HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Addicted to Abolition
Source: Wall Street Journal
Pubdate: 5 Aug 1998
Author: Sally Satel


At the turn of the last century, unrestricted access to morphine, heroin
and cocaine led to a great wave of addiction in the U.S. Witnessing this
devastation of people's lives, the nation responded with antidrug laws.
Somehow the simple lesson here--that drugs are dangerous--has been
forgotten by many of our nation's elites. Mike Gray's "Drug Crazy" (Random
House, 251 pages, $23.95) is the product of such selective memory.

Mr. Gray, a film producer, makes the claim that the harms produced by drug
prohibition are worse than the hazards of the drugs themselves. Yet his
book is so lopsided that it fails to persuade. This is not to say that the
"drug war" is being waged in the best way. Indeed, many drugs today are
accessible, cheap and potent, not a good advertisement for current
interdiction efforts. But Mr. Gray's angry, anecdote-driven account is
hardly the best place to look for reform.

Most of the book catalogs drug-war excesses: abuses of police power,
corruption, gang violence, paranoid officials. The author uses them as
reason to abolish our drug laws. "The black market must be underbid," Mr.
Gray writes. "If that means drugs have to be given away to serious addicts,
so be it. Anyone who is determined to use heroin regardless of consequences
must be able to get the stuff from a legitimate source at a price that
doesn't require stealing car radios."

This is typical of the harm-reduction philosophy Mr. Gray advocates: Since
addicts will be addicts, let's make it easier on them and our car radios.
In other words, give them the means of their own destruction and leave the
taxpayer to pick up the pieces.

Making drug control work better by reducing demand--perhaps our best
hope--isn't even an option for Mr. Gray. Apart from denigrating the
D.A.R.E. program (a nationwide school-based education program) and calling
for fewer restrictions on methadone, he virtually ignores prevention and
treatment. He sees addicts as victims of everything but the drugs they
abuse. For example, he blames the recent increase in heroin overdoses on
the prohibitionists' scare tactics: "Cool Gen X-ers knew from experience
that government claims about marijuana were exaggerated, so they assumed
the grown-ups were lying about heroin as well." More likely the deaths were
due to batches of extremely high-purity drug.

Mr. Gray is adamant that prohibition must go, and he packs into each
chapter stories of corruption and brutality that would make even the
toughest drug hawk cringe. But in his zeal to legalize drugs, he slights
the facts. He claims that the nation's current homicide rate is a function
of prohibition, yet in a graph he presents the years 1951-55 have the
century's lowest rate, even though drug laws then were harsher than now.
Nor is mention made of property crime and burglary (the hallmarks of drug
use in the '60s and '70s), which have been on a steady decline over the
past two decades under the very laws Mr. Gray condemns.

Mr. Gray blames society's negative attitudes about addicts, whom he calls
"unfortunate citizens," on the federal Harrison Anti-Narcotics Act of 1914.
Yet the Harrison Act was simply the culmination of two decades of efforts
to pass antidrug legislation. Indeed, the 1914 law did not demonize
addicts; they had turned popular sentiment against themselves. As early as
1892, Sir William Osler's celebrated medical textbook called morphine
addicts "inveterate liars . . . not confined to matters relating to the vice."

The final chapter, "Prescription for Sanity," is more rhetoric than
practical advice. It features a post-prohibition agenda that is vague
except for one sure thing: In the world according to Mike Gray, we would
have a new dependent class of citizen--the government-supported addict.
Strikingly, Mr. Gray's prescription contains no discussion of how to reduce
the consumption of drugs. His heroes are Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke,
whose public-health commissioner is seriously considering heroin
maintenance (that is, the medically supervised distribution of
pharmaceutical-grade heroin); the millionaire backers of the California and
Arizona medical marijuana initiatives; and of course philanthropist George
Soros, who is underwriting much of the nation's harm-reduction movement.

Are some changes needed? Definitely. We could start by easing restrictions
on physicians who prescribe pain-killers; researching the medical
properties of marijuana; and rethinking aspects of the crack cocaine/powder
cocaine sentencing disparity. Some interesting suggestions (and some insane
ones) can be found on the Web sites of the advocacy groups that are listed
in the book's appendix.

In this era of hysteria over tobacco, the new evil weed, it is astonishing
to see how many intelligent people have gone soft on drugs. They are right
to be frustrated with aspects of our drug problem and to seek enlightened
direction, but Mr. Gray's skewed vision is just a bad trip.

Dr. Satel is a psychiatrist and lecturer at the Yale University School of

Copyright 1998 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski