Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Up Close and Personal With Philadelphia's Heroin Crisis

Journalist Christopher Moraff talks about a better way to report on drug culture in America.

Stories about the death toll from the opioid crisis have focused largely on the plight of rural and small-town Americans in the Midwest and Appalachia. But the perils of drug abuse and drug prohibition have also visited urban environments, and none so dramatically as Philadelphia. In 1999, the year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking overdose fatalities by county, it topped the list of cities with populations over 1 million. For 2017, nearly 20 years later, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health reports that 1,217 residents died of a drug overdose. New York City, which has a population roughly five times that of Philadelphia, experienced only about 200 more drug poisoning deaths last year, according to a May report from that city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As in many places, the leading cause of overdose deaths is no longer prescription meds. A report from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health noted that 84 percent of such deaths involved fentanyl (or a fentanyl analog), a potent and inexpensive painkiller that dealers are increasingly mixing in to heroin to make their product cheaper. That number was up from 57 percent just a year earlier. The government response to the opioid crisis—especially the aggressive interdiction and enforcement around pain pills such as Oxycontin—has also driven up demand for heroin, making the problem worse, not better.

Philadelphia journalist Christopher Moraff has chronicled this catastrophe better than any other journalist in his city, and arguably better than anyone anywhere in the country. After a decade reporting on and working in the drug reform movement, Moraff, 47, began to regularly visit Philadelphia's heroin hub, a makeshift community called El Campamento in the Kensington neighborhood. There, amid spent needles and garbage, indigent residents built shacks out of whatever materials they could find or slept in the open air under an overpass adjacent to train tracks—until the city tore down the community last summer.

"So many of their problems come from the stigma and the illegality of drug use," Moraff says of the men and women he has spent the last two years getting to know. "We're not just criminalizing the drug, we're criminalizing people. It's a learning process that happens over time. Eventually people think of themselves as outlaws because they're using a substance that is illegal."

He has spoken extensively with these accidental outlaws, users and dealers alike. When it comes to building relationships, he acknowledges that "having had a drug history myself certainly doesn't hurt."

Tracie Van AukenTracie Van AukenMoraff has taken the unprecedented step—for a journalist, anyway—of collecting and testing heroin samples. He shares his findings about the levels of fentanyl they contain on social media and in his columns for The Daily Beast. He has also helped illuminate Canada's role as a pipeline to the U.S. for counterfeit prescription drugs, examined why synthetic weed has continued to be popular in an age of increasingly legal cannabis, and shined a light on the drug rehab industry. "New laws that would put thousands of otherwise innocent Americans into locked treatment units could potentially be a windfall" for providers, Moraff writes. "But like so many other failed policies in the war on drugs, it will be the most desperate and marginalized Americans who will pay the price."

Moraff's ability to tell stories that center on users rather than law enforcement officials has earned praise from social workers, drug researchers, and other journalists. Recently, he partnered with fellow writers Zach Siegel and Troy Farah to launch a podcast called Narcotica. "We're going to try to cut through the misinformation and do some more in-depth stories, the kind of stuff you don't hear in the mainstream media," he says. "I don't think there's anybody in the podcast community that's doing it quite to the level that we're going to do it, and I think it will add some real value to this conversation."

In April, Reason's Mike Riggs spoke with Moraff about how he discovered the Kensington heroin beat and what he has learned from getting up close and personal with Philadelphia's overdose crisis.

Reason: If you were to take 10 different reporters and tell each of them to write a story about the opioid crisis, why would yours be different than the other nine?

Christopher Moraff: You have to talk to people other than researchers, public health experts, and law enforcement. For example, you could write a lot of stories about what we're spending on treatment, but it's not until you start talking to drug users that you understand what treatment even is. By doing that, you learn that more money for treatment is not necessarily a good thing. If we're not throwing money at the right treatment, more money's not gonna do anything.

I think my background in photography probably has something to do with it, too. I used to be a street photographer, so I'm really comfortable just sort of engaging people. I don't think enough reporters spend enough time in the field. Part of that has to do with the way the media business is now. We don't have the resources for it. I'm fortunate to have a moderate grant this year that's given me a little bit of space. I don't know that there's anyone, any paper or publication, that would have the resources or the dedication to spend the time to get as immersed as you need to be to really figure this out.

So instead we get a lot of news stories, especially at the biggest publications, that are regurgitating fifth- and sixth- and seventh-hand perspectives on opioids.

