Families in Action
A Guide to Publications
Just Say 'Wait a Minute'
A Review of:
by Michael Massing 335 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
How We Got into This Mess and How We Can Get
(See Response: Just Say No: An Exchange)
On a hot, muggy night in the summer of 1976, Ron and Marsha "Keith" Schuchard held a thirteenth-birthday party for their daughter in the backyard of their suburban Atlanta home. The Schuchards were English professors, comfortably middle class, and they worried about their daughter. Her personality had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. She was moody and indifferent and only wanted to hang out with her friends. When she asked for a party, the Schuchards were briefly encouraged, because they thought she was coming out of her shell. But as the night wore on, they grew more and more alarmed.
The "guests"--many of whom they had never seen before--kept to the shadows of the backyard. Cars pulled up in the driveway, with teenagers yelling "Where's the party?" One girl tried to use the phone but seemed to have difficulty dialing. Looking out on the gathering from their upstairs window, the Schuchards could see little flickers of lights in the corners of the lawn. Finally, when the last of the kids had gone home, the couple went outside in their pajamas and crawled around in the backyard grass with flashlights, trying to figure out what had happened. They found beer cans and empty wine bottles. But what they also found--and what bothered them the most--was marijuana butts and roach clips.
occasionally do things--and ingest things--that do not meet the approval
of their parents is not, of course, all that unusual. But this particular
case was different. In fact, in his new book, The Fix, Michael Massing
locates the beginning of what he calls the drug counterrevolution at that
moment, late at night, in the suburbs of Atlanta. The Schuchards decided
that the reason for their daughter's disaffection was not normal adolescent
angst, nor was it the malt liquor and the wine. It was the marijuana.
"We had a sense," Keith Schuchard would say later, "of
something invading our families, of being taken over
By this point,
Schuchard had hooked up with a neighbor, Sue Rusche, and formed Families
in Action, the country's first antidrug parents' group, and was intensively
lobbying the president's drug adviser. By 1980, she and other concerned
parents had joined together to form another, still larger antimarijuana
group, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth ( NFP ),
and by January of the following year, with the election of Ronald Reagan,
the NFP became one of the
To start, Turner rejected their idea of distinguishing between hard-core and occasional users. In his view, there was no such thing as "casual" or "recreational" drug use. Nor did he accept the distinction between "hard" and "soft" drugs. To his mind, that was "a very smooth public relations ploy to get the American public to accept all kinds of drugs. It was like soft drinks--you can drink them with impunity if you don't mind a few cavities." From now on, Tuner asserted, all types of drugs were to be regarded as equally dangerous, and all types of drug use as equally reprehensible.
In the Reagan
years, the budget for treating drug addicts was cut to about a quarter
of what it had been just ten years earlier, while billions of dollars
were added to the budget for drug reinforcement, overseas interdiction,
and prisons. The key outside strategist, pushing the new director, was
now another NFP activist, the group's treasurer, a middle-aged Massachusetts
businessman named Otto Moulton. Moulton, Massing writes, was a "giant
teddy bear" of a man, with a "round belly, fleshy face, and
flock of curly locks," who was obsessed with the threat
Then, with the
election of George Bush, came the appointment of William Bennett as drug
czar. He was an English professor and a moralist who knew nothing whatsoever
about drugs, which, according to the perverse logic of the counterrevolution,
made perfect sense, because the point of the counterrevolution was to
take control of the fight against drugs away from the professionals and
give it to the parents, and to transform it from a medical crusade into
a moral one. In the late 1980s, even as the crack epidemic was first starting
to explode in inner cities, Bennett and his drug office remained stubbornly
The Fix is about
the consequences of this counterrevolution. It is the story of what was
lost when the parents' movement turned our attention away from treatment
and hard drugs. In particular, it is the story of an improbable, all-too-brief
golden age in American drug policy, a period of no more than two or three
years in the middle of the Nixon administration, when America, in Massing's
eyes, suddenly got it right. His heroes are two young men on Nixon's staff,
Jeff Donfeld and Bud Krogh ( the White House fixer who would later get
swept up in the
one of Nixon's domestic policy staff, and his portfolio was drugs. He
was a "brash conservative" who despised the 1960s counter-culture.
But before long he became fascinated with the success of an experimental
methadone treatment in Chicago, the Illinois Drug Abuse Program ( IDAP
), which had shown great success in reducing crime, unemployment, and
heroin use. Donfeld turned to Krogh, who had been given the responsibility
for attacking the crime problem in the District of Columbia, and convinced
Krogh that it might be worth trying out the Chicago program in the District.
"The District of Columbia
a place where we could put more funding into treatment and see what happened.... The administration's emphasis had been so overwhelmingly on the law-enforcement side, that I concluded that if we could get a substantial portion of the addict population into some kind of treatment program, where they would have a chance to function and not be driven to commit street crimes, that would be a very important contribution to the law-enforcement side.
The plan worked.
