Pope Francis, Community and Heroin

I’m speaking at Notre Dame University today, the day that Pope Francis gave his beautiful talk to Congress.

What struck me about his speech was not just what he said, for we’ve heard some of that before, though it never gets old. But what struck me most was the way he said it: softly, slowly, building each idea logically on the last.

We live in an era of bombast. It is everywhere. It’s not just Donald Trump, who personifies it, in my opinion. It’s loud-mouthed, poorly spoken athletes on ESPN. It’s crank screechers on 24-hour news and talk raIMG_3652dio. Reality show bimbos. It’s the babble of unimportant breaking news that takes up so much space on newspaper websites. The constant yammer on Facebook about stuff that is really personal and ought to be kept that way. We never get a minute to ourselves, it seems.

Of course, our national politics is infected with it. Congress appears incapable of doing anything but taking one extreme or the other. Talking points – that’s an interesting concept. “Talk to us about X…” is another – just open your mouth and start talking, implying that thought doesn’t need to occur first.

Thus it was so therapeutic to walk along the quiet paths of the school’s campus and listen to Pope Francis use terms like “cooperation,” “union,” “community.” It was sweet to hear him talk about the monk Thomas Merton.

These themes – or the lack of them in our civic life – are integrally wrapped up in why we have so much heroin abuse in America today.

I believe we’ve spent decades destroying community, mocking and clawing at the girdings of government that provide the public assets and infrastructure that we took for granted and that make communal public life possible. We exalted the private sector, and accepted the free market as some infallible God and thus allowed, encouraged even, jobs to go overseas.

We seemed to fear the public sphere. Parents hover over kids. Alarmed at some menace out in public, they accompany their kids everywhere they go. It all seems connected to a fear of pain, an idea that we can avoid pain, avoid danger.  As a country, meanwhile, we have acted as if consumption and the accumulation of stuff was the path to happiness.

We’ve built into our suburbs an isolation that we called prosperity. Added to that mix was the expansion of technology that connects us to the world but separates us from our next-door neighbor.

We wound up dangerously separate from each other – whether in poverty or in affluence.

Kids no longer play in the street. Parks are under-used.

Why then do we wonder that heroin is everywhere?

Heroin turns every addict into narcissistic, self-absorbed, solitary hyper-consumers. A life that finds opiates turns away from family and community and devotes itself entirely to self-gratification by buying and consuming one product – the drug that most makes being alone not just all right, but preferable. It is the final expression of values we have fostered for 35 years.

I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community – doing things with neighbors in public in a way that once came quite naturally.

That’s why I also loved Pope Francis’s speech. He seemed to be touching on the stuff that troubles us as a country most deeply  – and for which heroin is just the latest, though perhaps most potent, symptom.

And he did so quietly, softly – which I hope meant that people heard him more clearly.

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Filed under Dreamland, Drugs, Global Economy, Los Angeles

A Great American

I just finished David McCullough’s terrific biography of John Adams.

John Adams was a simple man. He loved the same woman all his life. He never owned a slave. In his youth, even as an ardent revolutionary, he defended British soldiers in a trial because he believed everyone deserves a fair hearing in court.

He proposed complete religious freedom because he held firm to the Protestant view that every man is equal before God. He endured years-long separation from his family living in Europe doing the country’s difficult and crucial foreign business in England, France and the Netherlands. He despised the luxury he saw in Europe, and believed it would lead to corruption.01604dcdc6ee6e3ad097b31c66914b6e

He believed strongly in the balance of powers. He lived his last years as a farmer, still earning a living, living a simple life. He also read and wrote voluminously.

I have been developing a considerably dimmer view of Thomas Jefferson,  Adams’ vice president and successor to the White House, that this book did nothing to change.

Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and promoted religious freedom, and established the University of Virginia. But he owned dozens of slaves, fathered children with one of them and freed only five of them upon his death – the mother of his children was not among them.

