Heroin use in the United States is reaching epidemic levels, increasing a staggering 63% in just 11 years. With the skyrocketing usage, comes a dramatic rise in heroin-related deaths — overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. David McCarthy’s story reveals the harsh realities of the heroin epidemic facing America today.
His death was unexpected. He was clean after years of battling addiction, and his parents said he was moving forward. “He finally seemed like a man,” said his mother Anne Ireland, “So alert, so in the world.” His father Kevin McCarthy added that he thought David was finally passed his “shaky point” and headed in the right direction.
To his friends, his addiction was somewhat surprising as well. Longtime childhood friend Jonathan Palman said David was a very smart person, and “he didn’t fit the stereotype of what a drug addict would be.” Described as both funny and warm by his mother, she agreed that David “wasn’t a picture of any hard drug use.”
But regardless of what a ‘typical’ drug-addict ‘looks like’, the rise in heroin use has occurred in nearly every demographic group. According to a CDC report, among non-Hispanic white people like David, heroin use has nearly doubled since 2002.
David was home in Maine for a short visit, and was planning to spend the winter at his family’s ski home. One evening, he and his father Kevin spent the evening watching football together, before David went up to his room for the night. The following morning, Kevin went off to work for the day, not knowing of the tragedy that occurred in his own house.
“Heroin is just the end of the road, and very few people can turn around from it,” Anne Ireland David McCarthy’s mother.
When Kevin returned from work that evening, he heard a noise coming from upstairs. It was Kima — David’s black labrador retriever — whining and scratching at David’s door. Kevin opened the door to find his son cold on his bed, beside a needle and a spoon covered in a crystalline substance.
David’s death devastated his family, and tragedy continued to pour in for the McCarthys.
The day following their son’s death, the family was dealt another shocking blow. According to The Washington Post, David’s step brother Michael said to a friend: “Wouldn’t it just be easier to die young and not have to see your loved ones die?” Michael overdosed the next night, and was found by his mother Nancy.
“We never dreamed that they were doing this. We never dreamed that it was a problem and all of the sudden we’re finding that it’s an epidemic,” Nancy McCarthy, David McCarthy’s stepmother.
Michael was rushed to the hospital by ambulance, and spent the day in the intensive care unit. While the McCarthy family made David’s funeral arrangements, they awaited the news from Michael’s doctors. Luckily, he survived, and agreed to go to rehab to overcome his addiction. The Washington Post reports that Michael’s recovery has been successful — so far.
Nonetheless, the McCarthy family was left to grieve the loss of 29-year-old David. “I think how short his life was, and how long my life is, and I’m only sorry that he misses out,” his mother Anne said.
David’s parents didn’t want to hide anything. Instead, his obituary read honestly: “David Paul McCarthy, 29, died of a drug overdose on Oct.17, losing a long-fought battle with addiction, a challenge faced by many families today.”
The family established the David McCarthy Memorial Fund to honor the memory of their son.
- More teens die from prescription drugs than heroin/cocaine combined.
- In 2013, more high school seniors regularly used marijuana than cigarettes as 22.7% smoked pot in the last month, compared to 16.3% who smoked cigarettes.
- 60% of seniors don’t see regular marijana use as harmful, but THC (the active ingredient in the drug that causes addiction) is nearly 5 times stronger than it was 20 years ago.
- 1/3 of teenagers who live in states with medical marijuana laws get their pot from other people’s prescriptions.
- The United States represents 5% of the world’s population and 75% of prescription drugs taken. 60% of teens who abuse prescription drugs get them free from friends and relatives.
- Adderall use (often prescribed to treat ADHD) has increased among high school seniors from 5.4% in 2009 to 7.5% this year.
- 54% of high school seniors do not think regular steroid use is harmful, the lowest number since 1980, when the National Institute on Drug Abuse started asking about perception on steroids.
- By the 8th grade, 28% of adolescents have consumed alcohol, 15% have smoked cigarettes, and 16.5% have used marijuana.
- Teens who consistently learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who don’t.
- 6.5% of high school seniors smoke pot daily, up from 5.1% five years ago. Meanwhile, less than 20% of 12th graders think occasional use is harmful, while less than 40% see regular use as harmful (lowest numbers since 1983).
