The first thing that set off a red flag was when he put up a slide that stated that in 1971 there were 500,000 heroin addicts in the US, and by 1974 there were only 200,000. He further went on to claim that a major reason for this decrease was the influence of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental meditation (which apparently reduces the desire to take drugs) on university students, making drug taking appear 'uncool'.
To which I went "WUT." I didn't say WUT though, I asked where I could read more on the topic, because it was my understanding that problematic heroin use is strongly correlated with poverty, inequality and marginalisation, and that Berkeley students didn't seem the right demographic to be the 'heroin addicts' of that statistic. To which he replied that it's a personal theory of his, that he's a member of an organisation associated with the Maharishi and transcendental meditation, and that he personally felt that this spiritual path had been influential in making kids think drugs aren't cool.
Which reduced his credibility in my mind to the same level as the Scientologists saying their drug treatment programs are 10 times more successful than other ones. In other words, *cough*bullshit*cough*.
Anyway, this morning I tried to find where he'd got that statistic from in the first place - the early 70s being the time when folks were coming back from Vietnam addicted to heroin and all, and the War on Drugs having started about then, and everything the dude says now being suspect.
I couldn't find it. In fact, everything I found seemed to indicate the opposite - that in fact, heroin use increased throughout the 70s in the US, indicated through words such as 'skyrocketed'.
The lecturer also said that nowadays, there are over a million addicts in the US. Again, I felt the need to fact check this. And I discovered just how fluffy the 500,000/200,000 figure actually is, because this sort of thing is almost impossible to measure. For example, this short article points out the discrepancies betwen various methods of reporting numbers. This one suggests that in the 1970s, numbers stayed roughly steady at an estimated 400,000-600,000, but that the 200,000 figure may have come from statistics about arrestees. Even the CIA cant' be sure, but they think that maybe at the moment there are about 600-800,000 'hardcore addicts' in the US, with maybe 2 million users (yep, contrary to popular opinion, heroin is not immediately addictive to everybody.
Anyway, from this I have concluded that our lecturer's facts and figures, and, well, also his statements about why things happened the way they did, are highly suspect. It seems likely to me that if there was a reduction in heroin addiction in the US in the 1970s at all, it's much more likely to be attributable to the introduction of methadone maintenance treatment and subsequent handling of statistics regarding addicts in treatment vs 'in the wild', combined with the shift to cocaine use among the population that's mentioned repeatedly in the articles above. And even that is just conjecture on my part. The figures seem impossible to find - but even my half hour search this morning seems more comprehensive than what our lecturer's done.
And then we get to the bit that really concerns me. He started talking about 'the islamicisation of the heroin trade', meaning the way in which the growth and trafficking of heroin has shifted from being based in Asia, the Middle East, and Central America, to mainly in the Middle East in countries that are often muslim. He talked about a thing he called 'The Islamic Agenda', in which apparently Islam is a proselytising religion (like Christianity), and some muslims believe that if a majority of citizens of a country are muslim, then the government should also be muslim - and they will fight to achieve this. This apparently has to do with heroin in that these kinds of fights require funding, and the heroin trade creates funding, and something about how the US and UK encouraged this kind of insurgency in the breaking up of the Balkan states, Afghanistan's attempts to expel the Russians, and the disintegration of the USSR. Apparently this had to do with the Cold War and the desire to destabilise these nations in order to access oil, and the desire of muslims to turn the whole world muslim was exploited by the US and the UK in order to achieve this, with heroin providing the funding. Thus, the majority of the world's heroin is now grown in the Middle East, by muslims.
Now, I don't know a lot about this, but certainly the political motivations to destabilise states in that way seem at least feasible. And that part of the world has historically been an opium producing area, and I can see how war could create a situation where growing opium is more profitable than growing other crops. Certainly, if you look at the UN Drug Report (p26), you can clearly see the production of opium in Afghanistan increasing dramatically once the US invaded, and slowly decreasing over the last few years. What it also shows though, is that Myanmar (which is overwhelmingly Buddhist, is the second largest producer of opium for the global market, and growing fast. And Central American countries (Christian) grow almost 7% of the world's illicit opium. And then there's India (Hindu), which not only grows for the licit trade, but is estimated to have 'a considerable level' of illicit opium cultivation, but consumes it mostly within the country. So while the majority of the world's heroin does still originate in Afghanistan, I'm not convinced that it's about any kind of religious agenda, and I'm really REALLY not convinced that 'Islamicising' opium production was a deliberate move by Western governments.
In fact it bothers me a lot that when I googled The Islamic Agenda, what I got appears to be the religious equivalent of Men's Rights Activist sites - ie, hate groups. *shudder*
And when someone called him on it, he was unable to argue his case, and again fell back on the 'personal theory' argument. One of my fellow students suspects he's angling for a book.
Anyway, I'll keep going to the class because it's fairly interesting, but I have deep concerns about the academic integrity of the information we're being presented. I just finished a degree that required me to be able to justify everything I said, and now I'm being lectured by someone who's using the lectures as a platform for unsubstantiated pet theories, and anything he says is suspect. I'm not sure I have the energy to fact-check his relevant points to the degree I might have to to get the truth, and he seems unable to present references when pressed.
;-/ I am not sure how this'll go when we get to the legalisation debate, because then he'll be on my turf, and I can cite my sources.
Tonight, we are going to degustate at Martin Bosley's. I'm told it's posh, but it's my view that the poshest folks don't need to act posh, so we're just going to go and enjoy the food because I'm told it's good.