What is Quaalude?

Quaalude or methaqualone is a hypnotic, sedative drug that rose in popularity during the early 1960s because of its properties as a barbiturate substitute.

Quaaludes were initially manufactured to be a sleep aid; it wasn’t long that people – college students and teenagers – became using it recreationally. This increase is attributed to the amount of prescriptions being written for Quaaludes to actual patients.

Quaaludes’ Rise In Popularity

By early 1970s, this drug was deemed the most popular prescribed sedatives in the U.S. even as the U.S. and Britain were trying to curb their dispense. One of the more popular applications was “luding out” – this is where the drug was used in combination of a healthy cup of wine. It was extremely popular with college students.

In David Bowie’s “Time” song, he mentions “red wine and Quaaludes.”

Quaaludes were often prescribed at a 300mg level, which could be harmful for first-time users. Its effects would depend on the person’s tolerance to the drug. One person could take up to 20,000mg and be fine while, for another person, taking 8,000mg could be lethal.

The drug reduces the chemical levels, known as neurotransmitters, of both the central nervous system and brain. This leads to a drop in the blood pressure and a slowdown in pulse rate so that you can become relaxed.

Quaaludes’ effects often last between four and eight hours. As a person continues using it, they build up a tolerance to it. Thus, they need more of the drug more often. This can lead to an overdose, which involves symptoms of hypertonia, renal failure, delirium and convulsions. It can also cause due to respiratory or cardiac arrest.

Pills that were legitimately manufactured for patients were being used recreationally, being sent to the black market along with the counterfeit drugs that criminal U.S. and South American labs were manufacturing.

DEA’s Investigation Of Quaaludes and How The Agency Was Combating It

In the early 1980s, the DEA felt that Quaaludes were being abused second to cannabis, with 90 percent of its production going to the illegal drug trade. The DEA predicted that 20 million pills would hit the streets within a year. Realising the problem was getting worse, the DEA took immediate action to eliminate the ease in which people were buying it.

By the time 1984 rolled around, the DEA was able to shut down the manufacturing of Quaaludes by getting rid of the developers of the methaqualone powder. The strategy paid off; Columbians were primarily responsible for the illegal manufacturing of Quaaludes and were unable to attain the powder to make more.

The DEA focused on disrupting the distribution networks that were supplying the black market after essentially stopping the production of Quaaludes. Agents working undercover were sent inside the Quaalude trade’s criminal groups to obtain information and develop cases against key participants.

The DEA was able to locate Quaalude distributors all around the nation by using information gleaned from informants. Numerous warehouses and distribution locations were raided under the direction of regional law enforcement organisations.

These operations led to the confiscation of millions of Quaalude pills as well as the detention of hundreds of drug traffickers. The DEA put forth great effort to disrupt and destroy the whole supply chain, from the producers to the low-level street traffickers.

The DEA concentrated on spreading awareness about the risks of Quaalude abuse in addition to bringing the drug suppliers to justice. Targeting schools, community centres, and healthcare professionals, educational initiatives were launched. To disseminate awareness of the harmful effects of Quaaludes, the DEA teamed up with a number of NGOs.

To stop the worldwide trade in quaaludes, the agency collaborated closely with overseas counterparts. The interception of Quaalude shipments headed for the United States was made possible by joint actions with those partners. The international distribution networks for the drug were broken apart.

The amount of Quaaludes sold on the streets substantially decreased as the DEA’s operations gained traction. Drug usage and related criminal activity decreased as the drug became more difficult to obtain.

Quaaludes had mostly disappeared from the black market for illicit drugs by the late 1980s. The DEA’s aggressive stance, together with solid law enforcement alliances and successful public awareness efforts, were key factors in reducing Quaaludes misuse and trade.

However, the learning from the Quaalude crisis would be useful for upcoming drug policing initiatives. The DEA’s success in stopping the commerce in Quaalude influenced methods and techniques employed in the war on other prohibited substances as well as the creation of prevention and education programmes intended to lower substance abuse generally.

This post first appeared in 2017. It was last updated in July 2023.

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

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