He lived the life not of a simple American farmer, as Adams did before and after his presidency, but of a European aristocrat – expanding then tearing down Monticello several times, all of which depended on revenue generated by the labor of his slaves. Adams died solvent; Jefferson, despite owning slaves, died $100,000 in debt.

Perhaps slave ownership allowed Jefferson the luxury of his utopian vision of a country of small farmers and an equally small government. He never apparently asked himself the hard questions of how those small farmers might get their goods to market without government taxation that allowed for the building of roads and bridges, and law enforcement to keep the goods safe. This vision sadly left him equally enamored of the French Revolution, even after that event descended into wanton murder. These victims he viewed as casualties of war, and, from this grew his famous statement that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Adams was the deeper thinker and had a more mature understanding of self-government. He understood that for a union to work, taxes had to be paid, and a national government thus allowed to function. Anarchy would result otherwise. It seems to me this is an idea one segment of our country doesn’t, or doesn’t want to, understand.

Adams began the U.S. Navy, and thus kept us from war with France when we were too small and weak. To do this he imposed taxes that earned him Jefferson’s ire, his own defeat, but the country’s lasting gratitude.

Adams also rightly feared the horrible cost slavery would exact on the country, and abhorred its expansion following the Louisiana Purchase.

Both men, however, embodied the key to the success of the American Revolution, for both were lawyers. Despite its numerous contradictions, slavery being the main one, the American Revolution was made by lawyers, and thus the rule of law not of men was its cornerstone. The tenets of self-government they had thought out and debated in some detail. This is why the Revolution did not collapse into slaughter.

Having lived in a country where the rule of law is weak, I can say that this is fundamental. There is no justice, no equity, no development, no innovation without the rule of law. To the fact that the Founding Fathers were, for the most part, lawyers, and many of them thoughtful about the biggest questions, we can attribute the Revolution’s success.

Interestingly, it might easily not have been so had the wrong people gained power – Alexander Hamilton for one, I suspect. We’re enormously lucky that our first president was, though a general, so unwilling, and left power as quickly as he could.

At the end of their lives, Adams and Jefferson, friends, then adversaries, were friends again.

In one of the great details in U.S. history, the last two signers of the Declarations of Independence died within hours of each other on, amazingly, July 4.

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On 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was living in Mexico City, preparing to go on a trip with a driver from a Mexico City mortuary. I was working in the capital at the time as a freelance writer.IMG_9349

Part of the mortuary’s business was to pick up the bodies of immigrants who had died in the United States and whose families had flown them home to be buried.

The mortuary would provide the service of retrieving the body and driving it back to the immigrant’s home village. That morning the body of an immigrant was due to arrive from Denver.

I was set to go with the driver to the airport and then to the village.

I called the mortuary and the owner told me, “There are no flights today. I think someone just bombed your country.”

I spent the next two weeks in front of a television.


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LA crime stats – Without Context We Are Lost

IMG_9334The latest homicide figures in Los Angeles have set off a shriek-a-thon that is weird and seems to me fed by 24-hour-news culture, which is dangerous because it is utterly devoid of context.

I believe in police accountability, smart deployment of officers and using Big Data to analyze crime trends and respond to them. I also believe it is important to hold elected officials accountable on how city resources are used and deployed.

But as citizens, we too have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We are duty-bound to get a grip, seek context, not start shrieking for shrieking’s sake.

By using only rates of increase, those who talk about this latest “surge” in crime are avoiding context.

And here it is: The city has had 185 homicides in eight-plus months – an average of about 24 a month. It’s unlikely to maintain that pace, as August almost always registers the highest numbers of homicides and adds briefly to the statistical average. But even if it does, the city will still tally fewer or roughly equal to the number of homicides of any year this century.

In fact, the LA homicide figures this year will almost certainly be below any yearly figure since the 1960s.

That is not to say that LAPD doesn’t need to readjust its force deployment. I’m not a police commander, but if one month shows that kind of increase (41 homicides in August), stands to reason it would require a reassessment.

Nor do I say this to play down what it means to have homicides in one’s neighborhood. I’ve covered more homicides than almost any reporter I know, and I understand more deeply than most, I believe, what they do to a family, and to a neighborhood, to a city. So I do not say this to make light of what’s happened in parts of L.A.

