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The Drug War
Violence & Club Drugs

An News Analysis By Terence T. Gorski
GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications
www.tgorski.com
Published On: <DATE>          Updated On: August 07, 2001
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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An article in the New York Times of June 21, 20001 by Fox Butterfield entitled Violence Rises as Club Drug Spreads Out Into the Streets paints a misleading picture.  (read it for yourself and see if you agree).  My first complaint with the article is that if fails to make a distinction between violence related to the physiological effects of club drugs and violence related to the illicit drug trade.  In the case of club drugs, most of the violence is caused by the drug trade and not the physiological actions of the drug.

The Use of Club Drugs Is Rising

It's not surprising that the use of club drugs is rising.  The news media are promoting club drugs by talking about their powerfully euphoric effects and dubbing them "love drugs."  

There a a number of dangers involved in using club drugs -- overdose, poor judgment that sets people up to be crime victims, and getting involved in an illicit drug culture of violence to purchase the drug.  

The media talks about the dangers, but the warnings are falling on deaf ears because most  teenagers tend to believe that they're bullet-proof and they have difficulty trusting establishment information about the danger of drugs.  

There Are Real Dangers In Using Club Drugs

The True Medical Risks associated with Club Drugs are usually buried near the end of most news stories, after scare tactics and discussion of harsh drug laws, and punitive enforcement tactics, and even harsher sentencing guidelines.  these "scare tactics" are designed keep people from using, but they usually back fire.  Any reasonable person sees through the scare tactics and looses respect for the people and organizations promoting them.  Let's look at  the real risks of club drugs.

Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md., said, "Contrary to what a lot of people think, that Ecstasy is a harmless drug, we are learning more and more scientifically about its damaging effects."

The bad short-term effects, Dr. Leshner said, are quick increases in blood pressure, heart rates and body temperature, leading to dehydration and hypothermia, particular problems for people who have danced in hot, crowded rooms all night.

In the longer term, Dr. Leshner said, there is now evidence that repeated use of Ecstasy can damage the brain cells that produce serotonin, the neurochemical that is critical for preventing depression and sleep disorders.  People who have used Ecstasy frequently experience memory loss and depression when the drug wears off, Dr. Leshner said.

Violence & Club Drugs

Clubs drugs don't make people violent.  Being stoned on club drugs does not usually make people violent.  In fact, using club drugs usually does the opposite - it makes people feel a warm soft glow that makes them want to hug people.  This is because club drugs flood the brain with fuzzy pleasure chemicals while shutting down the flow of warning chemicals that usually provides signals of threat or danger.  

The violence surrounding the use of Club Drugs is related to the drug trade and enforcement of drug laws.  People who are stoned on club drugs are more likely to become victims of criminals who seek to rob them of their money, steal their drugs, and assault or rape them.

Let's examine the acts of violence listed in the New York Times article:

1.    An Israeli drug dealer was found dead in a car trunk at Los Angeles International Airport 18 months ago, reportedly killed by two hit men from Israel.  This violent act was caused by the drug trade, not by the use of club drugs.

2.    A 21-year-old college student in a suburb of Washington D.C. was shot 10 times in the head as he sat in his car outside of his town house.  Local police believed that the victim was responsible for distributing more than $1.5 million in Ecstasy and marijuana in Prince William County. Two young dealers who worked with the victim have since been arrested and charged with his murder.  This violent act was again caused by the drug trade, not by the use of club drugs.

3.    Salvatore Gravano, the former Gambino crime family hit man, pleaded guilty to running a multimillion-dollar Ecstasy ring in Arizona, where he was living under the federal witness protection program. Mr. Gravano was accused of hatching four homicide plots to consolidate his control of the Arizona drug market, and that his organization was being supplied by Ilan Zarger, a drug dealer based in Brooklyn who had ties to the Israeli mob.  Why was a dangerous psychopathic felon living under the witness protection plan?  It's because he was "bribed" with immunity, relocation, and protection to turn over evidence on previous drug dealing colleagues.  How can we be surprised he returned to crime.  He should have been put in jail.  This renewed violence is the result of our ineffective methods of convicting drug dealers with plea bargains, pay-offs, and promises of protection.

4.    Ecstasy is being sold at large all-night dance parties called raves that drawing thousands of young people.   Rival gains are beginning to fight over the the rights to monopolize the Ecstasy trade.  Innocent people are being caught in the middle of this violence associated with the drug trade that are best police tactics seem powerless to prevent.

Notice that these incidents of violence are being cause by the drug trade and by the enforcement of drug laws laws, not by the drug use itself.

