The war on drugs through regulation

Yes, most drugs and medicines present dangers if used by naive subjects unaware of their dosage, purity and potential effects, "side" or otherwise.

But government interventions in self-medication -- especially for adults -- are counterproductive as well as blatantly unconstitutional, not to mention a gross violation of basic human rights.

Even if you're more of a statist than I am -- if you believe some state-sanctioned medical "authority" should calmly study drug effects to place them on some scale of "dangerousness and potential for abuse" -- you should still be outraged by what happened in Nevada last month.

"For a couple of years now, the hands of local and state law enforcement were tied when it came to the deadly designer drugs known as 'bath salts,' " reported Reno's KOLO-TV on Feb. 17. "While federal law prohibits their manufacture, sale or possession, Nevada had no such law. That was until Wednesday.

"Last month, the state Pharmacy Board banned four chemicals known to make up 'bath salts.' Yesterday, the state Legislative Commission approved that ban," the breathless newsreaders continued. "Now something that was legal on Monday here in Nevada, you can be arrested for today.

"Bath salts come in innocent enough looking packaging. But contained inside are crystals which can be mixed with alcohol, injected in veins or smoked. The result is a feeling of euphoria. But it will also include heart palpitations, disorientation and sometimes extreme paranoia and violence," the TV pharmacology experts went on.

Then comes Reno police Lt. Scott Dugan to report, "Here locally in Reno we have had a person that burned down a house as a result of that paranoid. I believe in the county they had a domestic violence stabbing, so there have been deaths associated to this nationally. So it's a problem. Now we have the tools to deal with it."

Well, alrighty then!

Quick, based on this report: What drug are we talking about? Heck, what family is it in? An opiate? A stimulant? A hallucinogen?

Because the Nevada Constitution allows the Legislature to meet for only a fixed number of days during odd-numbered years, how on earth is it possible that, "Now something that was legal on Monday here in Nevada, you can be arrested for today"?

Proponents will doubtless argue the "law" was passed long ago; this was a just a "procedural regulatory step" by a Pharmacy Board already authorized to add drugs to its various verboten lists. But why, then, was a vote of the Legislative Commission required? Come on.

The Reno-Gazette-Journal reported Jan. 20 that the Pharmacy Board had "approved an emergency order" outlawing the sale and use of the products "that opponents say can cause heart palpitations, disorientation, extreme paranoia and violence. KLAS-TV reports that Las Vegas police saw 72 cases last year involving the six primary chemicals in the so-called bath salts."

Las Vegas police last year saw tens of thousands of cases in which consumption of alcohol caused "heart palpitations, disorientation, paranoia and violence." Nobody banned alcohol.

What are the penalties? Years in prison, or a $25 fine? Who decided they'd do more good than harm -- since drugs driven underground can actually become easier for kids to acquire?

For the record, at least one drug this report appears to be talking about (there are six, remember) is methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a psychoactive drug with stimulant properties that acts as a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), which would mean its effects are similar to those of Ritalin, but reportedly stronger. It's been reported as a designer drug since around 2004, sold as MDPK, MTV, Magic, Maddie, Super Coke, and -- more recently -- Vanilla Sky, Purple Wave and White Lightning (which, for the record, is actually corn whiskey aged without benefit of a charred barrel to impart color).

MDPV is the 3,4-methylenedioxy ring-substituted analog of the compound pyrovalerone, Wikepedia reports. Developed in the 1960s, it has been used for the treatment of chronic fatigue and as a diet pill, but caused problems of abuse and dependence. It produces primarily stimulant effects. In short, it's more likely to make you aggressive than contemplative.

The Review-Journal reported Feb. 15, "Action by the Legislative Commission, a group of 12 legislators, makes these chemical substance Schedule 1 controlled substances. Possession or sale of them could bring a one- to four-year prison term and a $5,000 fine."

Thanks for a few actual facts.

Chemists will continue to develop new drugs -- and to find new uses for old ones. A sane society would set up an efficient, transparent mechanism to study and report effects as quickly as possible, while creating incentives for manufacturers to properly label what they're peddling -- the opposite of the current "ban-everything-and-throw-the-book-at-'em" approach, which throws distribution of psychoactive substances to a criminal element.

Yet instead of thoughtful pharmacological analysis, we still get some cop who doubtless sincerely means to protect children, but who probably couldn't draw a benzene ring, telling us, "Here locally in Reno we have had a person that burned down a house as a result of that paranoid. ... So it's a problem."

Based on that kind of evidence, more teenage drug users will be packed into prisons, subjected to ongoing sexual assaults by hardened criminals for years at a time, for taking a drug related to the very Ritalin with which our schools now dope up their hyperactive young charges by the fistful?

Whoopee! War on drugs, forever and ever, amen.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of the novel "The Black Arrow" and "Send in the Waco Killers." See