Monday, July 13, 2015

Apple #714: Quaaludes

So unless you've been keeping your TV and your internet turned off for a few weeks, you have by now heard that Bill Cosby got quaaludes in the 1970s for the purpose of giving them to women he wanted to have sex with.  He made this admission in a court case in 2005, but in the light of multiple accusations that have been made by multiple women that he drugged them to insensibility and raped them, this admission seems very damning.

Then last night I read a disturbing account in The Huffington Post of the rape and humiliation of Jackie Fuchs (a.k.a. Jackie Fox) by the band's creepazoid manager in front of a room full of people, when she was in the Runaways with Joan Jett in 1975.  She was given somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 quaaludes which made her immobile, but though she was drugged, she was aware of what was being done to her.  She was 16 years old at the time.

The Runaways, L to R: Lita Ford, Joan Jett, Jackie Fuchs, Sandy West, Cherie Currie.  They were all somewhere around 15 to 17 years old.
(Photo from Consequence of Sound)

So, what's the deal with quaaludes?

Prescription bottle for Quaaludes, manufactured by Rorer in the 1970s. Quaaludes are now illegal in this country because they are extremely addictive and dangerous.
(Image from The Paris Review)

  • First, you can't get Quaaludes in the U.S. anymore.  They were banned in 1984 in the United States and in several other countries because they were too powerful, too addictive, and too many people were dying or going into comas from taking them, especially when taken with alcohol.  
  • I tell you this first because I want you to keep the fact of their dangerousness in your mind as you read the other stuff about them.
  • Quaalude is the trade name for methaqualone.  The drug was originally developed in 1951 (some say 1955) by a researcher in India who was trying to prevent and/or treat malaria.  It turned out it didn't do that, but they discovered it was a powerful sedative.  They ran it through some tests and it seemed like it was non-habit-forming, so bingo, they've got a magical drug that can treat insomnia and help those pesky nervous housewives relax, and no worries!
  • So doctors started prescribing it freely all over the place. It didn't take long for people to figure out if they kept themselves awake past that initial 15-minute window of intense sleepiness, they would enter the realm of the high.  They felt relaxed, calm, a sense of well-being, little or no pain, numbing or tingling in the limbs, increased self-confidence, euphoria, and a ramped-up sex drive.
  • That's a nerdy way of saying that some people who took quaaludes (and did not pass out) felt fantastic.  People who took them back in the day say there's no high like a quaalude high, and they say this with a kind of dreamy sadness for something lost.
  • The drug caught on first in Germany and Japan, and then it became popular in the UK where it was called Mandrax, before it caught on in the United States. 
  • In 1965, a US drug company William H. Rorer started making & selling the drug in the US.  The needed a brand name for the methaqualone, but instead of calling it Qualone, they came up with something else.  They borrowed the double A idea from Maalox (Maalox was a flagship product of theirs, so named for the fact that it is either MAgnesium or ALuminum hydrOXide), and the rest of the name was supposed to remind you of quiet interlude, which was what this sedative would give you. Hence, Quaalude.
    • The pills were stamped with the number 714, so some people refer to them as 714s.
    • Keith Richards named a speedboat that he bought in 1971 Mandrax
  • By the mid- to late-1970s, "Doctors were essentially giving them out like candy," and they were a huge hit, especially among musicians, artists, and club-goers.
  • People were "luding out"--taking enough of the quaaludes until they passed out, like a dunk black-out.  Because it was a sedative, this was pretty easy to do, especially if you mixed them with liquor.
  • Some people took quaaludes to help them come down from a coke high.  Frank Zappa's "Pygmy Twylyght," talks about a guy who's "crankin' an' coke'n'," and "hurtin' for sleep in the quaalude moonlight."  
  • Other people took it, or gave it to others, because of the way it made them want to have a lot of sex.  The Tubes' lead singers' onstage persona -- their version of Ziggy Stardust -- was called Quay Lewd.  Band members from the 70s said if you gave a girl ludes, "she'd be all over you" within minutes.  Hugh Hefner used to give quaaludes to his live-in girlfriends or to women who visited his mansion--every night.  

Billboard in Venice, CA, 1976. I think maybe that was originally an ad for Bacardi and Coke, but somebody changed it.
(Photograph by Anthony Friedkin

  • Shel Silverstein, in addition to writing songs and poems for children, wrote some other songs that were for adults only.  In 1980, he wrote this little ditty:
Quaaludes Again

She's doin' quaaludes again.

