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Books - Drugs and Minority Oppression
Written by John Helmer   

The outcome of the Boggs Subcommittee hearings in 1951 was an Act of Congress which substantially stiffened the penalties for drug offenses and compelled judges to sentence offenders for at least two, five, and ten years for the first and subsequent convictions. It also did away with suspension, probation, or parole for repeaters. This was the backbone legislators aimed to give a spineless court system, as one witness had called it, which was blamed for the dope problem.

Four years later Boggs reconvened his committee and held a new set of hearings to establish how well he had done in the first place. Commissioner Anslinger declared: "without that Act we would not have been able to hold the fort." Across the country state legislatures, most of them with small numbers of drug offenders to deal with, had followed the federal lead with "little Boggs acts." Several enacted devices making known offenders or addicts subject to arrest simply for being an addict. This was an innovation since being an addict (whatever that was) had never before been an offense on the statute book, and such measures virtually ensured that no first-time offender, certainly not a Negro living in a high-drug use area, could escape the label and the persistent police harassment which was its consequence.2

The Bureau of Narcotics presented table after table of evidence to show that since 1950 the average sentence for drug offenders had gone up. For instance, for federal prisoners received from court on both marijuana and narcotics charges, the average went from 21.2 months in 1950 to 43.6 in 1954.3 In the judicial district covering New York City there was a similar increase (narcotics offenses only) from 18.7 months to 35.4; in Chicago, 20.5 to 43.6; and in Los Angeles, 22.2 to 43.3•4 Among federal prisoners the proportion with previous commitments on narcotics charges fluctuated with narrow limits between 1949 (67.7 percent) and 1955 (63.8 percent)—except for 1952, when the relative number of first-timers reached a peak (43.4 percent).8 The statistics on parole also showed the effect of the Boggs Act, although it did not last for long. In l950, 23.5 percent of drug offenders were released on parole from federal prisons. This rose in 1951 to 28.1 percent and then fell by more than half the following year (12.8 percent). By l955, however, parolees numbered nearly a third of the releases (31.6 percent)—the highest proportion in seven years.8 This indicates that the mandatory minimum sentences had exactly the opposite effect to the one intended, for they increased the likelihood that offenders would be paroled within a relatively short time.

This interpretation was not one of the ones offered by the Bureau representatives at the hearings. Instead, a parade of witnesses from many jurisdictions came to the witness table to testify to a decline in the drug problem. This, they swore, was the work of the Boggs Act:
. you are advised that it is our opinion that the Boggs Act has been effective in this district" [Boston]. "The Boggs Act has been a strong factor in causing a material decrease in the overall picture of the narcotic traffic in the judicial district of Connecticut" [Hartford]. "In my opinion, the Boggs Act is a good and necessary law. However, it has one glaring weakness. Sentences for first offenders are not severe enough" [New York]. "It is the opinion in this district [San Francisco] that the Boggs Act has very definitely put a brake on the narcotic traffic." And so it went, almost without exception.

The one skeptical voice came from a narcotic agent in Washington itself: "it cannot be said, in my opinion, that it has diminished the trafficking in narcotic drugs to a detectable degree," he reported to his superiors,7 and the evidence bears this out. As can be seen from Figure 5-3, there was a noticeable drop in the number of nonfederal arrests on narcotics charges in 1951, although this total sprang back the following year. Similar brief declines and then rebounds are reported for New York and Chicago. Although it then took nearly 10 years after the Boggs Act for the numbers to return to the 1951 peak, it was only four years before the l949 level was reached, seven before the 1950 figure.

However, once the old peak was reached, the arrests did not stop but kept increasing steadily. From l957 the total more than tripled itself every five years in spite of a battery of new punitive measures voted into law after the second series of Boggs hearings was completed (The Narcotics Control Act of 1956).8 Table 6-l reports the yearly totals between 1957 and 1972.


Of course, one element behind the continuous rise in arrests was the parallel increase in the number of agencies reporting statistics to the Uniform Crime Report section of the FBI. This is not as important as it looks simply because the overwhelming proportion of arrests was made in the big cities, where police departments were among the earliest to join the FBI system. Thus, the fourfold rise in reporting units would probably account for very little of the nearly-fiftyfold increase in the total number of arrests.

The table does reveal two important trends in the period. One of them is that there were relatively more white offenders than black with each successive year, reversing the 50-year-old trend described in Chapter 5.

In l951 the ratio of black to white offenders was 1:14, reflecting a numerical majority of blacks. In that year also, in Chicago, blacks added up to 90 percent of all those charged for drug offenses. Yet at no time during the most recent period did blacks ever constitute more than a minority of the total arrested, and according to the index of racial susceptibility, which can be figured for the three census years, 1950, l960, and l970, their likelihood of being arrested relative to whites fell by a factor of four. In 1950 the index stood at 9.7; in 1960 it-had dropped to 7.4; and in 1970 it was 2.1.

The second important trend has to do with the aging of the offender population. The table indicates that this was growing younger and younger until 1968, when the proportion of arrests under 18 reached a peak of just over 28 percent. This compares with a maximum of 24.7 percent under-21 year olds arrested in Chicago in 1951 and 21.6 percent the same year in New York. In other words, the typical drug offender between l967 and l971 was significantly younger than his counterpart of 20 years before, and the proportion of the young was nearly twice as high among the white offenders as among the black.

This was a gradual development, meaning that there was a slow but steadily increasing recruitment of neophytes throughout the period. However, by l970 this total had grown so large that narcotics use was once again identified publicly as having reached epidemic proportions.

"The heroin addiction crisis has reached threatening proportions," Congressman Pepper declared at the opening of special hearings by his Select Committee on Crime. "Our cities are besieged. Our suburban areas have become infected. Even our rural areas are now feeling the shocking effect of this malady . . . our citizens are properly asking whether their Government is helpless, or corrupt, or even worse, totally incapable or unwilling to deal with a public health epidemic."9

It is important to notice, however, that the proportion of the youngest age group among arrestees began to decline after 1968, just as had happened after the epidemic year of 1951. Had the total number of offenders also stabilized at the same time, it would be reasonable to guess that the flow of new recruits had slowed down or stopped and that most arrests were of repeaters. This did not happen; instead, the total shot up by 150 percent, reinforcing the idea of an epidemic, although this was no longer primarily a juvenile phenomenon. New users were appearing in police records but they were increasingly 20 or over.

Let's be clear that drug offenders were still disproportionately black and young in relation to the racial and age distribution of the general population and the distribution of the drug offenders during the 1950 episode. The same basic configuration of demographic and labor market conditions which had operated during the late 1940s were active again to increase both the total numbers of teenagers, especially blacks (Table 6-l), and sharpen the disparities in labor market participation, unemployment, and wage rates between black and white youth.

