Pubdate: Sat, 13 Mar 1999
Source: Daily Star (NY)
Author: Bruce Dunn


Experts generally agree the U.S. drug-addicted population peaked around
1900. After this time, drug and alcohol use declined steadily across all
segments of the population. This was due to the increased awareness of the
dangers of drug addiction.

Following the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the largest
decrease in narcotics use to ever occur happened.  When people discovered on
the new ingredient labels that some of their favorite nostrums were laced
with addictive drugs, their use declined by a third. The typical addict at
the time was a middle-aged, middle-class, southern white woman hooked on
laudanum. The image of a drug user as vampire had yet to be created.

There was in the early 1900s a great moral uprising. It had begun 50 years
earlier with a growing intolerance to the "demon alcohol" and came to
include the opiates and cocaine. This moral upsurge eventuated in the
Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914 and Prohibition in 1920.

The crusaders were many and well-intentioned, but the menace was so evil
that truth gave way to propaganda and statistics were created from whole
cloth. Race cards were played. Ends justified means. Laudanum-sipping white
women became drug-crazed "unbridled Negroes and coolies waiting at the foot
of the bed to carry off wives and daughters." And in the finest of
tradition, a scapegoat was born. Politicians and well-meaning others have
been heaping it on the goat ever since. Not incidental to these prohibited
things was the beginning of a criminal empire.

In 1969, the Nixon Administration spent $65 million on the drug war. It's up
to about $19 billion this year. In 1980, there 50,000 drug prisoners, today
400,000-plus. Profits of illegal drug barons are estimated to exceed the
national defense budget. Is this the way to go?

Bruce Dunn

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