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25 More pages of the Drug Legalization Debate

by Clifford A. Schaffer


But there is a more pressing argument. I know human nature to at least some degree. People do things for many reasons, but primarily because they get more pleasure than pain from the thing. Your argument is that if you remove a whole lot of the pain from drug use, that people will not use drugs more. Are you therefore saying that making heroin illegal causes people to want to use it more? Why? Do people enjoy paying fines? Do they like prison?

Please provide me with some sensible reasons why you believe people would not use drugs more, or would use them less, if drugs were legal.

The basic reason is the same simple reason that most people do not spend their days staggering around on booze. I tried it and realized that I enjoyed being sober a whole lot more. The vast majority of the people are the same way. As I said before, there is nothing magical about these drugs which causes them to be hypnotically attractive. As a matter of fact, I don't think I would like them much myself because one of the most common effects is to make users puke. Maybe it is hard for other people to understand, but I don't think that puking is much fun.

As for inflicting pain, I must agree that is a noble goal. Take a group of people who are not well off anyway and make it our goal to inflict as much pain on them as we can.

Let's consider a certain little statistical fact. The number of people in prison is currently only a small fraction of the total number of users. Therefore, the current system cannot inflict pain on more than a small number of the users and must be seen as quite ineffective in your stated goal. Without considering the fact that our prisons are currently overloaded, just tell me how many more millions of people we should put in prison to inflict the proper amount of pain.

Please also confirm your quote to me on the percentage of black men going to prison on drug charges. You said it was 50%. Is that accurate? If so, what percentage of black men, in total, abuse drugs? If 50% go to prison, total use must approach 100%. If not, what is the figure? (I guess this has one point in your favor. If 100% of black males now are drug abusers, legalizing drugs would not cause the percentage to go up.)

About half of all black men in America will be incarcerated at least once by the time they are thirty. The source of this is information extrapolated from the DOJ report The Prevalence of Imprisonment, and studies by the Sentencing Project that show that about one-fourth of the black men under 30 are _currently_ in prison, on probation, or parole. Drug offenses will be the single biggest cause for this. The figures on drug use through the population are about the same for whites as it is for blacks. The disproportionately high percentage of blacks arrested can be accounted for by a number of factors. The first is that these laws originally were intended to target minorities and the tactics used to enforce them tend to target minorities over whites. For example, it is easier to pick up twenty street dealers in a minority community than it is to get the same number by busting middle class white houses. Also, the drug business provides a unique opportunity for young black men. These and other factors create a situation where, in certain inner city neighborhoods, ninety percent of the black men have already been to prison at least once. Also, black men are more likely to be convicted because of poor legal representation, and more likely to be sentenced to prison when they are convicted.

Okay!! Finally. What other options do you have in mind? This has the possibility of being a very productive thread. No snide insults or sarcasm. What other options are there?

There are quite a few. The first point that I would make is that we should have a consistent philosophy and approach to all recreational drugs. That is, if you would not think it good for 7-11 clerks to sell cocaine to children, then we should be equally tough about tobacco. At the same time, if you recognize that throwing tobacco smokers in prison would be counterproductive, then it stands to reason that it would be counterproductive for other drugs. Figure out what would be a good policy for the two most dangerous drugs -- alcohol and tobacco -- and it will be easy to figure out what should be done about the others.

Judge Gray has called for "regulated distribution". His idea is that drugs would be available at government regulated stores of some sort at prices that would be low enough to discourage the black market. Advertising would be prohibited under his idea and all drugs would be sold in plain wrappers with warning information and, most importantly, a number to call to get help.

The Netherlands has taken a different approach. They still have drug laws but make it a point not to enforce them except in cases where there are bad drugs, or people are making themselves obnoxious. Their primary purpose is to reduce the harm done by drugs and part of their plan is to get people to come in for treatment.

In Liverpool, they are prescribing heroin and cocaine to addicts as part of the public health service. Part of the price of getting the prescription is that addicts must agree to stop committing crimes and to get their lives together.

With some drugs, such as marijuana, it is doubtful whether any sort of regulation is even desireable. The Dutch ignore it to the point of allowing it to be sold openly in coffee shops and it does not seem to cause any problems.

Now there are burglars in my neighborhood. Some of them do the same crime for years - and will keep on doing it for more. Is, therefore, the threat of prison not relevant? Should we remove that threat? Should we legalize buglary, because prison only makes it worse? I don't think so. You have indicated that legalizing hard drugs would lower the rate of drug abuse. Perhaps you also believe legalizing burglary would lower that crime. I disagree on both counts. The threat of prison is a deterrent to potential burglars, robbers, murderers, etc. I believe it is also a deterrent to potential drug abusers. Once addiction has been reached, that threat is less powerful. But that does not mean we remove it.

I get this tired, irrelevant argument a lot. First, burglary is not the same as drug use so comparisons of the legal methods for controlling them are silly. Second, if we had thirty million burglars (or criminals of any kind) we would have to find another method of dealing with the problem just because the criminal justice system could not handle the load. In this case it doesn't matter what you want to do, it is a matter of what you can do.

You also indicated that I should be imprisoned as a drug addict. I assume you are being sarcastic again. (Which, BTW, is rude.) Since I have now been sober for 13 years, and 15 days, prison is not called for. However, remember that drugs took 12 years of my life. If I had been jailed in year two or three, and that huge shock had persuaded me to stay sober, I would have gained 9-10 years of a productive life back. I, in retrospect, really wish that had happened. I miss those 12 years a lot.