Which means you miss these little indicators. I'm working on the adulterated drug story right now: Street drugs are being adulterated in dangerous ways, like fentanyl added to cocaine, and we're not sure why. One media outlet reports a single death from contaminated drugs, then another re-reports that same story, and the next thing you know, we have this huge trend of cocaine adulterated with fentanyl.

But if you're not out there, you don't know the culture, which means you don't know the right questions to ask. One of those questions is: Are you testing the drugs, or are you basing this theory on postmortem toxicology? Because people use opioids and cocaine together on purpose. It's called "speedballing," and there's more of it now than there ever has been in Philadelphia. A lot of concurrent cocaine and heroin use.

Why are more people speedballing?

I think it's a result of the drop in price, first and foremost.

"When they shut the camp down, it pushed a lot of the trade and the users eastward into areas that were not established, disciplined markets."

Has cocaine gotten cheaper?

No, but heroin has. Most of the time, you're picking up a $5 bag of coke and you're dumping it all in with your heroin shot. Now, when heroin was $10 a bag, that $5 worth of coke was a big commitment, because if you had $5, you were halfway to your next heroin fix. With the price drop to $5 a bag for heroin, more people have incorporated coke.

People have always smoked crack and done heroin, but I'm seeing a lot more injection cocaine use, and I think it's definitely tied to the influx of [cheap] fentanyl, probably in more ways than one.

What other insights have you gleaned from talking to users at the street level? Are they scared that their drugs have been contaminated with fentanyl? Or do they think fentanyl is a better way to get high?

In Philadelphia, people just assume everything has fentanyl in it. I mean, there's just so much of it. But by the time it gets to the street level you're looking at very low potency. Some of these people aren't even really getting well [i.e., reversing withdrawal symptoms] off a bag or two. Even when it comes across the southwest border from Mexico, you're looking at 8 percent, 10 percent purity at most.

Tracie Van AukenTracie Van AukenThe heroin purity?

The fentanyl purity. It's already been diluted when it comes across the border. There was this belief that if you're buying from China, you're getting a purer and more deadly product, but I've even seen charging documents containing back-and-forth communication with Chinese vendors saying things like, "Hey, your product was inferior last time." It's not like you get a little [fentanyl] on your hand and you die, but that's the way it's been presented in the media. Not all fentanyl is the same, and not all the fentanyl markets are the same.

Don't get me wrong, people are dropping dead of fentanyl all over Philly. But the media has such a fixation on the potency of the drug that they ignore the fact that its presence here at all is an entrepreneurial innovation, a workaround to a failed drug policy [of cracking down on opioids]. You're more likely to die of an overdose after leaving jail after a period of forced abstinence than if you never got locked up in the first place.

You do your own contaminant testing of street drugs, using chemical reagent test strips that turn a certain color if fentanyl is present in a mixture. Tell me about your reasons for that.

That originally started as a journalistic mission based on a policy change that happened in Philly. We had a place called El Campamento, which was a long-established outdoor user camp secluded by the Conrail train tracks in the mostly Latino stretch of West Kensington. This was the old heroin market, where families had been in the trade for decades.

The city started catching flak for it and then Dr. Oz came here because of a Philadelphia Inquirer article that used the phrase "Heroin Hellscape" in the headline. He toured the camp with [Drug Enforcement Administration] agents and cops and cameras. After that, the city shut the camp down and made a big deal out of it. But the corners in that area had been there forever. They changed hands, but it was real professional. When they shut the camp down, it pushed a lot of the trade and the users eastward into areas that were not established, disciplined markets.

"I started testing [the heroin being sold] because I had this hypothesis that breaking down these organizations from the top…makes the drugs more dangerous and the culture more violent."

That's interesting—the black market in Kensington had some institutional structure.

For some reason, the Latino community here just got this market right. They're very businesslike. In the '90s, if you had a problem, there was a manager you could complain to. It was as legit as a black market could be.

The city disrupted this. As a result, I knew there were a lot of freelance corners popping up. I started testing because I had this hypothesis that breaking down these organizations from the top—which is the law enforcement strategy—makes the drugs more dangerous and the culture more violent. I started testing bags on the other side [of Kensington Avenue], from corners that I knew did not exist before, and comparing them to the ones on the old side, and trying to see if they were selling more fentanyl. I had this idea that if you were a young buck who was starting out, you might not have the connection that the old suppliers had, kilos of heroin coming up along the South and through Atlanta.

