PRESIDENT GEORGE W. PUSHER? Uncle Sam wants you ... to be screened for mental illness. If standards set by the federal government determine you have a sick brain, it will be corrected with powerful drugs. It may sound, uh, crazy, but a report from the British Medical Journal entitled "Bush plans to screen whole U.S. population for mental illness" ( see http://bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/328/7454/1458) suggests it could be coming soon. Based on recommendations from the appropriately Orwellian "President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health," (what was wrong with the old freedom?) the proposed policy will use public institutions like schools to routinely check citizens for signs of mental illness. Once diagnosed, the sick will be drugged back to health with new, expensive pharmceuticals. Well, the New Freedom Commission makes it sound a bit more touchy-feely, but that's the basic idea. The British Medical Journal story said a similar policy has been used in Texas since 1995, guaranteeing a broad market for pharmaceutical companies specializing in such products. So that vision of a drug-free America becomes ever more distant. But don't expect to hear any complaints from drug czar John Walters or other drug warriors. Big Brother and Dr. Feelgood, Inc. joined forces long ago. There's a new book out by Douglas Valentine called "The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America's War on Drugs" which traces the rise and fall of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. A predecessor of the DEA, the FBN was responsible for drug control in America from 1930-1968. According to Valentine's book (and others like "The Drug Hang-Up" by Rufus King) long-time FBN Commissioner Harry Anslinger had an intimate relationship with American pharmaceutical companies. Anslinger made sure they were happy with federal policy, and when Anslinger got into political trouble, the pharmceutical firms helped bail him out by exerting influence on legislators. A more recent collaboration between the drug warriors and big pharma came in the form of the profoundly ironic Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The PDFA, which introduced American TV audiences to 30-second propaganda pieces promoting the drug war, was initially led by the former CEO of a major pharmaceutical company. James Burke headed Johnson & Johnson (the maker of Tylenol) before leaving to take charge of the PDFA. Burke is still on the board of the PDFA. According to the organization's web site, among top financial contributors to the PDFA (those who give more than $25,000), roughly 30 percent are companies involved in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. Making legal pharmaceuticals doesn't mean the drug warriors will automatically ignore you. Just ask Purdue Pharma, which created OxyContin. However, despite legal challenges and horrible publicity, that heavy-duty narcotic remains on the market. That's fine by me, since many pain patients swear by it, and they are not responsible for others who misuse it. Why can't the drug warriors understand that same principle applies to every drug, legal or not? And why do the pharmaceutical companies happily contribute to the demonization of other drugs when, apparently, there but for the grace of the feds go they? Any drug can be helpful to some people, and any drug can be harmful to some people. What matters is the manner in which any drug is used. But I think that reality is a little too hazy for the pharmaceutical industry's liking. They want the public to believe their products are good and safe. However, everyone knows even effective medicine can be dangerous under certain circumstances. Wouldn't it be helpful, from a marketing perspective, if a class of drugs existed that were totally evil and absolutely without redemptive properties? Those "bad" drugs would have to be prohibited. So, as long as a company's drug is legal to sell, it must be "good." If it were bad, surely it would be prohibited, like the other bad drugs, right? Even though Tylenol can be lethal when used in large doses or in combination with alcohol (for more details see http://www.straightdope.com/columns/000929.html since this is a drug danger the PDFA will never publicize in a TV commercial), it's a "good" drug suitable for sale to young and old alike. But, while marijuana kills no one, it's a "bad" drug that no one should use, even if their doctor recommends it. If your only sources of information about marijuana were the PDFA and the federal government, you might think anyone who used it was insane. Which takes us back to that "New Freedom Commission" created by the Bush administration, which can't wait to assess your mental health, whether you want it assessed or not, and then treat you with "good" drugs, whether you want treatment or not. Those of us who are opposed to prohibition know the drug war isn't about public welfare. It's about control, both social and economic. The drug war is always an excuse for something else, whether it be an intervention into a foreign country (think Colombia), or the curtailing of constitutional rights (think the Fourth Amendment). Many in the drug policy reform movement think strictly in terms of drugs that aren't allowed, as opposed to those that are allowed. That perspective is understandable, since prohibition is the cause of many so-called drug problems. But prohibition isn't the only way to achieve control when it comes to drugs. After all these years of attempting to coerce people away from certain drugs, it's only a short step to forcing certain drugs we may not want right down our throats.