“The Greeks and Romans used opium, anticholinergics, and numerous botanical toxins to induce states of mental euphoria, create hallucinations, and alter their own consciousness.”
The quote, lifted from the pages of Dr. David Hillman’s book, The Chemical Muse, suggests that recreational drugs were an accepted part of both the society that created democracy and the empire that bent its knee to Caesar.
The notion that mind altering drugs have been around a long time should come as little surprise. Today, the demand remains strong, regardless of the so-called war on drugs (or perhaps in spite of it).
One aspect that does change, however, is the popular preference for a particular recreational drug. Looking past marijuana and alcohol to the hard stuff, scheduled narcotics such as cocaine, amphetamine and opiates have each had their moment as the drug du jour.
Snorted in the ’80s and smoked in rock form in the ’90s, cocaine usage persists, as does methamphetamine now that production has moved south of the border.
Meanwhile, the preferred form of opiates has gone through a complete cycle. As a young patrol officer in T-Town in the ’90s, I stepped over the dirty needles that littered downtown streets and arrested the strung out zombies who shuffled past the homeless shelter on their way to “shooting galleries” under I-705. Back then black tar heroin was king.
Times changed. Soon, oxycontin and oxycodone were being mass produced for baby boomers with new knees, as well as for a whole new entrepreneurial set of drug dealers. Addicts left heroin for the new synthetic opiate, eager to crush it, smoke it, shoot it.
Soon, oxy pills were being sold on the street for upwards of $80, and pharmacists were enduring strings of armed robberies at the hands of frantic addicts and dealers. Finally, when the federal government realized what cops had known for years, drug companies began altering the composition of the oxy pill to make it less viable for the recreational user.
This did not lessen demand for a suitable replacement. From a law enforcement perspective, the illicit drug market is like an unbreakable balloon – step on one section and the balloon simply expands somewhere else. That new expansion has brought a rush of customers back to the old school drug, heroin.
But according to Andrew Martin of Bloomberg News (TNT 11/17), heroin ain’t what it used to be. Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa cartel has stepped up production on a cheaper and more pure form of this old school narcotic. Usage is up a staggering “79% in the past five years alone.”
The recent surge in heroin usage has come with dark consequences for those who made the switch from oxy pills. In affluent DuPage county, west of Chicago, officials report 43 heroin overdoses so far this year. The stigma of drug injection seems to have faded.
With this new/old challenge, law enforcement must carefully consider its response. The old model of enforcement, which has led to record incarceration rates and claims of racial profiling, has failed to stem the tide. A wide open discussion on the situation should take into consideration all available alternatives.
Should police officials fail to learn from the past, at least we know how the storyline will play out.
“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up.” -Author Unknown