There's fentanyl all over Philadelphia. But almost every bag that has fentanyl without also containing some heroin has come from these new corners.

The young new freelance dealers basically have no way to do quality control.

I've talked to these old-time dealers that say, "In the old days there used to be rules. You couldn't just put anything in dope." Now, there's always been shady actors, and black markets are inherently dangerous, but there were dealers who were more legit than others. The ones people went to regularly were the ones that were established, that provided good service and consistent products. When you take down that infrastructure, you leave a void.

What do you do with this knowledge once you have it? You may know better than anyone where in Philly the drugs are most dangerous to users.

I started having to question my own ethics as a journalist. How involved do I get in this story? Am I not involved at all? Or am I telling people, "Hey, brand X has been unadulterated for the last year." Because that doesn't mean you shouldn't still be careful. I have a filing cabinet full of information, and I will share what I learn about stamps with users.

It's hard not to get emotionally connected to people that you see in desperate situations. If we have a war on drugs, this is the front lines. You're seeing the populations, the communities that are decimated by this. It's hard not to feel a sense of compassion.

Tracie Van AukenTracie Van AukenWhat are stamps?

This doesn't apparently happen everywhere, but in Philly, New York, and Paterson, New Jersey—Northeast cities, basically—bags of heroin are stamped with a name. They do that to differentiate, because so much of the drug trade is word of mouth. As long as I can remember, dealers have bought stamps and hand stamped these bags to brand them. Some of these guys may own 15 different corners, and they might be putting out four different stamps with the same product, but that's marketing, competing against yourself.

In my experience, users of an illegal substance are easier to talk to than people who distribute those substances. Do you talk to corner guys who sell? Have you ever spoken to their bosses?

A lot of the info I get is from people who are corner dealers, but I have not got past the corner guys yet. I have two people working on that for me, and one guy seems pretty receptive. I've laid it out, like, "Dude, you can wear a fucking mask. I don't care. Your name will never be used. You don't need to bargain anonymity with me."

When I started on this 18 months ago, I thought it was going to be a lot easier to move my way up the chain, because I made a few connections. But that hasn't panned out yet. Somebody's phone gets turned off, whatever. Eventually, I want to get inside a milling operation, see them actually bagging stuff, and find out where it came from.

How do you get people to trust you? Was that something you had to earn over time, or could any journalist show up in Kensington and be like, "Hey, I'm a reporter writing about heroin, can I talk to you?"

No, I wouldn't advise it.

I'd been into drug war policy writing and drug war culture for a long time. Eventually I started visiting the camps by tagging along with community advocate types who were providing clean syringes. My first trust step was, "Oh, this is Chris." Being introduced and getting to know some of the names.

Having had a drug history myself certainly doesn't hurt. Even though it's been [more than] a decade since I was in that scene, I can say that I know what withdrawal feels like. You're in a special club if you've felt withdrawal symptoms. I wouldn't say you have to be fearless, because I get anxiety all the time, but you have to carry yourself like you belong.

Most people want to tell you their story, but you can't just go clumsily. You need to spend time around these people, and—this is a problem for some journalists—you've gotta be willing to carry a carton of Newports and hand out a few packs of cigarettes now and then.

"Don't be afraid if somebody says, 'Yeah, come in my tent and talk to me.'…I'll say, 'Are there any uncapped syringes around?' and then I go sit with them in the tent."

I understand why cigarette gifting presents an ethical problem, but I don't think it should. One explanation for the animus toward the media in America is that many of us do our jobs without a ton of regard for the people we're writing about.

Exactly. And I know I'm taking up their time. There was one story I did on a serial killer who was targeting sex workers in the Kensington area. There was a particular girl I wanted to interview, but she was working. So I said, "Hey, look, I'm taking time away from your job, so here's 20 bucks. Now you can be off the clock for 40 minutes. Talk to me." You want people to say, "Oh, this person gives a shit about me, they're not just here to come in for a couple of days and then disappear."

Don't be afraid if somebody says, "Yeah, come in my tent and talk to me." You gotta fucking be willing to do that. I'll say, "Are there any uncapped syringes around?" and then I go sit with them in the tent. You have to go where a lot of people aren't willing to go. That, in and of itself, makes people say, "This person isn't your average journalist."