No, I was not being sarcastic, I was simply following the logical conclusion of what you said. I would point out that, under the current laws you might have done a lot more than a couple of years in jail. And, when you got out, you would be virtually unemployable (at anything decent, anyway) which would have severely impacted your attempts at recovery.

You again brought up several times that legalizing drugs (which you oppose) in other countries lowered the rate of drug abuse. Because of my knowledge of the way people act, I find that either I do not understand what you mean, or your stats are simply wrong. As I said above, if you made burglary legal, would there be fewer of them? If you sold hamburgers for 10cents, would we buy fewer? I just find the idea that making hard drugs controlled, legal, and cheap would result in less use of them.

My point again that you are not acquainted with all of the facts on this issue. It is happening in Europe. As one Dutch official put it, junkies are their own worst advertisement and they really don't need much in the way of education to persuade people that drug addiction is something they want to avoid.

As I said before, I recommend that you read the CU Report, and see the A&E special which recently aired on this subject.

You asked about your mother being unable to get the drugs she needs. I do not know the situation at all. I believe that any drug that would help your mother should be available to her, including marijuana and heroin. Of course, that is not the point here.

Then you do not understand a whole lot about the drug war. The repression of medical use and research into these drugs was an integral part of the whole campaign from the very beginning. When the laws were first passed the drug police jailed more than 3,000 doctors, specifically aiming at those who were treating addicts, and those who voiced disagreement with the policy. They effectively shut down all research into the medical uses and even research into the causes and cures for drug addiction for over fifty years (and it is still difficult to do honest drug research in this country). It was a deliberate, calculated reign of terror against the medical profession which is still intact today.

If you will research this a little you will discover why this reign of terror exists. That is, if these drugs are under the province of the medical profession where they really belong, then the whole drug prohbition will fall apart quite rapidly.

As I said before, your assumptions about why these laws are here are totally wrong. The reasons you have stated never did have anything to do with the laws.

We have discussed this. You play with stats to advance your point, regardless of the intellectual integrity.

You have not presented any stats in contrast to mine, so I wonder how you can say this.

You also said that eight times the number that die from OD on drugs, die from that drug use for other reasons - pneumonia, for example. You ignored my point that many deaths would not be attributed to drug use because there was something else handy, such as exposure, or AIDS.

No I didn't. I quoted the AMA figures on the subject. You have cited nothing but your own opinion in response.

You have again cooked your figures. Lets say a policeman pulls over the car of a junkie tonight for erratic driving. A search shows five rocks in his pocket. He is arrested. Knowing he is busted, he pleads guilty. According to your figures, that cost $150,000. Balderdash.

Aren't we deliberately missing some points here? For every one which does what you suggested (and there are fewer of them as the penalties go up) there are others who fight it all the way. The AVERAGE cost is what is being cited.

They then build a cell - especially for him. They can't use the one that some burglar is now leaving.

Well, yes they could. That is what is happening now -- violent offenders are being released early so we can throw more drug users in prison. That doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? Therefore, in order for the law not to cause more harm than good (by releasing another offender early) we have to build a new prison cell.

No - that would mean you had to prorate the cost of the cell by everyone who uses it. Would be an honest way, but would not boost your cause. Balderdash again.

By what you are saying, the total number of people sent to prison would not increase beyond what it is today -- therefore no beneficial effect from tougher penalties.

An official in Oakland who desperatly wanted to show how much money was being saved by his drug program as opposed to prison, put the cost of prison at $20,000 per year. You say $30,000. Balderdash.

No, the figures I used come from the Wall Street Journal and the DOJ. The figures vary somewhat from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and according to the type of prison but they are all in the same range. You can get the most current figures yourself by calling the National Clearinghouse and Data Center for Drugs and Crime.

In Phoenix they put folks in tents!! Its warm, and they have many cots like in the army, but it is cheap. And a good deterrent. Folks don't like it. So my guess for my addict above is about $2,000 to arrest and and convict, $1,500 for the prorated cost of the cell, and $10,000 for the six months he would actually serve. Comes to $13,500, as opposed to your $450,000.

But, of course, your guess is not any more informed than some of your other statements. Personally, I will take the testimony of people like Thomas Coughlin, the New York State Commissioner of Corrections, before I would accept yours.

I am developing a deep mistrust for your facts and figures. Many of them _may_ be correct, but when I find some to be in error, I know that you would deliberatly mislead if you felt you could get away with it. So now I divide by two, an then doubt.

So go read the resources I have mentioned yourself. If you had done that in the first place, we wouldn't be having this discussion now.

Drugs are not magical in a literal sense. They just have a profound effect on the minds of some people, that some of those people have compared to magic.

I thought so. But, of course, either way it does not indicate that prison is the correct approach.

PatI ask you - how many more deaths, and destroyed lives, would it take before you said legalizing drugs was a bad idea? Will await your answer. Please make it public. Thanks.

You have dodged this question about four times now. I am not asking your opinion on whether you think legalizing drugs would have that effect. I am asking _If it did._ Please answer. I think the lurkers here deserve an answer.

As I said, I never said I supported legalization, so the question is misdirected. If legalization is what you have stated then I wouldn't support it whatever the figures are.