- About 50% of high school seniors do not think it’s harmful to try crack or cocaine once or twice and 40% believe it’s not harmful to use heroin once or twice.
Over the last hundred years, women have made huge strides in gaining rights across the globe, in almost every field and contributing to some of the most important developments of the times. They’ve become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Supreme Court justices, astronauts and heads of state.
But all the activists who helped bring about those changes probably never pushed for greater opportunity in the world of violent drug cartels.
Even so, United States and Mexican government officials believe that Enedina Arellano Félix, the sister to some of the most infamous and ruthless drug kingpins Mexico has ever seen, is now running the Tijuana Cartel following the arrests and/or deaths of seven of her relatives, including her son and a brother who was shot to death by an assassin dressed as a clown.
Drug Enforcement Administration officials told Fox News Latino that they are working with their Mexican counterparts to monitor the activities of Arellano Félix and that the Treasury Department has put her on its Kingpin list, which among other things freezes any assets she has in the U.S.
“If she is found to be conducting any drug trafficking activities in the U.S., we will go after her with a full court press,” Eduardo Chávez, a staff coordinator with the DEA told FNL.
Arellano Félix attended a private university in Guadalajara and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Besides her accounting background and her family ties, very little is known about the alleged cartel “queenpin.”
There are very few photos of her beside some family portraits from the 1980s, and it is known that she has been married and divorced at least twice.
In place of any hard facts are the myths and legends that have sprouted up about “La Jefa.”
She has been immortalized in drug ballads like “La Jefa de Tijuana” – which describes her as a very powerful female, brave and decisive – and in a low-budget drug film that portrays her as a gorgeous woman who doesn’t blink when it comes firing a gun.
In a business dominated by horrific violence and acts of vengeance, Arellano Félix is known as a smooth operator who uses her accounting background to run the cartel – the only one to ever allegedly be run by a female – in a more business-like fashion than her hard-partying, sadistic relatives.
“She is not into the wars of her brothers. She is into making alliances and making money,” Mike Vigil, the former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration,told Time magazine. “Her beauty may also have helped her make alliances with powerful traffickers such as [incarcerated Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín] ‘Chapo’ Gúzman.”
“The broader world of business in Mexico in still dominated by men, and the world of drug trafficking in Mexico is even more chauvinistic,” Chris Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center told Fox News Latino. “This definitely crosses a lot of barriers and is an achievement, but at the end of the day this is still not something that should be glorified because she is the head of a drug cartel and is destroying people’s lives.”
Given the dearth of female drug cartel leaders, observers point to Arellano Félix’s family name and connections within the Tijuana Cartel as the reason for her purported rise to the top of one of the few remaining major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico while other cartels have splintered and gone through brutal infighting after the death or capture of their leaders.
The DEA’s Chávez says that her last name still commands a great deal of respect and influence in the drug underworld.
“The hereditary nature of Mexican drug trafficking certainly plays a role,” Chávez added. “There is still a lot of respect for the family and who she is related to and who she has to answer to.”
While Arellano Félix may be the first alleged female boss of a major drug cartel, there have been reports trickling out of Mexico for years of women who control smaller criminal gangs.
Earlier this year, a Kim Kardashian lookalike created buzz on social media after being labelled as one of the most dangerous women in Mexico.
Claudia Ochoa Félix is reportedly the new leader of “Los Antrax,” an elite killing squad used by the ruthless Sinaloa Cartel.
The 27-year-old mother of three, nicknamed the “Empress of Antrax,” uses her social media accounts to brag about her lifestyle, posting pictures dressing and posing like Kardashian, all the while wielding a pink personalized AK-47.
Ochoa Félix has since deleted the photos and denied involvement in the gang.
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WHEN A JURY convicted Ross Ulbricht three months ago of running the Silk Road, it closed the legal question of whether he was guilty of masterminding that billion-dollar online black market for drugs. But as Ulbricht’s sentencing approaches, his defense is opening another ethical question that may be far more societally important: Did the Silk Road’s newly invented method of narcotics e-commerce actuallyreduce the risks of drug use?
