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The future is artificial


Synthetic intoxicants provide an irresistible alternative in the global drug market

Man’s quest for altering his state of consciousness extends beyond the realm of recorded history. That said, any literature or narrative containing information regarding this niche of human behavior may be seen as merely another chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s primal urges.

With a new century and millennium well under way, new developments in the transportation of substances to feed America’s insatiable appetite for narcotics were inevitable, mirroring the changes in society. When last we covered the local narcotics industry, Mexican drug cartels were experiencing difficulties in moving “clean” cash laundered in Los Angeles’ Fashion District and other environs out of the country, due to increased security because of the coronavirus epidemic, better known as COVID-19. In the interest of public health, governments curtailed all non-essential travel across borders. This in turn impacted both legal and illegal commerce internationally.

In reality, however, changes were underway even before the pandemic, as Anthony “Tony” Chrysanthis, Deputy Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Los Angeles Field Office recalls.

Hands across the Pacific

“…In this case, the Mexican cartels and the Chinese are exploiting America's weaknesses: our appetite for illicit drugs like fentanyl or fentanyl…”

- Celina B. Realuyo testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions.

Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) in Mexico aligned with Chinese Money-Laundering Organizations (CMLOs) out of economic necessity. The Chinese possessed the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture the end result: fentanyl.

“This was a trend we started to see before the COVID pandemic,” Chrysanthis says. “The pandemic acted as an accelerant to this method of laundering illegal proceeds from narcotics.”

CMLOs were, of course, useful in “cleansing” these ill-gotten gains so that they could be recycled back into polite society.

“CMLOs can quickly remit hundreds of thousands of narco-dollars from the U.S. to Mexico for relatively low fees,” Chrysanthis continues.

Here, there, and everywhere: Eroding the color lines

“…after World War II, heroin became a drug primarily used by Blacks and Puerto Ricans in the Northeast and by Mexican Americans in the West. In the late 1960s, at the height of the hippie drug experimentation era, there was a surge of heroin use among young White people in New York's East Village and in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district.”

-Eric Schneider, University of Pennsylvania author of "Smack: Heroin in the City."

Traditionally, illegal narcotic consumption followed specific geographic patterns that often conformed to economic or ethnic behavioral trends. For instance, amyl nitrite, the chemical inhalants popularly known as “poppers” enjoyed enormous popularity in West Hollywood and other neighborhoods populated by the gay community starting in the 1970s. Another relic from the late 20th century popular within the Black and Hispanic communities was the rampant street use of phenylcyclohexyl piperidine (PCP), commonly used as a medical anesthetic for animals.

Old-timers from the ‘hood will likely remember the area behind Santa Barbara Street (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard) near Coliseum Street notoriously called “Sherm Alley,” so-called because of the PCP-laced Sherman cigarettes (aka “Angel Dust”) that were trafficked there. Well before that, in the western United States, heroin enjoyed the patronage of Black inner city “hypes,” in contrast to the growing popularity witnessed in the millennium among White patrons. Moving westward into more affluent neighborhoods approaching the beach, one would likely encounter the presence of methamphetamine, aka “crank,” "crystal," “ice,” or simply “meth.” In a pejorative nod to the racial makeup to the race of its devotees, terms such as “meth mouth” and “White Trash Drug” (coined by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating) came into circulation.

All this shows that the crutch of chemical dependency, can, within the space of a generation or two, transition from a stigma denigrating one marginalized group to a common affliction of another. The advent of man-made substances has accelerated the breakdown of divisions, economic, ethnic, and otherwise.

The Benefits of Science and the Corruptibility of Youth

“Fentanyl became LA’s deadliest drug in 2022 and hit Black community hardest” -Dec. 12, 2023 headline in the Los Angeles Daily News.

-According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death for Americans 18-45 is drug poisoning.

Synthetic drugs offer myriad advantages over organic narcotics. Traditional intoxicants, i.e., those that are planted in the ground, are labor intensive, that is they must be cultivated, have a long growing season before they are harvested, and so on. Once all this is finished, if by chance the authorities are able to confiscate this hard earned product, the supplier is back at square one, that is, the process must be started over again from the beginning.

Thanks to the beauty of technological advancement, if a law-breaker is unfortunate to lose for instance, $100,000 to law enforcement, or the carelessness of their minions, the illicit business person may regroup his or her losses by reproducing their product in a single day (provided he has the precursor chemicals needed to manufacture them). As Chrysanthis explains, this is in sharp contrast to the inconvenience of coping with the dictates of Mother Nature.

No muss, no fuss.

These benefits include ease of concealment and transportation.

In spite of being conceived as places of confinement, correctional facilities and detention centers are actually porous to a large extent. In the Los Angeles Juvenile Offender system, marijuana and methamphetamine have been traditionally smuggled into the county’s juvenile halls for consumption behind bars. More recently, fentanyl has made its way into the milieu, mirroring that of narcotics escalation throughout the outside world. Within the last month, anonymous sources have revealed at least two overdoses taking place in the Sylmar facility for youthful offenders. To counter this, personnel supervising the detainees are now required to carry a naloxone-based nasal spray to counter the effects of this artificial opioid.

The Future: Waiting in the Wings

“Fentanyl became LA’s deadliest drug in 2022 and hit Black community hardest” -Dec. 12, 2023 headline in the Los Angeles Daily News

“Social media and the internet have opened the door to more customers looking to obtain illegal drugs or experiment with counterfeit prescription pills. Access to these deadly fake pills is easier than ever before. These criminal networks and drug dealers are now lurking on social media, pushing dangerous fake pills into our homes easier, cheaper, and faster.”

-Tony Chrysanthis, Deputy SAC of the DEA's Los Angeles Field Office

Fentanyl has necessitated the intervention of components normally reserved for national emergencies. Some 62,224 pounds of fentanyl were seized in 2023,according to none other than Gov. Gavin Newsom. In response, he ordered additional California National Guard troops to be activated in the last quarter of 2023, mainly at the southern border.

Other, less publicized substances are manifesting themselves, such as Xylazine, aka “tranq dope,” or “zombie drug,” as Chrysanthis elaborates.

“Xylazine is a powerful non-opiate sedative, analgesic, and muscle relaxant that has only been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for veterinary use.”

In this, it is similar to the Angel Dust of yesteryear which was initiated to tranquilize animals, although its aftereffects are perhaps better suited in a science fiction movie, according to Chrysanthis.

“People who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine can develop severe wounds, including necrosis—the rotting of human tissue—that may lead to amputation.”

Also on the horizon are nitazenes (not a specific narcotic, but rather a class of artificial opioids), hundreds of times more potent than morphine, but structurally different than organic opioids. This means that counter measures such as naloxone are useless as a remedy.

It is all but assured that other substances are in the works to feed America's unquenchable appetite for intoxicants.