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Drug Laws

Drugs, Culture, And Death

Of course, it is worth noting in this context that the body count created by cocaine is at least partially composed of persons who die as a result of illegally trafficking of the substance. There are the drug lords, the pushers, and the dealers, who enter into ultimately fatal encounters with each other or with law enforcement officers; and there are the law enforcement personnel themselves who die in shootouts with their counterparts on the other side of the law. Besides these, there are also "mules," persons low on the dealing hierarchy, who die as the result of foolhardy smuggling schemes--for instance, by swallowing a condom filled with cocaine, which bursts in the intestinal tract and results in an instantaneous overdose.

Cocaine makes a particularly useful example of the human cost created by an illegal substance. Not only is it exceedingly harmful and addictive, its use has remained high in the United States since the 1970s, and it crosses class and racial lines. In the 1970s, cocaine use was associated with a hedonistic urban lifestyle, yet as fashions changed in the much more serious-minded 1980s, the character of cocaine use changed without any diminishment in the degree of prevalence. If anything, its use increased among upwardly mobile "Yuppies," who enjoyed the drug because it seemingly gave them more energy, creativity, and vitality.

These promises, of course, were illusory. Hence a public service commercial of the era depicted a well-dressed Yuppie type--someone who could easily have been a Wall Street broker--in a tiny, box-like room, much like a rat in a cage; as he moved around and around the room, from wall to wall, a voice-over stated that "Cocaine helps you work harder, so you can earn more money, so you can buy more cocaine, so you can work harder...." Perhaps even more disturbing was the spread of the drug's use among the urban underclass, facilitated by the adaptation of a cheap cocaine derivative called crack in the mid-1980s. Crack was instantly addictive, or very nearly so, and its spread resulted in a massive upsurge in crime.

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