Drugs are like sledgehammers,” points out Dr. Eric Nestler. Indeed, a single dose of these chemical sledgehammers can be deadly. “Crack cocaine, for example, has been known to kill people the first time they used it,” explains the book Drugs In America.
The new wave of synthetic drugs can be just as hazardous. “Gullible youngsters buying drugs at a ‘rave’ party can have no idea of what chemical cocktail is about to bombard their brains,” warns the United Nations World Drug Report. For most youngsters, however, the descent into the depths of drugs addiction is gradual one, as the following examples illustrate.
Pedro, one of nine children, was born in a rough neighborhood in the city of Cordoba, Spain. His childhood was traumatic because of his father’s alcoholism. When Pedro was 14, his cousin introduced him to hashish. Within, a month, he was hooked.
“Taking drugs was a pastime,” Pedro explains, “an escape from reality, and a way to be one of the group. At 15, I began to supplement hashish with LSD and amphetamines. LSD was my favorite drug, and to obtain the money to buy it, I became a pusher, a small-time drug dealer.
I mainly trafficked in hashish. Once, after taking an overdose of LSD, I couldn’t sleep for a whole night, and I felt as if I had gone mad. The experience frightened me. I sensed that if I continued taking drugs, I would end up either in jail or dead. But the desire for drugs pushed this fear aside. I became heavily addicted to LSD and needed more and more of the drug to give me a high. Despite the scary aftereffects, I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to escape.
“LSD was not cheap, so I learned how to rob jewelry shops, snatch handbags from tourists, and steal watches and wallets from passersby. By the age of 17, I had become an established drug dealer in my part of town, and I sometimes participate in armed robbery. My reputation in our neighborhood as a violent criminals earned me the nickname el torcido, which means ‘the twisted one.’
“When you combine drugs with alcohol, your personality changes, often in a violent way. And the desire to get more drugs is so strong that it totally overrides your conscience. Life becomes a roller coaster, and you live from one drug high to the next.”
Ana, Pedro’s wife, grew up in Spain in a good family environment. When she was 14, Ana met a few boys from a nearby school who smoked hashish. At first, their strange behavior repulsed her. But Rosa, one of Ana’s girlfriends, was attracted to one of the boys. He convinced Rosa that smoking hashish would not be harmful and that she would enjoyed it. So Rosa tried the drug and then gave the cigarette to Ana.
“It gave me a good feeling, and within a few weeks, I was smoking hashish daily,” Ana says. “After a month or so, the hashish no longer gave me much of a high, so I began to take amphetamines as well as smoke hashish.
“Soon my friends and I were totally wrapped up in the world of drugs. We would talk about who could take the most drugs without any ill effects and who enjoyed the best high. Gradually, I separated myself from the normal world, and I rarely attended school.
Hashish and amphetamines were no longer enough, so I began injecting myself with morphine derivatives that I obtained from different pharmacies. During the summer we would go to open-air rock concerts, where it was always easy to obtain drugs such as LCD.
“One day my mother caught me smoking hashish. My parents tired their best to protect me. They told me about the dangers of drugs, and they assured me of their love and concern. But I viewed their efforts as unwanted interference in my life. When I was 16, I decided to leave home. I joined a group of youngsters who went all over Spain selling handmade necklaces and taking drugs. Two months later, the police caught up with me in Malaga.
“When the police handed me over to my parents, they received me with open arms, and felt ashamed of what I had done. My father was crying –something I had never seen him do before. I regretted hurting them, but the remorse was not strong enough to make me quit the drug scene. I continued taking drugs on a daily basis. When sober, I sometimes thought about the risks –but not or long.”
Jose, a friendly family man, spent five years trafficking cannabis from Morocco to Spain. How did he get involved? “While I was working as a bricklayer, a workmate began to traffic drugs,” Jose explains. “Since I needed the money, I thought to myself, ‘why not do the same?’
“It was easy to buy cannabis in Morocco –as much as I could handle. I had a speed-boat that could easily evade the police. Once I had the drugs in Spain, I sold them in large quantities, about 600 kilograms at a time. I just had three or four clients, and they took all the drugs I could supply them. Although there was police surveillance, the drugs got through. We traffickers had much better equipment at our disposal than the police did.
“I made a lot of easy money. One trip from Spain to North Africa could bring between $25,000 and $30,000. Before long, I had 30 men working for me. I was never caught because I paid an informer to advise me when my operation was being monitored.
“Sometimes I thought about what all these drugs might do to others, but I convinced myself that cannabis was a soft drug that didn’t kill anyone. Since I was making a lot of money, I didn’t really think much about it. I never took drugs myself.”
As these examples show, drugs take over people’s lives. Once hooked, escape is difficult and traumatic. As the book Drugs in America points out, “in the Old West, bandits waved guns in their victims’ faces and demanded, ‘Your money or your life.’ Illegal drugs are worse than the old outlaws. They take both.”
Can anything stop the drug juggernaut?