But we too have a duty, a responsibility, to remain sane, to appreciate the stunningly positive story of what has happened to crime in Southern California (and gangs above all), to not start shrieking over every little statistical increase.

And above all, to use context. Context. As a journalist, I can say that without it you are lost.

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Filed under California, Gangs, Los Angeles

Katrina New Orleans

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Ten years ago, hurricanes whomped through southern Louisiana and the levies broke and everything flooded.

Six months later, I spent six weeks in New Orleans covering reconstruction for the LA Times before and after the first Mardi Gras following the disaster.

Photos here are from that time.

While there, I told the story of the Latino workers who had shown up – a quiet cavalry to the rescue – just as everyone was fleeing the city in the weeks following the flood.

The workers I interviewed described an amazing image that took place three weeks after the flood, in the days when residents were briefly allowed back in the city. They  came then left quickly as the city was unlivable. On one side of the freeway, heading out of town, were their cars and trucks packed with every belonging a family could salvage. On the opposite side, leading into New Orleans, were quietly coming cars filled with these guys — Latino immigrant workers, each with no more than a backpack and a few tools, who heard there was work. Armies of Mexicans and Salvadorans, mostly, who lived in the Martian landscape, coated with the grey sludge of disintegrated dry wall, that the city had become in the weeks after the hurricane and put up those blue tarps of the roofs of thousands of houses.

Many of them stayed for the day labor they could find, hanging out at Lee’s Circle. A lot of them didn’t get paid – usually stiffed by Latino immigrant contractors, who also descended on the city. When I met these workers months later, many swore they never would work again for a Latino contractor. It was a Wild West of labor law, and was still when I was there.

The hurricane did a lot, but to me what it did most graphically was to show how ill the city had been before the levies broke. I’d been to NOLA several times for the music and food and never seen the pathology.

When I arrived to cover it as a reporter, I learned about it more deeply. It was a city that had the same population in 2005 that it had in 1930 – unlike many Southern cities, which had grown vibrant in those years. It relied mostly on tourism jobs, which paid poorly.

Before the hurricane, almost no Mexicans lived in NOLA – which is a bad thing because Mexicans are usually found where an economy is growing and jobs abound. Mexicans are a pretty faithful barometer of economic vibrancy, or the lack of it. They came after the flood.

I remember the city funded its public defenders from traffic fines and had seven property assessors for 164,000 properties, which is why the city also had so little property tax revenue. (LA County has one assessor for 2.4 million properties). One assessor, from a small district the size of a large neighborhood, had had the job for 15 years or so. Someone with his last name – an uncle and his father – had had the job since the 1920s.

Municipal governance was arthritic. Everywhere – in the hospital, the schools – the signs of decay were present long before the hurricane showed up. Katrina didn’t cause the illness; it laid it bare.

Six months later, as these photos attest, the mud and grime was gone, but reconstruction seemed almost nil.

Still, it is one of our greatest cities, and I love it, in part for how it mixes folks up, throws everyone together, a big raucous America.

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The Good, the Bad and the #100Days100Nights

Twitter is abuzz with word from South Central Los Angeles that either 1) a gang, angered at the shooting of a member is planning on killing a hundred people in a hundred days or 2) that two gangs have a bet to see which can kill the most people first.

I don’t know if either story is right. I suspect no one else does, either.

There certainly have been serious spates of shootings in areas in which these gangs operate.

But to me, this seems the downside to an otherwise very positive development in our SoCal gang world. Street gangs have moved off the street. This is a radical development, for our street gangs grew from the streets, took their names from streets, developed reputations based on how well they “defended” street they deemed “theirs.”IMG_9366

Now, in neighborhood after neighborhood, corner after corner, they are absent. Cudahy, Hawaiian Gardens, Highland Park, Compton – ancient gang towns or neighborhoods. Not any more, it seems from traveling their streets. To be sure, the phenomenon is less well felt in the black neighborhoods of South Central. But even there it’s nothing like it ever was at its worst, or even a few years after its worst.