The answer here depends upon what you mean by "legalizing drugs". If you mean that cocaine, heroin, etc., would be sold as freely as convenience store clerks sell tobacco to children then it is possible that addiction and deaths would increase, although the evidence clearly shows that they would still not approach the death rates imposed by alcohol and tobacco. So, even in that case, one has to wonder why the major push should not be against alcohol and tobacco first.

But, of course, I am asking you if you have any evidence (besides your own opinion) that it would increase the deaths. So far, you have not responded to that.

You said it is not okay with you if a junkie frys his brain, or dies, from drug abuse. Why not, if he chooses to take the drug? I thought that was the core of your argument - that we had no right to interfere with him, because he could choose what he wanted, and endure the results. Where am I missing this?

This point is not, and never was, the core of my arguments. I really don't care what you think about anyone's individual "right" to use recreational drugs, as long as you recognize that prison is not the proper approach in any case.

But, to get back to this point, let's consider a specific example. My mother is desperately ill with severe chronic pain. I won't bore you with the medical history, so let it suffice to say that she has been all over the US and talked to the nation;s leading medical experts on the subject. They have all said that the best medications for here condition are the narcotics - heroin and morphine. She cannot get either one because the doctors are afraid they will be prosecuted over any questioned prescription. In these cases, don't you think that the people who should be making the decision on the medical use of drugs should be the doctors, in consultation with their patients?

Both the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the California Medical Association have issued reports stating that the undertreatment of pain in this country is a "national tragedy" and the only reasons for it are the fear and ignorance created by the drug war.

Can we at least agree that any policy which denies medicine to sick people has something seriously wrong with it -- both morally and practically?

You said it was "tyranny" to send a person to prison for drug abuse, because we would be denying him his right to make choices. Tyranny is a judgemental word. Is it tyranny to prohibit sexual harassment?

I never used the word "tyranny". Who are your quoting?

((Who are we to cram our views down the throat of some poor, middle aged, overweight, pathetic, animal of a business manager? We are a society. We look out for each other. I won't let that manager hurt people if I can stop it. Why? Because I care about the people he is hurting, more than I care about his pride. Would be willing to bankrupt him in a lawsuit, to stop him, and the others like him, from hurting people. That same concern is why I want drugs to remain illegal. I care about the people who are having their lives messed up by drugs. I want it to stop. Yes, prison is not a good way to do this, but it is the best way I see available to us right now.

I agree that you have a paternalistic attitude toward interfering in other people's lives. I don't agree that prison is the correct approach, even if your attitude was either moral or justified.

It is also obvious that you are not acquainted with all the ways we might do this. Try reading some of the studies I have mentioned.

If you can come up with a way that will assuredly reduce the amount of human suffering because of drug abuse, please share it. You know by now that I don't buy the "make it legal, and people will stop using it" argument. Okay - you don't buy prison is better than legalization. Do you have any other ideas?? What can we brainstorm? Imagine you and I were co-dictators of this country. We could change any law, as long as we both agreed. What would we do about drug abuse??

A good point here, which is why I was one of the co-authors of the Hoover Resolution. It is true that we can come to a better solution if we will all sit down, read the facts, and discuss them. The immediate problem here is that you are not yet acquainted with all the facts, or the possible options. First, I would recommend that you take a trip to the local library and read The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs. You will find it fascinating, whatever your views may be.

Or, you may just want to check out what they are doing in Europe.

Pat: Do you think some adict who chokes to death on his own vomit is not a victim?

Peter: He "victimized" himself.

Pat: Yes, that is the core of the pro-legalization argument.

Absolutely false. There is a lot here that you don't understand.

I say so what? He is just as dead. Don't you care? That _does_ make legalization seem much more attractive. If, say, an additional 200,000 people die in the first year, the legalizers would simply say they "victimized" themselves, and therefore it is no big thing

First, show me some evidence that this would happen. There is no evidence anywhere that I can find. For openers, you might try reading some of the studies I have mentioned.

Second, even if it did happen, there is even less evidence that prison is the best approach to minimizing the problem. As I have said many times before, all the major studies said that prison was the worst approach.

Third, even if it did happen (which all major studies refute) all major studies agreed that abandoning prison would still be a better approach.

Fourth, as we have discussed before, legalization and prison are not the only options.


Please see this point. Responding that you don't think more peole would die is not addressing this. I am asking you "What if they _do_ die?" Is that even an issue to you?

Sure it is. That's why I want to see an approach which works a whole lot better than what we are doing now. Every major study agreed that the current system kills people from a whole lot of causes.

You referred back to Frank again, and said that Frank was referring to "responsible" freedom. I had wondered whether, if you were with Frank, drunk, and about to climb down a cliff, whether he would smile and nod, or try to stop you by whatever means necessary. Frank said "a situation in which any outside authority can proscribe the actions of an individual agent, even if the motivation is to "protect" that agent "from himself" is indefensible. It is a god-given right to not only be wrong, but to also injury onself, overtly/intentionally or covertly/unintentionally."

We have already established that tough laws and big prisons could not stop you from harming yourself with drugs. Should we perhaps just attach a 24-hour bodyguard to you because you are a known risk? How about isolation?

Now, please, lets you and I get serious. Assume legalization is _not_ an option. Can you think up options to lower the amount of suffering caused by drug abuse? Visits to LARC's by high school classes?

