National Geographic : 1989 Jan
"Three years ago, everybody I knew was doing cocaine. Now nobody. And it isn't be cause of all the to-do about just saying no to drugs. It's because you know it's bad, you know it's wrong." Wrong morally? "No, not that, it lays waste your life. There's nothing worse than a friend doing coke all the time. No sex, no food, no booze, only cocaine, and they can't stop. They get fired, their wives leave them. But like it says on one of those Robin Williams tapes, it 'makes you paranoid and impotent-give me more of that!' "I've seen it, they get up at four in the after noon and stay up all night, they're the life of An Ancient Indian Herb Turns Deadly: Coca Fleeing arrest in a Miami reverse sting, a suspected buyer surrenders at gunpoint. Bookings show arrests from among all ethnic groups. "Crack is not just a ghetto problem," says one officer. "Suburban ites are coming to the inner city to buy it." In Miami's entrenched drug war, police see hope in these stings. "Drug dealers can buy anything they want, except cus tomers. If we can scare the customers off, we can have an impact." the party for half an hour, then more coke, and so on. Then at three in the morning, a nervous breakdown-crying, yelling, a straitjacket case. Everybody knows somebody like that." SSHOULD HAVE LIKED to end this article on brought under control anytime soon. Alas, it's more persistently entrenched than most of us imagine. Consider the words of a man who says he has sniffed cocaine for 27 years now, without medical problems or troubles with the police. "The public view of cocaine use - held by peo ple who are not involved-knows only two types of prominent symbolic figures. Those who died of it, like Len Bias-and those who've gone through hell, have seen the light, and now preach against it. What you don't see is an awful lot of people like me for whom it isn't a big deal. A fairly important thing, yes, but we can take it or leave it." He's speaking of people he knows in their 30s to late 40s, with graduate degrees and good incomes. "We do it discreetly, of course, be cause it's illegal. If you go abroad for six weeks, you don't take any cocaine along, it's too dangerous now, so you just do without." Wishful thinking may prompt us to dismiss such rarely heard voices, but if we do that we're turning away from unpalatable reality. This reality may change if regular urine testing for traces of illegal drugs should become wide spread on the American scene-as is advocat ed by many, and also widely opposed. Otherwise--unless unforeseen changes occur in the U. S. and in the world-the only realis tic outlook is that quite a few years will have to pass before the most prevalent use made of the coca plant will again be the chewing of its little leaves by people in the highlands of the Andes.