Friday, May 25, 2007

Potential Drug Czar

Cartoon Courtesy Mike Adams, News


Question: What led you to agree to this interview? You've never granted an interview before, though you've been mentioned as the nation's next drug czar.

Jim Shackelford: Actually, there are maybe two people who've talked of me as a potential drug czar. Few have asked to interview me before, on any subject, and I've consented in all cases. I'm glad to do interviews, except when I'm not.

Question: Well, I'm really glad you want to do it.

Shackelford: Me too.

Q: In less than twenty words, describe where we need to go as a nation, with respect to drugs.

S: In twenty words or less? You didn't say this was a sound-bite thing. Say no to drugs . That would be the sound-bite answer. It's not that far off where we need to go, though of course I mean something different from the usual ideas connected with that phrase. I hate how societies steal good words and apply them in stupid ways. Be all you can be is a beautiful way to sum up a human approach to life. Only in the grip of fear would people associate it with going to small nations, ones which lack even an an air force or navy, and killing thousands of fellow humans. It takes a village to raise a child was a great phrase until Hilary Clinton got hold of it.

Say no to drugs is obviously simplistic. I wouldn't recommend saying no to insulin, which some might lump in with prescription drugs. Or no to aspirin, though I haven't used it in the last thirty years. I'm not convinced drugs to lower blood pressure are the best approach, but we can argue they are better than a heart attack. There is half a percent alcohol in wines and beers we call non-alcoholic. You get the point. But most of what's being used -- legal, illegal, over-the-counter, whatever -- is clearly a bad idea. When thinking, no person is really confused about that.

Q: You're saying everyone agrees with you?

S: Yes. And no. On the surface of things, a very small minority of adults agree with what I just said. After all, alcohol use is going strong. Psychiatric drug sales are going through the roof. Nicotine via cigarettes is fading in the U.S., but slowly. If the thousand people I see most often are any indicator, Tylenol, Nuprin, Advil and all that stuff is extremely popular. Many people who would say they don't use drugs pop those pills, and are quick to offer them to others. Most adults are tightly wedded to some favorite substance. If we set aside fear, however, there'd be a good amount of agreement on what I just said.
Can I steer this to a different question?

Q: Sure.

S: Here's where I think we can most easily agree: it's not okay to put people in prison for using or selling certain substances. You've really got to turn off your brain to think that beer is a-okay and marijuana use is a reason to go to jail. This is Prohibition II. History doesn't repeat itself. We repeat history, unless we decide to learn from it. None of the high crime rates should surprise us, given the experience in the 1920s.

It's a justice issue, an important one. Any time beer drinkers will sit by while coke users are kept in jail, they are making a strong statement. "My mistakes are fine; yours are evil." That's the policy, in essence, and the policy would never fly without the support of millions of people who imagine themselves to be drug-free, who imagine a safer world if you lock up a minority of substance users. We could blame this on Congress and state legislatures, and the White House. These guys have had a field day using the drug issue to pretend they are providing leadership and safety. They talk tough about crime, but in reality nourish a high-crime environment. They wouldn't have the guts, though, to continue such a policy without millions of people who are willing to support clear-cut injustice. And millions more who say nothing against it publicly.

Anyone who's interested in being fair, in seeing progress, can quickly agree. Either we all need to go to jail for drug use or none of us do.
We're supposed to get all excited if a big drug lord is arrested and convicted. This is not real different from putting Pete Coors in the slammer for a long stay. We're supposed to agree our neighborhoods are safer when drug dealing is moved out. But where does it go? It's not disappearing. It goes to other neighborhoods. We're supposed to detest small sellers -- the guys dealing from houses and street corners -- but this level of drug dealing is similar to the independent pharmacist, the small grocer who depends heavily on cigarettes or beer, and the bar owner. And it pales compared to the profits of supermarkets from alcohol, cigarettes, and brain-damaging pharmaceuticals. What is so different about pouring drinks for people versus providing little bags of pot? In my college dorm we correctly viewed them as similar acts.

Q: I'm in complete agreement with you. But how do you convince everyone of this? People are very invested in the idea that their beer drinking is not similar to marijuana or cocaine use.

