The (Drug) War on 'Cheese'

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Albert Einstein
famously defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and
over again and expecting a different result."

The total failure
of the Drug War to decrease drug use exemplifies this definition
of insanity, and now it seems there is a new chapter. There is a
new drug down in Texas. It is called "Cheese," and according
to police Cheese is a combination of black tar Mexican heroin and
crushed medications that contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine,
found in products such as Tylenol PM. Tylenol PM is marketed as
a combined analgesic and sedative, or more simply, pain reliever
and sleep aid, to treat occasional headaches and minor aches and
pains with accompanying sleeplessness. Heroin is an opioid, synthesized
from the opium poppy, that mimics the action of endorphins, creating
a sense of well-being. Cheese produces “A
double whammy — you’re getting two downers at once,” says Dallas
police detective Monty Moncibais
. “If you take the body and
you start slowing everything down, everything inside your body,
eventually you’re going to slow down the heart until it stops and,
when it stops, you’re dead."

The reaction
to this new drug has been predictable. The DEA is "closely
monitoring" the situation in Texas. According
to DEA Special Agent Steve Robinson, the DEA is working with the
City of Dallas to raise public awareness of the problem.
Reread
that last sentence. The DEA is going around Dallas telling people
that there is a cheap, new drug available! Presumably this means
there is a DEA-sponsored informational campaign that aims to inform
the people of Dallas of a dangerous new drug and to try to prevent
its spread to other cities. Only a government agency could believe
that this will do anything but INCREASE the number of users.

The CNN website
hosted an article about Cheese on its front page for several days.
The coverage is sure to induce hysteria among parents, because Cheese
is commonly being used by children in middle school. At one middle
school assembly, the principal told all the kids that the United
States is the world leader in youth drug use. The children cheered
in response (perhaps appreciating the grand irony that is the Drug
War itself).

If the United
States is still the world leader in youth drug use, then we have
been doing something very wrong for the last thirty-six years.

This connection
is lost on policy-makers, police departments, and paranoid parents.
These groups continue to propose and embrace the "total prohibition"
tactic of controlling substance abuse. This tactic was a failure
for alcohol in the 1920s and is a failure for drugs today. The newest
propaganda campaign is called "Above the Influence." This
campaign is made up of television commercials and a website that
try to connect with a young, "hip" viewer with slogans
like "R U Above it?" and other patronizing clichés.
See it for yourself at http://www.abovetheinfluence.com.

The establishment
insanity is further demonstrated by its ignorance of a simple truth:
these kids probably just want to smoke pot! But because marijuana
is illegal, the kids will try to get a similar high from another
source that is easier to find or hide. The government ignores the
basic rules of economics and tries to destroy demand by eliminating
supply. This results in demand shifting to a similar (but not outlawed)
drug, which is much more unpredictable and dangerous. The laws of
supply and demand guarantee that someone will ALWAYS step in and
find a product to satisfy this demand. The law of unintended consequences
takes hold as demand shifts from pot to Cheese. Unintended consequences
like demand shifting and drug binging are always the result of prohibition,
yet some continue to believe that it will be different "this
time," or that the drug warriors just need more money.

Prohibition
yields another perverse result. In his book The
Economics of Prohibition
, Mark Thornton of the Mises Institute
writes of the effect of prohibition on the potency of the
substance that is prohibited. When a drug is prohibited, the potency
of that drug rises, because the risk associated in its trade rises,
and the "weaker stuff" now carries a lower benefit at
the same cost. This results in the availability of a more dangerous
drug than would be available if the drug were legal. The Cheese
trade demonstrates this effect, as heroin is hardly a mild drug
to begin with.

It is disturbing
that our leaders have ignored other instances of this cycle with
different drugs over the past several decades. When this writer
was in high school (1997–2000), the alternate drug of choice was
Ecstasy (also known as MDMA or Methylenedioxymethamphetamine). A
few tabs of X could be purchased for very little. Ecstasy was legal
and unregulated until May 31, 1985, when it was added to DEA Schedule
I (the designation for drugs deemed to have no medical uses and
a high potential for abuse). During DEA hearings to criminalize
MDMA, most experts recommended DEA Schedule III prescription status
for the drug, due to its beneficial usage in psychotherapy. The
judge overseeing the hearings, Francis Young, made the same recommendation.
Nonetheless, the DEA classified
Ecstasy as Schedule I
. Ecstasy was illegal when I was in high
school, but the drug's relatively benign appearance, combined with
the fact that its use does not result in clouds of distinctive-smelling
smoke, made it an easier drug to hide. Many people ended up with
lingering depression (serotonin syndrome) as the mood-boosting effects
of X destroyed their brain's ability to create the neurotransmitter
serotonin, which is associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.
(Dunkley, E.J.C., et al., Hunter Serotonin Toxicity Criteria: a
simple and accurate diagnostic decision rule for serotonin toxicity.
Quarterly Journal of Medicine, 2003. 96: p. 635–642.)

Unfortunately,
our leaders continue to embrace this insane policy, and the Drug
War rolls on. Rather, it spends on. The modern drug war has
been raging since 1971 when President Nixon declared that drugs
were “public enemy number one in the United States.” Under President
Nixon, the U.S. Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act of
1970, on which the foundation of the modern drug war is based. Enforcement
powers were given to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
and then in 1973 to the newly formed Drug Enforcement Administration.

The
total financial cost of the drug war was estimated at $12 billion
in 2005 (pdf)
. Additionally, the U.S. government reported that
the cost of incarcerating drug law offenders was $30.1 billion —
$9.1 billion for police protection, $4.5 billion for legal adjudication,
and $11.0 billion for state and federal corrections. In total, roughly
$45.5 billion was spent in 2005 for these factors. The socioeconomic
and individual costs of the incarceration of millions of people
were not included. Also omitted were the financial and human costs
of the military wars fought in the name of the “War on Drugs.” There
are only two explanations for this outcome: either the drug war
is a complete and utter failure, or the goal from the beginning
was something other than lowering the number of people using drugs
in the United States. The "War on Drugs," like all attempts
at prohibition, will never accomplish the goal of eliminating drug
use, and any "progress" towards that "goal"
will by offset by tremendous financial and human costs in enforcement.
The enormous leap in prison populations over the past 37 years demonstrates
that reality. Individual drug use is none of the government's business.
More importantly, the government is powerless to stop it.

Hopefully in
the future the United States' Drug Policy will be based on science
and common sense. Until then, we are stuck with insanity.

June
21, 2007

Jeff
“Noz” Nosanov (send him mail)
was born in Los Angeles and is now a third-year law student in New
York City. He was strongly influenced by his family and friends
who taught him to always question the status quo.

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