Early results from the D.C. pilot project showed stunning drops in criminal
activity among those enrolled in treatment. Emboldened, Krogh went to
John Ehrlichman, arguing that the program should be instituted nationally,
and by the summer of 1971--after a complex round of bureaucratic maneuvering--Nixon
called a bipartisan group of congressmen to the White House and announced
that he was appointing Jaffe to head "a new, all-out offensive"
against drugs, using treatment as its principal weapon. To fund the effort,
Nixon more than
at least as reflected in national crime statistics, were impressive. In
1972 crime fell nationally for the first time in 17 years. Crime was down
4.1 percent in Chicago, 4.5 percent in Philadelphia, 8.8 percent in Boston,
15.8 percent in Detroit, and 19 percent in San Francisco. In the District
of Columbia, where treatment on demand had been in place longest, crime
fell 26.9 percent in 1972. In New York the crime rate fell 18 percent,
even though drug arrests and incarceration rates were down sharply that
year. The administration that was known for its conservatism and its insistence
on law and order had taken the most liberal approach possible to the drug
program--and it had worked.
But later presidents would discover that the true political power in that phrase lay in taking it literally: in fighting drugs at the source with guns and soldiers and helicopters. Jaffe's approach also involved creating a hierarchy of illicit drugs, in which heroin was at the top of the list and commanded most of the attention and marijuana was at the bottom. But by the end of the 1970s the drug treatment fraternity, through sheer arrogance or laziness or both, had allowed the message that heroin was the most dangerous of drugs and marijuana the least dangerous to be distorted into something even less publicly palatable, namely that heroin was bad and that marijuana was good.
Massing, for example, retells the extraordinary story of how the Carter administration's drug adviser--Peter Bourne--was forced to resign. In December 1977, Bourne decided to attend a party headed by NORML--the pro-marijuana lobby group headed by Keith Stroup.
If nothing else, Keith Stroup knew how to throw a good party, and the event, held in a posh Dupont Circle townhouse, drew several hundred lawyers, congressional aides, politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists, plus assorted marijuana growers and paraphernalia merchants. Waiters carried silver trays bearing caviar and thick joints rolled from the finest grass. Around ten o'clock, a charge went through the crowd: Peter Bourne had arrived.
Mobbed by well-wishers, he was quickly escorted upstairs to a private room where the inner circle was gathered. Among those present were Hunter Thompson, David Kennedy (Robert's son), and Keith Stroup. A small, bulletlike container of coke was being passed among the people in the room.
Bourne stayed for a short while, then headed back downstairs and left.
When six months later this story emerged--that the White House drug czar had been to a party where cocaine was used--Bourne was forced to resign. Bourne maintained, in his own defense, that he didn't use the drug at the party. But that was hardly the issue. What was he doing at a NORML party to begin with? Should it surprise anyone that parents like Keith Schuchard--confronting marijuana use in their children for the first time--would read about this in the paper and conclude that federal drug policy didn't, exactly, reflect their concerns?
There is a more fundamental problem here, though, that goes beyond politics. It wasn't just that the parents' movement and the counterrevolution felt that their interests were being slighted by a hard-drug, treatment-based approach, or that the public, in the end, finds interdiction much more satisfying than more passive demand-reduction measures (such as methadone treatment . It was that the parents felt that a treatment-based approach was incompatible with a true war on drugs. For the parents, Massing writes, "the notion of recovery meant that addicts could get well--a message that, they felt, undermined their warning to young people not to use drugs." Treatment, to the hard-liners, is part of the problem. Massing quotes Carlton Turner: "Under President Reagan, I didn't believe that our philosophy should be that it's all right for kids to use marijuana, cocaine, PCP, and Quaaludes, that--'Hey, that's all right, go do it, and then when you wake up and become a heroin addict, we'll put you on methadone.' That's not what this country is all about."
It is hard to
overestimate the gulf between these two positions. They are so irreconcilable,
so intractable, that they have made it almost impossible to discuss drug
policy in this country in an understandable and rational manner. This
fall, for example, when President Clinton's drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey,
announced that he wanted to make methadone more widely available, one
of the first to attack the plan was New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who
argued that instead of replacing one kind of addiction with another the
goal should be to "try to make
But then, Giuliani's
position is hardly stranger than McCaffrey's previous decision to dramatically
escalate the drug war in Mexico. McCaffrey has stated on several occasions
that he doesn't think the United States can do much to stop the flow of
drugs across the border, but he has channeled millions of dollars toward
hardening the border anyway because, as he told Massing, if smugglers
are forced out to sea "there'll be less murder and corruption of
democratic institutions in Mexico and
One way to appreciate
just how far apart these two positions are is to consider a relatively
simple question. How much fun are drugs? One of the principal claims of
what used to be called the "drug culture" was that drugs are
really, really fun, and the parents' movement has always taken that claim
at face value. Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign was about
abstinence because the assumption was that, to the overwhelming majority
of teenagers, even the smallest initial exposure to pot or cocaine or
heroin would prove irresistible. This same assumption is behind the drug
counter-revolution's hostility to treatment. William Bennett, Massing
writes, simply didn't believe that
There is something
poignant about this attitude. The great unspoken anxiety of those who
do not use drugs as adolescents (and I'm assuming Nancy Reagan and William
Bennett fall into that category) is that they are missing out on something
fabulous, and, of course, it is this very same anxiety that drives those
who are using drugs toward even more extravagant claims on their behalf.
