• 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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