The General McCaffrey Scientific Fool Award

The General McCaffrey Scientific Fool Award

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website hereby announces it will periodically present an award, named for drug czar General Barry McCaffrey, to an outstanding perpetrator of scientific tomfoolery or fraud in the drug and alcohol area.

We at the Stanton Peele Addiction Website have for some time been pointing out the cynical and antiscientific approach of Czar McCaffrey, the U.S.'s top drug prohibition enforcer and advocate. Since he is not a medical or a public health official, McCaffrey has a limited understanding of health approaches to drug problems. Rather, McCaffrey is used to plowing over opposition on a battle field. One might even say that McCaffrey is willing to tolerate a certain amount of friendly-fire casualties in order to make a point — which may explain his willingness to accept the second wave of the HIV epidemic which has affected primarily drug injectors and their spouses and children. The spread of AIDS to new populations has been virtually eliminated in the U.K. and other nations which practice needle exchange. Meanwhile, McCaffrey has opposed needle exchange almost singlehandedly within the Clinton Administration — against the advice of the Administration's AIDS Commission, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Surgeon General (not to mention the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, etc.).

General Barry McCaffrey
General Barry McCaffrey

Nonetheless, we might note, the Harvard Medical School through its Division of Addictions presented McCaffrey its Norman Zinberg career achievement award in the addictions, thereby allowing him to claim scientific legitimacy. This must surely stand out as one of the all-time self-loathing efforts at kissing up to a potential source of drug war big bucks by an organization whose basic values of helping the sick and helpless through sound scientific inquiry McCaffrey actually distrusts and despises.

More recently, McCaffrey has carried his cynical disregard for truth to new heights as he visited Europe to "learn" about other approaches, while simultaneously disdaining the advances represented by needle exchange, harm minimization, heroin maintenance, liberalized policies towards marijuana in order to separate commerce in and use of marijuana from use of heroin and other more dangerous drugs, and on and on. The Netherlands is at the forefront of many of these European innovations.

McCaffrey began by offending his hosts before he even departed the U.S., when he labeled Dutch drug policy an "unmitigated disaster." McCaffrey cited putative murder figures in the two countries to support his position: the U.S. had less than half the murder rate of the Netherlands, he said — 8.22 murders per 100,000 people in 1995 compared to 17.58 in the Netherlands. "That's drugs," he confidently assured the world.

The erroneous Dutch and American murder rates were contained in McCaffrey's European trip briefing book.1 The drug czar's book contained similar misinformation about drug use: for example, "30.2 percent of Dutch youths say they have tried marijuana, vs. 9.1 percent in the United States." This figure represent lifetime use for the 16-19 years age group of the Amsterdam population in 1994,2 but only current (past month) use by the American group — obviously a ridiculous and unfair comparison! The comparable lifetime prevalence ("ever used") figure to the 30.2 percent for the Amsterdam population for American youths is 38.2 percent in 1994. In the U.S., this figure for 1997 was 49.6 percent!3

The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics emphasized in a special press release that the actual Dutch murder rate is 1.8 per 100,000 people, or less than one-quarter the U.S. murder rate. For McCaffrey, a man trained on body counts during the Vietnam War, such figures are made to be manipulated — who can tell who is telling the truth anyhow? In McCaffrey's view, the Dutch perspective has been dishonestly hyped: "Through a slick misinformation campaign, these individuals perpetrate a fraud on the American people, a fraud so devious that even some of the nation's most respected newspapers and sophisticated media are capable of echoing their falsehoods."4

Homicide Deaths per 100,000 Population
Males Age 15-24
United States 36.8
Canada 3.0
United Kingdom 2.1
Norway 1.9
Finland 1.9
Sweden 1.8
Germany 1.3
Netherlands 0.8
Japan 0.6

Source: World Health Statistics, Annual 1995,
(Geneva: World Health Organization, 1996),
Table B-1. "Homicide" refers to "E55: Homicide
and injury purposely inflicted by other persons."