The first of these has already been illustrated. Regarding the second, for 16- to l9-year-olds, the black unemployment rate was consistently twice the white rate from l966 on, and the teenage rate was roughly five times the rate in the work force over 25, black and white, separately or together.° The period l966-72 was the worst for teenage unemployment in recent history; the total (all races) rate did not stop rising until the first quarter of l972 when it hit 17.5 percent." In Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and those parts of New York included in the federal poverty area survey of l970, 41.9 percent of black teenagers out of school were counted as unemployed, and the actual proportion was probably higher. By contrast, white teenagers living in the same areas had an exceptionally high rate of unemployment, but at 35.5 percent still significantly lower than the black.12

The same survey showed that for all 51 urban areas covered across the country, the median hourly earnings of a black youth were almost invariably lower than those of a white youth, no matter how much schooling had been received or the extent of job training obtained after leaving schoo1.13 At the same time, the inflationary crunch on wages actually reduced the real earnings of inner-city black workers from their l959 level, thereby making even more desperate the black family's need for more income and better-paying jobs. The concentration of black workers in the secondary labor market intensified, as did the population density of the ghetto areas.0

The statistical litany is getting to be a familiar one. Since these things are correlated with narcotics use, it can be expected that as the former got much worse, so would the latter, which also helps to explain why the narcotics problem in 1970 was so much greater than in l960 or in that year over 1950. The consistency of the change over time, however, belies the claim that the "epidemic" of 1970 was a sudden departure from normal, whatever that was, although the pressures building up from the structural changes I have mentioned do not account for all the change in the number and characteristics of drug offenders.

One of these changes, the increasing proportion of whites, looks as if it contradicts the typical pattern of concentration among the poor and racially isolated elements of the urban working class, which I have identified in every episode so far—especially so if the white offenders were the suburban, middle-class types which congressional witnesses and the press claimed them to be.

There is no doubt that heroin has been used in the middle-class suburbs of the country. Only one case of an "epidemic" in such places has actually been verified, and there, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the numbers involved, while large maybe in the local context, were insignificant in the state aggregate or by comparison with the number of drug users estimated for a big city like Detroit.18 But this is the point: in the aggregate of narcotic offenders or addicts, is the suburban or middle-class representation anything but a small minority of the cases?

If it was happening, it ought to have occurred in New York State which by popular and expert estimation contains the majority of the country's narcotics users.18 There has been very little sign of it, however. In 1968, at the beginning of the national "epidemic," over 90 percent of the drug offenders committed to the state's Narcotic Addiction Control Commission (under the civil commitment laws) came from New York City alone, and 92 percent of them were from the three boroughs, Manhattan (33 percent), Brooklyn (26 percent), and the Bronx (32 percent).17 Three years later, 86 percent were from the city and 87 percent from the same boroughs.18

In the one available survey of the state for drug use taken in 1970, not a single upper- or upper-middle-class heroin user could be found. The class measurement was made on a neighborhood basis by professional interviewers, and according to the author, the methodology used favored discovery of the stable and higher-class drug user. Still, the proportion of middle-class heroin users identifying themselves (15 percent) was less than half their distribution in the general population, and the lower-middle-class or lower-class users (84.4 percent) were significantly more numerous than the normal distribution.19

On the other hand, drugs disproportionately used by the upper-middie class included legal narcotics (pain-killers like Demerol, Dilaudid, and Dolophine), hallucinogens (peyote, psilocybin), marijuana, and diet pills. The middle-class drug users disproportionately preferred LSD, the pain-killers, and relaxants and tranquilizers such as Valium, Librium, Miltown, and Equanil. These forms of drug use may have amounted to an epidemic, but in one crucial respect this differed from the heroin problem—it was legal in most cases.

There is one nagging question about this remaining to be answered, and that is: Can there be or have there been a significant group of middle-class opiate users who remain out of the hands of the law and and consequently out of sight altogether?

This would be the case, for instance, if the middle-class consumer were able to pay for his supply of drugs out of his income or assets, without resorting to crime. Or if he were able to regulate his consumption and consequently the cost by putting it on an occasional basis, rather like the common pattern of social drinking; or, again, if even after apprehension by the police, he could avoid jail and obtain some form of private psychiatric treatment instead.

To take the last of these first, it will be recalled that in the twenties Dr. Alexander Lambert had specifically identified morphine users, whom he thought to be predominantly middle-class in background, as most susceptible to the medical cure for addiction and least deserving of a stretch in prison. However, even while the New York Clinic remained open dispensing a legal supply of drugs, the number of its patients from white-collar, let alone professional occupations, was minuscule.20

Recent investigations have revealed fairly sharp differences in the social class of drug users who are known to the police and those who are not but appear in public psychiatric records. There is no doubt that middle-class narcotics consumers, where they exist, are far more likely than working-class consumers, black or white, to conceal their behavior with impunity. This has been confirmed in a study involving drug use statistics in the Maryland Psychiatric Case Register, a cumulative record of admissions and discharges of all individuals entering a psychiatric institution in the state since l961. These records were compared with records from the Baltimore and Maryland county police departments, as well as with the list of names from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics' register of active narcotics users from Maryland.21

When drug-users (all drugs) were counted together in the period between l966 and 1967, it was found that more than 56 percent of those recorded in the psychiatric register were unknown in the police records, and clear demographic and social differences were indicated between the two groups. Females were much less likely to be known to the police than males. The same was true of whites compared with blacks, those who lived in the suburban and rural counties compared with those who lived in Baltimore, and predictably (when postal zones were isolated), the suburbanites of Baltimore compared with the residents of the inner city. In more specific class terms, college-educated drug-users had a greater probability of remaining unknown to the police than those with less education; of the occupations involved, 21 percent of those with professional, technical and managerial backgrounds had police records, while 79 percent were unknown to the police. This was in sharp contrast to those employed in construction work of whom 69 percent were known to the police, and only 31 percent unknown.

It should be emphasized that these comparisons cover individuals using all types of drugs, not just the narcotics, and when the specific drug is introduced into the comparison, it is immediately obvious that police records cover narcotics users much more effectively and thoroughly than those using other drugs. When only narcotics are considered, differences do remain; females, for instance, are nearly twice as likely to avoid the police as males. But racial differences are slight and there is no evident trend for blacks to be better known to the police than whites. In fact, within the city of Baltimore, they are somewhat less likely to have been apprehended than whites.

What the investigation points up, however, is that notwithstanding the difference social class makes among drug users, those who are not known reflect the conventional drug preferences of their class, as Chambers' findings in New York State reveal them to be. Most of the hidden middle-class drug use in Maryland involves barbiturates, amphetamines, and the hallucinogenic drugs. In short, there are next to no hidden narcotics-users among the middle class.