How about producing a very long lasting drug that makes cocaine and heroin not function? Antabuse does a similiar thing for alcoholics, but only stays in the system for about a week after the last use. How about prison farms, where addicts are seperated from the general population, and spend most of their time in education and hard manual labor, for the duration of their sentence? Any ideas at all????

There are lots of ideas, some of which I have already shared with you. In Europe they are trying even more than we have discussed here and nearly all of those programs are having better results than what we experience here.

As for the prison farms and hard manual labor, I suggest again that (assuming you are right) we should start with the addicts we know -- namely you. What's wrong with that? It would improve your life greatly, wouldn't it?

So, our government is wasteful and inept. That doesn't preclude imprisonment as being a proper course of action.

No, but the absolute futility of this approach, combined with the fact that every major study of the issue says it does more harm than good would preclude it as a proper course of action.

I would also like to ask you exactly when prison became a "proper course of action" because no such fact was ever established when these laws were first passed.

I know of one who died from heroin. He was in my wedding party. I know of another who died in an automobile wreck while under the influence of cocaine. He was my best man. They're the only two statistics I need to be familiar with. Unfortunately I know more. Perhaps if they had been in jail, they would be statistics.

The obvious point here is that drugs are illegal as hell but they did not stop either one of these tragedies. This makes it all the more curious why you would support a policy that did nothing for your friends.

At the risk of sounding offensive, I dare say that until you have lived and shared in the misery associated drug addiction and abuse, you know absolutely nothing beyond the politically slanted statistics that you've read or have access to. Perhaps you do know something about this misery, in which case you've let your mind lead your heart.

I hear this a lot and it is BS from beginning to end. First, let me assure you that I have a pretty fair amount of experience with addicts, as do all of the doctors and others listed in I dare say that the experience of any one of them would far outweigh the experience you have had.

I don't think that knowing someone who was an addict or even being an addict yourself provides any great insights into a proper national policy. That gives entirely too much credit to drugs.

As for not knowing anything beyond the politically slanted statistics, it is apparent that you have not been to the library and read the studies I have mentioned many, many times. If you had, you would find that the statistics -- and their interpretation -- are quite clear to anyone who has bothered to read the evidence. As President Nixon's own commission said, the real problem is the ignorance of our public officials who have never bothered to read the evidence.

Increased "incidence," not increased "reports." And yes, I expect that a 25% incidence of narcotics would indicate harm to society.

Perhaps you are wrong here, because the major studies of the issue stated that, despite the widespread usage, it did not seem to be a major problem. Furthermore, even if it was, there was no evidence presented to Congress to show that the Harrison Narcotics Act was an appropriate approach to the problem. In fact, as stated earlier, the medical officials in this country felt it was not the proper approach. Furthermore, if you will read the Consumers Union Report (which you seemed to have missed in your trips to the library) you will find that most members of Congress did not realize that they were passing what would turn out to be a Prohibition law. Similarly, when hemp was outlawed in 1937, most members of Congress did not realize that they were outlawing a commercial crop which was grown in virtually every state in the US.

you equate the social, economic, and political milieu of 19th century China with that of modern day America

I am not doing anything of the kind.

It seems to me you were. But, regardless, the information you presented did not support the stated conclusions.

I suggest you write to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and tell them that their figures are in error.

I suggest you research your facts a little better. You have missed most of the major research on this issue.

Drug abuse imposes its own costs on society.

True enough. The point is that there is no evidence that prison does anything to reduce those costs. In fact, every major study of the issue (which you missed on your trip to the library) said it only increases the costs.

why we shouldn't help smokers and excessive drinkers kick the habit

Sounds like a good idea. It's the Christian thing to do.

So let's get really Christian and throw them all in jail for their own good. If you are a Christian, let me ask you a simple question. If we gave this problem to Jesus, what would he do? Would he build bigger prisons, or would he build hospitals and schools? Would he punish people, or would he heal them? Before you answer, please note that I have talked to a lot of members of the clergy and they all come back with the same answer. As one said, "Put that way, the answer is obvious."

When the smokers start robbing me at gun point, I'll start to worry . . .

Then you should start to worry the minute cigarettes come under drug Prohibition. If you had read the major studies of the issue you would know that tobacco users commit the same kinds of anti-social behavior as other addicts when they are deprived of their drug of choice.

I don't think you understand that drug addiction is physically harmful. _American Academic Encyclopedia_: "Tolerance develops to most of the effects of these drugs, which means that the dose must be regularly increased to maintain a constant effect." This leads to a gradual physical deterioration which is generally obvious in long-time junkies.

The statement by the American Academic Encyclopedia does not establish any harm to the body other than increased craving. Your statement is easily proven wrong by the doctors I have talked to (listed in who are the world's leading experts on the subject.

And, of course, I have been asking everyone on this board who Dr. William Halsted is and how he is relevant to this issue. But, of course, you don't know such basic facts as that, so there ain't much point in asking you, is there?

There are only 15,000 - 20,000 hard drug users in the Netherlands. It's a small country. I have no figures on mortality. However, I would expect they have a similar proportion of OD cases to what we have here.

In 1992 they had 28 deaths from heroin overdose in the entire country. This is all the more remarkable when you consider that heroin is usually injected and thus bypasses all the bodies defenses against overdose.