Doesn’t mean gangs don’t feud. Doesn’t mean they’re not up to no good. It just means they aren’t as public, aren’t as much out on the street, in the parks, on the street corners – which is good, for  it allows those neighborhoods some room to breathe. That’s why property values in many of these neighborhoods are rising. Northeast LA is one very good example of that.

IMG_1780On the flipside, those who remain bonafide members, or maybe more likely those who aren’t, spend time prattling on, threatening others and boasting on social media – Facebook is full of them; so is Twitter. But going on social media requires a whole lot less dedication to the gang cause than staking out territory at a park or liquor store where your rivals know where to find you.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that gangs on social media is a benign thing.

Take the #100days100nights hashtag. Could be there’s truth to this hashtag. Could be there isn’t. Could be that people believe there is and act accordingly, by staying away from the areas where these gangs operate (Imperial to Florence, around Western). But it grows from the new space that gangs here have occupied, which is the virtual space. From there, the supposition is, it has spilled out onto the streets.

Whatever the truths, it bears mention that myths and misunderstandings have long fueled gang life in L.A. The Mexican Mafia, in an attempt to stop drive-by shootings, which it viewed as harmful to its drug business, said a member’s child had been killed in a drive-by. Latino gangs took that seriously.

IMG_0569Among the Florencia 13 gang (one of the largest Latino gangs in SoCal) rumor circulated that blacks had hijacked a load of dope that belonged to the Mexican Mafia member from Florencia.

True? Who knows?

But Florencia then went on a multi-year campaign (2004-07 more or less) to shoot black men – crimes well documented in a federal trial a few years later.

So this hashtag is part of a tradition, just amplified by the power of, and lack of accountability inherent in, social media.

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Filed under Gangs, Los Angeles, Southern California

Heroin & Hyperconsumption – A Poem

Ever since beginning work on my book, Dreamland, I’ve been struck by the way opiates isolate those addicted to them.

As I wrote and researched, they grew into a metaphor for modern American life.

Opiate addiction, seems to me, is some kind of final expression of our own destruction of community, our lack of connection across the country – both in poor communities and wealthy ones. cropped-Virgin-of-Guadalupe-dec-12-2012-La-Placita-11.jpg

We exalt consumption and the individual over community and have for a long time now.

These drugs seem to fit that; they turn everyone who abuses them into self-absorbed, lonely hyper-consumers.

The poem below was written by Andrew Smith, one of the thousands of Americans who died in 2014 of a heroin overdose. He was 24.

His mother, Margie Borth, discovered it after his death.

“There were several writings, this one is about scoring heroin and the lonely world that became his life,” she wrote, sending me the poem. “His brilliance still shines in his dark, sad words. His best friend described this as `hauntingly beautiful.’  I knew nothing of his addiction until just five weeks before he died. I was in a blur of grief when I first read it.  But now I do see the beauty of his writing.  I miss him so much, just like the thousands of other parents who are thrown into this nightmare. “

Simulate the Static

by Andrew Smith


The waiting, oh god

The waiting

The parking lots, the bathrooms, the empty parks that close after dark

The driveways, the bus stops, the car backseats

The posh bank lobbies, flea bag motel rooms, gas station pumps

Oak trees, palms, and retention ponds meant to beautify

The ditches, the swamps, and one off dead roads that lead to nowhere

And the loneliness of that trap.

The broken windows,

The made for TV dinners

The busted speakers blaring bass on a burner cell phone

The children going hungry, ignored in the corner

Staring at a broken television; simulating static.

The characters

The hangers-on, the worn out, the washed up

The good, the bad, the ugly

and the pretty young white girls with the blank eyes

Staring in awe at this newfound world.

The sun is setting and it’s starting to rain

My eyes are closed and I’m wishing I’m somewhere else.

When I hear a tap on my passenger window

Within 30 seconds, he’s gone

And the wait seems like a thousand centuries ago.