Some people really just want anyone to talk to them, or to listen to them, because they've got a story to tell. They want to tell someone what they're going through. If you really want to get immersed and you really want to know who's buying what, and what dope is killing people, you need to be willing to provide a level of trust. You need to be compassionate. Some journalists don't get that.

Do you believe we should legalize drugs?

Ultimately, I do. I would love to see a regulated legal market. But we're not ready for that. We need a complete re-education campaign, because you know what it looks like when you go to a party and there's the bad drinker, right?

Totally.

You can distinguish good drinking from bad drinking, but we've never had that dialogue around illegal drugs. We're starting to have it now, but we've mostly always focused on the very worst ramifications of drug use. We need a complete public education campaign around how these mood-altering substances can be used healthily, because nobody teaches that. Harm reductionists are doing a great job at teaching people how to prevent and reverse overdoses, but the maintenance of recreational use is not something we talk about. You're expected to become the crackhead. Nobody tells you that you don't have to be that, even though you know you don't have to be the drunk. You can socially drink. Maybe not everybody can, but we just don't have a cultural image of what that looks like.

What is it like to spend so much time around people who are suffering both from the effects of prohibition and from drug addiction?

You get sucked into the community and it becomes hard to not be there all the time. I get phone calls from jail. I get phone calls from people's mothers that are looking for them. You almost get addicted to the beat. And it's not even my full-time gig. I write stories for The Daily Beast, too, and I do a lot of other stuff. Even though I live close by, I have so many other responsibilities that I don't always get to spend as much time talking to users and corner guys as I want. Today, I'm planning on going and spending all afternoon, or part of the afternoon, with this girl who's a user, but she also does "service." She'll take drugs or money in return for injecting people that can't inject themselves.

Other than writing, what are you planning to do with the research you've gathered?

I'm trying to find a way to take all this intelligence that I have and package it and present it in a way that I think is emotive, provocative, and comes from the people themselves rather than filtered through me.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.

Photo Credit: Tracie Van Auken

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    End the War on Drugs, so people can get high quality drugs for cheap prices.

    Even the Prohibitionists knew that they needed a constitutional amendment to ban alcohol.

  • vek||

    Pretty much. There will still be useless, fucked up drug addicts... But it would be less bad overall. Portugal proves this, even if they perhaps didn't go quite far enough.

  • vek||

    So I've never had a problem with any drugs, and I've never even touched heroin... Because it's heroin. But I have been around enough to hang out with some people who were all kinds of messed up at different points in my life. I'm a pretty nice guy and a lot of the time I'll just be nice to these people and treat them like human beings, because they are! It's amazing how far that goes with some of them, just being treated like a person and not a pile of shit. I've had a lot of them over the years thank me for just treating them like I would any other person, which makes one wonder how horribly everybody else must treat them...

    It can be really sad because some of these people who get completely hooked and out of control are actually really sweet, nice people. You can just tell they're sweethearts, but because they're so fucked up they've done some bad stuff. It's pretty heartbreaking because if they just didn't have that addiction a lot of them would be perfectly normal, decent folks. A lot of evidence shows nowadays that it seems to be largely genetic too, they're just predisposed to get hooked if they ever try XYZ substance.

    We'll never get rid of people who are addicts, but we could certainly do a lot of harm reduction by decriminalizing stuff, and making other policy changes.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Well said.

  • ThomasD||

    Freedom doesn't mean much if we are not free to make our own mistakes.

    Of course, that also means that nobody should be obligated to help. It's just nice when you do.

    Dealing with addicts is tough - self destructive people often have a knack for bringing out the worst in anyone they contact.

  • vek||

    Yup. The funny thing is out of all the people I have known that got heavy into hard drugs, the overwhelming majority of them got their shit straight at some point. Many of them NEVER went off the rails at all, just perhaps went through a heavyish phase, and then stopped without ever going over the edge. In other words functional drug addicts, just like functional alcoholics. They really do exist! And I would say it is the majority of people who do hard drugs, at least in my experience.

    How many more people would have a story like that versus one of ending up in prison, and then going full bore sketchy when they get out, if we had different policies? Probably a lot...

  • Praveen R.||

    I used to think drug addicts were just hopeless losers. Now, i think they are still kind of losers, but most of our countrymen are losers as I have seen addicts among all groups and so we have to treat them humanely. I have never been remotely tempted to try a drug. When a doc prescribes me pain pills after surgery or kidney stonesm, I just take enough until the pain becomes tolerable .

    It's not like I am a prude. Maybe my only addiction is good food and women.