If the white drug offenders newly arriving on the scene in l970 were neither suburban nor middle-class, who were they and where did they come from?

Again, the best source is New York, but since the police there do not release racial or other background information on the people they arrest, the only alternative is to look at the much smaller group of drug offenders who landed in the registers of the Narcotic Addiction Control Commission (NACC) or the Prisons Department or Board of Health.

In l971 it is evident that blacks outnumbered whites and Puerto Ricans who, combined, added up to 45.5 percent of the total. In earlier years though, the combined group was in the majority; the 1968 figures, for instance, showed 26.9 percent whites, 34.l percent Puerto Ricans, and 38.8 percent blacks.22 According to the Chambers survey, in l970 there were 11,000 regular heroin users who were white (34.4 percent), and 9,000 Puerto Ricans (28.1 percent), making a total of 62.5 percent, together with 12,000 or 37.5 percent blacks.Now the FBI counts Puerto Rican drug offenders as either white or black so that we can immediately say a large part of the increased white percentage is made up of individuals in this group. How much of a part is not exactly clear because the Puerto Ricans figure primarily in the New York arrest totals and little elsewhere and because it is impossible to estimate how many Puerto Rican offenders are white, how many black. In Puerto Rico itself, Von Eckhardt has reported 73 percent of the drug offenders are white, 27 percent black or darkskinned.24 According to NACC, the black percentage among Puerto Rican admissions has been much less-6 percent black to 94 percent white.25

The condition of the Puerto Ricans in New York is identical to or worse than that of the blacks, and a similar set of demographic and labor market forces were working during the sixties in association with their apparent take-off in drug use and narcotics offenses. Heavy migration plus high birth rates have produced a large bulge in the population distribution aged 16 to 24 and low educational attainment, little prior work experience and concentration in unskilled manufacturing work, a sector with sharply declining employments needs, have produced the classic split labor market phenomena of low wages and high unemployment, especially for teenagers.28 According to the Census, poverty area survey of New York in 1970, more than 40 percent of the 16- to-19-year-old Puerto Ricans (males) who had left school were unemployed.27

It will be useful to refer to the NAAC register to see what level of education the non-Puerto Rican whites had achieved. This is another way, although a far from perfect one, of telling the social class of the white drug offender represented in the FBI figures, assuming of course, that class is associated in linear fashion with educational attainment—the higher the class, the higher the attainment, and vice versa. Almost two-thirds of the group had not graduated from high school, which strongly suggests working-class origins for most of the group, and economic circumstances which did not differ too much from that of the blacks and Puerto Ricans. It is unlikely that the white heroin users reflected in the Chambers sample were concentrated in the high school student population any more than the other groups. Since this amounted to only a third of the total-53.1 percent in a job of some sort and 12.5 percent unemployed—the educational level probably reflects stable class background rather than mere coincidence in the timing of the survey interviews with the onset of drug use in school."

Thus, even if increasing whiteness of the narcotics offender population during this episode was a novel phenomenon, it does not appear that among the whites the typical pattern of class and economic conditions, which were the operative ones in every episode before, had changed one iota.

One change which is still puzzling, however, is the aging of the offender population after l968 parallel with the recruitment of older drug users aged 20 or over. Who were they?

The answer is that in all likelihood they were veterans of military service, most probably veterans of the Vietnam War. A number of different studies point to the same conclusion by exposing the relatively large number of veterans among institutionalized offenders. Statistics for a variety of drug-care facilities indicate about one veteran for every five drug-users in New York City. Veteran enrollment in therapeutic programs ranged from 9 to 30 percent in early 1971; in the city's Health Services Administration program as of June, the same year, the percentage was 20.2.29 Through March 1972 the ambulatory detoxification clinics identified an average of just over l9 percent veterans," and among prisoners in the Manhattan House of Detention, 15 percent of those requesting detoxification were veterans." A comparable study of the inmates of the District of Columbia Jail found one-quarter of the identifiable addicts claimed military service."

In Boston, according to a study of Vietnam veterans and veteran drug-users which was made there, approximately 10 percent of all admissions to city treatment programs during 1972 were veterans." When the total number admitted to separate Veterans' Administration facilities was added in, their proportion of the general addict population rose to between 24 and 33 percent." This represented a sharp rise from the year earlier when the proportion in the Boston city drug treatment program was only 5 percent."

Moreover, it seems that most veteran heroin users are white, with blacks possibly underrepresented in this population. Surveys taken in Vietnam differ somewhat on this. A Defense Department information release has claimed that 68 percent of GIs using heroin were white; 32 percent black and other races." An unpublished Army survey of support units located in and around Long Binh late in l971 found "no correlation between [black] race and drug abuse in Vietnam." Among those admitting to heroin use (8.3 percent of the sample), 72 percent were white, 13 percent black, 6 percent Mexican-American, and no Puerto Ricans. These figures compared with the following distributions in the full test population: 73 percent white, 19 percent black, 3 percent Mexican-American, and 2 percent Puerto Rican. In other words, black soldiers were significantly underrepresented in the drug-using group.37

Among veteran heroin users, two sources point to a relatively low number of blacks: Patch in Boston identified 90.5 percent white, 9.5 percent black; and a Veterans' Administration patient census in mid-1971 indicated 71.5 percent white, 26.1 percent black.38 A third source found that race was not significantly related to drug use, although black users were more likely to be detected as such. Incidentally, this source reported a much smaller number and proportion of veterans on heroin than had been estimated by anyone before."

With this kind of variability in estimates, it is practically impossible to say what proportion of the veteran drug offenders found their way into the FBI's count of whites and blacks. The least we can say is that veterans may amount to as many as a third of all narcotics offenders, more likely about a fifth of them; and that the majority, probably 70 percent, are represented in the white total.

Other things being equal, this would help account for the relative increase of white offenders over black, and it may also explain the origin of the new 20- to 25-year-old offenders appearing in police records after l968. If veterans, we would expect the new offenders to be concentrated in this age group, since 68.6 percent of all veterans (75.8 percent of Vietnam theater veterans) left the service in this age group.0 We would also anticipate the fastest growth in this group of offenders after l969 when large-scale heroin use really began in Vietnam and throughout the military. Table 6-2 illustrates that this is roughly what happened.

How did these men begin using heroin? Did it occur before they joined up, their tour of duty merely postponing what would have shown up in the official records at an earlier age and time had they remained civilians? Or was the drug habit a consequence in some way of the war itself, conditions in Vietnam and military policy towards drug use? Finally, was the military (then veteran) narcotics user any different in educational or social class background from the typical working-class pattern I have already described?