In a memo to judge Katherine Forrest filed Friday afternoon, Ulbricht’s defense has asked her to consider the Silk Road’s potential for “harm reduction” when she determines Ulbricht’s sentence in less than two weeks. The memo argues that the Silk Road’s community provided drug users a more reliable way to buy untainted drugs, that Ulbricht had expressly tried to encourage “safer” drug use on his black market site, and that the digital nature of the site’s commerce may have protected users from physical interactions that in the traditional drug trade often lead to violence.
“In contrast to the government’s portrayal of the Silk Road web site as a more dangerous version of a traditional drug marketplace, in fact the Silk Road web site was in many respects the most responsible such marketplace in history, and consciously and deliberately included recognized harm reduction measures, including access to physician counseling,” writes Ulbricht’s lead defense attorney Joshua Dratel in the filing. “In addition, transactions on the Silk Road web site were significantly safer than traditional illegal drug purchases, and included quality control and accountability features that made purchasers substantially safer than they were when purchasing drugs in a conventional manner.”
The memo argues that the Silk Road’s community provided drug users a more reliable way to buy untainted drugs.
One of the Silk Road’s innovations, after all, was to bring an eBay-like system of ratings and reviews for online drug sales. That system gave buyers a way to quickly weed out dealers selling lower quality or less pure substances. The site maintained a section of its user forum devoted to safer drug use, where users could ask each other for advice and help with health problems. And Ulbricht’s defense points to archived messages showing that Ulbricht even offered at one point to pay $500 a week to a Spanish doctor, Fernando Caudevilla, who frequented the forum and answered users’ questions. Ulbricht also asked Caudevilla if he’d be willing to chemically test drugs on the site for quality, though it’s not clear if that testing scheme was ever put into practice.
Regardless, Ulbricht isn’t likely to receive a light sentence. The 31-year-old Texan was convicted of seven felony charges in February that include conspiracies to traffic in narcotics and money laundering, as well as a “kingpin” statute reserved for the leaders of organized criminal operations, which could add another decade to his prison time. In all, he faces a minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum of life. Ulbricht’s defense team has already said it plans to appeal the case.
The prosecution in Ulbricht’s case has revealed that it plans to present at Ulbricht’s sentencing hearing six cases of individuals who died from overdoses of drugs bought on the Silk Road. But in its Friday filing, the defense addressed and rebutted each of those examples. In a grisly section of a separate memo, it goes through the details of those six deaths, in each case arguing that the deceased suffered from earlier health conditions and questioning whether the death-inducing drugs had actually been bought from vendors on the Silk Road. “It is simply impossible for the government to prove that drugs obtained from Silk Road ‘caused’ death, and in certain cases, the government cannot even establish to any degree of certainty that any of the drugs ingested came from Silk Road,” Dratel writes.
The site maintained a section of its user forum devoted to safer drug use, where users could ask each other for advice and help with health problems.
To bolster its argument about the societal benefits of the Silk Road, the defense includes in its filing sworn statements from a series of experts, including Tim Bingham, the administrator of an addiction-focused non-profit known as the Irish Needle Exchange Forum, and Meghan Ralston, the former director of harm reduction for the Drug Policy Alliance. Bingham, for instance, published three studies in the International Journal of Drug Policy about the Silk Road based on surveys of users. He writes in his statement that he “concluded that Silk Road forums…appeared to act as an information mechanism for the promotion of safer and more acceptable or responsible forms of recreational drug use.”
Silk Road’s member subcultures offered a viable means of enmeshing safer drug use and encouraging hard reduction amongst a very hard to reach and informed drug-using population. My research revealed a similar ethos among drug vendors. As with Silk Road buyers, participants in a study of Silk Road vendors described themselves as possessing a personal interest in the intelligent and responsible use of drugs.
The Drug Policy Alliance’s Ralston, in her own accompanying statement, points to the fact that drug buyers and sellers were insulated from physical violence thanks to their use of the Silk Road’s anonymity and digital protections:
Using Silk Road could be seen as a more responsible approach to drug sales, a peaceable alternative to the often deadly violence so commonly associated with the global drug war, and street drug transactions, in particular. None of the transactions on Silk Road, for instance, resulted in women drug buyers being sexually assaulted or forced to trade sex for drugs, as remains a possibility in some street-level drug transactions. Nor did any Silk Road transactions result in anyone having a gun pulled on them at the moment of purchase, also a danger present in face-to-face street-level drug transactions.