_Contemporary Drug Problems_ is not a "book" but an academic journal. In this case, the author of the article "Drugs and crime in an accommodating social context: the situation in Amsterdam" was written by Martin Grapendaal, Ed Leuw and Hans Nelen, who are introduced as follows:

. . .

If you would like some more direct information, I can put you in touch with Michael Hessing (former chief of police of Rotterdam), Robert Van der Hoeven, the DA, etc., etc., etc.

To accuse someone of lying would be rude, and so naturally, I have not done so. I merely express a healthy degree of skepticism as to Cliff's statements. As to his motives, I do not care to speculate.

Please read in library 13. I met with Friedman and others on February 23, 1993 at the Hoover Institution and signed what became known as the Hoover Resolution. I have become reasonably well known for this, having persuaded such people as William Von Raab, Dear Abby, and others to support the Resolution. If you like, I will send you the transcript of the radio show Hugh Downs did about me. I am fairly well known in this field so, if you knew anything about it, you would run across my name eventually.

As to my motives, I have stated them quite clearly on a number of occasions. My mother cannot get the medicine she needs.

To begin with, there is no need to lock them all up, and certainly not to imprison them all simultaneously. If you read "Narctics Reform," you understand that I never advocated locking up *all* heroin users. First-time offenders should be allowed treatment + probation, provided they have not committed any other offense. Subsequent drug offenses would be punished according to an accelerated schedule: Second-time offenders would be obliged to do some jail time, third-time offenders would get a longer sentence, and so on. Since the recidivism rate for drug offenses is only 30%, this would reduce the number of addicts requiring long-term confinement to a relative handful.

So, let's try the question again. How many people should be locked up? Don't give me vague generalities, give me some numbers.

I have not expressed any opinion, pro or con, as to the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. However, eleven states have already decriminalized simple possession of marijuana, without any obvious harmful results.

Of course, you are not familiar with how hemp or any of the other drugs became illegal in the first place, are you?

I believe that the difference between promoting the legalization of narcotics and the use of narcotics is a very fine distinction. One leads to the other.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I think we have already established that you have never read the major research on the issue and therefore would not be quite qualified to make this judgment. As it turns out, those who are now recommending legalization are those who have spent decades trying to limit drug abuse.

You prefer being robbed at gunpoint? That is a false economy.

If someone commits a robbery, as my good friend Judge Gray will tell you, that is an entirely different issue and they should be brought before a court of law. Until then, however, it is pointless to try to control private drug use with criminal law.

With stubborn cases who refuse to reform, that may be the only alternative. These represent only a small minority, however.

So you still have not answered the simply question of how many should go to jail. I bet you never thought about it, did you?

Child-molesting doesn't *necessarily* involve violence nor threat of violence. In the case of teen prostitution, it's a purely commercial arrangement.

It may interest you to know that Joseph Califano, in a report to the governor of New York in 1980, estimated that 70 percent of all child molestation and abuse cases are related to alcohol. So it again brings up the question of why you aren't campaigning for alcohol prohibition.

Well, er, no. Not quite. Cliff said exactly this -- "Wait! You just convinced me that prison is the right approach! We ought to start by throwing the known drug addicts (that's you) into prison "for their own good." A good twenty year stretch in the pen will change your mind about how appealing these drugs are."

I told you that any time you thought it would be a good idea for you to spend ten years locked in a small room as some thug's sexual plaything I would be more than happy to do what you think is the best thing for you.

I thought he was being sarcastic, and replied "You also indicated that I should be imprisoned as a drug addict. I assume you are being sarcastic again. (Which, BTW, is rude.) Since I have now been sober for 13 years and 15 days, prison is not called for."

Oh, but you are still a known risk for addiction aren't you? How else are we going to protect you from yourself?

Dr. Andrew,

Re the issue of comparative toxicity of drugs, the following might interest you. Marijuana is not included, of course, because there are no recorded deaths from marijuana in human history (source: DEA). Therefore, there would be little point in reporting the death rate from pot. Because the death rate is ZERO, there seems to be even less point in jailing people for its use.

Actually, I think these numbers might be understated with respect to the number of users of heroin and cocaine. Other figures I have seen are somewhat higher and, as I mentioned, I believe the survey method itself promotes underreporting of users for several reasons. Therefore, it seems quite possible that the death rates per user for heroin and cocaine may be somewhat lower than the figures stated below.

With respect to the number of deaths by heroin, you may recall that the CU Report stated that they could not find any heroin "overdose" death in which they believed the medical evidence supported the label of "overdose." Oooooops! Sorry! I forgot you haven't read the CU Report!

By the reasoning that you have given before (what little actual reasoning we have seen) we ought to throw people in jail for (fill in the blank) because this drug can kill people. By those standards, the heaviest penalties ought to be for alcohol and tobacco.

You are, of course, free to present any valid citable information which would conflict with these figures -- but you haven't done it yet, so I don't expect you to start now.

from: Thinking About Drug Legalization

by James Ostrowski, Cato Institute Paper # 121, May 25, 1989 $2.00

to order or for information, write Policy Analysis

Cato Institute

224 Second St. SE

Washington DC 20003

Estimated Per Capita Death Rates by Drugs


Drug Users Deaths per Year Deaths per 100,000


Tobacco 60 million 390,000 (a) 650

alcohol 100 million 150,000 (b) 150

Heroin 500,000 400 (c) 80 (400)

Cocaine 5 million 200 (c) 4 (20)


(a) "Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking:

25 Years of Progress" Surgeon General's Report (1989).

(b) Estimates vary greatly, depending upon whether all health

consequences, or only those traditionally associated with

alcoholism, are considered. The Fifth Special Report to the

U.S. Congress on Alcoholism and Health from the Secretary of

Health and Human Services contains two references indicating

a death toll of 200,000: The report states, first, that alcohol

"plays a role in 10% of all deaths in the United States,"

which comes to about 200,000 deaths each year. P. vi. It further

states that present estimates of the death toll from alcohol

abuse are as high as 93.2 per 100,000. Ibid., p. x. This

ratio translates into a total of about 210,000.

