Freedom for $1.05 or drugs for $2?

The words leading to the coordinating conjunction in this story’s lede sentence gives the reader more than enough information to know how this will affect drug enforcement policy.

A cheap, highly addictive drug known as “cheese heroin” has killed 21 teenagers in the Dallas area over the past two years, and authorities say they are hoping they can stop the fad before it spreads across the nation.

“Cheese heroin” is a blend of so-called black tar Mexican heroin and crushed over-the-counter medications that contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine, found in products such as Tylenol PM, police say. The sedative effects of the heroin and the nighttime sleep aids make for a deadly brew.

We’re going to get fear to justify more brutal attempts to enforce prohibition. It’s stupid, but typical. And being so obvious, it’s not what warrants the most attention. Better to start here:

“Cheese” is not only dangerous. It’s cheap. About $2 for a single hit and as little as $10 per gram. The drug can be snorted with a straw or through a ballpoint pen, authorities say. It causes drowsiness and lethargy, as well as euphoria, excessive thirst and disorientation. That is, if the user survives.

I expected a multimedia presentation with the requisite pause and ominous drumbeat after that last sentence.

It makes no sense to pretend that something like “cheese heroin” is bad. I’m sure it is. But what evidence do we get to excuse “if the user survives”? After all, we’re told that 21 teens have died in 24 months. That’s an awful statistic, but outside of some other context, it doesn’t tell us anything meaningful.

Authorities say the number of arrests involving possession of “cheese” in the Dallas area this school year was 146, up from about 90 the year before. School is out for the summer, and authorities fear that the students, with more time on their hands, could turn to the drug.

The first statistic we get is an approximation that 236 people were arrested for possessing this drug in the two years in which 21 students have died. I’m left wondering whether these arrests involved teens or not since the article doesn’t say. It does use the academic calendar to measure arrests. That’s a quaint device.

But looking at the numbers, are we to assume that almost 10% of users die? Highly unlikely, for no rational person would believe that Dallas police have arrested every possessor of “cheese”. (I’m sure they’ve tried, mightily.) I’m still left trying to triangulate a rational context for this hyper-fear.

Drug treatment centers in Dallas say teen “cheese” addicts are now as common as those seeking help for a marijuana addiction. “It is the first drug to have even come close in my experience here,” says Michelle Hemm, director of Phoenix House in Dallas.

Without hard numbers¹ it’s difficult to draw concrete conclusions, but I’m guessing the number of marijuana users addicts is high enough that a comparison implying a 10% death rate among “cheese” users is flawed. So the death rate is lower, as a percentage. What percentage are we looking at? Is the level of fear and panic implied in this story justified?

I don’t have the answer, unfortunately. Again, I’m sure “cheese heroin” is nasty, dangerous stuff. But I’m left wondering if there isn’t a message in this story about prohibition?

[Dallas police detective Monty] Moncibais then asked how many students knew a “cheese” user. Just about everyone in the auditorium raised a hand. At one point, when he mentioned that the United States has the highest rate of drug users in the world, the middle schoolers cheered.²

“You know, I know being No. 1 is important, but being the No. 1 dopeheads in the world, I don’t know whether [that] bears applause,” Moncibais shot back.

Decades of prohibition and we’re the best at having people use drugs. A sane policy would not continue pursuing prohibition at all costs. It would acknowledge that people will use drugs, despite a general consensus among fans of prohibition that drug use is bad. Reasonable officials would seek to minimize the damage from that drug use instead of trying to win an unwinnable “war”, even if it meant decriminalization.

But that doesn’t win elections or justify larger budgets. Fear does that.

¹ The next paragraph in the article:

From September 2005 to September 2006, Phoenix House received 69 “cheese” referral calls from parents. Hemm says that in the last eight months alone, that number has nearly doubled to 136. The message from the parents is always, “My kid is using ‘cheese,’ ” she says.

That provides more numbers, but I don’t think they help or hurt my argument.

² At this point in the story, CNN has a video link titled “Watch middle schoolers raise hands, admit they know drug users”. I laughed at the stupid absurdity.

2 thoughts on “Freedom for $1.05 or drugs for $2?”

  1. Just another cheesy drug scare, trying to get the plebes to elect a “strong man” to protect them from cheese. Besides, the politicians can claim knowledge about how to solve the problem: who knows better than a rat how to get rid of cheese.

  2. Here’s a website you may find useful. [website deleted] is a site for friends, families, and those who suffer from various addictions.
    Tony says: Thanks for the offer, but you missed the point of my post. I’ll ignore the likelihood that this is mere shameless marketing and pretend that you think I like marijuana and need saving. I’ve never tried marijuana, but thanks for caring.

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