Inside the Heroin Epidemic Sweeping Through Vermont
One Saturday afternoon this fall, the two of us drove toward Burlington, Vermont, on a narrow highway that snakes through the Green Mountains. Rolling fields gave way to hardwood forests, maple trees aflame with red and orange leaves—the kind of bucolic scenery that brings in nearly 14 million tourists and $1.7 billion of their money every year. Our destination was a small farm in Colchester that looks like something right out of a postcard: a red barn, a sign that said “Community Pig Roast,” even chickens and dogs running around in the yard.
Josh was waiting for us at a table on the porch in a flat-brim hat and hoodie. He’s a Vermonter born and bred, a 23-year-old with an easygoing stoner charisma familiar to anyone who grew up in the area. The stories he told, on the other hand, sound like they could have come out of the worst drug- and crime-infested neighborhoods of a big city.
He’s run heroin to Vermont from New Jersey six times in the last 18 months. His suppliers hand Josh 25 bricks of the stuff and tell them it’s his responsibility until he gets to Vermont and to “hide it good.” Heroin is much cheaper in the big cities to the south than it is in the Green Mountain State, and Josh takes full advantage of this—he can make $600 off of $10 worth of the raw he buys. He doesn’t have much in the way of professional ethics. “I’ve ripped people off by throwing hot cocoa in an empty bag,” he told us. “Scoop a little dirt off the ground and throw that in there, dude.”
A Meth Pipe Shattered in a North Dakota Woman’s Vagina
What started as your plain old, run-of-the-mill car accident resulted in a woman being arrested while pieces of glass from a shattered meth pipe were stuck up her vagina. In North Dakota, 26-year-old Jeana Marie Smart rear-ended another driver on the road. When law enforcement officers responded to the scene, Jeana was arrested “after a warrant check revealed that she had failed to appear in court on a pending narcotics and drug paraphernalia case,” according to the police report.
The officer transporting her, Michael Benton, spotted blood on the backseat of his patrol car. Being the curious man that he is, he decided to inquire about the red stain as opposed to just doing what most people would do, which is naturally assume that it’s menstrual blood and not bring it up because that’s a really awkward conversation to have.
Ireland Must Act to Combat Its Growing Heroin Problem
In the early 1980s, a man named Tony “King Scum" Felloni began importing large quantities of heroin into the Republic of Ireland. The drug quickly began to work its way into daily life in Dublin’s working-class areas, and thanks to its relatively addictive nature it has remained wildly popular. Take a walk down certain streets in Dublin and you’ll get a pretty good indicator of its prevalence in the capital.
Unfortunately, the government’s plans for treating heroin addiction nowadays appear to be much the same as they were in the 80s: almost nonexistent. The government at the time paid very little attention to the problem, and—despite the implementation of new, progressive harm reduction laws in other European countries—Ireland’s attitudes are still very much lingering in the decade of fax machines and Billy Idol.
According to the 2012 annual report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Ireland has the highest number of heroin users per capita in Europe. They claim that seven people in every thousand are addicted to the drug, which translates to roughly 30,000 Irish citizens. Worryingly, Ireland also has the third highest death rate from drug use in Europe, behind only Norway and Estonia. The EU average is 21 deaths per million people; for Ireland, it’s 68 per million.
Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.
Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.
Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.
The Real Walter White
When AMC’s Breaking Bad premiered in 2008, one of Alabama’s most successful meth cooks was already knee deep in building a massive meth empire. His name? Walter White. In this documentary, Walter tells us the secret behind his product, how he stacked up thousands of dollars per day, and why his partner is now serving two life sentences.
Watch the Documentary
Congress’s Drug Problem
On October 29, a 37-year-old Republican Congressman named Henry “Trey” Radel fucked up. He bought $260 worth of coke while at a restaurant in DC’s trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood, but the guy selling it turned out to be an undercover cop who was part of a targeted sting operation. When news of the “cocaine Congressman” was reported by Politico this week, a predictable sequence of events played out: a guilty plea, probation but no prison time, and an announcement that he has a drug problem and plans to take a leave of absence from his job while he seeks treatment for it. Presumably he’ll come back eventually, tell the press that he’s in recovery thanks to his family and the grace of God, and the Tea Partiers who elected him in Florida may even love him all the more for having faced down his demons so publicly.