It is a mutually reinforcing loop, but it has no particular grounding
in reality because, of course, drugs really aren't that much fun--at least
not in the way that straitlaced adolescents and anxious parents think
that they are. This is a
year, for example, a group of researchers at the University of Michigan
led by the psychiatrist Ovide Pomerleau published a short report in the
journal Addiction. Pomerleau and his colleagues polled four separate groups
of people about how they felt when they first experimented with cigarettes:
heavy smokers, light smokers, ex-smokers, and never-smokers. What they
found is that there are huge differences in how much pleasure people derived
from their first few cigarettes. In fact, the amount of pleasure neophyte
smokers experienced correlates closely with how heavily they ended up
smoking later in life. Of the people who experimented with cigarettes
a few times and then never smoked again, only about a quarter got any
Put that way, the conclusion of the study sounds really obvious and almost silly. But it's an important point. We often assume that the reason most teens don't take up smoking is that we have successfully armed them against the powerful lure of nicotine: convinced them that it is a dangerous and filthy habit, made cigarettes hard for minors to buy, made it impossible to smoke inside buildings or in restaurants. What Pomerleau is suggesting is that for an awful lot of us--not all of us, of course, but many of us--cigarettes don't present a powerful lure at all. We don't start smoking because smoking makes us feel sick.
This is true,
in some sense, for nearly all addictive drugs. In the 1996 Household Survey
on Drug Abuse, 1.1 percent of those polled said that they had used heroin
at least once. But only 18 percent of those had used it in the past year,
and only 9 percent had used it in the past month. That is not the profile
of a universally likable drug. The figures for cocaine are even more striking.
Of those who have ever tried cocaine, less than 1 percent--0.9 percent--are
regular users. Some of that other 99.1 percent are, no doubt, recovered
addicts, people who painfully reclaimed their lives from the grip of the
drug. But an awful lot
This is not to say that no one likes drugs. Of course, some people do. It's just that what is most striking about almost all drugs is how extraordinarily selective their appeal is. 99.1 percent of cocaine experimenters don't go on to become users. We, as a society, take that as evidence of something intrinsically problematic with cocaine. But doesn't it really suggest that there is something intrinsically problematic with those 0.9 percent who become regular users? This is really the issue at the heart of the great, irreconcilable difference between the Jaffe camp and the parents' camp. It isn't just that the parents think that drugs are fun--when they are not--it's that parents think the problem is about drugs, when it is really about users.
This same mistake
is made by those who take the libertarian position on drugs, and who believe
that most of the problems associated with drugs are the result of the
fact that they are illegal. In his new book Drug Crazy, Mike Gray paints
a lively and quite convincing portrait of all the corruption and futility
of drug prohibition. He makes a devastating argument against interdiction,
for example, pointing out that all of the heroin consumed in the United
States every year can fit inside a single
Gray tells the story, for instance, of Dr. William Stewart Halsted, one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Halsted was a world-famous surgeon, renowned for his skill and ingenuity, a happily married man with an "exemplary" private life. He was also, unbeknownst to almost everyone, a morphine addict for all of his adult life, and despite years of trying, was never able to cut his addiction to less than 180 milligrams of morphine a day. Halsted's story, Gray writes,
is revealing not only because it shows that a morphine addict on the proper maintenance dose can be productive. It also illustrates the incredible power of the drug in question. Here was a man with almost unlimited resources--moral, physical, financial, medical--who tried everything he could think of to quit, and he was hooked until the day he died.
The first of
these three sentences is undoubtedly true. Halsted was taking morphine
to break his previous addiction to cocaine, the same way that addicts
today take methadone to break their addiction to heroin, and these kinds
of maintenance regimens can, under ideal circumstances, permit addicts
to lead normal lives. That was part of the logic behind the Jaffe model.
The second sentence, however, is simply wrong. Halsted's addiction tells
you nothing whatever about the incredible power of the drug in question,
because there are plenty of people who are able to quit cocaine without
the need of additional drugs, and plenty more who would have found it
possible to break a morphine habit. All Halsted's addiction tells you
is something about
his discussion of the politics of the drug war with a detailed and fascinating
profile of a drug treatment referral center in Harlem. He follows, in
particular, a woman named Yvonne Hamilton, charting, over the course of
several years, her ultimately successful battle against cocaine addiction.
Two of Yvonne's siblings, Massing tells us, turned out well: one was a
pastor in Queens and another a high school teacher. But Yvonne was in
trouble from the beginning. She was sampling her mother's tranquilizers
and bottles of liquor while barely into her teens. In junior high, she
began smoking pot. In high school, she took LSD, and then after school,
while working, she developed
Yvonne Hamilton is different from most of us: different from her family, and different from most people in East Harlem, for whom the abundantly available drugs on the street there hold no particular appeal. What the parents do not understand is that the key to the drug war is not about broadcasting antidrug messages, or teaching kids how to say no, or crawling around your backyard looking for roach clips. It is, as Massing argues persuasively, about understanding precisely what makes people like Yvonne Hamilton different, and giving her the kind of help and attention her difference demands.
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