Lies, damn lies and Florida's drug war

Arthur Ponsonby, the first Baron of Shulbrede (1871-1946) said: "When war is declared, truth is the first casualty." In our country's 80-year "War on Drugs," the truth has been mangled, garroted, tortured and disfigured in more ways than one would have thought imaginable. And yet, in their jihad against the evils of intoxication, the Drug Warriors continue to find new and astounding methods of manufacturing evidence, falsifying calculations, fabricating statistics, altering official records, deceiving, misleading and otherwise bamboozling the American citizenry. One can only be amazed at their prodigious ability to betray the public trust over the course of almost a century.

Like their spiritual forebear, Harry Anslinger, the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, the Drug Warriors will say whatever suits their purposes, hoping that the lies, if repeated often enough, will be believed. Remember, it was Anslinger who testified before Congress, in 1935, that marijuana must be rendered illegal because it made its users violent and prone to all sorts of "murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity." It was the same Harry Anslinger who testified again, before Congress, in 1948, that marijuana must remain illegal, because it made its users too peaceful, thereby making our country ripe for a communist takeover!

Now we have Jim McDonough, director of Florida's Office of Drug Control, picking up the reins of Anslinger's attack on veracity, common sense and honest public service. McDonough came from Washington in 1999, at the behest of Gov. Jeb Bush, to head the state's $540 million anti-drug campaign. Before that, he served as head of strategy under national drug czar Barry McCafferey (himself no stickler for hewing to the facts or rendering truthful judgments on drug-policy issues).

Last year, McDonough's target was Florida's prolific marijuana crop, which he wished to eradicate with the fungus fusarium oxysporum, despite warnings from our own state's Department of Environmental Protection. Even though research showed that the toxins derived from fusarium oxysporum may be deadly to humans and other animals, and while there is no way of knowing whether or not the fungus can be prevented from attacking other crops once it has been let loose, McDonough apparently felt -- in order to protect the rest of us from the much more benign cannabis sativa plant -- that the risks were acceptable.

This year, thanks to a recent exposé by the Orlando Sentinel, we discover that, in its zeal to combat the growing use of so-called "designer drugs" (including Ecstasy and GHB, popular in the rave and party scene), McDonough's office literally faked data, incorrectly exaggerating the number of fatalities attributed to these drugs and, in many cases, lying about the true causes of death, in order to inflate the already morbid totals.

According to the Sentinel piece, reported by Henry Pierson Curtis, McDonough's official report listed 254 rave-drug related deaths statewide. Yet, included in this number were: terminal cancer patients who committed suicide; senior citizens who took authorized painkillers; a Miami crib death; and a 58-year-old St. Petersburg man who died after heart-bypass surgery, among others. In many of the cases, autopsies showed traces of one of the 20 drugs on McDonough's list, some of which are legally prescribed medicines and not designer drugs at all.

Locally, the 60 deaths attributed to designer drugs actually drops to 25 when one excludes casualties like the 66-year-old motorist who died after a car crash; the 80-year-old stroke and Alzheimer's patient; the 75-year-old asthmatic; and the 4-year-old boy who succumbed in the emergency room due to an adverse reaction to ketamine, a drug often given in hospitals but which remains on McDonough's target list.

So, whether or not one considers the proliferation of designer drugs a problem worth marshaling the state's resources against, we can all still expect our public officials -- those who are obligated with disseminating information upon which budget decisions are made and tax dollars spent -- to be fair and accurate in their assessments.

I have, in my possession, a letter from McDonough, dated June 30, 1999. It is a reply to an e-mail I sent Gov. Bush about Florida's official drug policies. In it, McDonough thanks me for my views and addresses a number of my concerns. In closing he states, "Drugs are not harmless; they do extensive damage. That is why they are illegal." In response to McDonough's latest escapade, I can only reciprocate with the following sentiment.

Dear Jim: Lies are not harmless; they do extensive damage. That is why they are illegal. You owe an apology to the people of Florida for your reckless disregard for the truth in your capacity as a public official. You are going down a dangerous path when you sacrifice science for propaganda, policy for hypocrisy, and honesty for hysteria. Stick to the truth and let the people decide the best course of action. Or are you so doubtful of your own positions that you must make falsehood and deception allies in your own particular "war" ?

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