She fumbles and stumbles
And falls down the stairs,
Makes love to the leg of the dining room chair.
She's ready for animals, women, or men.

She's doin' quaaludes again.

A band called Naked Grape also has a Quaalude song. Theirs is called Rorer, Or Rorer

Rorer, oh Rorer, where did you go?
You left without warning, how could I know
That many years later, I'd sit back and dream,
of doing the nasty, on seven fourteens

Rorer, oh Rorer, you were Rock 'n' Roll,
I woke up with strangers I did not know
Had you stayed longer, my death I would see,
but you went first Rorer, so for now, R.I.P.

  • The thing was, a whole lot of abuse went along with the quaaludes.  The lead singer of the Bay City Rollers, Les McKeown, says a man gave him quaaludes and raped him when he was 19. Perhaps most famously, Roman Polanski is accused of giving champagne and quaaludes to a 13 year-old girl before raping and sodomizing her.  
  • Then of course there is Jackie Fuchs' story.  One night in 1975, after she was given several quaaludes until she had to lie down on a bed because she couldn't stand up, her manager, Kim Fowley (male), asked a roadie if he wanted to have sex with her, and when that guy said no, Fowley undressed her in front of a room full of people and ultimately raped her.  
Jackie tried to protest, but she was frozen. “You don’t know what terror is until you realize something bad is about to happen to you and you can’t move a muscle,” she says. “I can’t move. I can’t speak. All I can do is look him [the roadie] in the eye and do the best I can do to communicate: Please say no. ... I don’t know what it looked like from the outside. But I know what was going on inside and it was horror.” [Jason Cherkis, The Lost Girls, The Huffington Post]
Jackie Fuchs (or Jackie Fox as she was called then), 1976 
(Photo by Neal Preston, sourced from Rock n Roll Icons)

  • There is actually no evidence that quaaludes have aphrodisiac properties.  The drug may have earned the nickname "the love drug" because of the way it reduces inhibitions.  Or maybe it's only that it was used to knock people out prior to raping them.
  • It was the Rohypnol of its day, except it was worse, if that's possible.  Because the drug was also enormously addictive. It took effect extremely quickly for something you swallow--within about 20 minutes--and the body absorbs nearly all of it.  Doctors and researchers were reporting that people were showing signs of addiction after taking the drug for only two weeks.  Two weeks!
  • Here's one little tale of ludes and addiction, though it's about Iggy Pop, and he's been addicted to all sorts of stuff.  A member of a band the Dead Boys tells a story about a band-mate who was going to meet Iggy Pop for the first time and took a couple of quaaludes to calm himself down. But the quaaludes were too strong and the guy passed out in his soup.  Literally.  His face went splat in his bowl of soup while they were at dinner.  But Iggy, who'd been a long-time addict himself -- this was after Lust for Life -- was only interested in was getting his hands on some of this guy's quaaludes. He went through the guy's suitcases while he was passed out, looking for some he could take.
  • Someone who remembers taking them in the late 70s said, "I knew a guy who used to steal them from his mom, who was dying of cancer." [Angela Serratore, Free of One's Melancholy Self, The Paris Review]
  • The other problem was that the drug was downright dangerous, especially when mixed with alcohol.  One of the drug's effects was to make your limbs tingle or go numb.  People who took it a lot would discover that the tingling or numbness did not stop when the drug wore off.  They vomited, stopped eating, they fell into depression or anxiety or paranoia, and taking more quaaludes only made it worse.  People were getting seizures and convulsions and cardiac arrest.  People who drank and took quaaludes fell into a coma and died.
  • David Bowie's song "Time" mentions quaaludes and red wine -- the fatal combination that claimed the life of "Billy Dolls," or Billy Murcia of the New York Dolls.