In order to answer these questions, let me first describe something of the history of military drug use, for a drug problem so-called can be found in every one of the wars the United States has been in before Vietnam.

Any schoolboy who reads, war adventure comicbooks knows that our Asian adversaries in World War II and the Korean War attacked only after they had been thoroughly hyped up by a heavy dose of opium. The logic behind this, I suppose, since there has never been any evidence for it,41 was that the only way you could get soldiers to undertake missions so hazardous that their chances of survival were close to zero, was to make them insensible to the risks by giving them drugs.

In fact, this logic has been a feature of military policy—our military policy—from earliest times. Of course, the drug has varied.

One account of the Revolutionary War indicates that the American and the British sides depended on some 35,000 gallons of rum shipped from New Hampshire for fighting rations, although reputedly the Americans consumed less per man than did the British.42

During the Civil War a mixture of narcotics and alcohol known as Hosteller's Bitters did double duty as a remedy for dysentery and a disinhibiting agent or relaxant on official issue to the troops before a battle. It was a variant of the traditional double-or-triple rations of spirits issued to soldiers and sailors before a fight, at least through World War I.

Morphine was also widely used during the Civil War to treat the wounded. This followed the first .application of morphine by hypodermic injection in 1856. Terry and Pellens mention a couple of sources to support their claim that "following the Civil War the increase in opiate use was so marked among ex-soldiers as to give rise to the term `army disease,' and today in more than one old soldier's home are cases of chronic intoxication which date from this period."" If the aggregate demand had been large, it ought to have been reflected in the import figures for crude opium and morphine during and immediately after the war. Indeed, there was a sharp rise in morphine imports during 1865, with ups and downs in opium supplies in the years before that. But this was followed by a decline and then an unstable pattern of rises and falls until the early 1870s, when the pattern firmed into a slow but fairly steady increase. 44 It is inconclusive either way.

Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, in particular the campaign in the Philippines, there were reports that opium smoking had caught on in the Army and Navy. Here is one:

The number of men using opium in the army has greatly increased since the occupation of the Philippines, many "Opium smokers" acquiring the habit there from Chinese or natives. . . . Quite a number of enlisted men have been discharged from both army and navy during the last five years than for any ten years previous. . . . Not a single case of drug habit coming from the prescription of an opiate by a medical officer can be recalled, opium and allied drugs being very guardedly and carefully used by army and navy medical officers."

Heroin use was first reported in l913 among army personnel in Boston. Its prevalence was apparently quite widespread involving several companies, and the supplies (in pill form) were obtained by a couple of soldier-dealers who bought them from a local drugstore and prescriptions from a Chinese doctor. Captain Blanchard was apparently caught completely unaware of the situation: "This practice among soldiery is, so far as I know, unprecedented and exists nowhere in the U.S. Army, nor had I ever heard of this derivative of morphine being used in this fashion.""

A year later-1914—"cocainism" was discovered in the army, this time on the Mexican border. Predictably the Mexicans were blamed for peddling the drug by some officers,47 but the first to identify the cocaine problem, Lieutenant W. B. Meister, identified association with prostitutes as the source of contagion. In particular he referred to a prostitute operating in El Paso who bought from wholesale chemists in New York and retailed to soldiers in several forts in the surrounding area. The incidence of drug use was "alarmingly on the increase. . . . If a soldier is reported as being 'queer,' too talkative, or too morose, unbearably egotistical, oblivious to duty, prone to argue with superiors, suspect him of cocainism. "48

Meister's report was unique in another respect in that he was probably the pioneer of what is today known as urinalysis testing for drug traces. Like the present generation of military policymakers, Meister was convinced that the horrors and dangers of cocaine were so great as to override the legal and constitutional problems involved in compelling a soldier to give up his urine or blood for possible evidence of drug "possession." The method he devised was based on the assumption that cocaine traces would be retained by the body for some time after consumption, and that by testing urine samples with an iodine reagent, the sign and size of a cocaine dose recently taken could be determined. This, in turn, he intended to be used as a screening device for troops, with immediate isolation and discharge for those drug users caught out.

Not unexpectedly, Meister could not raise an experimental sample by calling for volunteers and was forced to resort to using a dog instead. In the end no trace of several sizable doses fed to the animal could be found, so the idea was dropped.

In Chapter 1 I mentioned several of the reports dealing with heroin use in the military in the years just before American entry into the war. Leaky found evidence of the habit among naval enlisted men in 1915-16. King, the only officer to have attempted to estimate a prevalence rate, found that more than 4 percent of general military prisoners had been drug users while in service, and that maybe one percent of total enlisted strength could be so identified."

In the Allied Expeditionary Force itself, there seems to have been relatively little drug use—at least in France and at the front. A summary report issued in 1920 testified that among neuropsychiatric cases handled by the medical corps, little more than 5 percent were classified as inebriety by reason of either drugs or alcohol. "Probably no army ever was so temperate"—this was an exaggeration to be sure, although it is more than likely that the flow of heroin to the trenches in France was severely diminished. If supply and not demand conditions explained this, Bailey's conclusion about the relatively low prevalence of drug use (in both the military and the veteran-civilian environments) was misleading."

Going back a little to 1916, the first mention was made in official channels of marijuana being used by troops, in this case within the regiment based in Puerto Rico.51 From there attention shifted in the early twenties to American units in Panama. Possession of the drug was prohibited in 1923, but a conference of medical and command officers not long after found that "there is no evidence that mariajuana [sic] as grown here is a 'habit-forming' drug . . . or that it has any apparently deleterious influence on individuals who use it."52 The regulations were therefore rescinded and the Republic of Panama repealed its antimarijuana law in l928.

Lower-ranking unit officers continued to blame the drug for whatever trouble they experienced in command, and a further study was initiated by the Panama Department between l928 and l929. Once again, the finding came up "that the use of the drug is not widespread and that its effects upon military efficiency and upon discipline are not great."53

In spite of this, new regulations were promulgated late in 1930, around the time when the civilian drive against Mexican marijuana users was picking up momentum in California and the Southwest. Use of the drug became an offense but a further study committee was convened in l931 and this reported to the commanding general in Panama that "no recommendations for further legislative action to prevent the sale or use of marijuana in the Canal Zone, Panama are deemed advisable under existing conditions." 54 In short, it left the regulations on the books although it considered use of the drug more or less insignificant and harmless.