S: I don't -- can't -- convince everyone. We all have to do this. If we want a drug-free world. If we don't, if we just want to parrot the society and say, "say no to drugs," and pretend that prisons and wars will solve the problems when obviously they add huge problems, then we will keep exactly what we don't want -- a dangerous world where people have trouble addressing reality.

Q: How do we get to the root of it all?

S: I like the question. The roots are not complicated. You'll notice that one year-olds aren't demanding alcohol and other drugs. And if you give a child drugs, such as Ritalin, he doesn't become more vivacious. His eyes look sad and tired, his smile becomes frozen, he often has insomnia, loss of appetite, etc. These are not side effects. These are actual effects which any person will likely experience from this drug.

To get someone to say such a substance is useful or enjoyable, they first must be conditioned to confuse passivity and socially acceptable ideas with functioning well. The conditioning always involves shutting down emotional release. Always. We have lots of drug use and other easily solveable problems because children -- and adults -- are not supposed to tremble or cry very much. We're not even supposed to laugh too long, although a longer period is tolerated. Trembling and crying, the release of fear and sadness, is seen as a problem. Why? The people trying to shut down the youthful tears and tantrums had their own shut down when they were young. This interfered with their thinking greatly, so much so that they see some things upside down. War and drugs are considered necessary, and ironically, so is the War on Drugs.

As far as young people and future generations go, it is very simple. Don't pacify the babies, or people of any other age. Encourage them to cry until they stop on their own, which of course feels far far too long to adults who were routinely pacified, who hold so much fear from childhood.
As for current adults and teens, thinking is the answer. Simply letting our noggins do their thing. This is not to be confused with feeling as though we are thinking. That we feel competent, confident, and comfortable may not be a good indicator of actual thinking. In fact, a better indicator of progress is lots of trembling and tears, but if I'm trembling this doesn't guarantee my thoughts are great. Trembling is definitely a good idea. The rest of what I'm thinking I'll have to evaluate in each moment.

And this is also tied to withdrawal from drugs. The shakes are nothing to be scared of. That's a person who has been storing up fear for a long time, trying to run from reality and get a false feeling of calm from nicotine, alcohol or whatever. When she makes the wise decision to quit, enormous amounts of fear can then surface to be unloaded. As soon as people choose to let go of fear, instead of holding it in with smokes and drinks, and all the other drugs, our heartfelt excuses for using drugs vanish.

Q: I'm not in total disagreement. But you lose almost every adult when you talk this way, don't you?

S: No, though in a sense you're right. All of this is already universally known and understood, but it gets buried under a steady avalanche of nonsense. The price we pay for sticking with the nonsense is huge. And the benefits of going with what we really know are equally big. If someone chooses the nonsense, yes, it appears I've lost them.

But let's take a minute and look at everyday life. Is our goal to say things which people agree with or to say things that are true and important? We can quickly agree on the latter choice. Yet, in action, most adults are choosing the other course. They say relatively little that is true, if it also goes against the grain of what their friends or co-workers believe. They know the price to be paid if they stay on course with the truth. Fewer friends, potential job loss, etc. are all possible. And yet the cost is much higher when we don't -- witness the way that war keeps winning against peace because people shy away from universal truths.

We lose each other as soon as we buy into bad ideas. It doesn't matter that we are in the same room, or feel we are getting along pleasantly. It's Pleasantville. We're divorced from each other and from reality. We can be drinking buddies, aiding in each other's downward drift, without ever drinking or using any drug. Where substances are concerned, a large number of them will shove us in the direction of a Pleasantville divorce. Marijuana, beer, nicotine, Advil -- they all will do the trick. If you first buy into the idea that thinking and feeling are unpleasant things to be avoided, any of these can suffice. If this isn't the goal, if you happen to accidentally drink some beer, the experience is much clearer. It's a sedative. We feel more sleepy, not more relaxed. It feels harder to think, if we're actually trying to think. We feel a bit disconnected from the next person, even with one beer. Life is more work. It's clear that judgement is impaired, so we have to work harder to exercise good judgement.