                  In this moment, I rest my eyes a second

Breathe a sigh of relief and know that all is right with the world

At least for these brief few hours.

The rain falls and my windows are up

It casts shadows across the dashboard

And the radio plays a news story

From a country whose language I do not speak

And a land I do not know.

                  Life is a quest

And we all search for something:

Money, fame, power, an identity.

For most they never find it;

And like a mirage in the desert,

it wavers in allure on their weary walk forward.

For others, they do.

And what’s worse,

They’re left in the emptiness of what it means.

But in this moment a fleeting comfort comes to me

And I know I’m not alone.

(Feb 2014)


Filed under Dreamland, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland, Uncategorized, Writing

El Corrido Del Chapo (the first) – copyright mine!

The news today that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from Mexico’s maximum security prison either makes you El Chapo Public Enemy 1laugh or cry – both.

His capture in 2014 was greeted as a sign that the country had turned away from its history of shoddy, corrupt criminal justice, and toward something more modern. President Enrique Pena Nieto got his picture on the cover of Time Magazine.

So Guzman’s escape is all the more dismal. This was his second – the first coming in 2001 in a prison laundry basket.

This time, he used a tunnel that ran from an out building under construction a mile from the prison to exactly under his cell. Talk about precision! (Watch this video for more amazing detail of the tunnel. Begins about 1:30 into the presentation.)

All  you can do is make jokes about it. With my long interest in the corrido, I offer this, the first (post-escape) Corrido to Chapo Guzman.


Voy a cantarles un corrido

De un hombre muy chaparro

Pero con amigos altos y eternos

que prefieren el despilfarro.


Lo habian agarrado en Sinaloa

En el mes de Febrero.

Dijo, al ver su celda,

Este un solo un hotel de paso.


No querian extraditarlo

Segun por interes de nacion

Aunque dijeron voces

Que fue por otra razon.


Los del gobierno y los mediosJoaquín_Guzmán_Loera,_aka_El_Chapo_Guzmán

Se sintieron muy complacidos.

Hasta los gringos en el norte

Se dijeron muy agradecidos.


Pero en una celda Altiplano

El hombre se comentaba

`Prefiero los mariscos de Sinaloa

Y las chicas bien estructuradas.’


A pesar de su estatura

Su celda no le cabia.

Necesito metralleta y mis mujeres

Asi que busco otra alternativa.


Les agradezco su hospitalidad

Pero ya tengo que volar

Por un tunel de mi amigos

Muy conveniente su ayudar.


Vuela, vuela Chaparrito

Al avion que va a esperar

Por un tunel iluminado

En el cual un hombre se puede parar.


Al entrar en el tunel

Que aparecio de milagro

Se topa con una motocicleta

Que alguien habia dejado.


O, que suerte, dice El Chapo

Voy hacia mi destino.

Dios y los angeles me cantan

Tambien los pajaros en los pinos.


Pronto el prende la moto

Y con pluma en la mano

Escribe a sus altos amigos

Mi libertad no sera en vano.


Deja atras un libro

De los mejores, segun opiniones,

Que habla de Malverde y Chalino

Escrito por Samuel Quinones.


Este Quinones si tiene talento,

En el libro de Malverde y Chalino

Inscribe El Chapo muy cuidadito,

Lee bien lo dice este gringo.


Dice el senor al salir

Busquemos otro panorama

Faltaba aire condicionado

Aunque si me gustaba banar.


Amigo de los amigos

Altos y guapos, al parecer.

El Chapo si salio fuera

No se sabe donde va a amanecer.


Vuela vuela chaparrito

Aunque por segunda vez

A ver si nos vemos mas tarde

Ahi donde comen el pez.


Aqui termino mi corrido

De la historia de un hombre

Y sus amigos importantes

Que por cortesia lo dejaron libre.


Filed under Drugs, Mexico, Uncategorized

`Two are better than one’ … Why heroin now?