Each of the eight major army installations in the Canal Zone was surveyed for prevalence of marijuana use, which varied from 0.6 percent in one to 20 percent in another; the average was 5 percent. In addition, a group of 34 users was interviewed intensively and put through several tests to see if deprivation of the drug led to withdrawal symptoms. It did not. No data on race or educational background were provided; the mean age of the group was 23, and social class can be inferred from the low "mental status" assigned to the majority.55 "Sixty-two percent were constitutional psychopaths and 23 percent were morons. . Morons and psychopaths are believed to constitute the large majority of habitual smokers. "°

This may have been a spurious explanation, in that it reflected a range of social and other factors predisposing low-ranking lower-class soldiers to deviant and rebellious behavior without this having anything to do with their so-called mental status. But precisely because Colonel Sider, the Chief Health Officer in the Canal Zone Army, believed in it, he was able to see the spuriousness of the popular belief that it was the drug, marijuana, which was to blame for delinquent behavior. Those who thought this, he wrote, disregarded "the fact that a large proportion of the delinquents are morons or psychopaths, which conditions of themselves would serve to account for delinquency." He warned also that "delinquencies due to marijuana smoking which result in trial are negligible in number when compared with delinquencies resulting from the use of alcoholic drinks."57

The use of quasi-diagnoses and psychiatric labels like these has been a tricky matter in military psychiatry. Although the labels have changed over time—in present procedure psychopaths are usually labeled more specifically (schizophrenia, assaultive tendencies, affective disorders, etc.), and the term moron has been replaced by intelligence test grades—their meaning and function have remained just as ambiguous as they always were. In the case of marijuana users, the key issue in the thirties and then during World War II was whether drug use was ipso facto evidence of mental disorder. If so, then was the drug offender a case of medical treatment, with return to his unit the ultimate goal, or was he a straight disciplinary problem to be court-martialed and either jailed or discharged or both? On top of this, if drug use was correlated with psychopathology or defective mental status, as Siler had argued, it followed that the best way to deal with the problem was not within the service but rather outside of it—to raise the mental standards for entry into the service and screen out the defectives, whether or not they used drugs or had any offense on their record.

To a degree disputes on these policy issues within the military paralleled the broad civilian controversy over medical versus police approaches to drug use. More or less consistently the medical corps refused to sanction the punitive approach throughout the war. In l943 the semiofficial journal, Military Surgeon, dismissed concern about marijuana as groundless and stated that the drug was no more harmful than tobacco and relatively trivial in its effects. "It is hoped," an editorialist wrote, "that no witch hunt will be instituted in the military services over a problem that does not exist."59

A nonexistent problem? To unit commanders this seemed obviously untrue. The use of narcotics—marijuana was generally treated as such—turned up often enough by itself and in the context of other offenses against regulations to appear to justify harsh punishment. The psychiatrists who got to the drug users once they were in the stockade reiterated their claim that it was the personality structure of the individual, and not the drug or its effects, that produced the disciplinary problem. Freedman and Rockmore, for example, could find no evidence to "support condemning the use of the drug [marijuana] although the use is not to be recommended."59 Marcovitz and Meyers went even further to emphasize (for the first time in military annals and probably in the psychiatric record, too) that the personality problems of marijuana users in the army stemmed from the social environment from which they came:

In their actual situations one finds marihuana users unable to endure frustration, deprivation or discipline from any authority. . . . This frustration in terms of objective reality has been due in large part to extremely adverse socioeconomic factors of class and caste.°

This meant, in short, that military drug users were typically working class in origin, but unlike the heroin users of World War 1, they were black. Davis and his colleagues studied one hundred AWOL cases at Richmond Army Air Base Hospital and found 64 percent chronic alcoholics and 24 percent drug-users (usually marijuana). The men were mostly between l9 and 25, their average educational attainment was eighth grade, and 43 percent reported their background as poor." Another study, this one of a thousand prisoners in a naval stockade, found 9.6 percent alcoholics, among whom several had used narcotics. Again, social class was low; the average school grade completed was 8.8.62 The Freedman and Rockmore study examined 310 enlisted men in detention who were known marijuana users. There were 88 percent blacks, 12 percent whites. The former averaged 5.7 years of school, the latter 8.8. Two-thirds of the total group were from city areas and marginal unskilled work and unemployment had been common before enlistment. Most of them had begun using the drug as teenagers before the war, and the chief reason given for drug use was to escape the strain of military duty. ° Marcovitz' and Meyers' sample was much smaller—only 35 men at an army air force regional hospital—but again blacks were in the majority, 97 to 3 percent. The average age was 23 and the background was the familiar one of low education, no jobs, urban-poverty, delinquency, and crime.

The evidence shows two things. First, the use of marijuana (and to a much lesser extent the opiates) was, if not common, at least recognized as a significant disciplinary problem during World War II, although most users did not begin with drugs in the service. Second, the military authorities who made drug policy pursued exactly the kind of witch hunt against drugs which the medical corps had advised against, and upheld the theory of drug-inspired delinquency which an earlier series of studies had exposed as phony. While military psychiatry wrestled with its labels and diagnoses, seeking to obtain institutional legitimacy for them and to break free from being an adjunct to the straight disciplinary process, the punitive policy reinforced the class and racial pattern of offenses, a pattern that was even more sharply defined during the Korean War.


Table 6-3 reports the number of army personnel admitted as drug addicts (no specification of the drugs involved) to medical service facilities, expressed as a rate per l,000 mean strength per year. As absoluten measures of the incidence of drug use the figures barely cover the tip of the iceberg, since medical treatment for drug users, once discovered, was the least likely outcome in military procedure. Court-martial and confinement were far more common, and then, of course, there were all those who were never caught.

The table is useful, however, in pointing out the relative increase in incidence which began in 1948 and peaked in 1951. The incidence rates were highest among troops stationed in Korea or elsewhere in the Far East; other figures for 1953-54 indicate that 68 percent of the military drug offenders were picked up in Japan and 31 percent in Korea." Over three-quarters were army personnel. Just under one-third were aged 18 to 21, and 51 percent were between 22 and 25. Whites amounted to 28 percent, blacks 72 percent." The incidence rate among black troops, according to another estimate, was 20 times the rate among whites. The drug used was generally heroin.

To what extent was this problem simply the carryover of the civilian epidemic of the same time? Predictably, perhaps, military officials have said that service experience itself had little to do with the incidence of drug use. They claimed that many, if not most, of the military users, would have become so had they never entered the service. During the Korean War, however, surveys of convicted offenders found only l9 percent who had used narcotics in civilian life before joining up, plus another 5 percent who first used drugs while still stationed in the United States. In the remainder, 40 percent began in Japan and 33 percent in Korea.66 Later, in l955, a survey covering the armed forces worldwide found a smaller number of so-called addicts than had been identified before. Of these, 56 percent had begun drug use before entering the service."67

These figures do not necessarily imply that without their military experience the group which began on drugs in the Far East would not have done so in civilian society. To a degree they shared some of the demographic characteristics of the civilian drug offenders. For one thing, they were black, although compared to the New York and Chicago groups (Tables 5-2 and 5-4) they were somewhat younger. Offense rates, at least at the height of the war period, were roughly the same between the military and civilian sectors." The military offenders typically had a background of disciplinary trouble in the military, and most (70 percent) had served for two years or more.

