When the Xalisco distributers moved into the US, they didn’t follow the classic route. They avoided slums. In Los Angeles they stayed away from the gang turf of East L.A., Compton, and Inglewood, and instead set up shop in the more suburban San Fernando Valley. Their next move was to Hawaii. They avoided major cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and others – places that had substantial slums and a large gang population – and instead went to Albuquerque, Denver, Portland (OR), Indianapolis, Columbus (OH), and Nashville. Often they’d enter a market by finding methadone treatment centers.
Methadone was developed in Germany in the 1930s as a synthetic opiate and analgesic, and was introduced to the US in 1947. It’s not a cure for heroin addiction, but its long-lasting effects make it useful as a maintenance treatment for addicts so they can function in society. Since it’s administered in a liquid or pill form, there are not the dangers inherent in regular injections, including HIV infections. Methadone’s major selling point is it blocks the euphoric rush addicts receive with heroin or other opiates. On the down side, Methadone withdrawal is more severe than other opiates and can last between four and sixteen weeks. Some see Methadone treatment as simply extending rather than fixing the problem.
The clinics, though, did allow the Xalisco distributors to find junkies. They’d single out one or two and offer them special deals on their drugs if they introduced them to other junkies. They in effect became shills for the Xalisco dealers, handing out business cards so the junkies could call for fixes. If they had contacts in other towns, the dealers would arrange for them to go there and help expand the network.
This was completely different from how drugs had been distributed ever since they were outlawed in the early 20th Century. The drug dealers staked out territories in city slums, turf that they claimed and defended. It made sense, since those on the edges of society were less restrained by society’s rules. Things that were verboten in small-town America happened regularly in the slums, simply because the imperative to survive outweighed government-imposed mores. But there was more to it as well. From the beginning of the temperance movement, those who supported it viewed alcohol and narcotics as the root problem for all of society’s ills.
In their article “Alcohol Prohibition and Drug Prohibition: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy,” authors Harry G. Levine and Gary Reinarman wrote “From the beginning, temperance ideology contained a powerful strand of fantasy. It held that alcohol was the major cause of nearly all social problems: unemployment, poverty, business failure, slums, insanity, crime, and violence (especially against women and children). For the very real social and economic problems of industrializing America, the anti-alcohol movement offered universal abstinence as the panacea.” It was a comforting vision that all the problems within slums could be laid at the feet of demon rum or, later, demon drugs rather than other societal causes.
Because of this, it was easy for politicians to rail against drugs and show how tough they were by enacting draconian laws. The influx of crack cocaine in the 1980s hit the young black population of the slums hard. Between 1984 and 1994, the homicide rate for black males ages 14-17 more than doubled, and among those 18-24 it was just slightly less of an increase. Along with that, fetal deaths, low birth weights, weapons arrests, and children in foster care increased just as sharply. Significantly, the homicide rate for black males 25 and older stayed flat, and there was no similar rise for whites. By the 1990s the crack epidemic had burned itself out and the statistics began dropping until they were less than what they’d been before crack arrived. However, at that time politicians caught on to what was happening and enacted laws such as the three-strikes rule for drug offenders. It mandated life in prison for a third drug offense, regardless of the severity of the charges. Some were sentenced to life for marijuana possession, and judges had no leeway to take mitigating factors into consideration.
The push for treatment of drug offenders rather than severe sentencing has begun to change the laws, and there is a movement for the elimination of three-strikes. Strangely enough, the change can be traced to the black tar epidemic and the prejudice of the Xalisco drug dealers.
They stayed away from slums and areas of gang activity because they were afraid they’d be ripped off. Instead they set up their networks in suburban areas, small cities, small towns, and throughout states that hadn’t had major drug use problems. The Xalisco black tar rolled east and north from LA, and along the way it merged with the spread of OxyContin that moved in the opposite direction.
This time, between prescription opiates and black tar heroin, the drug abuse cut across the socio-economic strata. It wasn’t just the low-income blacks that most politicians discounted from the get-go when it came to votes. Now it was soccer moms and college students and blue collar workers and businessmen who were caught up in the abuse – what many politicians considered their base voters.
And the scourge also touched their families and friends. On the campaign stump last year in New Hampshire, the often belligerent Chris Christie spoke with deep conviction and compassion when he explained to a town hall meeting why he was for treatment of addicts by telling the story of a law school friend of his who became addicted to pain killers. In 2014, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) devoted his whole State of the State address to the heroin problem.
But then, the painkiller and heroin epidemics began to hit home for the public in general as well-known people succumbed to their addictions.
The Next Installment: The Biology of the Price
Levine, Harry G. and Reinarman, Gary “Alcohol Prohibition and Drug Prohibition: Lessons from Alcohol Policy for Drug Policy” Amsterdam CEDRO 2004
Health Care Costs from Opiod Abuse: A State By State Analysis <http://www.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Matrix_OpioidAbuse_040415.pdf>
Fryer Jr., Roland G, Heaton, Paul S., Levitt, Steven D., and Murphy, Kevin M. “Measuring Crack Cocaine and its Impact” April 2006