It is commonly said the first casuality of war is truth. The drug war is no exception. The drug policy debate is too often clouded by inaccurate in-ormation about the effects of drugs. The recent poll commissioned by Rich-ard Dennis for the Drug Policy Founda-tion shows the public incorrectly as-sumes that illegal drugs are more dangerous than the legal drugs and that illegal drugs cause crime, violence, death and addiction at much greater rates than legal ones. In December, The Wall Street Journal expressed its opposition to legalization by saying that we should stick with the "devil we know" — alcohol — concluding that alcohol is safer than illegal drugs.
Every decade or so when a new drug comes on the black market, it is portrayed as the worst drug ever, and a host of myths surround it. The response to crack is a textbook example of how the media and a few "experts" can blow the effects of a drug out of proportion. Most of this issue of The Drug Policy Letter is about crack, a drug for which apocalyptic claims have been made.
The lead article by Marsha Rosenbaum and fellow researchers from the Institute for Scientific Analysis examines the issues surrounding women and crack. They discredit the widely held notion that crack kills the natural mothering instinct of women and makes women lose their sexual virtue.
The following analysis piece by Dale Gieringer examines the emotionally charged phenomenon of"crack babies." How many are there? How damaged are they?
One of the most incendiary charges against crack is that it spontaneously produces violent reactions in the user, even if one is using it for the first time. Researchers in New York studied crack's purported effect on homicides. Paul Goldstein et al found that the vast majority ofhomicides in New York City were fueled by the drug trade, not the use of crack. In fact, alcohol was found to spur more killing than all the illegal drugs combined.
In the final article of this series on crack, Linda Wong and Bruce Alexan-der of Simon Fraser University in Brit-ish Columbia expose the myth of co-caine causing immediate death among recreational users: the alleged "Len Bias syndrome." They conclude that cocaine is less toxic than either alcohol or tobacco.
The purpose of these analyses is not to say that cocaine is a safe drug. Rather, the purpose is to review the claims made about cocaine against the evidence and bring truthfulness back to the debate. While cocaine, particularly in crack form, has dangers, it is not the most dangerous drug known to man. We cannot develop sensible poli-cies without a better understanding of the substances whith Vihich we are dealing.
Treatment Professionals Argue for Public Health Approach
The final two articles in this issue examine public health approaches to drug policy. Neither article advocates outright legalization, but instead other alternatives that move drug policy away from reliance on criminal law enforce-ment toward emphasis on public health controls.