Drugs—Dangerous and Deadly
DRUGS—substances that affect the senses—have a history that goes back to the earliest days of mankind. Natural substances that act on the nervous system were soon discovered: alcohol to relax a weary mind. Opiates to relieve pain and induce sleep. Coca leaves to numb the senses and increase endurance.
Alcohol has long been prominent. We are told in the Bible, at Genesis 9:20, 21, that “Noah started off as a farmer and proceeded to plant a vineyard. And he began drinking of the wine and became intoxicated.” Opium appears to have been known in ancient Mesopotamia and is recorded as being widely used in ancient Greece. Peyote, tobacco, coca, soma—all have played parts throughout history.
Drugs have even found a niche in fictional literature. Homer told of the forgetfulness that befell some of Odysseus’ crew in the land of the lotus-eaters. The renowned fictional detective Sherlock Holmes injected a 7-percent solution of cocaine, which he found “transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind”—a viewpoint similar to that promoted by the nonfictional Victorian intellectual Sigmund Freud.
The medicinal value of drugs was quickly noted, but their use was not limited to medicine. They came into widespread use in religious rituals. They were used in efforts to expand awareness, intensify feelings, enhance appreciation, alter mood, and increase capacity for love. But they also had an infinite capacity for destructiveness and creating social problems.
It is interesting to note that drugs outlawed today were not always viewed as detrimental to human health and welfare. For instance, in the latter half of the 19th century in the United States, cocaine, opium, and heroin were legal and readily available. They could be purchased without prescription from any pharmacy. Some were widely used in patent medicines. Coca-Cola contained cocaine for 17 years until it was replaced by caffeine in 1903.
Nations that today seek to suppress the drug trade once fought to expand it. The Opium Wars—two trading wars fought in the mid-19th century when China tried to stop the illegal opium trade in her country—ended in China’s defeat and the forced legalization of opium importation there.
A Victimless Crime?
Some today also favor the legalization of drugs. They see it as a solution to the dilemmas faced in dealing with the illicit drug trade. Others feel that the “recreational” use of drugs is a private and individual matter and regard the taking of drugs as a harmless diversion. But is the use of illicit drugs a “victimless crime,” as some claim? Consider the following:
● Twenty-six-year-old Natasha Ashley, eight and a half months pregnant, is talking with a female friend on the sidewalk in a section of New York City called Little Italy. Suddenly a car jumps the curb, hitting both women and pinning Ashley’s left leg against a light post, severely crushing it from the knee down. The friend’s leg is also broken. The police find the driver in a drugged stupor in his car, still clutching a hypodermic needle in his hand. “It looked like he had overdosed while driving,” said the paramedic attending the victims.
● Michael Perkins, only 12 years old, is dead—killed in a fire that destroyed the apartment house in which he lived. Police say it was deliberately set by crack dealers after his father complained about their drug activities in the house.
● Rosa Urena will not enter college this fall or get married next year as she had planned. She was mortally wounded as she lay asleep on her bed, hit in the head by a stray bullet that smashed through her window and the headboard of her bed. Drug peddlers had riddled her building with bullets in a territorial claim.
● A 17-year-old crack addict goes on a robbing spree to support his drug habit. By the time he is apprehended eight days later, he has killed five people and wounded six others. “All of the victims were innocent working people,” noted the chief of detectives.
The above are but a few of the many drug-related incidents that took place in just one city this year. And they are increasing at an alarming rate.
How safe would you feel on the highway knowing that a certain percentage of the other drivers have taken a drug that impairs their judgment and reflexes? Would you be calm when boarding a bus, plane, or train while recognizing that those responsible for your safety may be under the influence of drugs? “Already there have been cases of addicted airline pilots, train crews, bus and truck drivers, company managers, doctors, teachers and others in authority who have created dangerous situations through ‘going on a mission’ [drug slang for getting high] while on duty,” notes the Manchester Guardian Weekly.
In an investigation of a recent fatal commuter-train crash in Mount Vernon, New York, all five of the train-control personnel involved tested positive for drugs. Said Federal Railroad administrator John H. Riley: “Over the last 16 months, we’ve averaged one major rail accident every 10 days in which alcohol or drug use was discovered, with more than 375 people killed or injured in those accidents. We have found drug-positive results in one of every five railroad accidents we’ve tested in the last two years, and 65 percent of our fatalities occurred in accidents where one or more employees tested positive for alcohol or drugs.”
Drugs and Crime
One does not have to be in transit to be a casualty of the drug scene. Victims are often those in their own homes and on the streets. Many drug addicts, driven by the need to sustain their expensive habit, resort to crime—robbing, mugging, burglarizing. “A Justice Department study recently discovered that an astounding 79 percent of criminal defendants in some cities test positive for drug use,” states U.S.News & World Report.
