Cover Story

More than Cocaine, Crack and Heroin Combined

      America today is awash with prescription drugs, used legally — and illegally. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that about $25 billion in prescription drugs were sold on the street market in 1993. Many billions more were consumed within the law.

      According to a U.S. government survey, prescription drug abuse is comparable to or worse than abuse of cocaine, crack cocaine or heroin. Indeed, more Americans had abused prescription drugs in the month prior to the survey than cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin combined.

      The agency vested with authority over the billions of dollars’ worth of “legal” drugs produced each year is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), founded in 1928. Through the years, it has grown in power and jurisdiction, particularly in 1938, after some 600 children died from a sulfa elixir. The concoction included diethylene glycol, selected by a chemist because it had a sweet taste. It was also highly toxic — the same substance is today widely used in antifreeze.

      Mandated to be both gatekeeper and traffic cop for the drug trade, the FDA determines whether substances can be produced and distributed, and authorizes their dosages.

      The real story of the modern FDA is not its crusade against tobacco, a substance whose health effects are widely known. It is the agency’s tolerance of the false and misleading promotion of psychotropic drugs — substances which poison the body and which can and do kill with little or no warning.

      In cases like that of Don Simpson, it is obvious that the flood of these drugs is out of control — so much so that the FDA’s “oversight” system must be seriously questioned.

      As writer Greg Critser described it, the American health-care system “each day is devoted less to the art of medicine and more to the delivery of pills.” And here the FDA, the supposed drug traffic cop, warrants closer inspection.


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