But what public health figure actually is under the illusion that the U.S. homicide rate is lower than those in Europe? The discrepancy is monumental among males age 15-24 (a peak drug using period), where the Dutch homicide rate is one-fiftieth that in the U.S. (See accompanying table).

McCaffrey's ignorance of the U.S.'s high incidence of deadly violence is staggering, but really no more so than his entire know-nothing approach to drugs and drug policy — and really to data, science, and knowledge altogether. McCaffrey asserts that hard data are "a matter of opinion." Of course, what did Bill Clinton signal by appointing an ex-general to the chief U.S. drug policy post in the first place?

General McCaffrey is the recipient of the first General McCaffrey Scientific Fool Award. Watch this page as we soon present this award to others who have excelled in scientific malfeasance.


  1. Quoted in the Washington Times, July 15, 1998, p. A4.
  2. Paul Sandwijk, Peter Cohen, Sako Musterd & Marieke Langemeijer (1995), Licit and illicit drug use in Amsterdam II: Report of a household survey in 1994 on the prevalence of drug use among the population of 12 years and over, Amsterdam: CEDRO, p. 55. National prevalence data for the Netherlands are not yet available. However, national prevalence figures will be much lower than the figures for Amsterdam. See: Marieke Langemeijer, Roelf-Jan van Til, & Peter Cohen (1998), Het gebruik van legale en illegale drugs in Utrecht en Tilburg, Amsterdam: CEDRO, p. 58.
  3. Lifetime prevalence of cannabis use for twelfth graders in 1994. Source: Monitoring the future study, University of Michigan. Online:, accessed on July 23, 1998.
  4. N.Y. Times, June 18, 1998.

Special thanks to Archie Brodsky, Peter Webster, Dave Fratello, and Deborah McComber who helped us in compiling this page.

An alternative view to McCaffrey’s from Europe

"30 years of prohibition has made the US the drug sink of the world. . . . But why imitate failure when we can repeat success?  The Dutch and Swiss, with more liberal policies, have spectacularly reduced heroin use and heroin-based crime.  In the Netherlands, there are virtually no heroin users under 20.  Because young people there have spurned hard-drugs use, average age of Dutch addicts has risen from 28 in 1981 to 44 today. Switzerland cut drugs-related crime by 80 per cent in a two year trial in Zurich by encouraging addicts to turn to using supervised injectable heroin. After the approval of a national referendum, their programme of cutting heroin crime is being used nationally."
— Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West (UK), The European, August 5, 1998

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Documents at The Stanton Peele Addiction Website about General Barry McCaffrey

  • McCaffrey tells us what to do with the evidence
    General Barry McCaffrey is a military man comfortable with overseas interventions but illiterate - and worse, opportunistic - about scientific/medical discourse. This is most evident in his reference to research.
  • Don't reward what doesn't work
    Harvard Medical School honors the U.S. drug czar and others for pursuing failed treatments. Are we ready for contrary messages?
  • Harvard Medical School gives General McCaffrey Zinberg Award
    In March 1997, Harvard University's Department of Psychiatry and Division of Addictions, in conjunction with the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders, organized a conference entitled, "Treating the Addictions: What Works." This conference presented its annual achievement award (named for Norman Zinberg) to two individuals, General Barry R. McCaffrey, Clinton's drug czar, and former senator George McGovern.
  • The Great Zinberg / McCaffrey Debate
    Gen. McCaffrey has spent his career in the military. He helped plan the invasion of Panama in 1989 and led the notorious U.S. Army Southern Command before his appointment as Drug Czar. In Latin America he specialized in drug interdiction, counterinsurgency, and clandestine military operations.
    Norman E. Zinberg, M.D., was a pioneering investigator into the effects of drugs, and particularly the way attitudes, expectations, and social setting affect their use. He was a critic of American drug laws, and a key member of the Massachusetts branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
    Instead of receiving an award in Zinberg's name, McCaffrey should be learning what drug abuse and sensible drug policy are by studying Norman's writings, which he has obviously neglected to do. We therefore offer the General the benefit of Norman's words, as culled principally from Drug, Set, and Setting and Drugs and the Public (with John Robertson).