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Just Say ‘Wait a Minute’

The Fix

by Michael Massing
Simon and Schuster, 335 pp., $25.00

1.

On a hot, muggy night in the summer of 1976, Ron and Marsha “Keith” Schuchard held a thirteenth-birthday party for their daughter in the backyard of their suburban Atlanta home. The Schuchards were English professors, comfortably middle class, and they worried about their daughter. Her personality had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. She was moody and indifferent and only wanted to hang out with her friends. When she asked for a party, the Schuchards were briefly encouraged, because they thought she was coming out of her shell. But as the night wore on, they grew more and more alarmed.

The “guests”—many of whom they had never seen before—kept to the shadows of the backyard. Cars pulled up in the driveway, with teenagers yelling “Where’s the party?” One girl tried to use the phone but seemed to have difficulty dialing. Looking out on the gathering from their upstairs window, the Schuchards could see little flickers of lights in the corners of the lawn. Finally, when the last of the kids had gone home, the couple went outside in their pajamas and crawled around in the backyard grass with flashlights, trying to figure out what had happened. They found beer cans and empty wine bottles. But what they also found—and what bothered them the most—was marijuana butts and roach clips.

That teenagers occasionally do things—and ingest things—that do not meet the approval of their parents is not, of course, all that unusual. But this particular case was different. In fact, in his new book, The Fix, Michael Massing locates the beginning of what he calls the drug counterrevolution at that moment, late at night, in the suburbs of Atlanta. The Schuchards decided that the reason for their daughter’s disaffection was not normal adolescent angst, nor was it the malt liquor and the wine. It was the marijuana. “We had a sense,” Keith Schuchard would say later, “of something invading our families, of being taken over by a culture that was very dangerous, very menacing.” The next morning, Schuchard demanded that her daughter give her the names of everyone at the party, and called each parent in turn. She began researching the dangers of marijuana. She fired off a letter to Robert DuPont, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and so impressed him when they met that he asked her to write a handbook on parents and drug abuse. She obliged with Parents, Peers, and Pot, a vitriolic attack on the drug culture that claimed pot did everything from causing “enlarged breasts” among adolescent boys to destroying the immune system. It was the biggest best seller in NIDA history, with more than a million copies printed.

By this point, Schuchard had hooked up with a neighbor, Sue Rusche, and formed Families in Action, the country’s first antidrug parents’ group, and was intensively lobbying the president’s drug adviser. By 1980, she and other concerned parents had joined together to form another, still larger antimarijuana group, the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth (NFP), and by January of the following year, with the election of Ronald Reagan, the NFP became one of the most powerful grass-roots lobbying groups in the land. “The dream we dared to speak of rather timidly three years ago in this auditorium,” Schuchard said at a national drug abuse convention in the spring of 1981, “seems well on its way to realization—that is, the growth of the parents’ movement for drug-free youth from a handful of scattered individuals and groups to an increasingly cohesive, articulate, and powerful national movement.”

To Massing, American drug policy has never really recovered from the rise of the likes of Keith Schuchard. In the 1970s, during the Nixon administration, American drug policy had followed a strict medical model. The focus was on the hard-core user of drugs like heroin, not casual users of “soft” drugs like marijuana. Millions of federal dollars were spent on providing on-demand treatment for heroin users and liberalizing access to methadone. Drug policy was directed by psychiatrists, and users were patients. The parents’ movement turned that policy upside down. Their concern was not with inner-city addicts, but with suburban teenagers, not with heroin but with pot, and not with treatment but with “zero tolerance.” The NFP helped to re-create Nancy Reagan as antidrug crusader. They successfully pushed for the appointment of Carlton Turner as the White House drug adviser, and Turner represented the antithesis of the old drug policy. As Massing writes:

To start, Turner rejected their idea of distinguishing between hard-core and occasional users. In his view, there was no such thing as “casual” or “recreational” drug use. Nor did he accept the distinction between “hard” and “soft” drugs. To his mind, that was “a very smooth public relations ploy to get the American public to accept all kinds of drugs. It was like soft drinks—you can drink them with impunity if you don’t mind a few cavities.” From now on, Tuner asserted, all types of drugs were to be regarded as equally dangerous, and all types of drug use as equally reprehensible.

