The War on Drugs and scopolamine, the perfect drug  DEC 17 2007

How America Lost the War on Drugs, a history of the United States government's efforts to stop its citizens from using illegal substances, primarily crack, heroin, and methamphetamines. Quite long but worth the read.

All told, the United States has spent an estimated $500 billion to fight drugs - with very little to show for it. Cocaine is now as cheap as it was when Escobar died and more heavily used. Methamphetamine, barely a presence in 1993, is now used by 1.5 million Americans and may be more addictive than crack. We have nearly 500,000 people behind bars for drug crimes - a twelvefold increase since 1980 - with no discernible effect on the drug traffic.

It's not that hard to see how things got off the rails here. Dealing with the supply of drugs is ineffective (it's too lucrative for people to stop selling and too easy to find countries which seek to profit from it) but provides the illusion of action while attacking the problem from the demand side, which appears to be more effective, comes with messy and complex social problems. What a waste. The bits about meth & the lobbying efforts by the pharmaceutical industry and the medical marijuana crackdowns are particularly maddening.

Somewhat related is a 9-part series from VBS about scopolamine, one of the world's scariest drugs (via fimoculous). Just blowing the powder into someone's face is sufficient for them to enter a wakeful zombie state and become the perfect rape or crime victim.

The last thing Andrea Fernandez recalls before being drugged is holding her newborn baby on a Bogota city bus. Police found her three days later, muttering to herself and wandering topless along the median strip of a busy highway. Her face was badly beaten and her son was gone.

The description of the effect of scopolamine on people reminds me of what the Ampulex compressa wasp does to cockroaches:

From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach's antennae and leads it -- in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex -- like a dog on a leash.

I wonder if the chemical reactions are similar in both cases.

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