Smack Is Back, But Did It Ever Really Leave?

Categories: Now See Here

Black tar.jpg
Mexican drug cartels are bringing in new ultra-potency heroin. So what else is new?
You may have seen the story the Associated Press moved the other day, a breathlessly written special report about how Mexican drug cartels are smuggling in cheap "ultra-potent" black tar heroin that's so pure it can kill an unsuspecting user in the blink of an eye.

The report suggests that the increased purity of the drug has contributed to a spike in overdose deaths across the nation -- and that the new smack is creeping into Missouri's (yes, Missouri's!) rural hinterlands.

As Exhibit A, the AP piece chronicles the unfortunate demise of a 29-year-old welder from Winfield (which it chose as the dateline) -- about a dozen miles north of O'Fallon -- who died in his sleep last year after snorting some hyper-charged heroin. Writes AP:

A bear of man at 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, [William Henderson] had tried the drug only a few times. His wife recalled waking up to find the alarm buzzing. Her husband's body had turned blue, and his stomach was cold to the touch.

"I kept telling him, 'Will, you're late -- get up!" said Amanda Henderson. "But he wasn't moving, wasn't breathing. I called 911, but I knew it was too late." She and her three small boys were left destitute.

Named for its dark, gooey consistency, a new and improved version of black tar heroin is blamed for a spike in drug overdose deaths.
Earlier today Daily RFT caught up with Harry Sommers, the agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency office in St. Louis. AP spoke with him as well.

Sommers says there's no question but that the heroin coming in is power-packed.

"It is a concerted effort by the Mexican drug cartels to bring in heroin that has a high enough potency that you can snort it and don't need to inject it," notes Sommers. "This kind of delivery method has less of a stigma, and so, as a result, you're seeing it now finding its way into the rural and suburban areas of the country."

Shocked and horrified? Don't be. There really is nothing particularly new or revelatory about the uptick in higher-potency heroin, all of which Slate columnist Jack Shafer makes abundantly clear.

As the sagacious Shafer wrote Tuesday in a column titled "Stupid Drug Story of the Week":

In alarmist prose, the [AP] article asserts that ultra-smack's purity ranges from 50 percent to 80 percent, up from the 5 percent purity of the 1970s.... But reports of high-potency heroin being sold in thre United States are anything but "recent." My source? The AP itself.

Shafer proceeds to dissect nineteen stories the AP has written on the subject, all of them containing the same premise. Like this one, penned December 26, 1988:

"When I first joined the force you'd see heroin, 5, 10 percent pure. Now it's 50 to 60 percent," said [New Bedford, Mass.] Detective Richard Spirlet."

And this, from December 9, 2001:

"Some heroin being sold is as much as 95 percent pure."

And, pounding the nail in still further, this one from August 15, 2006:

"Mexican black tar heroin, a dark and sticky substance, is usually only 30 percent to 40 percent pure, well below the purity of Columbian heroin. But some heroin seized in this case was 85 percent pure, officials said."

Smack-happy Shafer has been setting the record straight on this overhyped ultra-pure heroin story for quite some time. In a Slate post dated July 20, 1996, he wrote:

"Smack Is Back"? For the press, smack is always back. It never goes away. Boarding the Nexis wayback machine, we find that nearly every publication in America has sounded the heroin clarion yearly since 1989."

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