Do People Still Take Quaaludes?

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An original ad for Quaaludes. Recreational use of the drug gained popularity in the 1970s and it was made a Schedule I drug in the United States in 1984. Quaaludes have reentered public discussion since revelations that Bill Cosby allegedly raped women after providing them with the drug. William H. Rorer, Inc.

Quaalude was the party drug of the 1970s. A depressant, Quaalude (methaqualone) was known as “disco biscuits” because it released users’ sexual inhibitions, making it a nightlife mainstay. 

But use plummeted in the U.S. following the drug’s prohibition some 30 years ago. Quaalude is once again attracting attention, however, because Bill Cosby copped to obtaining the drug to give to women with whom he wanted to have sexual intercourse. While anecdotal evidence has long suggested that Quaalude use in the U.S. is virtually nil, Newsweek wanted to see whether that's true.

“Over the last several years, there have been very sporadic seizures of Quaaludes throughout the country,” says Eduardo Chavez, a Drug Enforcement Agency special agent. That said, it’s difficult for the DEA to make broad statements about the sedative’s presence in the U.S. drug market because, in addition to these occasional seizures, local law enforcement might have encountered Quaaludes without flagging the federal agency.

Due to the downers’ contraband status, any Quaaludes circulating in the U.S. would almost certainly have come from overseas. U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics indicate the agency has had one border seizure of Quaaludes this year and no border seizures last year. In both 2014 and 2015, CBP has had three airport seizures of Quaaludes. The quantities were so small that these Quaaludes were assumed to be for personal use, according to CBP. (Owing to Quaaludes’ relative rarity, and the resulting dearth of data, a direct comparison can’t be made, but for some perspective, consider: There were 1,626 CBP seizures of cocaine in 2014.)

Several recreational drug users interviewed by Newsweek, who said they have been exposed to many street drugs, either hadn’t seen Quaaludes or had only encountered them once or just occasionally. One recreational drug user, who claimed to have even “seen stuff that doesn’t have street names,” said, “I thought they pretty much went out in the 80s.”

Quaaludes are still one of the most widely abused drugs in South Africa, according to reports.