Duck Soup
Coming Unglued


It astounds me how blinkered we can be when emotion climbs behind the steering wheel. I am thinking about drug policy, but the same irrationality erupts on issues such as abortion, ebonics, euthanasia, nuclear power, the West Bank, the death penalty and vegetarianism, to name just a few hot-button topics.

Visceral certainty precludes thought, as if our stomachs swallowed our brains and cut all lines to the outside world. How else to explain our complex approach to drugs?

We subsidize tobacco, socially encourage alcohol consumption, push prescription pills, base foreign policy on some sort of international Tough Man competition, and occasionally lock up a first-time marijuana offender and throw away the key.

We pay enormous medical bills for AIDS and hepatitis treatment, much of which could be easily avoided by providing addicts with cheap, clean needles.

Visceral certainty precludes thought,
as if our stomachs swallowed our brains
and cut all lines to the outside world.
How else to explain our complex
approach to drugs?

We allow the sale of toxic chemicals, some of which kids inhale to get high, and ban the sale of relatively innocuous plant materials that have been used by every culture in history. We tell kids that pills will make them feel better and then tell them it is bad to take pills that make them feel good.

When I was a child I enjoyed assembling plastic models. One company had a line of life-like birds, and many winter nights I sat at a desk gluing and painting a blue jay or cedar waxwing. Suddenly there was a big flap about glue sniffing, and toy companies were forced to produce unsniffable glue. The result was that my models didn't stick together.

Those who think the new glue prevented idiots from burning their brains on poisonous inhalants must have burned their own brains on something.

There is more legal stuff to sniff today than ever. No wonder that the drug education program D.A.R.E. is wildly popular despite continued failure to change behavior. People don't want to be confused with facts when something feels so right and decent.

The theory is that children who have a positive interaction with a police officer and are taught to resist peer pressure will avoid drugs. Although multiple studies show that D.A.R.E. graduates use drugs as often as non-graduates -- frequently even more often -- the program continues to grow. A large percentage of federal drug education money is funneled into D.A.R.E. coffers, and over 90 percent of North American school systems have joined the program.

At the same time, Oakland, Calif. schools have dumped the program as a failure, and similar proposals have surfaced in Washington, Texas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Indiana.

If studies, including those done for the Justice Department, show over and over that D.A.R.E. graduates use more drugs than kids who have not been through the program, and use them at an earlier age, should we continue to fund a loser? Are intentions more important than results?

We blind ourselves to the effect of our policies if we assume that great slogans produce great results. Shouldn't we, at the very least, explore alternative drug education programs?

The War on Drugs presents the same sort of puzzle. We have managed to make the illegal drug trade extremely profitable and at the same time have increased the market.

Based on reaction to previous commentaries, I know some readers will feel a knee jerk just now and think I favor drug abuse. I do not. I think it's clear that addicts mess up their lives and families and jobs.

At the same time, this country's drug policy pieces don't hold together. Maybe we should look for better glue.

C.L. Bothwell III hails from the other Carolina.

© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 9/12/97