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The New York Times November 9, 1924


An international conference began last week at Geneva under the auspices of the League of Nations to devise further restrictions by all nations upon the production of habit-forming drugs. The United States is officially represented by a delegation. Among students of the narcotic traffic the question has been raised whether prohibition of drugs by law can be effective without attempts by education to limit the number of potential addicts. This is discussed below by Captain Hobson, President of the International Education Association, who would spread warning against the narcotic peril even in the public schools.

The human race consumes every year many thousands of tons of poisonous narcotic drugs, not 1 per cent of which is necessary for strictly medicinal purposes. This universal problem has become acute in America through the spread of heroin addiction.

The United States is assailed by opium from Asia as a base, by cocaine with South America as a base and by heroin and synthetic drugs with Europe as a base. This deadly drug warfare that is striking from three sides at our citizens and homes is more destructive and biologically more dangerous to our future than would be united warfare against us from these three continents. Without knowledge of this peril organized exploitation gains easy victims, especially from young people. To the task of carrying out an adequate educational program all men and women who love their country and humanity should rally.

The production and distribution of these drugs constitutes a profitable traffic of vast proportions extending to all corners of the earth. In the Orient, the chief home of the sleep poppy whose seed capsules produce opium, governments for revenue purposes encourage and often subsidize production and control distribution. In the Occident chemical science is turned to concentrating the poison of opium into morphine and turning this into a still more powerful poison narcotic, heroin. Laws and regulations loosely enacted for repression drive most of the addiction traffic under cover, where it flourishes in the dark under the shadow, if not under the protection of agents of the law.

The motive and urge that constantly drive the traffic are the enormous profits, the jobber and the retailer between them often realizing more than 1,000 per cent profit. Add to this the lure for armies of impoverished addicts of getting the drug for themselves through recruiting and supplying new addicts. The profits are so great because the impoverished addict, under the awful depression and torture of withdrawal symptoms, feels he must have the drug no matter what the cost or consequences; whether he has to spend his last dollar, whether he has to steal to get the money; whether he has to rob or even commit murder. The bulk of this vast horde are "hooked" into addiction because of their ignorance, never dreaming what the consequences are to be when they take the first "shot" or first "sniff."

Modern chemistry, responsible for morphine, cocaine and heroin, as yet offers no sure defense against the Frankenstein of its own creation, nor has medical science been able to cope with this merciless exploitation of the human race.

Rarely if ever has the nation faced a deadlier peril. The growth of narcotic addiction in the United States and the world over is the most alarming social symptoms of the new century. With the spread of heroin over the land an army of our youth has turned into daring criminals, each one multiplying himself by bringing other youths into addiction, and then still others, constituting a social disease in a "galloping" form.

The most difficult factor in the problem arises from the complete secretiveness of addiction activities, both on the part of the peddlers and the "dope ring," and from those otherwise well informed who exclaim: "It can't be true; I never heard of it before." To these latter let it be said that the mind cannot well grasp the magnitude of this peril, that not half has ever been told by those who know the facts.

While a real beginning has been made in international relations looking toward the control of production and international distribution of narcotic drugs, experience has shown how difficult it will be to secure and enforce adequate measures. High hopes have been created by the activities of the Opium Commission of the League of Nations, but an investigation of the particulars has shown how many obstacles, some almost insuperable, have been encountered, especially where vested commercial and financial interests are involved. Even if an adequate agreement were reached as to the production of opium by members of the League of Nations some of the most important producers of opium are not in this League. Even if it were possible to control the production of opium from the poppy its [sic] production or the production of its narcotic alkaloids by synthetic process can scarcely be controlled even by the most drastic international and domestic laws.

Education vs. Law as a Cure

Our Treasury Department estimates that more than 90 per cent of all the drugs used in addiction are now smuggled, in spite of all that our Federal Government and State Governments are doing. All measures found practicable should be taken to secure standard laws by national, State and local governments, and cooperation of agents in their enforcement. But we should remember that with such vast profits at stake and the use of such powerful and concentrated drugs, carrier pigeons could transport them. The law at best is not an adequate effective treatment.

