Posts tagged: long reads
After decades of misguided hysteria, the War on Drugs may have an epidemic worth freaking out about, and it’s spreading across state and demographic lines at the speed of the Internet. Natasha Vargas-Cooper travels the country to uncover the way-less-glamorous-than-it-sounds world of bath salts, which has already come to a strip mall near you.
About two years ago, bath salts — a lab-brewed drug that unpredictably mimics a freakish combination of coke, meth, and Ecstasy — suddenly popped into public consciousness with a rat-tat-tat of reports from emergency rooms and law-enforcement officials that sounded like the stuff of a D.A.R.E. officer’s most florid nightmare. By most accounts, the drug — then legal — first surfaced in Louisiana in mid-2010, quickly moved through the South, and then spread out in all directions. It was, in fact, in Louisiana where one of the first Code Red warnings about bath salts emerged, when a user lost her arm and part of her shoulder after she shot herself up and sparked a flesh-eating bacteria.
Not all drugs are created equal. Unlike, say, meth, bath salts transcend class. They most often establish a beachhead in college towns where head shops tend to cluster. To generalize, there are two types of users: college-age kids who want to get high without engaging in criminal activity and just plain drug addicts looking for a hassle-free fix.
In some sense, bath salts are an exercise in decriminalization. Buying drugs, especially hard narcotics, is often a seedy experience: You have to go to dangerous areas to obtain them, make the transaction with active, often violent, criminals, and then sweat at stoplights, hoping to make it back home without a felony possession charge. But the way the synthetic drug market currently exists, you can walk into a climate-controlled shop, slide your ATM card under the glass, and walk out. Or you can skip all that and just order online. The casualness of the purchase, the sterilization of the exchange, is part of what makes bath salts so pernicious and appealing. And the ease with which key chemical compounds can be disseminated, and thus adjusted to stay one step ahead of the law, ensures that the drug stays decriminalized.
The last four decades have seen plenty of whipped-up hysteria about various fad intoxicants of the moment. But the fear generated by bath salts seems well earned. Dr. Mark Ryan, director at the Louisiana Poison Center, called bath salts “the worst drug” he has seen in his 20 years there. “With LSD, you might see pink elephants, but with this drug, you see demons, aliens, extreme paranoia, heart attacks, and superhuman strength like Superman,” Ryan has said. “If you had a reaction, it was a bad reaction.”
Starting in late 2010, an influx of violent, irrational, self-destructive users began to congest hospital ERs throughout the States. A 19-year-old West Virginia man claimed he was high on bath salts when he stabbed his neighbor’s pygmy goat while wearing women’s underwear; a Mississippi man skinned himself alive while under the influence. Users staggered in, or were carried in, consumed by extreme panic, tachycardia, deep paranoia, and heart-attack symptoms. (Perhaps the most infamous incident tied to bath salts is Rudy Eugene’s horrific naked face-eating attack in Miami in May, although conclusive toxicology reports have yet to be released; still, the fact that this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation for chewing a homeless man’s head for 18 minutes speaks volumes about the drug’s reputation.)
Because the chemicals most often found in bath salts — mephedrone, methylenedioxypyrovalerone, and methylone — were not outlawed initially, a nearly year-and-a-half period ensued where, to the horror of law enforcement, salts were sold legally and widely, not only in head shops, but in gas stations and convenience stores all over the U.S. In 2010, 304 calls were made to poison control centers nationwide regarding bath salts. A year later, the calls skyrocketed to 6,138.
Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1% by By Joseph E. Stiglitz
Photo: The Fat and the Furious. The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.Read more.
It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.
Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.