    Anyway, my solution: No criminalization unless you give drugs to a minor. Legalize drugs so prices go down. The truly hopeless will die. The ones who want to help themselves can go to rehab. In fact, if I were the DEA, I would open a rehab house where - you want to rehab, go this way, you want unlimited free drugs? Go to that section of the building B where you cannot mingle with the rehab folks. It's your choice. Much cheaper than expanding jails.

  • Iheartskeet||

    ^ Agree.

    On Rx drugs, I had shoulder surgery recently, and they gave me an Oxy rx. Weird thing is that Oxy did not seem to really reduce my pain, so much as make me not care about it. Also amazing is how fast a tolerance builds up. For me, just 4-5 days and the same pill seemed to have a very limited effect.

    So, much as I am all for it being legal, I find it puzzling as a medical treatment, but perhaps my experience is not the norm.

  • ThomasD||

    "Oxy did not seem to really reduce my pain, so much as make me not care about it. "

    That is the textbook description of what all opiates do for pain. They are not anesthetics, the sensation is still there, it's just not as distressing.

    People might start out using drugs to experience a 'high,' the people who develop a problem generally are the ones who end up wanting to feel nothing.

  • Robert||

    No, that's not true. There are agents such as nitrous oxide that specifically take away the affective component of pain, but opiates don't typically work that way. I've taken opiates & felt the pain go away.

  • vek||

    Opiates are pretty lame. I have a weird biologically high tolerance for ALL forms of pain reduction, anesthesia, etc. It's odd, but I've had doctors tell me some people are just like that. So for me opiates are basically completely worthless in normal doses, and even highish doses are next to worthless. After one instance I did get some nice withdrawal symptoms when I finally stopped taking the extra high dose my doc said I should take! That was AWESOME feeling for half a day or so :/

    I don't even bother with them anymore... I'd rather just take shit tons of advil, at least you're not going to get the sweats when you stop taking them!

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    yeah, be careful. I was taking a shit ton of advil instead of opiates for awhile and almost died from bleeding out via stomach ulcer.

    One thing not always mentioned is that opiates, while addictive are not a toxic poison,, unlike most OTC pain meds.

  • vek||

    True enough! If I ever end up with anything severe enough to need them, I guess I will take them. But I have been super lucky medical condition wise. I hadn't had a non dental issue since my early teenage years until I was 31 last year. Hopefully I go another 15+ years before the next one! Anything minor I can just live with, or take a few advil for.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Yes, I have often suggested that one part of the solution to the "drug crisis" is not just to legalize drugs, but to provide them free, preferably at select locations far from people still trying to deal with real life. Hell, I will even throw in free (one-way) transportation.

    But then again, I have a highly skeptical view of the value of people, and get no endorphins from empathy.

  • Trollificus||

    You wanna buy some endorphins, man? Might have a little fentanyl in it, but pretty good stuff...

  • Trollificus||

    I think an underconsidered factor is that the people who are getting the money NOW generate a terrific amount of inertia against any reform or improvement in our approach to the problem. I mean, there are organizations that provide rehab who are have been cashing in on MARIJUANA REHAB! So there's a huge vested interest in pretending that somebody, Medicare, Insurance companies, somebody, should pay professional rehabilitators big chunks of money to deal with the problem, despite the fact that it's arguably proven ineffective for certain addictions (or non-addictions that we want to pretend can be rehabbed away).

    This is in addition to law enforcement and the prison industry, who get "clients" that frequently have no history of any other misbehavior. It's easy money! Add also politicians who see an easy path to the votes of a certain sector of citizens who think punitive drug policies equals being "tough on crime", and it's hard to think mere common sense and decency will lead to change. You can't take money out of peoples' pockets without pushback.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Wow, superb article. This is like the "old" Reason I remember. Its great to see a profile of a true journalist like Moraff.

  • ThomasD||

    Yes, it is a good article. Although there are some doozies.

    "The city disrupted this. As a result, I knew there were a lot of freelance corners popping up. I started testing because I had this hypothesis that breaking down these organizations from the top—which is the law enforcement strategy—makes the drugs more dangerous and the culture more violent."

    The old system was only 'less violent' in the sense that those few 'families' controlling the market did so with (mostly) controlled violence. Nobody else tried to sell there because they'd get shot or worse.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Hmmm. Well, apparently violence increase after the city disrupted the established order (even though it was pretty violent before, I guess). He didn't say the city create all the violence, only that they made it worse.