“Two are better than one … for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up.” King Solomon

Those who know me will find it strange to read me quoting the Bible. IMG_0927

But these words, which I just read for the first time, talk about what we’ve lost and what has tenderized the country for widespread heroin and pain-pill addiction described by the CDC/DEA in my blogpost below.

We are an enormous country too often isolated, siloed in our rooms/phones/cars alone.

The magnificent ethos of self-reliance that began this country has decayed into one that holds that the individual is always superior to community – though self-reliance was only made possible by assets the community provides.

It holds that the private sector is efficient and government cloddish. It holds the free market as a kind of God, infallible.

It holds that every tax dollar will be wasted by government, so we starve it and make sure it cannot provide the basis for community that is its natural role. Yet mediocrity in business is to be rewarded with towering compensation, and part of that is that we’ll look the other way as it destroys jobs that sustain our communities.

And this reigning ethos further insists that consumption, and by extension the avoidance of discomfort and the eternal search for convenience, is our point on earth.

In such a world, naturally legions of people dose themselves on substances that numb pain – drugs that turn everyone addicted to them into hyperconsumers, self-absorbed and alone, and with no one to help them when they fall.

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Filed under Dreamland, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland

DEA: Heroin now increasing everywhere in America

The DEA today issued a press release that begins like this: “Heroin use has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. The greatest increases have occurred in groups with historically lower rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes.”cropped-IMG_4841.jpg

The release discusses a new report by the FDA and CDC about heroin’s use across the country.

The only fact it appears to leave out is that almost all the new addicts are white.

Still, for a long time, heroin has seemed to me a way of talking about America.

One reason for that is what the DEA expresses – that heroin is so widespread and in areas and populations that never knew it.

But heroin is also a way of talking about our loss of community and publicly shared assets – streets, parks, etc. Of a retreat indoors, figuratively and literally.

I believe heroin is the final expression, the final extension of our multi-decade exaltation of the free market, the individual and consumption. How else to view a drug that turns everyone addicted to it into self-absorbed hyperconsumers?

That’s why I wrote Dreamland and didn’t have one addict shooting up. To do so would have been to distract from the larger point, that this drug thrives in areas without much community feel, community anchor – the area could be poor, could be wealthy. What they share is a lack of community and public interaction and encounter.

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Filed under Drugs, The Heroin Heartland

What’s left to say about mass murder

In my reporting career, I have covered seven American mass murders – one in 1989 in Stockton, and the rest in the last decade.

One was a guy parking his SUV in front of a commuter train (25 dead). The rest were committed with guns, usually by dylann-roofderanged drifting people – all men, five of them white – who had remarkably easy access to high-powered guns.

I don’t know what more there is to say about these events. Seriously. They’re now so common that they have devolved into babble-fodder for our politico-cultural wars on the toxic battlefield of 24-hour cable news. Such a network, I suspect, could plan its profitability around the certainty of a boost in viewership from a couple of these events every year.

Somehow, despite all the talk, we never get around to doing anything about it.

We talked a lot but did nothing meaningful after Tucson and Aurora. Then 26 kids were shot to death at an elementary school and we did nothing. We did talk a lot, though.

People nowadays fall into rote after these events, saying profound things that have devolved into cliches from overuse.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out …” That’s a deep, poetic thing to say – that my thoughts and prayers I’m sending out in hopes they will soothe you and bind your wounds, that I am feeling for you and hope that in doing so it will lessen your pain. Yet it sounds trite any more.

I used to think that seven mass murders was a large number of mass murders to have covered in one’s reporting career.

Now another lost and drifting lunatic kills nine people in a church. A guy who by 21 is going nowhere, who apparently at one point had been abusing Suboxone (a heroin-addiction treatment). This time the guy has a racial animus.

Terrorist? I guess. Probably. Who knows?

“He looks bored,” one little girl I know said, upon seeing his mugshot. That’s sounds about right. His dad, bugging him to get a job, may have given him a gun for a 21st birthday present. Who does that? And why? To give him some direction in life? I don’t have the slightest idea why someone would do that.

(NOTE: It was later reported that Dylann Roof had, in fact, purchased the gun himself that he used in the church.)