(c) These figures were determined as follows: Drug Abuse Warning

Network (DAWN) heroin and cocaine fatalities for 1984, 1985,

and 1986 were averaged. The number of suicides was subtracted.

The figures were discounted to account for deaths in which

both heroin and cocaine played a role. Since DAWN covers

about one-third of the nation's population but almost all

major urban areas where drug use florishes, totals were doubled

to arrive at yearly estimates of 2,000 for heroin deaths and

1,000 for cocaine deaths. Finally, these figures were dis-

counted by 80 percent in accordance with the analysis presented

in the text.

Cliff, I've been practicing medicine for 20+ yrs.

I'm also active in medical politics (currently president-elect of the medical staff of a major tertiary care hospital).

We have a rich tradition of communicating and discussing among ourselves all matters relevant to clinical practice, economics and ESPECIALLY governmental control.

The communication is accomplished via formal (peer reviewed) journals as well as by a welter of "popular" medical periodicals.

As I said before, I will be more than happy to compare your credentials on this subject against the credentials of the doctors who made the statements. But let's start with the simple points first;

The total amount of heroin you have prescribed in your career is _______? Please fill in the blank.

If you are an average US doctor you have never laid your hands or eyes on medicinal heroin and certainly have never prescribed it. Therefore, it would seem obvious that your knowledge is inferior to the doctors I have talked to who have actually worked with it. As I also said, I will be happy to put you in touch with some of them. As I suggested to Forrest Johnson, you can call them yourself if you like. Try, for instance, just calling the publich health service in Liverpool and ask to speak with the doctors in charge of their program. I would be interested to hear the response you get.

If you were really knowledgeable about the subject (like some of the doctors I have talked to) you would also be able to tell me about the supplies of heroin in the US which are legal, how they got here, and what they are used for. But, of course, you can't even tell me who Dr. William Halsted is (even though you CLAIMED to have read the book which describes him in some detail) so we will not move on to the hard questions.

Why is it that you have such a difficult time answering simple questions? What is the problem here anyway?


As I said before, it is becoming increasingly apparent that you have not read the Consumers Union Report or any of the other studies I mentioned. If credibility is an issue, yours is fading fast. Were you telling us all a big story when you said you read it?

We have one journal (Medical Economics) that searches out, investigates and reports on ANY "sensational" aspect of non-clinical MD related activity.

They would go nuts if they thought they were missing a story such as this.

Again, I say that you have not read the materials you said you read. It did not happen last week, it happened immediately after the laws were passed and had the effect of stopping all drug research and treatment for several decades. (Did you perhaps miss the part about "several decades").

But, to go on to more recent matters -- It is also apparent that you have not read the reports issued by the Department of Health and Human Services about the undertreatment of pain, and you are not familiar with the California Medical Association's recent statements on the issue. Your communication is lacking. You can get a full copy of the HHS report by calling 1-800-4CANCER.

Also, as I stated previously, Dr. Harvey Rose of Sacramento was prosecuted for giving Darvon to an 84-year old woman with crippling arthritis. It almost destroyed his practice. I will put you in touch with him if you like. As a result of his experience, he wrote California's Intractable Pain Treatment Act which seeks to give doctors some protection against this kind of arbitrary prosecution.

Also, in 1992, the DEA sent two Chicago doctors to prison for prescribing Tylenol 3. As you may know (assuming you really are a doctor -- we have had some pretenders here before) Tylenol 3 is not even a prescription drug except in the US and South Africa, and the US is the only country in the world which has ever jailed a doctor for prescribing it.

You may also be interested in the case of Florida vs. Martinez which appeared on Court TV and has been repeated several times because it was such an interesting trial. Mr. Martinez is an AIDS counselor who was handing out morphine to anyone who would come in and ask for it. Mr. Martinez does not have any kind of medical training (other than OJT as a AIDS counselor) and freely admitted that he was violating both state and Federal drug laws. His only defense was that his actions were a medical necessity because of the barbaric policies on drugs. The testimony was quite interesting. When the jury heard all of the evidence they voted unanimously for acquittal and stated that Mr. Martinez was a "hero".

Also, my mother's doctors have stated that the specific reason that they will not give her morphine (or heroin) is because they are afraid of prosecution if they do. These doctors have included the doctors at the Mayo Clinic, the National Pain Institute, the USC Pain Clinic, etc., etc., etc. As you recall, I asked you if you would prescribe it for her and got the usual cop-out. Your credibility is lacking in more than one respect.

Your inflammatory statement demands proof.

As I have said before, your credibility is fatally jeopardized by these sorts of wildly improbable statements.

The proof demands that you actually read the things you said you read. Your credibility also hinges on whether you can answer any of the simple questions I have put to you. For example: Who was Dr. William Halsted and why is his story relevant to the things you have said? (He asked for the umpteenth time.)