In the Reagan years, the budget for treating drug addicts was cut to about a quarter of what it had been just ten years earlier, while billions of dollars were added to the budget for drug reinforcement, overseas interdiction, and prisons. The key outside strategist, pushing the new director, was now another NFP activist, the group’s treasurer, a middle-aged Massachusetts businessman named Otto Moulton. Moulton, Massing writes, was a “giant teddy bear” of a man, with a “round belly, fleshy face, and flock of curly locks,” who was obsessed with the threat posed to American civilization by marijuana. In his basement he had a huge collection of drug literature and paraphernalia, and he would regularly fire off “Otto Bombs”—letters packed with extensive documentation—to public officials. Moulton, Massing writes, came to “exercise a sort of veto power over what people said and wrote about drugs.” Nancy Reagan’s office would send him materials for approval. Moulton, meanwhile, would try to use his contacts to cut off federal money for drug treatment clinics. The parents hated the government’s emphasis on heroin—which they considered a marginal menace. They hated the idea that addicts might be treated as patients, and they pressured Nancy Reagan into spending her time with schoolchildren and to stop meeting with recovering addicts.

Then, with the election of George Bush, came the appointment of William Bennett as drug czar. He was an English professor and a moralist who knew nothing whatsoever about drugs, which, according to the perverse logic of the counterrevolution, made perfect sense, because the point of the counterrevolution was to take control of the fight against drugs away from the professionals and give it to the parents, and to transform it from a medical crusade into a moral one. In the late 1980s, even as the crack epidemic was first starting to explode in inner cities, Bennett and his drug office remained stubbornly focused elsewhere. “Our office was created not because of the hard-core user problem, but because of concern about exploding drug use in the suburbs and among young people,” Massing quotes Bruce Carnes, one of Bennett’s top aides, as saying. “It was not directed at hard-core addicts. They consumed the vast bulk of the drugs, and contributed a significant part of the crime, but they weren’t the main threat to your kids becoming drug users.” The drug war was all about “our kids” now.

2.

The Fix is about the consequences of this counterrevolution. It is the story of what was lost when the parents’ movement turned our attention away from treatment and hard drugs. In particular, it is the story of an improbable, all-too-brief golden age in American drug policy, a period of no more than two or three years in the middle of the Nixon administration, when America, in Massing’s eyes, suddenly got it right. His heroes are two young men on Nixon’s staff, Jeff Donfeld and Bud Krogh (the White House fixer who would later get swept up in the Watergate scandal), and Jerome Jaffe, a liberal psychiatrist who in the 1960s pioneered some of the most successful drug treatment programs in the country.

Donfeld was one of Nixon’s domestic policy staff, and his portfolio was drugs. He was a “brash conservative” who despised the 1960s counter-culture. But before long he became fascinated with the success of an experimental methadone treatment in Chicago, the Illinois Drug Abuse Program (IDAP), which had shown great success in reducing crime, unemployment, and heroin use. Donfeld turned to Krogh, who had been given the responsibility for attacking the crime problem in the District of Columbia, and convinced Krogh that it might be worth trying out the Chicago program in the District. “The District of Columbia became a laboratory in my mind,” Massing quotes Krogh as saying,

a place where we could put more funding into treatment and see what happened…. The administration’s emphasis had been so overwhelmingly on the law-enforcement side, that I concluded that if we could get a substantial portion of the addict population into some kind of treatment program, where they would have a chance to function and not be driven to commit street crimes, that would be a very important contribution to the law-enforcement side.

The plan worked. Early results from the D.C. pilot project showed stunning drops in criminal activity among those enrolled in treatment. Emboldened, Krogh went to John Ehrlichman, arguing that the program should be instituted nationally, and by the summer of 1971—after a complex round of bureaucratic maneuvering—Nixon called a bipartisan group of congressmen to the White House and announced that he was appointing Jaffe to head “a new, all-out offensive” against drugs, using treatment as its principal weapon. To fund the effort, Nixon more than doubled the federal money available for treatment programs, to $105 million. By 1973, the total drug budget would reach $420 million, eight times greater than the amount when Nixon had first taken office. Most of that money was put directly into creating drug treatment and methadone replacement programs for heroin users, creating, for the first—and, as it turned out, the last—time in American history, treatment on demand for intravenous drug addicts. “By the spring of 1973,” Massing writes,

so many [drug treatment] slots had been created that some cities had excess capacity, and Jaffe, seeking to take advantage, was setting up mechanisms to coax more addicts off the street…. [He] was urging cities to create outreach teams to scour copping zones. To make it easier for addicts to gain access to programs, Jaffe was issuing contracts to cities to set up IDAP-like central intake units. And, to help get more drug offenders into treatment, he was expanding [his agency’s] Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime program….

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