I don’t know what to say any more about people who do these killings, or legislators who won’t do anything about these events, or 24-hour cable news babble, or dads who give their lost sons guns for presents, or a country that so easily moves on.


Filed under Uncategorized

That NY Heroin

I was interested in knowing more about that huge heroin bust in New York City last week.
The seizure totaled 154 pounds  (and $2 million in cash), the largest ever in that city – larger even than the legendary French Connection bust of the 1970s (100+ pounds). Which is saying something, as New York was the U.S. heroin hub for most of the last century.heroin20n-1-web

I was surprised to see the traffickers were from Mexico.  Virtually all the heroin coming into NYC and New England has been, since the 1980s, from Colombia – that’s what I understood.

So I reached out to a law enforcement source in the NYC metro region who works heroin. The source said that while the traffickers were Mexicans, the heroin was from Colombia: “Colombians have almost totally removed themselves from the distribution directly in the US.”

This is because:

“1. Colombian communities have matured and the criminal elements have for the large part been killed, jailed or been deported.
2. The Colombian drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) can make money still selling it to other DTO’s in Colombia and/or in Mexico and parts nearby without the fear of the long arms of US authorities. Example: If they sell to Mex DTO they make $5,000 with minimal exposure. If they sell in US directly they make $10,000, but with possible major problems.
3. For Colombians, they can make major profits if they can get it to Western Africa and/or Europe with less exposure.
4. In today’s world, post 09/11, the Achilles Heel entry point into the US is over the southwest border. That area is within the realm of the Mex DTO’s. The Colombians feel they have more control if they conduct business in their area of operation and have less problems.”
All of which is to say that what happened to cocaine in the late 1980s – Mexican DTOs took over the trade from Colombians and, fueled by those profits, began the growth into the organizations they are today – is now happening with heroin as well.
If that’s so, it’s likely there’ll be more busts like this one, given the nationwide demand nowadays for the drug generated by widespread addiction to opiate painkillers.
LINKS:                                                    #Dreamland
Photo: DEA


Filed under Border, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland, Uncategorized

Hillary Clinton, Heroin, and the Time to be Heard

Three weeks ago, Hillary Clinton’s health-policy advisor called me to discuss the opiate epidemic, its causes and what could be done about it.feed-image-1

The advisor said she was reading my book, Dreamland, and that Mrs. Clinton had read my NY Times op-ed column of April 19 about the issue.

The advisor told me Mrs. Clinton had been hearing a lot of very passionate comments from parents with addicted children as she campaigned in Iowa and New Hampshire.

We spent an hour on the phone, talking about policy, about pain pills, pill mills, Mexican heroin trafficking, and about the quiet surrounding this epidemic that had allowed it to spread.

So I’m glad to see that Mrs. Clinton is now coming up with policy proposals to address it, one of which is to begin talking about it and end the stigma and silence surrounding addiction.

This epidemic is neither a red nor a blue issue. Thus I hope candidates from both parties will respond as well. I’ll be happy to chat with them, if they want to call.

I’d hope, moreover, they would focus not only on heroin, but on the broader problem of overprescribing of opiate painkillers, which so often provide the gateway to heroin. (Pain pills have their legitimate role in medicine, but too often are massively and unnecessarily prescribed.)

But there’s another important point in this. I believe parents of addicted children need to use this approaching presidential campaign as a way of magnifying their voices.

As a longtime journalist, I know that the most poignant stories are the ones that can have the most impact. Sadly, many parents up to now have kept silent, ashamed or simply worn out by their children’s addiction.

That is changing. More are stepping forward, as Mrs. Clinton was hearing on the campaign. Some are mentioning heroin overdose as a cause of death in their children’s obituaries – an act of enormous, and necessary, courage.

But these stories are still not being heard the way they need to be.

During past drug scourges, public violence aroused public ire. The crack years, for example, saw drive-by shootings and carjackings. I was a crime reporter during those years and saw this first hand.

None of that public violence has happened during this epidemic. So the job of arousing public attention falls almost entirely to parents.