Radel is hardly an important DC figure—he only got elected last year, and before this coke incident he was most known for loving hip-hop and making his own beats. His personal drama is mostly a sideshow, a story that will be forgotten then occasionally brought up as a funny anecdote: “Hey, remember that Tea Party dude who loved Tupac and got caught with cocaine?” It’s not even a story that lends itself to puffed-up allegations of Republican hypocrisy, since Radel has beenbroadly in favor of reforming failed drug war policies. (Though he did support drug testing for food stamp recipients, so maybe he’s into some icky poor-people-shouldn’t-do-drugs-but-rich-folks-can shit.) But one thing this incident shows is just how strangely the legal system works when it comes to drugs.
I Was Kidnapped by a Colombian Guerilla Army
Journalists go deep. Sometimes they go so deep into a story they lose track of where the story ends and their private life begins. Correspondent Confidential is a series of illustrated documentary shorts narrated by award-winning journalists. Newspaper reporters, documentary filmmakers, radio producers, and journalists tell personal stories about the harrowing—and hilarious—experiences they’ve had on the job while reporting on some of the world’s most high-profile issues and events.
Reporter T. Christian Miller was based in Colombia during the height of the US government’s war on drugs. As the US began to pour money into fighting the cocaine trade in Colombia, it inevitably spilled over into fighting the rebel groups that controlled—and “taxed”—the areas where coca plants were grown. When Miller went into the jungle to report on a government helicopter that was shot down during a mission to spray coca plants, he and his assistant were kidnapped by the FARC, a left-wing guerrilla army.
The Police Can Probe You if They Think You Have Drugs
This week, two men in New Mexico claimed they were subjected to horrific invasive anal medical procedures after minor traffic incidents during which the cops came to suspect they were carrying drugs. On November 5, a local news station reported that David Eckert was suing the city of Deming, Hidalgo County, and the officers and doctors responsible for his mistreatment during a January incident. Eckert was pulled over by officers because he didn’t come to a full stop while trying to exit a Walmart parking lot. At some point during their interaction, the cops decided that Eckert seemed to be “clenching his buttocks,” and their dog indicated it smelled drugs under Eckhart’s seat. According to Eckert’s recently filed lawsuit, local cops and state troopers got permission from a judge to send him to the hospital to get intimately probed for narcotics. Reportedly, a doctor at one hospital declined to search on ethical grounds, but the folks at Gila Regional Medical Center weren’t so concerned. Though he never consented to the search, Eckert spent the next 14 hours being X-rayed, got anally probed twice, and was given an enemathree times then forced to defecate in front of cops and doctors. None of this uncovered any drugs, but Eckert was billed for all these procedures, which cost thousands of dollars.
A startlingly similar story comes from Timothy Young, who was stopped by New Mexico state deputies in October of last year after he neglected to use his blinkers while turning. The very same dog that smelled drugs on Eckert also “found” some contraband in Young’s car, so he too was taken to Gila Medical Center and subjected to a similar battery of anal probing and X-rays. The team at KOB 4, the local news station, discovered that the dog isn’t even certified in the state of New Mexico, but Jacob Sullum at Forbes pointed out that dogs can continue to be used as drug detectors even if they are wrong most of the time, just so long as the cops say that the canines are doing their jobs.
More and More Veterans Are Smoking Weed to Cure Their PTSD
In America, the relationship between doctors and the hegemonic pharmaceutical industry is fraught with painful, mind-numbing contradiction. There’s no better example of this than in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among US veterans and others around the country. Drugs like Risperdal, an antipsychotic, are said to be no more effective in the treatment of PTSD than a placebo. These drugs are widely distributed to treat the symptoms of PTSD, despite allegations that they’re ineffectual in treatment of the condition.
PTSD is a disorder, characterized by extreme emotional or mental anxiety, often the result of a physical or psychological injury. When confronted with a potentially deadly situation, it’s natural for humans to feel afraid—we’ve developed pretty sophisticated fight-or-flight responses to deal with real or perceived danger. PTSD arises when that response is damaged, and the patient feels stressed or frightened even when he or she is no longer in danger. The disease disproportionately affects soldiers deployed in war zones. Very often they are in situations so dangerous that they develop the condition, and return home as shell-shocked emotional cripples. Veteran’s Affairs claims that today, almost 300,000 veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD, although the number is likely much higher due to lack of diagnosis.