Billy Murcia, drummer for the glam band New York Dolls, died of an accidental Quaalude overdose in 1972, at age 21, after only a year of being in the band.
(Photo from The Shit)

  • In 1978, Rorer sold the drug to a different company, Lemmon, and they kept making them and stamping them 714.  This is why some people call quaaludes Lemmons or Lemmon 714s.  
  • The name "Quaalude" was actually trademarked, but it had become a word like Kleenex or Coke, where people use the brand name to mean the whole category.  Lemmon did not like it that other companies were calling their methaqualone quaaludes.  That was one of their biggest headaches at the time, mis-use of the brand name.  Priorities, right?
  • Doctors and researchers were reporting a sharp increase in the number of people dying from taking quaaludes. This was a prescribed drug at the time, remember.  Just like you can still get oxycontin today by prescription, even though we know damn good and well by now how enormously dangerous and destructive it is.  
  • In the 10 years from 1971 to 1981, 246 people died due to having taken quaaludes. One-third of those deaths were car crashes.  The majority of those 246 deaths involved some kind of fatal trauma, including suicide or homicide.  Doctors were basically begging the powers that be to tell people to stop prescribing it.
  • In 1984, President Ronald Regan signed legislation making methaqualone a Schedule I drug, which means it is illegal to manufacture or sell it in the United States.
  • After that, it mostly disappeared from this country.  
  • It is still made and sold illegally in some countries, including Colombia, India, Pakistan, and South Africa, where it is called the British trade name Mandrax--and where it wreaks a whole lot of havoc.  In most cases, things made today that are called quaaludes or Mandrax are some combination of barbiturates (Valium is one kind of barbiturate) or barbiturates plus some small amount of illegal quaalude.  Quaaldues are not technically a barbiturate, so this is why people say that the stuff you get today that's called quaalude isn't the same thing.  But it is still addictive and very dangerous.

One of the incarnations of Mandrax sold in South Africa today. It is usually crushed, mixed with dagga (marijuana) and then smoked in a broken neck of a bottle.  It's extremely addictive, and people who are hooked on it often steal to support the habit.
(Photo from Drug Aware South Africa)

  • Some black market quaaludes that are smuggled into this country from Colombia through Florida are being sold in the US today, though it is rare compared to something like heroin (illegal and enormously destructive) or oxycontin (legal and just as destructive).
  • So the quaaludes that Cosby gave the women he raped?--er, allegedly raped.  In the cases of those who say he drugged and raped them in the 70s, most likely he bought the quaaludes legally, by prescription.  Judging from the number of women who've come forward, some doctor was giving Cosby a lot of ludes.  

(Composite image from WKYT)

  • Maybe at first, Cosby didn't think there was anything wrong with it.  Back then, lots of celebrities were taking quaaludes to loosen up, have sex.  Maybe at first, he fooled himself into thinking the women wanted to take the drug, wanted to have sex with him.  Maybe the same way people have a drink to get past their nervousness, the women took a lude, or he offered it to them.  Maybe him offering the quaaludes turned into him giving it to them without their knowledge.  Or maybe he straight-up drugged them all without their knowledge from the start.  Hard to say what was in his mind.  
  • But my point is, given the stories that have emerged about quaaludes, it seems like giving people that drug without their knowledge in order to rape them was something that was not all that uncommon in the 1970s when quaaludes legal and popular. That doesn't mean it wasn't wrong, of course.
  • As for the other cases that happened more recently--Andrea Constand, for example, said she was drugged and raped in 2004--either Cosby hung onto some of his ludes, or he bought today's version of quaaludes illegally, or he used something else like a high dose of Valium.  Regardless, I don't think the "everybody's doing it" situation applies for the more recent violations.
  • One last thing.  I want to point out that the company that first started making this drug, a drug which causes addiction, depression, loss of feeling, seizures, comas, death, and which was used to facilitate the rape of an unknown number of people--that company named this drug so it would sell like Maalox--a medication that treats heartburn.

Angela Serratore, Free of One's Melancholy Self, The Paris Review, January 28, 2014
The Vaults of Erowid, Methaqualone
PubChem Open Chemistry Database, Methaqualone
Jason Cherkis, The Lost Girls, The Huffington Post, undated
Eliza Gray, Why Bill Cosby Admitted Under Oath to Getting Drugs to Have Sex With Women, Time, July 9, 2015
Harry Low and Tom Heyden, The rise and fall of Quaaludes, BBC News Magazine, July 9, 2015
Larisa Epatko, What are Quaaludes, and how do they work? PBS NewsHour, July 7, 2015
wiseGEEK, What are Quaaludes?
Justin T. Gass, Ph.D., Quaaludes, New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008
Bay City Roller Les McKeown has been living a secret gay life, Daily Mirror, February 18, 2009