Frankly, I would think that anyone who had been in medical practice for more than 20 years would be able to answer these questions a whole lot easier. Why is it that a practicing physician cannot answer simple questions on this issue when he claims to be an expert?

There was an article in my morning newspaper. . . .It first reported that the heroin hitting the streets today is more pure, costs less, and is more lethal. Cliff and Mona please note - lethal means that heroin is not harmless.

A newspaper article with an unsupported statement about drugs

They also quoted Lee Brown, the country's drug policy director, as saying that since some of the stigma has been removed, heroin is now more socially acceptable. It use is increasing. He also said its use is increasing because you can now get purer doses for less money. (That is fundamental economic theory coming out again. Please note, as it gets to be a more quality product, and the price goes down, its use goes up - despite the Netherlands.)

Heroin is more socially acceptable? Who does he hang around with?

If quality is going up and price is going down, then obviously the drug war is not having its desired effect. This much seems obvious.

He stated there are now 2.7 million hard-core, chronic drug users in this country.

That much is correct. How many of them do you want to put in prison? - Recognizing, of course, that jailing them would require TRIPLING the size of every prison and jail which now exists in America.

Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was quoted ast calling heroin a vicious drug that tempts its users into a lifetime of a living hell. (Hmmmmmmm.... they don't, apparently, just stop the first time they vomit.)

Charles Schumer -- Now there is an informed, intelligent, reliable, impartial source that you can rely on. (Being sarcastic here, in case you didn't catch it. This guy is famous for his ignorance of the subject.)

Thomas Constantine, administrator of the DEA, who came there from the New York State police, gave a short history on how the quality and purity of heroin is increasing. Street heroin purity has gone from 7% a decade ago to an average of 36% now. In New York and Boston, it reaches 95%.

So he said interdiction was not working. I think we covered that before.

Opium production has quadrupled in the last decade.

Ten years ago the DEA estimated that only one percent of the entire world's opium supply would be required to supply the entire demand in the US. Now I guess it is down to one-fourth of one percent.

End of article. It appears that heroin is not harmless, and as its quality goes up and its price goes down, its use goes up. Lets keep it illegal.

It appears that you have a newspaper article with a bunch of unsubstantiated statements. Of course, even assuming that heroin is as dangerous as stated, that still does not establish that throwing people in prison is the best approach to the problem. The example of alcohol is instructive in this regard.

So, in conclusion, you have leaped from one unsubstantiated statement to a conclusion which would be a non-sequitir in any case.

You frequently take sentences one at a time, and respond, thereby answering points I am not making.

Yes, because the points you made in those sentences cannot be substantiated by an evidence I have found. You proceed from wrong information to wrong conclusions. Let's get the information right first, and then we might be able to move on to correct conclusions.

Also, frequently your response is not responsive. If you say "Heroin is harmless!" and I respond "But according to your stats, 20,000 people a year die from it!" it is _not_ appropriate to then say "But putting them in prisons doesn't work." Please respond to the thought, or skip it. It is very hard to maintain a dialog when you jump around.

Please get it straight what I have said. I did not say that 20,000 people die every year from heroin. (If you can't get this straight then there is all the more reason to question the other things you say).

What I said was that the AMA estimated that 20,000 people die from ALL illegal drugs from ALL causes, including overdose, accidents, etc.

Simply stating the number of people who die does not provide any support for the notion that prison is a beneficial approach. As I have stated previously, far more people die from alcohol and tobacco which, by your reasoning, would show that prison ought to be an even better idea for these drugs. In order to show that prison is a beneficial approach, it must be shown that the number of deaths would decrease with more people put in prison -- in some proportion that would provide a real benefit in terms of the cost. (You know, a simple cost-benefit analysis -- which you have stated previously you have never even seriously considered.)

Perhaps not. The post was addressed to Mona, not you. Please pay attention.

You stated that a junkie's right to fry his own brains was the core of the arguments for (for lack of a better word) "legalization". I pointed out that you are wrong. You can take those arguments away entirely and prison is still not a good idea.

Okay, you are being cute. Since your true position appears to be in favor of legalizing drugs, I will attribute that to you, and simply ignore any more comments like the above. If I am wrong, state your position on legalization.

We have been over this ground before. My position is that we should have one consistent philosophy and approach to all recreational drugs. That would require re-thinking our approach to not only heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, but alcohol and tobacco as well.

You cannot have everything both ways, Cliff. If you are not being sarcastic, then you really do believe that I should be imprisoned. For twenty years. Because I am an addict. Of course, that thought is contrary to your beliefs most of the time. So do you _really_ want me in prison because I am an _uppity_ addict? The only things your really know about me are that I am an addict (whom, you believe, should not be imprisoned), and I disagree with you on this policy (and I should be imprisoned.)

Or, of course, maybe there is some hypocrisy in your belief system.

You are the first addict I have run across who believes that spending ten years in a small cell as someone's girlfriend (hope he doesn't have AIDS) would improve his life. If you really believe it, I am willing to grant it. I don't see any other way that we could protect you against all the harmful things you might do to yourself.

It is a common failure of those who get frustrated in a discussion to take their opponents view, and change it to something else, and then oppose that. Please stop doing that.

That's called setting up a straw man. You might want to take your own advice here.

