what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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The Heroin Problem

Recently I found out an acquaintance died from a heroin overdose. I had not seen this person in about a year, yet have clear memories of him that now seem sad in hindsight in the way that death overcasts a person’s memory. According to the New York Times, “heroin related deaths quadrupled between 2002 and 2013” and is becoming a scourge in many American neighborhoods. Heroin dealers are shrewd for money and power. Heroin users are looking for a fantastical escape that is bigger than themselves. It is a clear problem for which we are not finding a solution.

The documentary “Black Tar Heroin” is a comprehensive examination into the daily lives of heroin users. The documentary aired on HBO in 2000 and captured the attention of the public due to its honest portrayal of the struggles of heroin addicts.

One of the subjects in the film, Tracy, now writes a fantastic blog about her heroin days in hindsight now that she has been clean for many years. In the documentary, the audience meets her in the midst of heroin’s claim over her life. She notes that “it looks like I’ve gotten dropped in a dumpster” due to the physical toll shooting up in her legs took, and generally seems very out of touch with reality. After getting out of jail and doing a shot of heroin, she notes the disappointment of the hit and that the anticipation was the driving force to get her to shoot up. She is depressed and lost, a person with promise who turned to the most powerful substance to numb her pain. Her boyfriend in the film, Ben, also does crack cocaine which is a source of argument for the couple. When couples use drugs together, things get very distorted because of the enabling nature of the relationship and lack of genuine affection because all energy is reserved for the procurement and administration of the drug. Tracy says “recently all I’ve been thinking about what I’m gonna do when I quit heroin…and it seems like getting there is easy all I have to do is kick…even if I wasn’t doing heroin I don’t know what the fuck I want to do with my life I would’ve just done it”. She vacillates between wanting to not use and accepting her use. Junkies use many excuses to justify their bad behavior and often act as victims of their circumstances whether it is true or not. Fast forward several years and Tracy was able to kick her habit with dedication, support, and sheer will. However as her blog notes, the experiences of using heroin and the atmosphere that heroin use creates is not something a person can simply escape from, it stays with you and creeps up in the night.

For another subject, Jessica, the documentary remains a testament to her demise due to the streets, heroin, and a prostitution lifestyle. Jessica turns to prostituting in order to pay for her habit which is a very common decision for many female addicts. On her refrigerator a poem about the heroin lifestyle is scrawled, “Dead End Street Kid-bloody needles/full of junk/never bathing/smell like skunk/strict-9 acid/fuckin’ bunk/drink 40s/goddamn punk”. She says that in prostitution “you get through with them you try to clean up yourself in the car…and you stand back on the street and it feels like you’re a tissue being wiped”. She acquires AIDS and doesn’t stop prostituting, being so jaded that she no longer cares about putting other people in danger. It is clear in the film that she is dying, the last scene with her in it is very dark and disturbing. With her head shaved looking androgynous, she states that shes tired of “the sex trade business, I’m about to the point of just robbing people but I can’t do that because I’d go to jail because some stupid person would have to try to take a swing at me and I’d have to cut them up into little pieces”. She knows she lives a risky life, with the possibility of being raped and/or robbed a daily threat. “At the rate I’m going in a year I’ll be dead”, she says to the camera, with full knowledge of where the consequences of her actions are going.

wages of sin

This photo “for the wages of sin is death” is shown at the beginning of the film. However, heroin use in and of itself should not be considered a “sin”. Drug abuse is a recognized disorder on the DSM-V and addiction is a medical condition that must be treated carefully. Drug addicts may do bad things due to the nature of addiction (ie. stealing money from family to buy drugs), but saying that they are sinful is reducing their problem to something too basic. Due to the likelihood of any person becoming addicted, this disorder could theoretically happen to anyone. That is why it is so important to understand how addiction works and why it is so important to destigmatize drug addiction, something that could possibly cause more people to receive help for their addictions because of the reduction of the shame factor. Shame factors are enablers of negative behavior because it makes the person feel so negatively about themselves that they become unable to seek proper and adequate treatment.

The film ends with Tracy dumping her used needles into a bin at the needle exchange, a very important health care service that addicts need in order to be safe and protected from diseases. This is a strategy of the “harm reduction” school of thought, which states that since people are going to engage in potentially risky behavior, there should be services that provide ways for drug users to stay as safe as possible. Harm reduction does not label people because of their medical condition of addiction but rather seeks to recognize that the humanity these people have includes the right to be as safe as possible in their decisions, and if there is a way to facilitate that safety, it should be done. This strategy is more honest than the school of thought that prohibition of narcotics is the superior way to eliminate drug use.

In our society, it should be clear that prohibition is not working. It is a propaganda ploy to create power structures that are unbeatable. It creates black market jobs that are filled by dangerous people and causes people who are addicted to hide away from the public creating acute medical crises across the country. There will never be a “solution” for heroin use, that is heroin use will never completely go away. However, recognition of what the disease of addiction actually is could improve the conditions that come with heroin use.