These bits and pieces really cannot settle the question of whether or how military life and military policy stimulated a novel pattern of drug use which was not occurring at home. Military authorities tended to explain the phenomenon in supply terms as an overwhelming temptation for the naive and the gullible (again the role of prostitutes as the agents of temptation was stressed), and a number of civil officials saw in it evidence of a Chinese Communist plot to subvert our armed forces. This was denied by officers like General Maglin, the Army provost general." Since incidence never approached the levels which were to be achieyed in the Vietnam War, nor threatened command policy with anything like the rebellious intensity of the troops of the later period, it occurred to no one to approach the phenomenon from the demand side, let alone seek evidence that drug use reflected a deep alienation from the military system and its objectives in prosecuting the war. This, as we will now see, is what happened to make the Vietnam period unique in this history.

Opium isn't grown in South Vietnam, but the trade in it has been a key element in the political economy of the region ever since the French colonial administration built up a monopoly of imports, refineries, licensed dens, and retail shops which footed most of the bill for the colony's administration, just as the British had done in Bengal a century earlier."70

The opium which is cultivated in Laos, Burma and Thailand has in the last 30 years variously financed French counterinsurgency efforts against the Viet Minh, most political regimes in Saigon, covert political parties, the Saigon police, Corsican gangsters operating between Marseilles and the Far East, anti-Communist guerrilla groups working with the CIA, as well as irregular armies operating in Laos (the Meo) and along the China-Burma border (the Chinese Nationalists).

The trade itself has many requirements: armies to protect land caravans transporting the opium or morphine base, or else aircraft and high-speed boats for frontier hopping; laboratories and technicians for refining the morphine base into heroin, and high skills to obtain the No. 4 grade of heroin which is favored by consumers for its potency and by retailers for the ease with which it can be diluted or cut.71 A multilevel organization for marketing, distribution and retail sale provides an elaborate network to provide security, oversee payment and insure failsafe conduits for the banking of the profits. These are enormous. In l938 opium profits provided 15 percent of all colonial tax revenus for French Indochina. In l971 the GI demand for the drug alone was said to produce $88 million a year for the trade, not to mention the value of international exports.72

By contrast to a business as complex as this, almost any Vietnamese farmer can produce marijuana, and selling either in bulk or packaged as cigarettes, the trade is localized, rudimentary and low in both technical needs and capital. Prices are low and so are profits. As competing enterprises, the opium-heroin industry is bound to win any contest of economic strength, to dominate organizationally and politically, and to supplant marijuana on the market, if not drive it off altogether.

At the beginning of l970 this is almost what happened in Vietnam, and the political-economic forces of the trade operating at the time go a long way to explaining what took place—the largest rate of incidence of heroin use among Americans ever recorded.
Marijuana use rose steadily with each new year of the war; Table 6-4 illustrates developments between l967 and l971 for all the major drugs in use.

It is evident from these sources that the largest number of soldiers smoked marijuana but because such a significant portion of them had used the drug in the United States before assignment to Vietnam, the increase in true incidence for the drug in Vietnam was small when compared with the increase in barbiturate use, hallucinogenic drugs (although the evidence is contradictory on these), and, of course, heroin and morphine. In terms of the impact Vietnam itself had on drug use before 1970, only opium use showed really large gains, which suggests that even before the heroin market established itself, there was a strong demand for opiate-type drugs among the GI population, at least for smoking. Until l970 what reported heroin and morphine use there was probably involved mainlining rather than smoking, was supplied around major base areas such as Saigon, Long Binh, and Da Nang, and concentrated among medics and their friends. There was a strong inhibition among the troops at large against the needle, which persisted through the war.

Then in May l970—all of a sudden, it appeared to most observershigh-potency No. 4 heroin was available the length and breadth of the war zone, and GIs started to consume it. Almost a year later, in March l971, an Army survey of men returning from Vietnam found that nearly 23 percent admitted to using heroin or morphine at some time during their tour of duty, and 16 percent had been using it within 30 days of their departure from Vietnam. The percentages for opium use were high, but not quite as high as these.

In April another Army survey, this time of support command troops based at Long Binh, identified 10.5 percent heroin, morphine, or opium users." Estimates published in May ranged between 10 and 15 percent of the enlisted men serving in Vietnam, or 25,000 to 37,000 in total numbers." In the fall a Defense Department contractor surveyed over 36,000 men in all services and found 11.7 percent who reported having used narcotics at least once in the past year. The proportion for the Army men altogether was 20.1 percent and for those in Vietnam, 28.5 percent. Of these, about 20 percent used heroin every day.75 In September another Defense Department contractor found that among 13,000 Army returnees from Vietnam, 35 percent altogether said they had tried heroin, and one in five reported having felt "strung out" on the drug.76

What happened to transform the minuscule 2 percent of heroin morphine users of late l969 into 10 or more times that proportion in two years? And what made May l970 the turning point?"

Most accounts tailor the explanation to an a priori point of view. Official military sources tended to see the phenomenon as generated on the supply side rather than by demand. The North Vietnamese were blamed, as the Chinese had been during the Korean War, for using drugs to sap our fighting strength, and on occasion reports have circulated that the Chinese were again involved. The Army command in Saigon itself denied these claims.78


McCoy's account, which in other respects has nothing in common with the point of view of the authorities, also points to supply factors but makes it clear that it was the South Vietnamese, abetted by the CIA in some cases, who were behind the trade. They were grouped in several factions-elements of the South Vietnamese air force, particularly the air transport wing controlled by former Premier Nguyen Cao Ky, which reportedly flew processed heroin out of Laos, Phnom Penh, or points in Pleiku Province to which the drug was transshipped by the Laotians; the police and customs sections of the civil administration in Saigon, dominated by Premier Khiem, which conspired with smugglers using the major air and sea ports; and, finally, elements of the army (ARVN), navy and National Assembly which have owed their positions and power to President Thieu.78

McCoy suggests that it was the Cambodian invasion in May l970 that changed the character of the drug trade in Vietnam and led to the heroin epidemic among GIs.88 It opened up the Mekong River to the South Vietnamese Navy all the way to Phnom Penh, and, in turn, opened that city to the drug exporters of Southern Laos. A number of high-ranking Vietnamese naval officers are named by McCoy as having organized the smuggling from Cambodia into the Cholon district of Saigon. There the shipments were broken down, packaged and distributed throughout the country, principally to networks of dealers and pushers operated or protected by Vietnamese army personnel; from them to GI consumers whose numbers and demand grew, and in this fashion the trade cycle was completed.

