Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

January 13, 2006 - DrugSense Weekly (DSW)

Unbelievable Drug Hype And Its Mythic Little Pieces

By Stephen Young, editor with DrugSense author of Maximizing Harm

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Let me be honest: I haven't read A Million Little Pieces, the best-selling memoir by James Frey. The book is supposed to illustrate the darkest depths of drug depravity; it reportedly drips with bodily fluids released during degrading, narcotic-and-alcohol-fueled recklessness. Now, however, it appears when all that gory liquid is mopped up, the book actually suffers from a factual drought.

Hailed as a new kind of addiction literature, A Million Little Pieces came out to generally glowing reviews in 2003. There were some dissenters. After I read a thoughtful review by Jules Siegel (, I decided the book would probably irritate me in a million little ways.

Now I kind of wish I had read it to see if it would have tripped my BS detector. That's what happened to some readers, particularly the folks over at The Smoking Gun. Some episodes from the book didn't seem plausible, so The Smoking Gun found official documents and sources which contradict key elements of the Frey's allegedly true story Frey (

This probably wouldn't have been terribly big news, but it was on the front page of some newspapers, primarily because one of the most powerful media figures in the world has championed the book. Oprah Winfrey made it one of her book club selections, accelerating sales exponentially. The Smoking Gun titled its story "The Man Who Conned Oprah."

Winfrey, for her part, says she doesn't feel conned. She even called in to Larry King earlier this week to defend Frey as he appeared on the show.

There's a lesson here, and it's not just that arrogant, self-absorbed and deceptive drug users can continue to be arrogant, self-absorbed and deceptive well into sobriety.

Whenever outrageous charges about drugs and drug users are made, some people will believe the hype, no matter how ridiculous it is. Often, people who make their living evaluating the reliability of information get hoodwinked. In 1980, the Washington Post printed an article about an 8-year-old named Jimmy who supposedly shot heroin.

The author not only fooled editors at the Post, she fooled staff from other prestigious newspapers who voted to award her a Pulitzer Prize, until the story was revealed as a hoax.

Just last year, Newsweek printed a cover story on methamphetamine which relied more on grim anecdotes than hard facts. When it comes to drugs, the most exaggerated claims seem plausible.

The normal person who flirts with drugs is supposed to be dragged down as far as they'll let themselves go, until they hit bottom. That's the current dominant mythology of drug abuse. Write some fable that reiterates the mythology and it may take a while before people start asking questions; indeed many still feel like the questions don't matter.

Winfrey didn't seem too bothered.

"And I feel about A Million Little Pieces that although some of the facts have been questioned, and people have a right to question, because we live in a country that lets you do that, that the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me," she said on King's show.

The myth is so powerful that an inverse phenomena occurs when someone suggests a currently illegal drug may have positive qualities. The same media that swallows an addiction horror story without stopping to chew suddenly turns quite picky, subjecting such ideas to a sort of Spanish Inquisition.

A Massachusetts newspaper recently started its editorial on a proposed medical marijuana law this way:

"Though approving the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has become something of a fad among legislatures nationally, those on Beacon Hill should approach the issue with great caution. "Law enforcement professionals, including Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, are convinced that use of the drug is a gateway that can lead to experimentation with more powerful narcotics."

Medical marijuana has been a reality in the United States for nearly a decade, and none of the nightmare scenarios predicted by prohibitionists have played out. And yet the mainstream press will always cast a skeptical eye, insisting on "balanced" coverage for such issues.

But when some middle class white guy describes himself beating up cops and priests as a consequence of his drug use, it doesn't really matter if it's true because it sounds like it might possibly be true. The fantasy is actually more important than reality; it sustains the notion that addiction is several times worse than most people can even imagine.

It's understandable, in a sense. The federal government has spent billions producing propaganda for print, broadcast and net-based media to reinforce the type of hyperbole that Frey serves up as fact in his book. And the drug scare story is a staple of the mainstream media; the scarier the better.

The drug war was founded on myths and it continues to chug along through the creative use of myths. If James Frey made an attempt to be honest, he might admit that regurgitating those myths in a colorful way and presenting them as true life can be ethically perilous, though enormously lucrative.

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact