Just finished watching “The American Gangster” with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, which documents the rise and fall of the drug lord Frank Lucas in the late ‘60’s to the mid ‘70’s, concomitant with the Vietnam War era. (The New York Magazine has an article about him.)
The hilarious thing is that he gets his supply of heroin directly from the source, in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and he is able to get a connection in the U.S. Armed Forces to smuggle the stuff for him in the coffins of dead servicemen.
Russell Crowe plays a cop appointed to head a division of the newly-created Drug Enforcement Agency, who comments sarcastically that the government probably doesn’t actually want the War on Drugs to end, since it employs so many people: cops, social workers, clerks, lawyers, judges, prison guards, wardens. He estimates that at least 100,000 people would be unemployed if the War on Drugs ever ended.
The Southeast Asia angle is kind of eerie, though, considering that we are engaged in a land war in Asia. (One of the classic blunders!) It’s interesting that we don’t really get any news about the war in Afghanistan. But I hear that ever since we invaded, the opium trade has increased immensely, with Afghanistan now providing 90% of the world’s heroin supply.
The War on Drugs angle is also still pretty evident. Sending people-of-color to jail is what keeps the unemployment rate low, and part of the reason why Walmart has such low prices is that they employ prison labor. (Maybe not the actual employees, nor the workers who manufacture their goods, but certainly the builders of their super-stores.) I have no doubt that the federal government intends to continue prosecuting this futile “war.”
What is even funnier is that when I was a third year medical student, I did a rotation at the County Hospital in Chicago. Now, apparently, every city has their drug of choice. For example, in L.A., it’s probably cocaine, in San Diego, it’s crystal meth. In Chicago, it’s heroin.
So this guy comes in for asthma (and after we discharge him, we find that he left behind an empty 40 that he had been drinking the whole time in the Emergency Department.) And as he’s wheezing and huffing and puffing, he’s explaining to me the history of heroin. How no one really shoots it any more except for the really strung-out junkies, because you can get it so pure that you can get high enough just from snorting it. He even explained that this increase in purity occurred back in the early ‘90’s, in part because the supply of heroin in the U.S. shifted from Asia to South America, making transport much easier, and everything became cheaper and purer.