The Business of Illicit Drugs

May 20, 1988

Report Outline
Special Focus


Understanding today's drug scene—with its shootings, wasted lives and ravaged neighborhoods—requires more than empathy for its victims. Doing something about it requires more than proper police procedures. That is because the drug scene, at its root, is a business story. The law of supply and demand may be distorted by the illegal nature of the product, but in many ways the drug business operates like any other business.

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The supermarket would not have met public health standards for commercial establishments. Roaches crawled the refrigerator shelves, and the stench of urine filled the air. But the store was well-stocked for its purposes. The cabinets contained both new and used 10-mm B&D syringes, empty packets of heroin and cocaine, and Ziploc bags used for packaging marijuana. A small glass pipe used for smoking crack—an increasingly popular and highly addictive form of cocaine—stood in the window-sill.

On the floor, a bare mattress bore evidence that the apartment, a third-floor walk-up in a Washington, D.C., public housing project, was more than a supermarket. It also served as a place to use the goods that were bought there—a “shooting gallery,” where anxious heroin consumers could inject their purchases on the spot. Scattered around the rooms were charred bottle caps, used to heat heroin mixed with water, cigarette filters, used to strain impurities from heroin solution as it is drawn into the syringe, and bits of bloody gauze.

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Jan. 06, 1995  Treating Addiction
Mar. 19, 1993  War on Drugs
Feb. 23, 1990  Does the War on Drugs Need a New Strategy?
May 20, 1988  The Business of Illicit Drugs
Jan. 23, 1987  Experimental Drugs
Feb. 08, 1985  The Fight Against Drug Smuggling
Aug. 27, 1982  Cocaine: Drug of the Eighties
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Dec. 13, 1972  World Drug Traffic
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