I believe this presidential campaign offers an opportunity to be heard, to magnify voices. Make opiate abuse (pain pills and heroin) and overprescribing a point of presidential debate.

To do that, parents in particular need to step forward and tell their stories the way no one else can.

Photo: Hillary For President website


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William Zinsser Dies

William Zinsser, who wrote On Writing Well, has died. He was 92, according to his NY Times obituary.51gR+4G5mJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

His book influenced me enormously. We learn to write by writing, but if there’s one book to read on writing in English, it’s his. I read it probably eight times, though I’ve lost count. Some parts of it, more than that.

His approach to writing is the correct one – that writing involves rewriting and more rewriting, each time with an eye to cutting words that don’t need to be there.

That through rewriting we achieve greater clarity, and come to know what we think.

He didn’t mean that all sentences should be short. Rather, that all sentences contain only words that are necessary. Same goes for sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a text.

He also said that if you pare down your prose to only what’s necessary and do this over and over, through a lifetime, you develop your own voice. That idea hit me as strange at first, but I know now that he was right.

His point, too, that writing is not to be done when you have inspiration, but treated as a job, something you get up and do every day – that was a revelation to me, as well. The anecdote with which he opens the book, about speaking on a writing panel with a doctor, is fabulous.

On Writing Well went through many editions, but the core of it – the first six or so chapters – remains always clear and relevant.

His essay on Clutter in language is probably more on point today than ever.

I wrote to him twice – once after my first book came out and the second time after we published the first Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles volume. Each time, he was kind enough to write back.

A good guy who changed English – by making those who write it do it more clearly.

Many thanks, Mr. Zinsser.

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Filed under Books, Storytelling, Tell Your True Tale, Uncategorized, Writing

Remembering Dreamland: One woman’s story

 Some people think that my use of Dreamland as the title to my book refers to the euphoria addicts are seeking.Dreamland-HCBig
    In reality, the title refers to an enormous pool that existed years ago in Portsmouth, Ohio, a town mightily afflicted by opiate addiction. Dreamland was the town square, in a sense. Life revolved around it. Kids grew up in public, under the watchful eye of hundreds of parents. It was a place where everyone was equal in bathing suits. The pool embodied the feel of community.
    I’m still awed by the letters I continue to get in response to the book. Here’s another …


    I grew up in Portsmouth, born in 1952.  It was a safe blessed time in post war America.  I had 6 cousins in my Catholic school class, picnics with the families on weekends, a perfect childhood of Dreamland every summer day, walking home from school with friends each fall, enduring the brief winter to count the days until Dreamland reopened.
     I left after high school and did college at Ohio Wesleyan where my husband and I met. We moved to PA and I did law school as my husband served the United Methodist churches of Central PA.  We made semi-annual trips to Portsmouth with our three children to see family.  Each time we went, the town was more depressing.  Family members became drug addicts.  We were stolen from at my mothers funeral.  I rescued my dad from a nursing home where the facility clearly had users on staff.  This was in 2013.  He was not safe in his own home due to a family member selling drugs right under my IMG_4147dad’s nose.
     He died in 2014, in PA, after having lived 92 years in Portsmouth.  He knew Branch Rickey, Rocky Nelson, and the great years of Portsmouth.  4 of his six brothers served our country; my dad was deferred due to problems after having polio and rheumatic fever.  I have Ohio River blood in my veins.
    Thank you for making me understand a bit more that the addictions which decimated my family were not totally their fault.  I worked 35 years as an attorney in health care law and  I knew the power of the pharmaceutical companies and the collision of profit in healthcare.
    If you would like to take on another pharmaceutical issue in the future, let me suggest Lyrica. It was presented as the holy grail for nerve pain.  I am no longer practicing law as I had to quit due to seizures after using Lyrica.    Facebook even has a Lyrica survivors page of which I am a member.  It is another sad tail of “big pharma” all over again.
    Thank you again for your wonderful work of Dreamland.
Barbara G. Graybill


Filed under Books, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland