After two drug-related deaths, federal drug agents (supported by the campus administration) raided fraternities at San Diego State University, arresting 75 students. In response to my quiz questions, PT readers explain why this was (a) bad and useless, (b) good and helpful. Bottom line - we're headed to hell in a handbasket.

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 11, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

PT Readers’ Drug Abuse Prevention Policy – I couldn’t have done better myself

San Diego State University (SDSU) administrators permitted Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents to infiltrate fraternity drug distribution rings after two students on campus died from drug use. After several months' investigation, DEA agents arrested 75 students, whose lives will be forever altered for the worse.

I posed five questions to PT readers in my post, "Go Ahead - Write My Blog," and this column summarizes their answers. The responses were extremely good, giving answers I can modestly say are as good as - or better than - I could have given. Moreover, they provide two views of the operation - the side which reacted negatively to the intrusion on campus life of federal agents to fight drug use that has been going on for a half century, and the side that says the school had to act and that such retribution for drug use tilts the scale away from drug use in students' minds (sort of).

Here are the quiz questions and the summary of your responses:

1. Will the raid and arrests reduce drug use on SDSU campus? If so, for how long?

The consensus was, not, as expressed by JDB:

Most people don't expect to be arrested for the consensual use of drugs, so in most cases punitive threats will not work to reduce drug use. To reduce or eliminate drug use on the SDSU campus would require arresting everyone currently doing drugs on the SDSU campus, something that by now is clearly more difficult thanks to the DEA's recent, high-profile drug raid.

The positive position, on the other hand, from Anonymous, was:

Yes, temporarily. There is no telling how long. When you remove key movers and shakers, dependent buyers may find it harder to find suppliers. You have to consider that prior to the bust, these students did not have to venture
into dangerous territory to "score." Getting the drugs they craved was literally a text message away. The consequence of reducing the ease of acquiring illicit drugs will be a temporary hiatus on drug use. But let's not be so arrogant
as to think that this effect will last long. Dr. FeelGood is as cunning as he is consistent. He'll be back.

NOTE, however, that even this supporter of the raids doesn't really think it's an effective way to reduce use.

2. Will the raid reduce negative drug use consequences? That is, because of the sting and arrests, will fewer students use drugs in dangerous ways? Why or why not?

The breakdown was similar here, with most saying "no," and Anonymous once again giving the pro-raid position - however, once again, almost wistfully:

We would like to hope that the selling of illegal drugs by fraternities was like a social drug in itself to students who may otherwise not have ever become users. I say this because if Starbucks started putting crack into their espressos, not everyone would abstain in horror. Some would buy just because of the Starbucks brand. The effective branding of these drugs as fraternity promoted may have reduced the urge to abstain for some students. "It can't be that wrong."

The second hope is that by relaying the message to students that selling drugs has consequences, students may be reminded of the "wrongness" of doing drugs, thereby reducing consumption with a psychological tweaking on how they view drug use in the future. I do believe that occurrences like overdose may be reduced due to the limitations on ease of scoring and resocialization casting drug-use back into the "wrongness" category.

3. If your answers to (1) and (2) are "no" (or "yes, but not long" for 1), WHY did the DEA and University conduct the operation?

Eugene was funny on this one (Superman does laundry?):

The DEA seeks out opportunities to make high profile seizures as to justify their own existence. Universities under the slightest federal pressure fold faster than Superman on laundry day.

I thought Peter Guither was right on with his "money is at the root" response:

They both did it to protect their budgets. The DEA, because they have to justify their budget with lots of arrests and seizures, and the University out of fear of appearing soft on drugs and thereby jeopardizing state money and/or parents' tuition.

4. If you answer "no" to (2), what could the university have actually done to reduce negative drug and alcohol consequences?

JDB says:

To get students to use drugs in less dangerous ways would require them to take a college course or its high school equivalent in toxicology and pharmacology aimed at drug users-a reality-based science course, as opposed to subjecting the students to some half-witted monument to failure such as the DARE program.

Pete reiterated:

Reality-based drug education combined with harm reduction programs (medical amnesty policy, free treatment for those who need it).

The keys in these answers are to provide honest information - that drugs can be used in more or less harmful ways - and making it easier for those needing assistance to get it. ("Medical amnesty" is like the so-called Good Samaritan law in New Mexico, where those bringing someone for help to an emergency room won't be prosecuted. As it is, instead, drug users often leave fellow users where they drop.)

5. If a Democrat is elected president, will such drug raids and similar activities become more or less frequent, or remain the same?

Eugene doesn't think things will change:

Regardless of the election's outcome investigative operations like this one will continue for a number of reasons. It makes politicians appear "tough on crime." Modern surveillance legislation aids this type of investigation. Also, for the DEA this investigation has been a huge success, meaning that they
will continue investigations similar to this one.

JDB is more sanguine:

The Democratic president will be getting a great deal of grassroots feedback that will help this president understand that these types of drug raids on otherwise law-abiding citizens require major reform. And with the latest phalanx
of evidence emerging from New York of race-based enforcement of the marijuana laws,
there's already sufficient information available to demand that police tactics nationwide be reviewed and modified.

All right, let's summarize: drug use by the young will remain with us and our approach will remain to ban such use and punish it legally, and - no matter who's elected - honest discussion of reducing harmful drug use won't be permitted in the United States. Well, if we could eliminate drug problems and the cultural problem we have in responding to the original problems, there wouldn't be problems, would there? Then, no PT blogs - and we can't have that.