Just Say ‘Wait a Minute’

The Fix

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

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 …

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Letters

Just Say No’: An Exchange April 22, 1999