The truth about the violence potential of the drug effects of club drugs is hidden in the article.  Let's dig out that truth:  "law enforcement officials and drug experts do not suggest Ecstasy will lead to the same levels of violence or social turmoil as crack cocaine did in the late 1980's, when thousands of teenage dealers armed themselves with handguns and many mothers neglected their children."  Why?  Because Ecstasy is not a fast acting drug.  Because short acting drugs like crack give only a brief high, driving addicts back to the streets repeatedly in search of another dose.  This often leading them to rob or steal to support their habit.  

Because Ecstasy does not cause dangerous changes in mood and judgment as does other drugs like crack.  Ecstasy induces a high of up to six hours, enhancing feelings of empathy and closeness.  Since the high is so prolonged there is no drug run that creates an urgency to commit crimes to avoid the crash.

Enforcement

To combat Ecstasy, the federal government and more than half the states, including New York, New Jersey and Florida, have raised the penalties for selling the drug in the past few years.  From the looks of it our children can get hurt worse by the enforcement policies than by the drugs themselves.  Here's what I mean:

1.    Under new federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect in May, a person selling 800 pills can now receive a sentence of five years, a much stiffer standard than the old threshold of 11,000 pills.

2.    New York's law, enacted in 1996, is tougher than the federal standard, requiring a minimum sentence of three years for mere possession of 100 pills.

3.    An Illinois bill, passed by the Legislature last month and awaiting the governor's signature, would carry the toughest penalties of all — an automatic 6 to 30 years for selling as few as 15 pills.

4.    State Senator Rickey Hendon warned that the Illinois law cast too wide a net, treating teenage partygoers the same as professional drug traffickers. But Senator Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, who is black, said the law might help Illinois legislators understand the racial disparities of drug laws.  "When you see 14-year-olds going to jail for a mandatory 30 years and their complexion is no longer black," Senator Hendon said, "maybe we'll stop and think about what we're doing."

The DEA & Local Police Are On The Job

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and local police are doing the best it can to enforce these strict drug laws that are essentially unenforceable.  (Remember, we can't keep drugs our of maximum security prisons by force.  How can we expect the DEA to them out of a free society by force?)  Here's some evidence that the DEA is working hard at the drug war:

1.    There was the shipment of 2.1 million Ecstasy pills, worth $40 million on the street, that the United States Customs Service seized at the airport last July.   This was the largest drug bust involving Club drugs to date and it didn't make a ripple in street price, availability, of potency.

2.    Seizures of Ecstasy by the Customs Service have jumped sharply, to 9.3 million pills in 2000, up from only 400,000 pills in 1997, 

3.    Most of the arrests being made at the new "Drug-induced Rave Wars" are for the personal possession, personal use, or sale of a small amount of Club Drugs primarily to friends.  Cracking down on "pushers" can be difficult because the pyramid game of drug dealing ends up having 85% of the drug users being small time pushers to get money to buy their own drugs.  These low level abusers and addicts are the main target of current drug enforcement resulting in 25% of our nations prisoners being incarcerated for personal possession and use of illicit control substances 

Enforcement Efforts Are Failing

The use of Ecstasy is growing, more than doubling among 12th graders in the last two years.  It is also spreading well beyond its origin as a party drug for affluent white suburban teenagers to virtually every ethnic and class group.  It is also spreading from big cities like New York and Los Angeles to rural Vermont and South Dakota.

Ecstasy was selling at about $25 a pill at the beginning of 2000.  Recently, dealers on the street suddenly started selling Ecstasy, reducing the price to a more manageable $8 a pill.  How can the price be going down if we are, in fact, reducing the supply on the street?

Ecstasy is also supposedly widely available on the Internet, although I doubt it.  I couldn't find it after searching for over an hour, but I suppose if I were heavily intoxicated by a "hug drug" my internet searching skills might improve.  What evidence is presented in the article supporting internet availability - one anecdotal incident.  Last year a New York Prosecutor man reported a man was prosecuted for  selling Ecstasy on a site called House of Beans to customers in New York.  This one anecdotal story does not make an epidemic of Internet sales.  The story, however, can be used as a scare tactic to impose harsh controls of the Internet in the name of promoting the Drug War.

The leading survey of teenage use of drugs, known as Monitoring the Future and done by the University of Michigan, has found that the proportion of 12th graders who had used Ecstasy in the previous 12 months more than doubled to 8 percent in 2000, from 3.5 percent in 1998. That is a very large increase, said Lloyd Johnston, a research scientist who directs the annual survey. Among 10th graders the percentage who had used Ecstasy in 2000 rose to 5 percent, from 3 percent in 1998.

