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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 16th August 2013

There’s been a lot written and said, recently, about a decline in the prevalence of drug use. The headline from the latest Crime Survey England & Wales (CSEW) was about reduced use, though, as I’ve pointed out,  the CSEW figures are extremely unreliable. More recently, information from the USA has been about reduced production and consumption of cocaine.

The numbers behind those claims also need to be viewed with a deal of suspicion because, as the chart on this page shows,  the numbers can be changed from one report to the next with no explanation.

However, what we know, and saw again recently with the story about arrest rates, is that the meaning of numbers is secondary to the story that can be fashioned by abusing them. So, regardless of what the true numbers are the story at the moment is that drug use is in decline and this is especially the case with cocaine.

Many people are asking ‘why?’ because they recognise that the official line - that after all this time the control regime is working - is nonsense but they are struggling to find a rational reason for the behavioural changes apparently taking place.

Me, I have a different question.

I spent some time, yesterday, looking for some quotes.

First, some articles from the ProQuest newspaper archive available via libraries.

The story under the headline ‘Whitney Houston and crack cocaine: why this addiction is so desperately hard to break’ includes this sentence;

‘A crack-addicted brain has been physically changed: it sends out a screamingly loud message to its owner that it needs a hit.’
Damian Thompson Copyright Telegraph Media Group Limited Feb 12, 2012

The headline ‘Casual drug use down but cocaine addiction grows in U.S.: survey’ provides;

‘However, the survey also suggested that the number of heavy cocaine users, including those using the highly addictive form of the drug known as crack, rose sharply between 1985 and 1988 - by 33 per cent’
The Gazette [Montreal, Quebec] 01 Aug 1989: A7.

Here's some more;

‘…the growing popularity of the cocaine derivative crack which stands alongside heroin as the as the most addictive of drugs’
David Rowe and Ken Hyder. Sunday Mirror [London (UK)] 27 July 1997: 8.

‘"They also have a terrible craving, and by the time the crack supply is almost gone, these people start accusing each other of hiding drugs," she says. "They will crawl around on the ground, thinking they will find one little piece of crack. They could attack each other."’
Hamilton, Andrea. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ontario] 29 July 1994: A.10.

‘Paredes became addicted to crack cocaine the first time he took it in September, 1988, court heard.’
Wendy Darroch. Toronto Star [Toronto, Ontario] 03 May 1990: A30.

‘He said that use of crack, a highly potent and addictive form of cocaine, is spreading throughout Montreal.’
DERFEL, AARON. The Gazette [Montreal, Quebec] 17 May 1990: G10.

‘Aside from its addictive properties, cocaine is dangerous…’
Solomon, Neil. The Gazette [Montreal, Quebec] 04 June 1990: C14.

‘"We're starting to get the first bad cases of cocaine use, and that (addiction) is extremely difficult to overcome,"’
Fagan, Drew. The Globe and Mail [Toronto, Ontario] 28 Jan 1984: P.20.

Then there’s this from ‘Addiction’;

‘The final factor associated with the tremendous growth in cocaine use is the reinforcing effects of the drug itself and its potent addictive capacity.’
British Joumal of Addiction (1988) 83, 1359-1371 Epidemic Cocaine Abuse: America's present, Britain's future? HERBERT D. KLEBER, M.D.

And books in my library say;

‘The social consequences of this new epidemic of drug addiction [crack cocaine] were devastating…they gave birth to crack-addicted babies’
DEA, the War Against Drugs – Jessica de Grazia BBC Books 1991

‘A single injection into the gums…may cause serious troubles…and frequently last for weeks or months’

‘…the only remedy applicable…immediate withdrawal…a stay in a sanatorium…of a year or more’
Phantastica, Narcotic & Stimulating Drugs Dr Louis Lewin Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1931

‘…crack was portrayed as extremely – indeed uniquely – addictive’
Cocaine in the United States by David T Courtwright from Consuming Habits ed. Goodman, Lovejoy & Sherratt, Routledge 1995

In the excellent ‘High Price’, Dr Carl Hart refers to media stories, in the mid-1980s, about crack becoming addictive after one use and I can remember those stories though, at the time, they didn’t hold any special interest for me so I accepted them at face value.

In the light of that selection of quotes, and it is only a selection, my question is not why has cocaine use declined. What I want to know is;


The 2013 UNODC World Drug Report says ‘Between 2006 and 2011, cocaine use among the general population in the United States fell by 40 per cent’ to a best guess of 4.6m. That would mean that, since 2006, around 3 million fewer people in North America are using cocaine. And it is important to remember that this is a net reduction taking the difference between new users and those who have ceased. Based on the UNODC figures, then, well over 3 million people in North America have given up using cocaine in five years.

If cocaine is as addictive as it has been repeatedly reported to be and if crack cocaine is an even more addictive form of the drug, how have so many people been able to quit?

The reporting of the effects of cocaine and crack during the 1980s was outrageous but, as we know, the notion of telling a dramatic story with an eye-catching headline has not gone away. These days, it is more likely to involve a new psychoactive substance (NPS) rather than cocaine (or false headlines about arrest rates) but the principle remains; the truth is subordinate to commercial exploitation of a story.

Does it matter? Actually it does. Earlier this week the US Attorney General announced changes to the use of mandatory minimum sentences that mostly affect drug offences  Those sentences were first imposed by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 and in the 27 years since then many, many thousands of people have been incarcerated under those provisions.

But now, in welcoming AG Holder’s announcement, one of the politicians behind the act, E. Clay Shaw, Jr, has admitted that ‘We may have overreacted a little bit’. He also told Al Jazeera ‘I’d never heard of crack cocaine. But it started popping up like crazy’. I think it is fair to assume that what Clay meant was that stories about crack cocaine started to pop up like crazy rather than that it was being offered at every turn of the corridors of power.

So, the false reporting by journalists looking to grab the attention of readers with no personal knowledge of the subject can reasonably be said to have led to the long-term incarceration of mostly black, mostly young, mostly male people and the consequent destruction of families and neighbourhoods.    


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