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The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs

by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine, 1972

Chapter 42. A slightly hopeful postscript

While law enforcement serves mainly to raise prices and thus attract additional black-market entrepreneurs rather than to curb consumption, and while antidrug propaganda campaigns have helped to popularize drugs like the amphetamines more than to discourage their use, the current outlook is not altogether hopeless. Progress is actually being made against the "speed freak" phenomenon in its original home and major citadel, California–– and no doubt elsewhere as well.

California observers of the "youth drug scene" (see Part IX) report that  fewer young people are being attracted to speed. There is nothing mysterious about this. New arrivals on the youth drug scene look at the speed freaks, the acid (LSD) droppers, the grass (marijuana) smokers, and decide to stick with acid and grass. They don't want to become like the speed freaks. The speed-freak phenomenon is in this respect self-limiting.

Young drug users need not rely solely on their own observations, moreover, for throughout the youth drug scene today there are "indigenous institutions," such as free clinics and "hot lines," devoted to helping them. These institutions, which will be discussed at length in Part IX, are not trying to stamp out illicit drug use. Instead, most of them are trying to  minimize the damage done by drugs, both licit and illicit. Thus, instead of railing against marijuana, they are pointing out to drug novices just what happens to the speed freak.

Unlike other warnings against drugs, the comments of these indigenous institutions ring true to young people. One reason is that they are true; youthful recruits to the drug scene can confirm what they are told merely by looking around them at the drug scene's speed freaks. Another reason is that the indigenous institutions do not destroy their own credibility with dire warnings against marijuana–– warnings that arc not confirmed when young people look around them. Finally, the indigenous institutions are dedicated, and are seen to be dedicated, to helping young drug users rather than to repressing them. What they say need not be discounted by the young. As a result of the efforts of these indigenous institutions, and of young drug users' own observations, the number of new users recruited to speed–– the mainlining of amphetamines in large dosesappears to be dropping. The drug scene itself, in short, is beginning to curb speed mainlining after the United States Bureau of Customs, the United States Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Food and Drug Administration, and nationwide propaganda efforts have failed.

A second factor in curbing the "speed freak" phenomenon is reminiscent of Dr. W. S. Halsted, who cured himself of his cocaine addiction–– a close parallel of speed addiction–– by going on morphine and thus salvaging his surgical career (see Chapter 5). California speed freaks in large number are similarly deserting speed for heroin. This reduction in the number of speed freaks spreading the speed gospel also tends to curb the recruitment of new speed freaks. If these trends continue, the speed freak may in the not too distant future be merely a historical oddity–– unless, of course, a new wave of antispeed propaganda alerts a new generation of young people who have never seen a speed freak, and a new wave of speed mainlining is triggered.

The future of the ex-speed freaks who convert to heroin depends on the future of heroin addicts generally. If we leave them at the mercy of the American black market, the high prices and adulterants will ruin and perhaps kill them. But this, as we saw in Part I, is an avoidable outcome if society decides to avoid it.

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