"It is definitely continuing to increase, across all parts of the country, and equally among males and females," Mr. Johnston said. Ecstasy is still enjoying a honeymoon among young people, just as LSD did in the 1960's, before its dangers were widely known, he said.

What's Causing
The Growing Trade In Club Drugs?  

The answers are simple:  -- growing demand, huge profits, and failure of the supply reduction strategies.  

1.    Club drugs are sold as pills.  This makes them much easier to smuggle than heroin, cocaine or marijuana.  Large amounts of club drugs are sent through parcel services like Federal Express or UPS.

2.    Growing Demand:  There is growing demand because our drug education, prevention, and treatment efforts are inadequately funded.  

3.    Huge Profits:  There are huge profits because illicit drugs sell for inflated prices to offset the extra risk created by their illegality.  For example, a tablet that costs 50 cents to manufacture in underground labs in the Netherlands can be sold for $25 in the United States.  The increasingly violent turf wars among Ecstasy dealers is a direct result of the huge profits that can be made.

4.    Failure of the Supply Reduction Strategies:  Our supply reduction programs based upon eradication of foreign drug crops and production, drug interdiction, and law enforcement efforts that arrest dealers and users are failing miserably.  These often brutal enforcement strategies are leading to massive violations of constitutional rights and a rapidly growing criminal justice system that currently incarcerates over two million United States Citizens.  Drug  enforcement also contributes to cause unnecessary violence and death to dealers, addicts, and police.

5.    Not Enough Prevention & Treatment Programs:  We don't have enough community-based education, prevention. early intervention and treatment programs.  

What Can We Do?

What we can do that will be effective is to treat the growing problems around the use of club drugs for what they -- a public health problem.  Public Health Addiction Policies can and do work.  

Step one is to fund skill-based drug education that avoid scare tactics and provide accurate information about the perceived benefits and real risks of club drugs.

Step two is to stop driving club drug users underground by changing the tone of our  laws and the related punishments.  No kid in their right mind will turn themselves in for abusing club drugs if they're sure they'll go to jail for a long time.  Odds are they won't even bring their over-dosing friends to and emergency room.

Step three is to provide education and treatment to parents and kids in their homes.  Instead of funding paramilitary policing that puts kids in jails - let's fund aggressive community outreach to high risk families that brings trained drug abuse professionals into the community on home visits and cuts through red tape to get people treatment on request.

The fourth step is to shift some of the money from building more jails into expanding our community based treatment networks.

Education, prevention, early intervention, treatment, and relapse prevention and management programs are the key to managing any community's drug problems.  How come most articles barely mention what works?

Violence Rises as Club Drug Spreads Out Into the Streets

June 24, 2001

By FOX BUTTERFIELD
New York Times

LOS ANGELES, June 21 — It was finding an Israeli drug dealer dead in a car trunk at Los Angeles International Airport 18 months ago that gave the authorities here the first hint that the club drug Ecstasy was becoming a serious problem. He had been killed by two hit men from Israel, said Drug Enforcement Administration officials.

Then there was the shipment of 2.1 million Ecstasy pills, worth $40 million on the street, that the United States Customs Service seized at the airport last July. The pills, labeled clothing, arrived on an Air France flight from Paris, intended for another Israeli dealer here. The authorities say it was the world's largest Ecstasy bust.

And now law enforcement officials say they have seen another worrisome development this year. At a number of large all-night dance parties called raves, drawing thousands of young people to the desert east of Los Angeles, rival gangs have fought over the sale of Ecstasy. At one rave at a fairgrounds at Lake Perris in March, 102 people were arrested on charges of selling Ecstasy, assault or resisting arrest, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

What is happening in Los Angeles mirrors what is occurring across much of the nation, law enforcement officials and drug experts say. Not only is the use of Ecstasy exploding, more than doubling among 12th graders in the last two years, but it is also spreading well beyond its origin as a party drug for affluent white suburban teenagers to virtually every ethnic and class group, and from big cities like New York and Los Angeles to rural Vermont and South Dakota.

At the same time, the huge profits to be made — a tablet that costs 50 cents to manufacture in underground labs in the Netherlands can be sold for $25 in the United States — have set off increasingly violent turf wars among Ecstasy dealers.

"With drugs, it's always about the money," said Bridget Brennan, the special narcotics prosecutor for New York City. "And the dealers are starting to see there is so much money in Ecstasy that more people are getting involved, and with that comes more violence."

