The lecturer for the heroin course emailed me last night. After our talk on Tuesday I'd said I'd be happy to get together and talk about drug policy and harm reduction, and he's taken me up on it. Turns out he's also read my criticisms of his course here on my blog.
And here's the kicker. Instead of being upset about what I'd written, he's provided me with the references he used for a couple of the things I was questioning, and asked me to let him know if I had information to the contrary, and generally acted like a mature academic about the whole thing. Dialogue is now open and that's kind of cool. ;-)
Turns out one of the references (the one where the number of heroin addicts in the US supposedly dropped suddenly in the 1970s from 500,000 to 200,000) is a book I have*, so I looked it up. And yes, there it was. And it was referenced, too. To an article called "Turkey Lifts the Poppy Ban" by one J Cusack. Probably not this one:
So anyway, this guy's article was published in a journal called Drug Enforcement in 1974. The hard part is that the journal appears to no longer exist, and there's no evidence that I can find online for it ever having existed. Also, I can't find the article in question either, only people citing it. Bollocks. What this means is that I can't find out where Cusack got his info from. (note: if you happen to have a copy of this journal kicking around, I'd love to see it).  The amazing-at-this-sort-of-thing bekitty has since found an archive for Drug Enforcement online, however wouldn't you know it, that issue is missing. ;-/
I do wonder how far down the source tree one is expected to go before just going "Fuckit, that'll do, I'll accept the figure." I've no idea. I know that if I could cite a reference in my essays, and the marker could look it up and see that the reference exists, they'd be happy. My OCD wants to know the truth, but I would also be a bit miffed if someone went to these lengths to question a reference I'd given. Yet... this reference does exist, but it tells me nothing about how the figure was come up with, and I can't find anything that corroborates this figure, so I'm still unsure of its validity.
What I did find was a reasonable amount of stuff that indicates a general downward trend in heroin use in the United States after 1973 (which has since reversed), and a whole lot of stuff about how estimates of actual numbers are impossible to verify and generally inaccurate because of the nature of heroin use. And a bunch of things about why the trend may have come about, relating to changes in drug of choice, availability, and targeted use-prevention/harm reduction initiatives. Nothing mentioning the Maharishi.
So it seems he's right that heroin use did appear to drop through the 1970s, but that the figure used is suspect, and that the possible causes are many and varied and it seems unlikely that the Maharishi theory will bear out.
So I've sent this information off to the lecturer, because helping get to the truth (or as close as possible) and therefore improving the course for the future sounds much more constructive than firing rockets from the sidelines and then forgetting about it. And the lecturer has indicated willingess to alter the lectures in line with what we discover - in fact, he's already done it in one case. Kudos to him.
* richdrich, this is actually your book. Your name is on the inside cover and it's been in my possession since Helix borrowed it off you in 2008. I'm happy to return it any time.
It's not the first time I've been surprised by who reads my blog. As you know, it's mostly public so anyone who wants can have a squiz at the latest Tome Of Extreme Opinionatedness. Despite occasionally going "Well gosh" when I find out someone's been reading it that I didn't know about, I'm not concerned about this either. I don't say anything I'm ashamed of here, and when I first decided to make it public 5 years ago, it was part of an exercise in integrity, in owning my words, and in making my public face as close as possible to my inner face. Thus, nothing gets published here that I'm not willing to have read by anyone who comes along. It's who I am.
It's not like you didn't know I played fast and loose with my opinions, now is it?
 Oh, and in case anyone was wondering, I plan to head to Fidel's this evening after work cos it's sort-of Friday, right? OMG 4 DAYS OFF YAY!