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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

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Gangs

Homeboys and the Return of Heroin

The war in Afghanistan has led to a new plague of smack on America’s streets.

September 27, 2011  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

The seduction of gangs and the thug lifestyle have infected American children as far down as grammar school. Today more and more sixth, fifth, and even fourth graders are dressing, speaking, and acting like gangsters. Worse yet, some of these kids are actually joining gangs at younger and younger ages.

Inseparable from the gang lifestyle is the drug culture. While the rest of American's economy swirls down the toilet, the drug business seems to be doing better than ever. Drugs on the street seem to be more plentiful and less expensive. The pro-drug lobby has successfully conned politicians into making marijuana almost legal and even thought of as medicine. Today Russian and Armenian gangs are fighting over the control of medical marijuana dispensaries in California.

Targeting the younger generation as consumers in this underground economy, drug suppliers have been remarketing hard drugs to hook younger children. A few years ago a new kind of methamphetamine began showing up on the streets of California and Nevada. The meth known as "Strawberry Quick" was strawberry flavored and colored a bright pink.

In an article in the Nevada Appeal, Sgt. Darren Sloan, commander of the Carson City Sheriff's Department's Special Enforcement Team is quoted saying, "We are concerned that this new type of meth will be more attractive to a younger crowd and may surface in schools."

Sloan reported that the strawberry methamphetamine was found during service of a search warrant at the Carson City home of Lima Street gang member in 2007.

Heroin's old dirty image is also being revamped to appeal to the younger generation. Heroin that is smokable or snortable can be marketed to avoid the old associations with dirty hypodermic needles and "slamming smack" in the veins.

First reported in Texas in 2005, "cheese heroin" is a mixture of Mexican heroin and the antihistamine diphenhydramine found in over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol PM. A hit of "cheese" goes for lunch money, $2. For 10 bucks a kid can buy a gram and go into business for himself.

Commonly snorted through a straw or ballpoint pen the drug resembles Parmesan cheese. The drug produces the usual opiate symptoms of euphoria, lethargy and drowsiness in the user. Unfortunately, just one dose of "cheese" can be lethal. There are a growing number of teenage deaths associated with the increase of cheese heroin use across the nation.

All forms of heroin are of course addictive. But many young users mistakenly believe that snorting or smoking heroin is less addictive, and they can avoid intravenous use. However, smoking and snorting soon results in heroin addiction and eventually intravenous hypodermic injections.

Heroin is refined from the opium poppy (Papuaer somnifernuim), which originally was native to Indochina, but is now grown in diverse regions like Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Laos, Mexico, Columbia, and Hungary.

Morphine was first refined from opium in 1804 and took its name from the Greek god of dreams, Morpheus. After the invention of the hypodermic needle in 1857 morphine use spread. Morphine was widely used to treat wounded soldiers on both sides of the U.S. Civil War.

The German company Bayer introduced heroin (diacetylmorphine) in 1895 as a non-addictive morphine substitute. Because of its perceived "heroic" affect, it derived its name from the Greek word for heroes. In 1919 Bayer lost some of its rights to heroin under the Treaty of Versailles following WWI, and the League of Nations (the pre-curser to the United Nations) banned Heroin in 1925.

However, illicit use of heroin had again found a foothold in the U.S. thanks to the returning World War I veterans and criminal gangs of the Roaring Twenties. Even some of these criminal gangs recognized the danger of getting involved with the distribution of this enslaving poison. This dispute would eventually split the Italian Mafia organized crime families. The gang wars that followed in the '30s, '40s and '50s are now part of American's criminal history.

During the Vietnam War, heroin use in the U.S. increased again. Many returning veterans had become heroin users. In New York, gang members Frank Lucas and Nicky Barnes became the "Czars of Harlem Heroin" by importing Southeast Asian heroin in the "cadaver connection." Heroin was smuggled into the U.S. in the caskets and body bags of dead American G.I.s.

In the 1980s popular opinion placed "hypes and junkies" at the bottom of the gang social order along with "crack heads." Gangs had no problem with supplying them with dope, but most gangs had rules against homeboys being unreliably "strung out" on heroin, or crack cocaine.

By the 1990s heroin use had doubled in the U.S., with 90 percent of the opium coming from Afghanistan. The war on terrorism resulted in the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. The Taliban and al-Qaeda had ruthlessly cracked down on Afghan opium growers with fanatic religious zeal. But as the Taliban's influence was diminished the opium growers increased their crops to an unprecedented level. By 2006 Afghan growers exported 6,000 tons of opium grossing more than $50 billion.

The new Afghan government has had various opium crop elimination programs, but the kinder, gentler administration is fighting a losing battle. Some growers have returned to the Taliban's fold again. The Taliban now considers opium a weapon of Jihad against the West and provides protection to the growers.

Today Afghanistan produces 30 percent more opium than the worldwide demand, and that is driving the price down. Worldwide trafficking in narcotics produces $300 billion a year for hundreds of criminal syndicates and gangs. Afghan opium travels first to Pakistan or Iran before further processing in Turkey or West Africa. Eventually 90 percent of the product arrives in the United States.

After the record-breaking crops of 2007, opium poppy cultivation decreased to 189,000 Hectares in 2008 according to the United Nations World Drug Report (UNODC) of 2009, and 630 metric tons were exported, 60 percent as morphine and 40 percent as opium.

The UNODC estimates between 11 and 21 million people worldwide inject drugs and about 6.6 million who inject are HIV positive. The UNODC report found "most people start to use drugs during their youth" and "illicit drug use amongst youth indicates shifts in trends because of changes in drug availability and social perceptions."

Heroin has returned as a growing drug of choice to America and is a major money maker for gangs. The supply of heroin on the street is increasing, the cost of product is going down, and heroin smoking or snorting has become more socially acceptable. Traffickers have remarketed heroin to appeal to more affluent and younger users.

Incidents like the following are the result:

According to a report in the San Bernardino Sun, patrol officers responded to a call of a "man firing a gun" outside his home in the 1200 block of King Street. Police found more than 76 pounds of black tar heroin and several ounces of meth inside the house. The heroin was estimated to be worth about $3 million.


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