Boom Times for Heroin

By Cusac, Anne-Marie | The Progressive, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Boom Times for Heroin


Cusac, Anne-Marie, The Progressive


When actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose on February 2, the media started to pay attention to the new heroin epidemic in this country But they missed one big point: the connection between the Great Recession and the heroin spike.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For one thing, as unemployment jumped, the opportunity to make a fast buck selling heroin became more and more attractive.

Douglas Darby knows the lure. He came of age in a decade of staggering youth unemployment. To Darby, dealing drugs looked like a career. He says when he was in high school, counselors would take him aside and tell him he was going down the wrong path. Darby says he would think, "Who are you to criticize? I make more money in a day than you make in a month." Darby mostly sold pills, he says. But he understands the heroin trade.

"Heroin is one of those drugs that can make you a millionaire overnight," he says. "The profits are substantial."

Even though he says he made $22,000 a month by selling pills, Darby was blowing it all.

"I was making tremendous money," he says. "All I was doing was partying and having fun. . . . But at the end of a month, I couldn't pay rent. It would take five pills just to get me high. That's damn near $500." The costs overwhelmed him. "I had no choice but to go to heroin," he says.

After he argued with his supplier, Darby resorted to robbery, holding up two Green Bay-area pharmacies in a one-week period. He stole Oxycontin, "just under 1,000 pills," he says, an "$80,000 street value." Thirteen days later, the police got him. "If I didn't get raided that day, I was going to go out and rob another pharmacy."

In the last eleven years, Darby says, he has known twenty-one people who have died from an overdose.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," he says. You're lucky "as long as you're not being put in the ground."

Billy Roberts wasn't so lucky. A gifted soccer player from the South Side of Chicago, Billy started to get into trouble when the family moved to Homer Glen, a Will County, Illinois, subdivision amid farms.

There's not much to do in Homer Glen. Billy found a group of kids who played around with drugs. "Out here it's entertainment," says Billy's dad, John Roberts, a retired Chicago police officer.

A year later, Billy's parents figured out that he was doing cocaine. They quickly put Billy into a forty-day treatment program. Billy did very well, says John. They thought the trouble might be over. But "whatever it was drove Billy to experiment, he wasn't done yet."

A couple of years later, Billy started a job. A co-worker offered him a pipe of heroin. "If you like the feeling of marijuana and you smoke heroin, it's sublime," John says. "It's like the first time you have cherry pie."

Billy went back into treatment. John says he asked his son, "What can we do to help you?" Billy answered, "Get me out of Homer Glen."

John put the family home up for sale in the midst of the housing collapse. It didn't sell. "So Billy and I moved into my mom's house for a while" back to Chicago's South Side. "Beverly--98th and Claremont," near where Billy had grown up. When Billy managed to locate drugs in Beverly and overdosed, his father moved him into his sister's house in southern Wisconsin. "I thought we had it beaten," says Roberts.

One day, Billy came home from work and went to his room to take a nap. His sister walked past his room and reported to her father that she could hear Billy snoring, but that it sounded wrong.

"I went through his door like a cruise missile," says John. "He was turning blue. He was cold to the touch." That day, his family saved his life. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, are we lucky.' "

The idea of a drug that is this seductive preoccupies John. "What is it about this drug?" he asks, wondering why people keep taking it even after almost losing their lives. …

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