I am truly dismayed. If an additonal 200,000 people died in the first year alone, you would still say that your "no prison" policy is best. Good grief, Cliff, how many would it take? I was trying to pick a number high enough so you would say "If that many more people died, of course I would change my mind about legalization." You didn't. That many deaths wouldn't be enough. Am not sure what I can say. Doesn't make much sense to keep raising the ante until you do say Enough.

As I said, since I don't agree with the policy you are asking about in the first place, then it doesn't make much sense to answer such a question.

And, you seem to have missed the question that I have been asking of everyone. What evidence do you have to show that this (or any number of increased deaths) would happen? As I said, all the evidence I have run across says the opposite -- and I have named that evidence. Do you have any evidence? (Apparently nothing besides your own opinion, right?)

Can we at least agree that any policy which denies medicine to sick people has something seriously wrong with it -- both morally and practically?

I agree wholeheartedly.

See, we do agree on some things. Now let's proceed to the next point. Why is this happening when everyone I talk to seems to agree that it is wrong?

Ok, an example. You state it costs an average of $450,000 to imprison someone for drug abuse. Part of that cost, according to you, is $150,000 for building the cell. This implies that every drug offender has to have a new cell built for him. All must be in one man cells, and none of them are reused upon the release of the drug abuser. This is clearly absurd. You stick by it. I don't have to provide a stat for what the prorated use of a cell would cost to see that. It is obvious. When I see you cook stats like that, I then doubt all of your stats because of a perceived lack of intellectual integrity.

Those are the costs stated by people such as Thomas Coughlin, the New York State Commissioner of Corrections. I will believe him before I believe you, particularly when you have not presented any evidence to back up your statements.

The cells may indeed be reused on the release of the drug abuser, but you seem to miss the major point here. It would seem obvious that we have not put enough of them in prison to stop the problem. Sending a drug abuser (or better yet, a violent criminal) out the back door when another drug abuser comes in the front door does not accomplish anything. Therefore, the prison population will have to increase significantly before this policy becomes effective. The question is, at what level of prison population will this program have a real effect? As you have stated, you don't have a clue what the answer to that one is, so it really doesn't matter what numbers I cite.

Cliff, you clearly don't understand what addiction is like. You don't understand how people become addicts. You don't seem to be very concerned over messed up lives, or deaths, that could be caused by legalizing drugs. If messed up lives, and deaths, are not the issue, than what is? If those are not the issue, than is it only the money angle? Is it the pride of your position? What is your motivation?

Aside from the fact that you seem to have missed my position on this issue:

As I have stated, I have relatives who are addicts, including one that I grew up with like a brother. As I have stated, while I deplore their behavior I have to recognize that prison would not benefit them or society. My objective is to make them whole again, not to destroy them by turning them into someone's girlfriend in a small steel room for ten or twenty years. You may like that and think that is beneficial for you, but I do not accept that as an appropriate remedy for the people I know.

My motivation is that I would like to

a) change the laws so my mother can get the medicine she needs. Even you have agreed that denial of medicine is wrong. (Now you need to understand why it is happening.)

b) develop a policy which helps people instead of destroying them.

c) Destroy the mythology which surrounds this issue, which was the original basis for these laws in the first place. It is increasingly apparent that you do not understand how the laws came about, and therefore have an incorrect understanding of where we are today.

You have asked a number of people about imprisoning 30,000,000 drug abusers. I believe that all the serious folks I know of say they are willing to imprison enough to lower the suffering rate. I know of no one who believes that would take 30,000,000. Am not sure how many it would take.

That is exactly my point. The people who support this policy (including you) have never bothered to answer (or even ask) such basic questions as this. THAT IS THE PROBLEM. Don't feel lonesome here, because I have asked every government official that I have run across and all I ever get in response is a rather stupid expression on their face. How good can this policy be if no one has ever thought about where we are going with it?

If I ever see that the rate of human misery is, overall, going up because of putting drug abusers in prison, I would look into overturning at least some of the laws.

Then look again, and do it more closely.

I know you have rejected my descriptions of addiction, and how addicts act.

Not so. I believe you completely. As I said, that is the reason that the CU Report and others have said that drug prohbition will not work -- because the addicts do not respond rationally and, therefore, the laws don't mean much to them in terms of deterrence. Obviously, the laws did not deter you.

But please consider what I told Cliff (when he told me he thought I should be thrown in prison). I was a practicing addict for 12 years, and those years are now lost forever. If you had thrown me in prison, for the typical sentence for a first time possessor, I _might_ have been so rattled that I would have sought help, and stopped. If you had done that in year two of the twelve, you would have given me ten years of life back. Mona, I really would like those years back. Prison would have been very, very worth it.

I have no doubt that you would like those years back. We tried everything we could with law enforcement to give them to you and our efforts did not succeed. That's why I think we should have thought about it a little better and developed a plan which might have helped you more than this one did. As far as I can see, the only thing this policy did for you was to make treatment less available because all the money is being spent on prisons.

Yes, we might have given you ten years of life back (assuming you would respond to jail when you admit that the thought of your own death did not deter you). You would have spent that ten years locked in a small steel and concrete room playing the role of someone's girlfriend. I don't know your personal sexual tastes but, for the addicts I have known, I would not consider that as an acceptable remedy to their problem. Most of the ones I have seen who went through something like that wound up considerably more screwed up than when they went in.

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