Much confusion exists in the manner of treatment of addicts. The methods are various and the results are varied. The consensus of expert authority, however, shows that the percentage of addicts who remain permanently cured is exceedingly small, so very small that while salvage is an important humanitarian matter it cannot be considered in any sense as a primary means of treatment.

Prevention is society's recourse. Education alone can be regarded as adequate treatment. Quick information conveyed to society everywhere as to the peril that exists will arouse a motive for self-preservation from which will flow the best that can be done in laws and in salvage. Regular instruction in all grades uniformly and automatically carried out will cause the young hereafter to have a consciousness of the danger upon the approach of a peddler, and this education repeated through the generations will clothe society with a mantle of protection, producing a race consciousness of this new peril of environment leading ultimately to immunity.

Heroin the Greatest Peril of All

In 1803 Derosne, a French chemist, discovered how to produce morphine from opium. Then the menace extended to Europe, introduced through its administration as medicine.

About sixty years ago an Austrian chemist, experimenting with the leaves of the cocoa plant, produced cocaine. This added the menace of cocaine addiction and extended the scope of exploitation.

In 1898 Dresser, a chemist of Germany in the employ of the Baer Chemical Company of Berlin, discovered heroin, another alkaloid of opium, from three to four times as powerful as morphine. With the spread of heroin the narcotic menace developed into a pressing world peril. At first heroin was used chiefly in cough mixtures and was not believed to be habit forming, and for that reason was recommended as a substitute for morphine. Within two years after its discovery the discoverer announced its danger as habit-forming. Twenty years later it was renounced by the American Medical Association as a dangerous habit-forming drug, unnecessary in the practice of medicine.

European chemists are now discovering methods of manufacturing narcotics from coal tar. These new drugs are expected to be more powerful than those now used with such dire results.

Those who have studied alcohol scientifically can well appreciate the peril of narcotics by comparison. Five ounces of alcohol is considered a fatal dose. Five ounces of morphine taken at one time will kill fifteen hundred men.

It requires months and often years of repeated regular drinking with many drinks a day to produce a drunkard out of a youth. One dose a day for six days will make a youth a drug addict. An ounce of heroin could make two thousand addicts within a week.

A drinking man as a rule likes company in drinking, but will advise others, especially the young, to avoid his fate and go the other way. A heroin addict has literally a mania to lead others into addiction and will make every effort to do so, having no pity even for children.

Morphine given in illness by a careless physician and contained also in patent medicines may bring addiction with its train of sorrows to parents in established homes. Heroin, on the other hand, usually catches the boy and the girl between 16 and 20, or even younger, like the young bird before it has learned to fly, and the new homes are never built.

Before the coming of heroin the child addict was almost unknown. For the most part those affected were of mature years, who acquired addiction largely through illness. Heroin, on the other hand, reaches for the youth, even going into the schools for recruits. The dope peddlers employ boys and girls to make addicts of their companions. Bearing in mind the psychology of the heroin addict, when a boy or girl becomes a heroin addict he starts almost immediately as a recruiting agent for the peddler. Many authorities agree that the average age of the heroin addict is 22 years, which means that the average victim is caught when still in his teens. Each new addict starts recruiting others; cases have been reported of "snow gangs" counting scores of boys.

Morphine, cocaine, heroin are white powders, all soluble in water, all bitter to the taste. Morphine is usually put up in the form of tablets. Cocaine and heroin are called "snow," and in various localities by other names, although heroin predominates now.

When luring girls into addiction the peddler often calls heroin "headache powder." With peddlers at large. Often using boys and girls to aid them, the safe precaution for a youth of either sex is to repulse instantly any suggestion to take a hypodermic of morphine, and to avoid all forms of white powder. It is the custom to give away heroin free to the youth until he or she is "hooked." When children are away from home it is a safe practice to accept nothing as a gift to eat, drink or whiff, not even from a supposed friend. When you decline the first offer the boy or girl aiding the peddler will taunt you or challenge you and say "try anything once, you will get a kick out of it"; "watch me"; "come to our 'snow party' and watch the other fellows do it." But once is once too often. The poison is so swift that the poor youth will seek the next party for relief, and the next. A "snow party" a day for a week will drag a youth into the bondage of addiction worse than death, and from which experience teaches there is no sure escape.