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Light Summer Reading: The Politics of Heroin

I read often and read a variety of fiction and non-fiction, it is one of my passions. Thick, juicy books are a particular favorite because of the offering that this book can take a person for a wild ride for awhile. These books also offer the feeling of a monumental achievement when they’re finally finished, and a sadness occupies the reader knowing that their book is over, the story is now known, the journey is through. This summer’s thick book selection is Alfred W. McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, a thoroughly juicy book that documents the global heroin trade from the 1920s to the early 2000s. McCoy was a graduate student who compiled first hand accounts of the international heroin trade from military officers, government officials, drug dealers, drug traffickers, and other academics. It is a comprehensive and detailed work, something to be admired considering the depth and scope of the work on a particularly dangerous trade. McCoy admittedly started out somewhat naive and had to learn rapidly how to navigate the underground world of the heroin business while gathering accurate information from people who had great reason to keep their secrets private. What McCoy found was that the CIA was not only complicit, but took leadership in the opium and heroin industry on an international scale. From page xvi of the preface, McCoy writes:

By now I was certain the the CIA’s Air America was transporting opium for its Hmong hill tribe allies. I knew too that somebody in the CIA station had good reason to stop my research. After all, if it were just a matter of a few soldiers smuggling tribal opium on a few flights, why the ambush? Why the death threats? Clearly, I had to look beyond the villages to explore involvement in the upper echelons of the Lao military. One source, an American police adviser, hinted that the chief-of-staff of the Royal Lao army, General Ouane Rattikone, owned the laboratory that was producing the “Double U-O Globe” heroin brand then flooding U.S. Army camps in South Vietnam. But I needed confirmation. And it could only come from one source, General Ouane himself. 

As a result of his investigation into the CIA’s role within the global heroin trade, McCoy was harassed and the publication of his book was nearly censored by the American government:

Claiming that my book was a threat to national security, the CIA official had asked Harper & Row to suppress it. To his credit, Mr. Canfield had refused. but he had agreed to allow the agency to review the manuscript prior to publication

Defeated in the public arena, the CIA turned to covert means, tugging at every thread in the threadbare life of a graduate student. Over the coming months, CIA agents in Laos intimidated my sourced. HEW investigated my graduate school fellowship. The FBI tapped my phone. The IRS audited my poverty-level income. during these difficult days, New York Congressman Ogden Reid, a ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, telephoned to say that he was sending his investigators to Laos to look into the opium situation. (xxi)

Most of the reason of CIA involvement with the international heroin trade has to do with pandering to rebels within politically volatile situations where the CIA needs to make positive relations with rebels in order to achieve American interests. For instance, in order to defeat the political reach of communism in Europe, the CIA teamed with Corsican crime syndicates who were sophisticated international heroin smugglers:

The CIA, through its contacts with the Socialist party, had sent agents and a psychological warfare team to Marseille, where they dealt directly with Corsican syndicate leaders through the Guerini brothers. The CIA’s operatives supplied arms and money to Corsican gangs for assaults on Communist picket lines and harassment of important union officials. During the month-long strike the CIA’s gangsters and the purged CRS police units murdered a number of striking workers and mauled the picket lines. (60)

The Guerinis gained enough power and status from their role in smashing the 1947 strike to emerge as the new leaders of the Corsican underworld. While the CIA was instrumental in restoring the Corsican underworld’s political influence, it was not until the 1950 dock strike that the Guerinis gained enough power to take control of the Marseille waterfront. This combination of political influence and control of the docks created the ideal environment for the growth of Marseille’s heroin laboratories-fortuitously at the same time that Mafia boss Lucky Luciano was seeking an alternative supply of heroin. (61)

The book goes on to document American involvement in the Vietnamese, Afghani, Central American, and Colombian drug trade. This clearly stands in stark contrast to American domestic and foreign policy that endorses the total and complete prohibition of narcotic substances. In order to protect capitalist interests of the first world, the CIA supported a trade that was illegal by American law. With this the theme of the book, the Kantian view of the law is extremely applicable when investigating American complicity within the international heroin trade. It is extremely disturbing that the government can operate as a completely hypocritical about as something as serious as opium and heroin. While endorsing a backwards policy of prohibition, something that serves neither the addict nor the public, the CIA has furthered a dangerous substance that needs proper regulation and restrictions in order to have a more honest view of how to police drugs in order to have an effectively functional relationship to something as dysfunctional as addiction.

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Bitch Better Have My Marijuana Money

Currently obsessed with Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”, the title of this article comes from the title of the song based on a tragic life event of epic financial proportions, “Bitch Better Have My Money” stems from Riri’s real life dealings with a shady financial dealer. The video is insane and looks like it cost a pretty penny to have made:

Like a lot of people in the world, I worry about money for a number of personal reasons. Like a lot of millennials, when I’m relaxing at home in my bed letting my mind wander, sometimes it stumbles on the “oh my fucking god I’m going to get old” moments. These can be happy imaginings, like how beautiful and sweet my grandchildren will be someday, or terrifying and distressing like what the hell is going to happen when social security collapses? How am I going to live when I am old and decrepit? Why am I not doing something to make money that I love doing? Then, I read about something how Colorado made fifty three million dollars in legal marijuana as of February 2015.

New York also likes to pretend it has legal weed. It does not, it has non-smokable marijuana derived products that require a license to legally obtain. That is in no way shape or form marijuana reform progress nor is it something that should be considered legal weed. This is a legitimate problem, this is not an problem of immature people or people who refuse responsibility or quality of life. Obtaining marijuana is a normal problem for many millions of American adults. As Colorado demonstrates, huge cash flows are being diverted to black market economies which could be used more positively and in ways that directly benefit society.

I included the Rihanna video because the aesthetic is so pleasingly angry that an issue could be made over having to living your life with integrity and dignity. This person, this financial person, screwed her over despite that she contends she “calls the shots”. In our lives, whether or not we feel we do, we call the shots. It is my decision to spend my time and money on an illegal substance and quite possibly could suffer legal consequences because of the use of that prohibited substance. It is parallel to Kantian notions that law is essentially arbitrary and is not inherently moral because of it’s simple nature as law; law is law, it is not morality. It is not immoral to smoke marijuana, and due to such, to a degree, it is not necessarily immoral that I spend some of my money within the black market economy which does not officially benefit society due to the lack of a tax system. This is something that reasonable and responsible people should seek to quell the discrepancy of such a normalized part of life for so many millions of American marijuana users.