    So it seems like a fair statement.

  • ThomasD||

    "More apparent" would be fairer.

  • ThomasD||

    "Street drugs are being adulterated in dangerous ways, like fentanyl added to cocaine, and we're not sure why."

    Mixing an opiate with cocaine.

    Not sure why? Really?

    Well, ok then. Maybe it's because John Belushi is unavailable for comment.

  • Mark22||

    Up Close and Personal With Philadelphia's Heroin Crisis. Journalist Christopher Moraff talks about a better way to report on drug culture in America.

    As a libertarian, I don't consider it a "crisis" when people take drugs. I don't consider taking drugs a "culture". And I don't really care about reporting about it either.

    So, what does that crap have to do with libertarianism?

  • Michael Cook||

    Hey Mark22 It's not your problem, right pal?

    It is a major, immense, non-stop problem in my rapidly declining violence-ridden suburb of Seattle. I can't enjoy my public library anymore, because nearby homeless camps have made it their living room. My wife can't go to a cash machine without me riding (rather literally) shotgun from the car as she approaches the device. We have purchased and then upgraded twice a pricey home alarm system. In just the last week, within a mile of my house we have one dead police officer and two dead gang members in two separate incidents.

    The anecdotal horror stories are piling up so fast even my Democrat neighbors who have 100% blue voting records are beginning to sound distinctly, ominously fascist on the topic of public safety.

    Mr. Pure Libertarian. If you are not completely part of the solution you might get tagged as part of the problem. Just sayin'. . .

  • Earth Skeptic||

    So, the Progressive utopia has some issues?

    Sorry you and your wife are caught in the reality tailspin, but I have to agree with Mark--not my problem.

    You could get an actual shotgun (or maybe not, given laws in Seattle). You could hope for universal drug legalization, and then donate funds to the unlimited free drug outlet, somewhere outside the city. You could entertain and endear yourself by telling your neighbors how they fucked up the city.

  • Mark22||

    It is a major, immense, non-stop problem in my rapidly declining violence-ridden suburb of Seattle.

    Yes, but it's not a libertarian problem. The problem wasn't created by libertarian policies and people around Seattle are unwilling to listen to libertarian solutions. So while it is doubtlessly a problem for you, it has nothing to do with Reason or libertarianism.

    Now, libertarianism still has some suggestions that you can adopt where you are: consider moving and/or get a gun.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Well, you care enough about it to see the headline, go out of you'r way to click on it, click on the message link, and write a post about it.

    If you really don't care at all, WTF are you even doing here ?

    You REALLY don't get what idiotic drug laws, their consequences, and ridiculous (but popular) media myths around drugs have to do with libertarianism ? Or Reasonmag specifically ?

  • Michael Cook||

    I once was a certified drug and alcohol counselor on the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux reservation at Lame Deer, Montana. I do know just a teensy bit about it. Reading some of the pure Libertarian responses here, I understand why Libertarians are so rarely elected to any position in our great nation whatsoever.

    At some point social problems can become so hideous, so dreadful, that voters will rise up as one and demand that something be done about it, even if it is the wrong thing. Do something.

    And this nonsense about how draconian laws and severe police action are popular but never, never work and only, only, only make the problem worse, well, that's a popular myth too, you realize. When the Chinese communists took over the mainland in 1948 they put dead stop to the heron addiction that colonialism had caused. They shot all the pushers, all the addicts, all those who interfered, and then they billed the families of the survivors for the cost of the bullets.

    Not a solution for a liberal democracy, perhaps, but our form of guv is ever supplanted by an authoritarian one, too many "unsolvable" problems may well be the reason why.

  • Iheartskeet||

    May I refer you to a country called Portugal, and also refer you to certain crime-ridden era during alcohol prohibition in our beloved US of A ?

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    I should of read further before my first reply because it is obvious now, you actually are not a libertarian. There is no way you can empathize with a government solution that involves murdering people who ingest things you don't approve of.

    All drugs were legal before 1913 in the United States and somehow we managed. In fact things only got worse from that point on, and every escalation since has caused a step up in societal damage.

    Have humans gone through some sort of rapid evolution over the last 100 years whereby legalized drugs can no longer ever exist again?

  • Mark22||

    When the Chinese communists took over the mainland in 1948 they put dead stop to the heron addiction that colonialism had caused. They shot all the pushers, all the addicts, all those who interfered, and then they billed the families of the survivors for the cost of the bullets.