Crime Gallops With Heroin.

In scientific circles, because of their ghastly plight and almost hopeless outlook for permanent relief, addicts are called the "living dead." The spread of addiction in any land must be regarded as the approach of the "living death" to that people. Left to run its course, the approach will be slow or swift according to the drug. Slow with opium, faster with morphine, galloping with heroin.

Heroin is the principal cause of this rapid expansion of narcotic addiction and the continued and alarming rise of the crime wave. Major Sidney W. Brewster, a leading criminologist and assistant superintendent and deputy warden of the Reformatory Prison, stated before a Congressional committee in April, 1924: "Approximately 60 per cent. Of the Hart's Island reformatory and 100 per cent of the inmates of Riker's Island are drug addicts and about the same proportion obtains at the penitentiary. Of these addicts 90 to 95 per cent. Use heroin. It has been in the last six or seven years that heroin has really come to the front as it has now. The man who uses heroin is a potential murderer, the same as the cocaine user. He loses all consciousness of moral responsibility."

On account of the extreme secretiveness of the addicts and their families as well as of the traffic itself, the number of addicts in the United States has not been and cannot be definitely determined, being in this respect much like production. The estimates worthy of consideration vary from 200,000 to 4,000,000. The United States Treasury survey places the figures at "over 1,000,000."

From 1910 to 1915, when conditions of importation in America were comparable with those of other nations, a special report of the Treasury Department states that the average annual importation of opium in America for home consumption was 471,943 pounds, or approximately 235 tons, nearly twice the maximum amount necessary for the medicinal and scientific use of the world, according to Mr. Porter's statement. This 471,943 pounds (avoirdupois) makes a per capita consumption of thirty six grains.

For the same period the similar figures for European nations were as follows: Italy, 1 grain; Germany, 2 grains; England, 3 grains; France, 4 grains.

The amount consumed in America during the period in question was thus nearly four times as much as for all these great nations of Europe combined.

When it is remembered that the addict is paying on an average more than a dollar a grain to his bootleg vendor and requires daily five, ten, twenty and sometimes fifty or even 100 grains, and cannot himself concentrate and work to earn anything, it will be realized how crime is the usual recourse. A youthful convict in the Kansas penitentiary, only 24 years of age, had taken, before he was apprehended, $20,000 worth of the drug and had never worked a day or earned a dollar.

Knowing that heroin and cocaine addicts are anti-social, cruel and daring, we can understand better why homicides in American cities of the second class in many cases have exceeded by many times the entire nations of Europe.

What Is the Remedy?

Since this question involves the welfare and safety of society, the foundation of our institutions and the future of civilization, all agencies representing the vitality of society are subject to draft, whether they are governmental, semipublic or private, including all organizations and all good men and women, for the execution of the necessary education program.

The International Narcotic Education Association like a regulatory stimulus or nerve centre, undertakes to correlate and direct these agencies. It has engaged the cooperation of the President, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of the Interior.

The Treasury Department and the Department of Justice are to establish a permanent narcotic survey, designed to head up the health and legal agencies of the States, counties and cities.

In addition to maintaining constant information of the condition and trend of drug addiction throughout the country, constituting an authoritative source of information so badly needed, this survey should lead to the adoption of standard uniform laws and a procedure and practice in the States, counties and cities in harmony with the Federal Government to produce the most effective results possible from the law.

The Bureau of Education of the Interior Department is heading up likewise the education agencies of the States, the cities and the National Education Association to reach the youth in the schools, and institute regular instructions in the curriculums of schools and colleges solving pedagogical problems through a committee of experts.

Resolutions are now pending in both houses of Congress to print and distribute documents to the teachers and youth in schools and colleges with model lessons attached, prepared by the Bureau of Education, to deliver these documents to parents and thereby reach the homes. All these documents are to be passed on by a Board of Review composed of outstanding scientific men.

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