Homicides linked to Ecstasy dealing have occurred in recent months in Norfolk, Va.; in Elgin, Ill., outside Chicago, and in Valley Stream, N.Y., police records show.

This spring, in Bristow, Va., a suburb of Washington, a 21-year-old college student, Daniel Robert Petrole Jr., was shot 10 times in the head as he sat in his car outside a new town house he had recently bought. According to court records, the local police believed Mr. Petrole was responsible for distributing more than $1.5 million in Ecstasy and marijuana in Prince William County. Two young dealers who worked with Mr. Petrole have since been arrested and charged with killing him.

In New York City last month, Salvatore Gravano, the former Gambino crime family hit man, pleaded guilty to running a multimillion-dollar Ecstasy ring in Arizona, where he was living under the federal witness protection program. Court documents showed that Mr. Gravano was accused of hatching four homicide plots to consolidate his control of the Arizona drug market, and that his organization was being supplied by Ilan Zarger, a drug dealer based in Brooklyn who had ties to the Israeli mob.

Most Ecstasy is produced in the Netherlands or Belgium and smuggled into the United States by Israeli or Russian organized gangs, either flown in as air cargo or carried on commercial flights by couriers, often dancers recruited from topless nightclubs, according to drug enforcement and Customs Service officials.

Some Dominican groups have also become involved recently, using their own established routes, and now sell Ecstasy along with heroin and cocaine from drug houses in Washington Heights in Manhattan to buyers who arrive by car from as far away as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, the officials say.

Because it is sold as pills, Ecstasy is much easier to smuggle than heroin, cocaine or marijuana, the authorities say. Large imported shipments, originally flown into New York, Los Angeles or Miami, are then broken down and sent out by regular overnight delivery services, like Federal Express, to midlevel dealers in other cities.

Ms. Brennan, the New York narcotics prosecutor, said Ecstasy was also widely available on the Internet. Last year, her office arrested a man in Orlando, Fla., who had been selling Ecstasy on a site called House of Beans to customers in New York.

Seizures of Ecstasy by the Customs Service have jumped sharply, to 9.3 million pills in 2000, up from only 400,000 pills in 1997, said Charles Winwood, the acting commissioner of the Customs Service.

The law enforcement officials and drug experts do not suggest Ecstasy will lead to the same levels of violence or social turmoil as crack cocaine did in the late 1980's, when thousands of teenage dealers armed themselves with handguns and many mothers neglected their children.

For one thing, Ecstasy does not cause the same dangerous changes in mood and judgment as crack does. For another, crack gave only a brief high, driving addicts back to the street repeatedly in search of another dose and often leading them to rob or steal to support their habit.  Ecstasy instead induces a high of up to six hours, enhancing feelings of empathy and closeness, its users say.

But interviews with drug experts and with teenage Ecstasy addicts in treatment programs here show that the drug, known scientifically as MDMA, both a stimulant and a hallucinogen, can be disruptive and expose them to violence.

"We are dancing with danger here, because the kids and their parents think of Ecstasy as a benign party drug," said Michele Leonhart, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Los Angeles office. "They don't see what we see, that it's a neurotoxin with serious side effects, that people die from overdoses and that some of the dances in the desert are no longer just dances, they're like violent crack houses set to music."

Marcos M., a tall Hispanic teenager living in Phoenix Academy, a residential treatment center for adolescent drug addicts run by Phoenix House in Lake View Terrace, a suburb in the San Fernando Valley, said he had always thought of Ecstasy as "the white man's drug." In his neighborhood, Lincoln Heights — "the ghetto," he called it — people usually did crack or heroin. Besides, Ecstasy was too expensive, at $25 a pill. Marcos, 17, said his attitude toward Ecstasy was, "I'd rather spend my money on good stuff."

"One day a friend was cleaning out his car and gave me a pill," Marcos recalled. "So I tried it, and an hour later, I was rolling — relaxed, kicking and chilling."

Now, he sees all ethnic groups using Ecstasy, no longer just whites.

As with other drugs, dealers often fight over Ecstasy, Marcos said. A dealer who is a friend of his sold a "boat," a package of 1,000 Ecstasy pills, to another dealer, but the second dealer claimed the delivery was short. So a fight ensued, in which his friend broke into the other man's house and took the drugs back, and the second dealer then smashed his friend's car.