    Ah, yes, "we help you by killing you", the typical leftist attitude.

    You're an evil prick.

  • Mark22||

    You REALLY don't get what idiotic drug laws, their consequences, and ridiculous (but popular) media myths around drugs have to do with libertarianism ? Or Reasonmag specifically ?

    But that is not what the article is about. The article is about a progressive-style engagement with specific drugs, and crises, and neighborhoods, and laws, and policing.

    The libertarian analysis of this is simple: legalize drugs.

    If you really don't care at all, WTF are you even doing here ?

    I'm still hoping for the occasional libertarian article, instead of a progressive analysis of drug addiction.

  • Iheartskeet||

    You indicate the article isn't about drug laws and then go on to say the article is about laws.

    OF COURSE drugs should be legalized. But first, people have to be disabused of drug myths and and get a better understanding of the impact of our current drug laws. The reporter appears to be doing a good job at that...certainly heads above most mainstream reporting I see.

    You seem to be upset the reporter isn't a fire-breathing full on libertarian. I have news for you: very few are. I am happy to see Reason profile someone doing what seems overall good work...and that looks to me is sympathetic to the libertarian position.

    Honestly, your posts here are bizarro. Its like you expect Reason to only interview people that match your politics by 100%, and anything else is off the table.

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    u don't know understand how the ownership over ones own body has anything to do with being libertarian? are you sure you understand this whole libertarian thing?

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "So, what does that crap have to do with libertarianism?"

    The war on drugs is a major driver of police militarization and use of force escalation.

    Ending the war on drugs is a very libertarian thing.

    Ending the war on drugs will require convincing people who aren't libertarians that the war on drugs is a bad deal.

    Humanizing addicts and dealers is a major step in convincing non libertarians that the war on drugs is a bad deal.

    Reporting on "that crap" is an important part of humanizing addicts and dealers.

  • ThomasD||

    "Ending the war on drugs is a very libertarian thing."

    True, but this guy isn't supporting that. He wants "a regulated legal market."

    Which, technically speaking, we already have. Just not one with terms of his liking.

    He entire business is observing the consequences of people who choose to not abide by the terms of the existing regulated legal market.

    So long as we have any most any sort of 'regulated legal markets' such problems will continue to exist.

    That's the libertarian problem with this article.

  • Deelerious||

    Hard drugs will never be legal because of liability. I really don't know how drug companies haven't been sued into bankruptcy.

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    how do vodka companies exist then? Alcohol and alcohol related accidents, deaths, and addiction are orders of magnitude more prevalent and costly compared to all of the illegal drugs combined.

    So if what you are guessing about illegal drugs not ever being made legal due to liability, then companies selling alcohol should not exist either.

  • Deelerious||

    Will legalized hard drugs be regulated like alcohol? Or even the meat industry? Grade A USDA smack? Meh, might work. Tangent...Alcohol really is the true gateway drug. Its the most destructive IMO; But the people want it. No...NEED it. SO its legalized and regulated. Have there ever been any lawsuits against big alcohol?

  • Deelerious||

    Will legalized hard drugs be regulated like alcohol? Or even the meat industry? Grade A USDA smack? Meh, might work. Tangent...Alcohol really is the true gateway drug. Its the most destructive IMO; But the people want it. No...NEED it. SO its legalized and regulated. Have there ever been any lawsuits against big alcohol?

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    I think if hard drugs were ever legalized the model would be alcohol, but in reality it would likely be far more regulated, at least at first. But who am I kidding? In reality, hard drugs may never really be legalized, at least not in my life..unless I can download/upload my brain into a USB stick.

  • Marcus Antonius||

    With 7.6 Billion rapidly destroying the planet, why care if some die? They buys their ticky and gets their ride!

  • turco||

    Slightly off topic, but what caught my attention in the article is how dealers branded their product by stamping it. An example of spontaneous order emerging without government legislation.

  • Sedona Vortex Hunter||

    For more on the topic, watch HBO series 'The Wire'. One of the top drug lords attends community college business school classes in order to try and use micro-economic business theory while running his drug dealing enterprise.

    Quality, product visibility, and product differentiation are topics he tries to pass along to his street agents in often pretty hilarious examples.

  • josh||

    I'm not sure I approve of of journalists treating their subjects like human beings. If they don't look at someone they're interviewing and see a pulitzer, the free spress might suffer.