

It was only after mid-1986, when the Boston Celtics' star draftee Len
Bias died after smoking crack, that the nation learned the drug was
destroying thousands of lives.

At the height of the crack epidemic, around 1988, many community
leaders in hard-hit Miami began to think that anti-drug programs
specifically geared to local populations would work better than DEA
directives. "Up to that point everything had been national or federal
strategy," Hall recounts. "That was the beginning of the [Miami]
Coalition, which works on local strategies as part of the overall effort.

At that time my sound bite was 'The war on drugs will be won on the
home front.' While the world thought we were the source of the
problem, we were also the source of the solutions. Even at that time
we had some of the best treatment programs in the nation.

We were responding as a community to the devastating situation around

"Jim started out as probably our best source of information when the
coalition first came into existence," says Marilyn Culp, executive
director of the high-powered alliance of corporate and public-sector
representatives that is considered a national model for community
anti-drug outreach. "As the years went on and we grew as a coalition,
we needed to respond more rapidly when we begin to see signs of a drug
coming into the community -- so it doesn't become an epidemic, like
crack cocaine was. Jim becomes that link for us in terms of

Almost a quarter of Up Front's $170,000 annual budget is supplied by
its contract with the coalition.

The main part of the budget, however, comes from a federal block grant
administered through the Florida Department of Children and Families.
Hall still lectures around the world and writes reports and manuals,
although less often than before he joined the coalition.

In 1984 Up Front moved to its current office on Biscayne Boulevard, in
the Morningside neighborhood. The spacious rooms on the ninth floor of
an ungainly concrete apartment building, converted into offices, have
a spectacular eastern view of Biscayne Bay and a less scenic western
view of crackhouses and hourly motels.

The space is filled with desks, phones, computers, and row after row
of metal filing cabinets holding pre-electronic database materials
(more recent information is mostly computerized).

The coalition and Hall say their main concern now is stunting the
growth in Dade of heroin, methamphetamine, and GHB (gamma-hydroxy
butyrate). GHB, a sedative easily concocted at home from common
chemicals and often mixed with alcohol, is a new and fast-growing
problem drug in the wake of restrictions on Rohypnol, Hall states in
his June 1997 report to the NIDA work group.

He also discusses the newly popular "five-way" fad among young heroin
users who snort a line each of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine,
ground-up Rohypnol, and then drink alcohol.

But an old drug -- an ancient drug, and the favorite of his generation
-- is coming under new scrutiny from Hall. "Welcome to the age of
reefer sadness," he declares. "There's a lot of misinformation about
marijuana in the Nineties. We have attitudes from different
generations that are really talking about different drugs." He pulls
his laptop computer from the maroon bag he always carries with him,
from the Up Front offices to the coalition offices to meetings at
Metro-Dade government center.

In that little laptop Hall has stored graphs and charts and
statistics, including new figures that show marijuana to be a factor
in more than twice as many hospital emergency room crises in Dade than
nationally; people having those emergencies are getting younger, too,
he finds.

The highest percentage of male arrestees testing positive for pot was
in the fifteen-to-twenty age group.

Street availability of marijuana is at an all-time high, according to
the 1996 Florida Drug Law Enforcement Survey.

Hall closes the laptop, places the fingers of his right hand at his
temple, and frowns mildly. "Adolescents and even preadolescents are
more into drugs in 1997 than they were in 1990," he says. Among the
many and complex reasons, he adds, is that their parents, having come
of age in the Sixties and Seventies, may not think drugs are a problem
or may have mixed feelings about forbidding their children to do what
they did -- or still do. But the joint of today is almost certain to
be many times more potent than the herb of the hippies, which makes it
more a health and addiction risk. "The number-one sadness about
marijuana," he goes on, "is that it's almost always smoked.

While most Americans are ready to accept the facts about the hazards
of tobacco, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that smoking any
plant material is carcinogenic. The key carcinogenic link to lung
cancer in tobacco is also found in higher quantities in a marijuana

"Another part of reefer sadness," he says, "is we're now going to be
stuck in this big issue of the medical benefits [of marijuana]."
Hall's simple solution: Put the medically beneficial cannabis
chemicals into a suppository and forget about smoking the leaves.

Hall doesn't think drugs, including alcohol, can be used just for fun.
"I really don't use the term 'recreational drug,'" he says. "I think
it's kind of misleading. Drugs are not a game, nor do they usually
refresh. Some drugs can medically aid people, but generally, smoking a
joint isn't all that different from having a drink.

In terms of potential for addiction, it's there for both. Use is not
always abuse, but without use there can't be abuse."