A popular alternative theory, though still oriented to supply factors, has been that American military policy itself stimulated the switch from marijuana consumption, which reputedly would have continued to suffice for most GIs, to heroin consumption when the crackdown on marijuana made this too risky to carry or smoke. The intensive campaign of personnel searches and sharp enforcement of drug prohibition followed a period in which enforcement practice had been relaxed as the numbers of marijuana users had grown too large to handle or deter. Under the kind of pressure initiated after the end of l969 marijuana was replaced by heroin, which was more easily concealed and virtually impossible to detect by sniffing the way marijuana could be.81 Just the same, marijuana never appears to have been in short supply at any time; most soldiers questioned have indicated that even where the popular choice in their units was heroin, marijuana was generally available for sale, and had not been driven off the local markets.82

There is no telling now what the volume of heroin trade was which moved down the Mekong, nor the relative size and returns of the trade in marijuana as compared with heroin. In any case, neither volume per se, nor the saturation marketing system for heroin which had established itself early in 1971 can explain the readiness of American soldiers to switch to the drug, and supply factors should not obscure the evident fact that around that time there was a change of drug preference among GIs.

It is to misunderstand the situation to ask GIs, as a great number of surveys have done, why they liked marijuana or heroin, for the answers no more explain why the preference changed from the former to the latter—typical reasons given fit both drugs equally well83—than they explain why drugs like these were chosen in the first place over, say, alcohol, which was clearly the preference of many GIs but not, as it turned out, of those who used drugs. Efforts at producing psychological theory to explain the patterns of behavior have suffered the same fault where they have concentrated on soldiers' remarks about drug effects." When instead they involved casting back in time to find the predispositions to drug use which had existed before the soldier had entered the military, let alone reached Vietnam, the kind of profile research has produced is in fact characteristically the profile of all working-class soldiers in what was an unusually working-class army."

The major official study of Vietnam drug use—outlined in the two reports by Lee Robins, whose work was supported by the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention and other Washington agencies—managed to spell out such a profile, or the factors best predicting drug use in Vietnam, without ever observing that they were characteristic of the working-class soldier in general. Equally, the study failed to point to the distinction that even in the condition of widespread narcotics use as there was in Vietnam, the difference of class among GIs made a great deal of difference to the pattern of their drug use.

The strongest predictor of drug use in Vietnam, according to Robins, was drug use prior to service, and this was commonly associated with relatively low educational attainment, delinquency, urban residence, police record, alcoholism and marital problems among parents—a pretty conventional litany of working-class life. Where narcotics had been used before service—and this was rare among GIs—it had generally been codeine, not heroin, and again the evidence indicates this to have been a working-class adolescent practice, especially in Italian or Irish neighborhoods in the Northeast.86 The next best predictor of drug use in the war was service status, with enlistees much more likely than draftees to have become users. Again, class is pertinent, for the latter were significantly better educated and from more middle-class homes than the former.87 Truancy from school and unemployment at the time of induction also helped ultimately to distinguish the drug-users from the nonusers, and the same general observation of class applies. Additional survey evidence reinforces this.88 The historic pattern of working-class narcotics use is thus repeated once more, with the one variation that this time working-class white soldiers appear to have been more common among heroin users, in relation to their total unit numbers, than working-class blacks.89

To Pentagon officials this became evidence for the claim that the prevalence of narcotics among GIs in Vietnam was a direct carryover from the civilian society in which drug use had gotten started. Neither military institutions nor the war were held responsible one way or the other, except for the possibility that Army programs to combat drug use had succeeded, where civilian policy had failed, to reduce the incidence rates among soldiers to a level below that of comparable civilian groups. Dr. Richard Wilbur, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health and Environment, made these points in testimony given to a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing in mid-1973,90 and they have become part of a more general case, argued both within the military and among civil administrators, for the application of coercive quarantine and urinalysis testing of possible drug-users, as practised in the Army, to the so-called high-risk areas of the civil society, with a concomitant deemphasis of methadone and other maintenance programs in effect in those areas.

This represents a particularly manipulative and misleading use of the Robins' results, and Lee Robins dissociated herself in particular from the Assistant Secretary's publicized interpretations.91 What her results showed in common with those of the only other comprehensive study of the situation 92 was that previous drug use affected only the initial trying of narcotics in Vietnam: "the degree of use once [the GI] decided to try them was not predictable from his Army record or from the background factors we asked about in interview.'93

The Robins' finding was little more than that soldiers from working-class backgrounds were more likely than those from middle-class ones to try narcotics in the war zone; her report treated the incidence of regular heroin use as having no particular cause at all. This, however, ignored the vital role played by protest and revolt against the war and the groups of soldiers which organized it. How this occurred is spelled out in detail in my Bringing the War Home, but the essence is this: as soldiers arrived in Vietnam, they aligned themselves very quickly with one of two major groups which were active in virtually every company unit. One, nicknamed juicers, used alcohol heavily but avoided drugs (although most juicers conceivably had once tried marijuana or heroin); the other, known as the heads, avoided alcohol and used marijuana and then opium and heroin on a regular, often daily, basis. The juicers were for the war and conformed in opinion and behavior to command policy and orders, while the heads opposed continuation of the war, rejected government and command policy, and actively disobeyed orders to the extent, in some cases, of mutiny and killing officers.

The point about this ideological split is that the choice for alcohol versus drugs was the way it first started, signifying group identification immediately and remaining throughout the tour of duty the most important badge of group membership and allegiance. The finding that "both alcohol and drug use before service were related to drug use in Vietnam but that heavy use of alcohol while in Vietnam seemed to protect men against drug use"" struck Robins as "paradoxical,"95 but in the context of the working-class soldier's resistance to fighting the war, it is perfectly explicable, and indeed helps confirm the conclusions of the other study.96 Far from signifying previous experience with drugs, then, the use of heroin in Vietnam was the unique innovation of American troops, one in every three, who after l969 refused to believe either that the war could be won or that the attempt was worth the risk to their lives.

It is understandable perhaps that the military authorities would not readily admit as much, although the ferocity with which drug detection and control programs were pursued is a fair intimation that they understood the ideological and political character of the drug danger; whether they acknowledged it or not, regular heroin consumption had virtually no adverse effect by itself on the performance and efficiency of soldiers on duty.97

It took nearly two years (after 1970) for senior Pentagon spokesmen even to admit to the high prevalence of heroin in Vietnam; they have continued to resist reports from the press, research results, and even, most recently, from the Veterans Administration," that the war and the military services released a large number of veterans who continued using heroin on the same regular basis as before. Study Confirms That Vietnam Veteran Drug Abuse at Low Levels was the headline of Secretary Wilbur's news release when the first Robins report was issued.