I can drive a vehicle with a beer in me, but I would tire out quicker. For routine driving skills one beer is no problem. But any good driver is constantly ready for emergencies during a routine excursion, in a relaxed way. When you're impaired, you realize you may not be quite quick enough for the child who darts into the street. So there's this fight through the alcohol to try and get reactions and judgement to the level you're usually capable of. That's the sensible response. Anything else is divorce from reality. If you're not fighting the impairment, your actions say that the child is not as important tonight as he was yesterday when you drove sober.

If I don't choose divorce, I pull the car over, walk for a half hour, and get more of the one beer out of the system. And while I'm walking I ask myself why I had the beer in the first place. It's not a tough question. Do I want to disconnect from my friends? No way. It's feels more painful to be sober, especially at times when I'm unsuccessful in getting others to stay away from drugs, but in reality there's less pain involved. I just happen to be fully feeling what I feel. And it's no small thing to watch most adults pulling away from their fantastic minds, whether caffeine or cocaine is their favorite mechanism.

Q: You mentioned marijuana, beer, nicotine, and Advil in connection with driving. You see them as causing equal impairment?

S: As far as driving goes, marijuana and beer seem to be a bigger problem than nicotine and Advil. But we shouldn't get too enthusiastic about this difference. All of them pull us away from the world, including our best thoughts and the people in the same room. Nicotine has been used as an insecticide. People have died when handling it in pure form. Cigarette smokers know -- though conscious awareness of this may sometimes be low -- that nicotine is the quickest way to stop a shaky hand. In this sense it is the perfect drug in a world where people are trying to pacify themselves. Never mind that shaky hands leave us with less fear, and cigarettes leave us with more fear. That's how badly judgement is impaired as we reach for the cigarette, if we actually pick it up and light it. The person is making a decision to choose fear over clarity, joy and courage. He chooses nicotine over friends a few feet away. So comparing the effects of various substances is problematic, if we don't acknowledge the problems with all mind-altering substances.

Q: Can we look at the first question again, now that you've given some more background? I know it's unfair in this time frame, but what are your proposals for the nation?

S: I'd say my main proposal is this: agree on what we all know, deep down, to be true. When we are completely honest, there is a wealth of important agreements among people.
Groups cannot think. This doesn't mean that we don't need policies, group discussions and such. But it's important to keep in mind at all times that groups change as individuals change and influence other individuals, by helping each other think. The key pronouns in change are I and you. Everyone has to be willing to do smart things that feel tough, and expect the same from their friends and co-workers.

The great thing with the drug problem is that it is so amenable to change. The change is summarized in the phrase, say no to drugs . It's that simple, as long as we are referring to substances used for what we call pain relief, recreation, and mental health. Mind-altering stuff.
Withdrawal from drugs is the opportunity, nothing to be scared of or resistant about. If people are valuable, and capable of valuable contributions, then releasing prisoners who've been convicted only of drug use is a great opportunity for all of humanity.
Let's say I become the nation's drug czar. I would mainly give speeches. That's what drug czars do, after all. In my talks I would recommend just what I've said here. And I would recommend we remove from top leadership any individuals who are presently using alcohol, nicotine, and the potpourri of currently-illegal stuff. And any who would recommend to another person to take psychiatric drugs. When I say top leadership I mean superintendants, principals, and teachers; publishers and editors; doctors and hospital administrators; elected officials and their top appointees; police chiefs and officers, judges and district attorneys, corporate CEOs, etc.

It's good stuff, this recommendation. Of course it gets stickier in practice. If we remove all the folks currently using alcohol, nicotine, or illegal drugs, that's certainly a majority. And if we throw Tylenol and Nuprin in there -- and that whole crowd of over-the-counter crud -- then there might be barely enough adults left to fill the positions I mentioned. Maybe there wouldn't be enough. So this is one reason a drug czar should give speeches. We need to move as a wave. And with as little legislation, litigation, and enforcement as possible. I'm not saying some distinguished body should remove all these drug-using, drug-dealing people in leadership positions. I'm suggesting they either shape up this week or ship themselves out, to make room for leaders who do apply common sense to drugs. And we can't continue with anyone in these positions who isn't pushing hard for legalization of the currently-illegal junk. Any leader should be pretty good on justice, and there's no justice at all involved in Prohibition II.

