Quote of the Day

The Nixon tapes reveal the President endorsing methadone maintenance for heroin addicted patients

Moving someone from heroin to methadone — that’s a wonderful move.

–President Nixon, in an oval office conversation with Mayor Daley during which he tried to persuade Daley to expand methadone maintenance for heroin addicted people in Chicago

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

8 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

    1. The federal penalty for marijuana possession was 10 years when Nixon took office. He changed the law to be one year, with the option for the judge to waive that. It would be 40 years before anyone succeeded in eliminating a mandatory minimum sentence.

  1. That quote is obviously followed by a very cautionary tale about letting the government manage your habit. Nixon thought the government could step in and substitute itself for your local pusher and everyone would jump on the gravy train…well, lot’s of folks did jump on that gravy train. The police. The courts. Probation services. Drug counselors. Prison guards. Drug testing companies….

    Everyone except most of those who needed the “H” train.

    I’d suggest that my “Get a junkie a job plan” might be a better idea, as well as access to needle exchanges and good dope. Because we’re just kidding ourselves about whether this Nixon sort of thing helps those who really need it — or the vast army of “helpers” who have no incentive to do anything but keep going through the motions of “doing something.” Somehow the spotlight of fiscal rectitude and performance assessment has been turned on every other social benefit program. Why is the “drug war” immune from such critical review?

    And, no, progress has yet to show on this. Holder’s speech this week was barely even a first step in what realistically needs done. In fact, in terms of everything but some re-fashioned rhetoric, at least one of Nixon’s wars continue unabated to this day. That’s a cheesy proposition for the Republicans, but an absolute disgrace for the Democrats.

  2. Liberal hatred of Nixon for other (good) reasons, has led to much fiction about his policies, including in the drug area. Nixon spent 2/3 of his drug policy budget on treatment and cut very tough penalties for marijuana that he inherited. His drug czar was a physician. And he never declared a war on drugs. He also expanded food stamps, affirmative action, worked with Congress to establish the EPA and proposed a national health insurance plan that was more generous than anything that has come after. When he left office, social spending was a far larger portion of the budget than it was under LBJ.

    Almost anyone who went to Woodstock will deny all that…but it’s what happened.

    1. Ayup. People just stared at me when I said (in the ’90s) that I disliked Clinton because he was significantly to the right of Nixon.

      Similarly, they think Carter (no relation) was some hardcore leftist, but he Volkerized the country, and arguably started the whole neoliberal dereg fetish (ok ok beer, trucks maybe airlines were a good idea).

    2. Keith,
      Saying that Nixon didn’t start the war on drugs is like arguing over the pronunciation of potato. It’s still a tuber (tumor?) It’s the functional equivalent of saying Eisenhower didn’t start the Vietnam War, when he actually took it over from the French. One can parse words all one wants, but the result is just as ugly.

      Then there’s that whole,”We actually don’t DECLARE wars on anything or anyone anymore” thing. Ask the Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, Panamanians, Granadians, Nicaraguans…well, I think my point is clear. Are we here to argue semantics or policies? Because the words may change, but the policies have an ugly persistence that is not at all flattering.

      Besides, I’m a leftist, not a liberal, and a big part of the reason for that is Nixon. I was actually dumb enough to have supported Nixon and his “secret peace plan” for Vietnam in ’68. I’m just glad I wasn’t old enough to vote. That taught me a lot about American politics, the serial, criminal liars that lead it, and, well, the semantics of American politics.

      This may be your reference on the “Nixon didn’t declare war”:
      http://www.ibhinc.org/pdfs/IBHCommentaryonGlobalCommissionReport71211.pdf
      But even there it’s clear he invoked the rhetoric of war, even if his actions didn’t quite follow every tiny alley of his rhetoric.
      http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=3048
      It sure doesn’t sound like anything but war, and he used that word, in talking about the headline-grabbing problem of an Army hooked on smack, probably because everyone by then just kind of accepted the fact that weed was absolutely pervasive in that same Army and Nixon was focused on the high profile issue, hoping he could get everyone to at least agree we didn’t want to DEROS all those addicts right to the streets of the US

      He certainly saw pot as an opportunity to play both sides of the public off against each other for his own political benefit, certainly a factor in his mind in 71 as the 72 election neared.

      While cutting maximum penalties for pot was a good thing, it was more because such cases were clogging the far more limited (in those days) federal gulag. And don’t forget that he was both getting a presidential pot commission going and readying a way to triangulate around it’s eventual finding that America’s pot policy was ridiculous. Nixon was playing politics with war, as was his wont, he was not searching for the optimal policy. Eventually, he decided that we needed a Drug Enforcement Agency and that group of bunglers and moralizing freaks got its start.

      And it’s interesting that at least some folks at Stanford seem to share my and others view that Nixon did start a war on drugs:
      http://www.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/paradox/htele.html

      But I know how academics can differ, so won’t belabor that point.

      And at least one observer has noted that the rhetoric of war infused Nixon’s rhetoric on the matter:
      http://fabiusmaximus.com/2010/05/21/drugs/

      Then there’s Nixon himself, always ready to take credit in retrospect.
      “Unless we reach children early with knowledge of the consequences of drug use, and unless we reverse the tolerance and even glamorizing of drug use in the popular culture of Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry, we will stand no chance of winning the war on drugs.”
      Source: Seize the Moment, by Richard Nixon, p.292-294 , Jan 15, 1992
      More cites on that and on marijuana specifically:
      http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Richard_Nixon_Drugs.htm

      Then there’s the fact that it’s clear he intended to use drug policy to attack his political enemies. He believed that rejecting the findings of his own presidential marijuana commission and pursuing drug charges against figures in the New Left was a viable strategy to attack his enemies. True, he knocked a few rough edges off the corner of drug policy by pushing treatment and started the rhetoric of “We’re here to help the addict get straight” in policy terms, but the part of his policy that’s been most consistently followed over 4+ decades has been the “lock ’em up” policy, despite its obvious ineffectiveness in doing much beyond acting as a price support mechanism for the cartels.

      If it wasn’t war, then what was it? A “police action” I guess.

      1. A few more cites I was looking for.
        http://stash.norml.org/nixontapes

        Admittedly, Nixon didn’t start with the war rhetoric for non-military problems. Johnson did with the ‘war on poverty’ but Nixon sure started something that was all but a formal declaration of war, especially when he said things like this:

        ”I am glad that in this administration we have increased the amount of money for handling the problem of dangerous drugs seven-fold; it will be $600 million dollars this year. More money will be needed in the future. I want to say, however, that despite our budget problems, to the extent that money can help in meeting the problems of dangerous drugs, it will be available. This is one area where we cannot have budget cuts. Because we must wage what I have called total war against Public Enemy Number One in the United States – the problem of dangerous drugs.’”
        June 17, 1971 – Nixon declares War on Drugs and calls drugs “Public Enemy Number One” at a press conference

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