The final report indicated that there had been a substantial fall-off in the number of veterans continuing narcotics use at home after departure from Vietnam and discharge from the Army. In all, 10 percent of a general sample of returning veterans indicated that they had used narcotics on some occasion in the eight to twelve months between release in late 1971 and the time of the interview. Only 1.3 percent reported that they had felt addicted at any time during the same period.

At his news conference Wilbur extrapolated from this last statistic to claim that of more than 310,000 Army enlisted men who had served in Vietnam between l970 and 1972, less than 4,000 were likely to have remained addicts in the United States. This, he added, was virtually the same as the rate of narcotics abuse identified among civilian young men examined at induction stations around the country at the same time, so that once again it could be said neither the war nor the military had done anything to accentuate the domestic narcotics problem. Several other conclusions appeared logically to follow:

In-service and Veterans Administration rehabilitation programs are succeeding beyond our highest expectations. Who would have predicted two years ago that almost all drug abusers and drug dependents could have been restored to a drug free existence in our society?

A drug dependent person can apparently withdraw from narcotics use without assistance as witnessed by the fact that one half of all those who reported heroin dependency in Vietnam had withdrawn on their own and were not identified at the time of their departure.

Urinalysis for drug abuse is a socially acceptable medical measure within high risk populations contrary to popular belief.

The treatment opportunities which exist in the Veterans Administration and civilian agencies are presently adequate to meet the needs of Vietnam veterans.

We now know that recovery from heroin dependence is not impossible; and that in the case of young, healthy, well-disciplined men in the armed services, rehabilitation will be successful in the majority of cases.99

The conflict in the evidence is obvious. Figures reported early in this chapter indicate that military veterans (a larger group, of course, than Vietnam veterans) constituted anything from 10 percent of the institutionalized addict population to approximately 33 percent, depending on the city, year, season, type of institution and enforcement policy operating at the time. Counting veterans in Veterans Administration drug programs, other state institutions, and estimating for veteran users on the street, I calculated the total for the state of Massachusetts alone in 1971 to be just over 2,300, or nearly as many as Wilbur claimed for the whole country .1® A conservative estimate, assuming that veterans at the time amounted to 15 percent of the total addict population, was 45,000,101 and expressing this in terms of the total of Army war veterans indicates that as many as 15 percent of the returnees continued regular drug use.

There can be no satisfactory end to juggling these figures; it is clear for example that narcotics use was not confined to Vietnam and by 1972 was rising fast in the Army in Europe. On top of that must be added additional numbers of Navy and Air Force personnel, also serving in Southeast Asia and likely to have picked up narcotics as had the Army ranks. From the Robins' sample of 43 narcotics users after Vietnam, none had begun with heroin after returning from the war zone—all were carryovers from Vietnam, 30 percent were carryovers from heroin use before Vietnam.182 In my sample of 30, drawn from the general addict population in the New England area, only 3 percent had used heroin before Vietnam and 47 percent carried over from the war. Fifty percent, however, began heroin use after leaving the war zone. These, of course, would not have been detectable in the urinalysis screen at the departure point and were much more likely than Robins' subjects, so long as they remained undetected, to choose to avoid contact with a Pentagon-sponsored study such as hers. Since her sample underrepresented men from the New England and Mid-Atlantic states103—where heroin addiction was most concentrated in general—it is more than likely that these "new addicts" are completely missing from the official count.

Contrary to Wilbur's claim, urinalysis testing was notoriously faulty for identifying active heroin users. Evidence presented at hearings of a unit of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1972 indicated that military laboratories had a record of 45 percent overall accuracy and civilian laboratories somewhat better at 61 percent, but with a sizable margin still of unaccounted-for error.'" Robins herself admitted that the urinalysis taken as men left Vietnam failed to detect or deter men who continued using heroin after they left Vietnam; it missed 13 percent of men who were active drug users at the time of the test, and labelled another 3 percent with false positives.'"

Dr. Wilbur's claim that military treatment programs had been particularly successful at rehabilitation was pure invention, and Robins' final report was unambiguous on this score: "we have not been able to show much in the way of evidence for the effectiveness of treatment in the Army, either in Vietnam or since."106 No evidence either way was offered in the report on the Veterans Administration programs, but other sources indicate widespread dissatisfaction.'" The claim that the existing treatment facilities were adequate for the numbers of veteran addicts was repudiated by VA officials themselves.108

One clue to the discrepancy between the Pentagon's extrapolations and most other estimates of veteran heroin users, which never shrank to less than 10 times the Pentagon number, is the use of the term addict in the Robins report. This referred only to an interviewee's subjective report, that he felt addicted or strung out though the duration was unasked for and unspecified. Frequent narcotics use was defined in the report as for more than weekly for more than a month.m To publicly minimize the size of the problem Pentagon officials along with leading members of the White House Special Action Office chose to operate with the smallest percentage, 1.3 percent feeling addicted since Vietnam, although Robins had also identified 3 percent frequent narcotic use, and 10 percent any use at all.110 As far as the law, the police and the FBI crimes index are concerned, distinctions between the three types of behavior are mere niceties, once they have been detected, and the term addiction has traditionally been applied to cover all three. That being the case, between l970 and l972 no less than 31,000 army returnees were continuing heroin addicts, or liable at least to be regarded by the law in that light. Adding in all Vietnam theater returnees for just one year, l971, increases the likely total to 56,000,111 which is much closer to the estimates used by Senator Cranston and VA officials. It is still substantially lower than has been indicated by some veterans groups and by the evidence presented in Bringing the War Horne.

Ultimately, in the longer-term history of narcotics, it is not the exact numbers here which count but the proportions of military veterans in the total population of drug users; on this score there can be no doubt about the uniquely important impact which the war and the army had upon the working-class young men who served and fought—unwillingly. Historically the pattern is of one piece with the past, yet not in any of the public debate or research on the current heroin episode has it ever been noted as such. By the same token, the deceptions with which military authorities have attempted to cover up the true extent of narcotics use have functioned to perpetuate the very same ideology of opium which Dr. Wilbur's predecessors at the American Medical Association and in the government112 applied at the beginning of national prohibition of the drug. Ultimately they have functioned to strengthen and extend the hand of police power over every aspect of working-class life in America.


Our valuable member John Helmer has been with us since Tuesday, 21 February 2012.

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