As if the situation in Baltimore needed to get any more bleak, there is now an abundance of opiates on the streets. The looting of 30 pharmacies and clinics in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death resulted in 175,000 doses of opiates and prescription painkillers getting in the wrong hands—enough, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says, to keep the city’s drug users high for a year.
Gray died in April of a spinal injury while in police custody. The increased supply of opiates has already translated into more junkies and more crime. Baltimore saw 42 drug- and gang-related murders in May alone. The city has requested help from the DEA but it could be a case of too little, too late.
Another Level of Misery
According to the DEA, the purity of heroin available in Baltimore has increased since Gray’s death while the cost has actually fallen. Looking for racial tension and opiate addiction? Maryland’s largest metropolis has it all. Of course, Baltimore wasn’t exactly an urban success story before all of the recent drama. It’s been referred to as the heroin capital of the country and provided fodder for HBO’s The Wire. But this latest crisis has taken things to another level of misery.
Now neighborhoods in the vicinity of where Gray was arrested are experiencing an exodus of families and businesses. More empty houses and abandoned storefronts mean more room for drug dealers to operate freely. And buyers and sellers are making very little effort to conceal their transactions. What used to be reserved for dark alleys is now happening on busy streets in broad daylight.
“Twenty-five years ago when I grew up here, you didn’t see open air drug deals,” says Gary Tuggle, the DEA’s lead agent in Baltimore. “You had to go into the alleys to find those deals.”
Tensions between independent sellers and gangs operating sales rings are at a breaking point. There’s even danger outside methadone clinics where the daily doses of those supposedly trying to get clean are being sold to the highest bidder.
I don’t think this is what Obama had in mind when he wanted healthcare access for all.
Worse Than The Wire
I guess the (sorta?) good news is addicts will eventually run out of all these stolen drugs. But the lengths they’ll go to get their next fix create a whole new set of problems. When the supply of illegally obtained drugs is depleted, the DEA believes people will turn to heroin imported from Mexico or Asia.
Hopefully, in addition to dealing with the criminal aspect of all this, city leaders will find ways to get more addiction treatment into Baltimore. There should probably be government-funded therapy for every resident at this point anyway. And there have also been reports of rival gangs, or at least some of their members, declaring truces, insisting they’d rather fight to protect the community at large.
The Wire graphically chronicled the devastating toll of drugs on inner-city neighborhoods in Baltimore. Unless the city can come to grips with what’s now unfolding on its streets, the world that show portrayed may seem idyllic by comparison.
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