Then there are the frequent shoot-outs between rival drug factions and the retaliatory measures taken against those who do not meet their payments. Innocent bystanders are often caught in these confrontations. “If a target happens to be in a group of four or five others,” says one official, “too bad for the four or five others.”
In the U.S. capital, Washington, D.C., there were 228 murders in 1987—57 percent of them connected with narcotics. New York City tallied 1,691 murders, an average of over 4 a day. Over 38 percent of them were prompted by drugs. “The Oakland [California] Fire Department attributes more than 180 cases of arson in the city last year to warfare between drug gangs and reprisals against slow-paying customers or residents who complained publicly about the city’s wide-open commerce in crack, a potent form of cocaine,” says a New York Times report.
Society as a whole feels the effects of drug abuse—increased crime and violence, the burdens of reduced economic productivity and tragic accidents, public corruption—along with their high cost. But it is the drug abusers themselves who pay the highest price. How so?
The Dangers to Users
“Drug abuse is bad. It can destroy the mind and kill the body. In a word, it is stupid,” is the way it was put by Malcolm Lawrence, former special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of State for international narcotics control matters. But what about those who boast that they are not addicted and claim they can stop whenever they wish? “I know people who have taken crack several times and never did it again,” said one high school student.
“Certainly not every kid who takes a hit off a joint or drains a bottle of booze winds up as I did,” says former addict Ken Barun, who started with marijuana at age 16 and went on to pills, hallucinogens, heroin, and cocaine—never expecting to see his 25th birthday. But many do develop drug dependency, and no one can say who that one will be until it is too late.
One problem is the disarming effect of drugs. Cocaine, for instance, which is currently one of the most abused, at first makes you feel stronger, more alert and confident, more in control of your life. The feeling is so good that it makes you want to try it again and again. But as you do, you start to feel bad without the drug—edgy, confused, anxious, depressed. You need more. But with repeated use can come addiction and a host of problems that include paranoia, hallucination, and psychosis.
Researchers have discovered that cocaine use can permanently damage the heart and trigger heart attacks and strokes. Len Bias, a 22-year-old basketball star in the United States who died from a cocaine-induced heart attack in 1986, is said to have used the drug only once.
Crack, a derivative of cocaine, is even worse. “The special hazards of crack are due to the drug’s extremely high addiction potential and its ability to cause serious medical and psychiatric problems,” says the journal Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality. Because it is cheap and readily available, it finds a special appeal among the young. Crack users have been known to murder their parents and take their own lives.
“Reported cocaine-related deaths and hospital emergencies increased significantly from 1983 to 1986,” says a special report from the Comptroller General of the United States. The statistics gathered by DAWN (Drug Abuse Warning Network) from participating hospitals and medical examiners showed a 167-percent increase in hospital emergencies and a 124-percent increase in deaths due to the use of the drug in that period.
Tragic Effect on the Young
One of the most tragic results of drug abuse is the effect on children. “The story of child abuse and neglect in New York City during 1987 is the story of an explosion in drug abuse,” said a report by the Internal Fatality Review Panel of the Human Resources Administration. There were 46,713 reports of child abuse and neglect, and 103 of the children died. Additionally, during the city’s 1987 fiscal year, over 2,500 infants were born with drug-addiction withdrawal symptoms. Because of cocaine, many babies are also born prematurely and with low birth weight, as the drug limits the flow of blood to the placenta and reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients that reach the fetus.
Babies are also being born with the dreadful AIDS virus, transmitted by intravenous drug abuse and passed on from the mother to her fetus. By the end of this year, about a thousand babies infected with the AIDS virus will have been born in New York City alone. “We have just begun to see the devastation,” says Dr. Leonard Glass, director of newborn services at Kings County Hospital Center. Three or four babies die of AIDS at this Brooklyn hospital each month.
With such dangerous and deadly consequences from drugs, you would think that the world would be up in arms against the drug trade, and it would be squashed. Why, then, is it increasing? Is there any hope ahead?
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Some Commonly Abused Drugs
Drug Possible Effects Risks of Abuse
Opium Euphoria, drowsiness, Shallow breathing,
Heroin apathy, nausea convulsions, coma, death
Barbiturates Slurred speech, Weak and rapid pulse,
Quaaludes disorientation, shallow respiration,
Valium dramatic mood swings, coma, death
Cocaine Increased alertness and Suspiciousness, bizarre
Crack confidence, euphoria, behavior, hallucinations,
Amphetamines decreased appetite, convulsions, death
LSD Illusions, Longer and more intense
PCP hallucinations, altered episodes, bizarre and
perception of time dangerous behavior,
and distance psychosis, death
Hashish Euphoria, relaxed Fatigue, disoriented
Marijuana inhibitions, behavior, paranoia,
increased appetite possible psychosis
[Picture on page 9]
The unborn are helpless victims of parental drug abuse