The leading survey of teenage use of drugs, known as Monitoring the Future and done by the University of Michigan, has found that the proportion of 12th graders who had used Ecstasy in the previous 12 months more than doubled to 8 percent in 2000, from 3.5 percent in 1998. That is a very large increase, said Lloyd Johnston, a research scientist who directs the annual survey. Among 10th graders the percentage who had used Ecstasy in 2000 rose to 5 percent, from 3 percent in 1998.

"It is definitely continuing to increase, across all parts of the country, and equally among males and females," Mr. Johnston said. Ecstasy is still enjoying a honeymoon among young people, just as LSD did in the 1960's, before its dangers were widely known, he said.

Jessica D., a 17-year-old high school junior who came to Phoenix Academy from Canoga Park, a Los Angeles suburb, said she started taking Ecstasy pills at nightclubs and raves. She soon found herself "rolling" on the drug all the time. "I used to go to school high," she said, a smile brightening her face at the memory. "It made school more fun. Class went by faster."

Dr. Alan I. Leshner, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md., said, "Contrary to what a lot of people think, that Ecstasy is a harmless drug, we are learning more and more scientifically about its damaging effects."

The bad short-term effects, Dr. Leshner said, are quick increases in blood pressure, heart rates and body temperature, leading to dehydration and hypothermia, particular problems for people who have danced in hot, crowded rooms all night.

In the longer term, Dr. Leshner said, there is now evidence that repeated use of Ecstasy can damage the brain cells that produce serotonin, the neurochemical that is critical for preventing depression and sleep disorders.

People who have used Ecstasy frequently experience memory loss and depression when the drug wears off, Dr. Leshner said.

The contest with drug smugglers continues.

Last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York announced the arrest of Oded Tuito, who was said to head the largest Ecstasy-smuggling organization yet identified.

Mr. Tuito, an Israeli who kept homes in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, "imported millions of Ecstasy pills" from Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt into New York, Miami and Los Angeles, the drug administration charged.

His organization recruited dozens of couriers, typically dancers at topless nightclubs, who each smuggled in 30,000 to 60,000 pills at a time and also took hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in drug proceeds back to Europe, the authorities said.

To combat Ecstasy, the federal government and more than half the states, including New York, New Jersey and Florida, have raised the penalties for selling the drug in the past few years.

Under new federal sentencing guidelines that went into effect in May, a person selling 800 pills can now receive a sentence of five years, a much stiffer standard than the old threshold of 11,000 pills.

New York's law, enacted in 1996, is tougher than the federal standard, requiring a minimum sentence of three years for mere possession of 100 pills.

An Illinois bill, passed by the Legislature last month and awaiting the governor's signature, would carry the toughest penalties of all — an automatic 6 to 30 years for selling as few as 15 pills.

State Senator Rickey Hendon warned that the Illinois law cast too wide a net, treating teenage partygoers the same as professional drug traffickers. But Senator Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, who is black, said the law might help Illinois legislators understand the racial disparities of drug laws.

"When you see 14-year-olds going to jail for a mandatory 30 years and their complexion is no longer black," Senator Hendon said, "maybe we'll stop and think about what we're doing."

Terry Gorski and other member of the GORSKI-CENAPS Team are Available To Train & Consult On Areas Related To Recovery & Relapse Prevention
Gorski - CENAPS, 17900 Dixie Hwy, Homewood, IL 60430, 708-799-5000 www.tgorski.com, www.cenaps.com, www.relapse.org

About the Author

Terence T. Gorski is an internationally recognized expert on substance abuse, mental health, and related criminal justice issues.  He is well known for his contributions to relapse prevention, managing chemically dependent offenders, and developing community-based teams for managing the problems of alcohol, drugs, and crime.  He is President of the CENAPS Corporation, a training and consultation firm of founded in 1982 that is committed to providing the most advanced training and consultation in the chemical dependency and behavioral health fields.

Gorski has also developed skills training workshops and a series of low-cost book, workbooks, pamphlets, audio and videotapes. He also works with a team of trainers and consultants who can assist individuals and programs to utilize his ideas and methods.
Terry Gorski is available for personal and program consultation, lecturing, and clinical skills training workshops. He also routinely schedules workshops, executive briefings, and personal growth experiences for clinicians, program managers, and policymakers.

This article is copyrighted by Terence To Gorski.  Permission is given to reproduce this article if the following conditions are met:  (1) The authorship of the article is properly referenced and the internet address is given;  (2) All references to the following three websites are retained when the article is reproduced - www.tgorski.com, www.cenaps.com, www.relapse.org, www.relapse.net; (3) If the article is published on a website a reciprocal link to the four websites listed under point two is provided on the website publishing the article.
 

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