Q: What kind of help are you prepared to offer all these people? You're recommending that tens of millions withdraw from everything from marijuana to alcohol to Paxil.

S: As a citizen or a drug czar they can use me as a sounding board. And I can give them my perspectives. The question we want to ask is, how are we going to help each other? Twelve-step groups have the right idea. People can help each other. The guy who quit beer last year can be a big help to the one quitting this week. Your body is better off without marijuana or alcohol. The symptoms in withdrawal are actually signs of healing. I mentioned trembling already -- a person releasing stored up fear. Withdrawal is totally an opportunity -- we need to repeat that like a mantra, which is why I keep saying it here -- and there's no reason to replace one's current poison with a lesser one. Or to use means other than substances to pacify ourselves.

You referred to Paxil. The way I understand it, drugs that directly mess with serotonin in the brain can be hard to withdraw from. I've known a lot of people who quit Paxil, Prozac, and other so-called anti-depressants cold turkey, with no hitches. But of all those, I'm not sure any of them took it for more than six months before they decided to pitch it overboard. People who've used this very dangerous junk over a long term have a lot to say about withdrawal, especially if they were prescribed a cocktail of substances, as is so common today. It's hard to get a handle on it, because they say different things, and some are focused on feeling calm and pleasant, which doesn't work, but it's safe to say that Paxil messes with your mind, and it could be a bad idea for long-term users to quit cold turkey. Then again, at least a few people have reported they had to quit it cold turkey, because they experienced problems with tapered withdrawal.

Drug companies and doctors should be getting sued left and right for prescribing even one psychiatric pill, but it's not easy to find a judge or a jury who will act like reasonable people on this question. After all, judges have generally been in lockstep with society in praising psychiatric drugs and locking up other drug users.

Q: Wow. Those are some big steps you're recommending. Many would also say they are radical, or crazy.

S: They are actually tiny steps, for the most part. They feel very big to people wedded to drugs, whether they're wedded to taking them or believing others need them. There's no question that some would say I'm off the wall here. Yet, if I stuck to cocaine and heroin in this interview, very few would think me radical. And if people allowed each other to cry and tremble "too much," a sense of power would be available again, as they had at one year old. And this then wouldn't sound so big or crazy.

Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

S: Let me see. It's hard to think of something that wouldn't open up a need for a long exchange. And your body language says we're at the end here. It's implied in what I've said today, but there is something I'd like to say straight out. Drugs actually have no power over us.
When we choose fear, when we look to glue fear on, then we feel gripped by a false need, whether it's for "pain relief," "relaxation," or whatever. As soon as we make good assumptions we may look very messy and feel all kinds of stored-up symptoms, but we're quickly on our way to solving a lot more problems than drugs. The flipside is this: choose to stick with the favorite crud, whether it's Tylenol or Bud, and problems get solved slowly, if we even progress overall. That's a best-case scenario. Drug use is not a root problem like low wages or sexism, but it is extremely effective in keeping us from getting at the root problems, which also are amenable to simple solutions. When I say this I include self-described progressives holding wine glasses, who may have the feeling they are solving the world's problems. The basic decision in drug use is to feel less and think less. This has a terrible effect on problem solving.

I forget exactly how they say it in twelve-step groups, but there's a good idea you hear around the tables. You have to tackle the drugs if you're going to have success with other problems. It's not like dirty laundry, which can really pile up for weeks without ruining your life. You have to tackle your own stuff, not focus exclusively on other people's drugs, which tend to look stupid compared to your very reasonable ones.

We're familiar with the concept of drinking buddies, friends who merrily pull each other downward. Most people act as this type of buddy -- most adults anyway. There are Tylenol buddies, Advil buddies, nicotine buddies, psychiatric-drug buddies -- many sorts of buddies. But it's all the same thing really, supporting fear instead of humans. So people have to break off from their own drug use and also stop nurturing others' drug use.

Q: We're out of time, but one final question. Has it been weird being interviewed by yourself?

S: Not as weird as I thought. You've been sort of reasonable.

This self-interview by Jim Shackelford was written on February 12, 2005.
Jim Shackelford is a freelance writer. You can read other commentary by him, as well as excerpts from his books, at the link which is embeded in the Title of this post.

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