Whether or not you buy her argument about the Silk Road’s virtues, Ralston concludes that taking down the site will almost certainly do little to stem the sale of drugs, online or off. On that point, there’s little doubt: sites like Agora, Blackbank and dozens of others have already sprouted across the Dark Web to fill the economic vacuum the original Silk Road left in its wake. “Silk Road is not the only website of its kind and its displaced users will likely either turn to a competitor site or seek out drugs in other ways,” Ralston writes in her statement. “This approach to fighting the war on drugs has never worked, and it’s not likely to start working now.”
Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina said Monday that the United States needs to change the way it treats drug addicts.
“Drug addiction shouldn’t be criminalized,” Fiorina said during a conference call with reporters on Monday, soon after announcing her long-shot run for the White House. “We need to treat it appropriately.”
Fiorina said a number of Republican governors have made changes to their criminal justice systems that have reduced prison populations while driving down violent crime rates. She cited “decriminalizing drug addiction and drug use” as an example of a successful reform but did not elaborate on what sort of decriminalization she would like to see nationally. Aides did not respond to a request for more information.
For Fiorina, the issue is a personal one: One of her two stepdaughters, whom she helped raise from a young age, struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse for years and died in 2009. Lori Ann Fiorina was only 34.
“At that moment, we lost both the woman she was and the woman she could have been,” Fiorina wrote in the prologue of her latest book, “Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey,” which goes on sale Tuesday. “All our hope for her and her life had died. … A heart truly can feel as though it is breaking apart into a thousand shattered pieces.”
Fiorina described her stepdaughter as full of potential — smart, talented, hardworking, outgoing, kind and compassionate. But Lori drank heavily in college and later, while working in pharmaceutical sales, she began abusing prescription drugs. Bulimia made the problem even worse. Although Lori went into rehab three times, Fiorina wrote, addiction overtook her life.
“As anyone who has loved someone with an addiction knows, you can force someone into rehab, but you can’t make her well,” she wrote. “Only the addict can do that. Lori couldn’t — or wouldn’t — take that first step of admitting she was powerless over her addiction. And ultimately her body just gave out.”
Fiorina’s comments on drug addiction Monday came as she discussed the intense protests in Baltimore last week following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died while in police custody. Fiorina said that such conflicts are “just heartbreaking to see.”
Since 2011, with the launch of Silk Road, anybody has been able to safely buy illegal drugs from the deep web and have them delivered to their door. Though the FBI shut down that black market in October 2013, other outlets have emerged to fill its role. For the last 10 months the lab at which Lladanosa and Espinosa work has offered a paid testing service of those drugs. By sending in samples for analysis, users can know exactly what it is they are buying, and make a more informed decision about whether to ingest the substance. The group, called Energy Control, which has being running “harm reduction” programs since 1999, is the first to run a testing service explicitly geared towards verifying those purchases from the deep web.
Before joining Energy Control, Lladanosa briefly worked at a pharmacy, whereas Espinosa spent 14 years doing drug analysis. Working at Energy Control is “more gratifying,” and “rewarding” than her previous jobs, Lladanosa told me. They also receive help from a group of volunteers, made up of a mixture of “squatters,” as Espinosa put it, and medical students, who prepare the samples for testing.
After weighing out the crystals, aggressively mixing it with methanol until dissolved, and delicately pouring the liquid into a tiny brown bottle, Lladanosa, a petite woman who is nearly engulfed by her lab coat, is now ready to test the sample. She loads a series of three trays on top of a large white appliance sitting on a table, called a gas chromatograph (GC). A jungle of thick pipes hang from the lab’s ceiling behind it.
“Chromatography separates all the substances,” Lladanosa says as she loads the machine with an array of drugs sent from the deep web and local Spanish users. It can tell whether a sample is pure or contaminated, and if the latter, with what.
Rushes of hot air blow across the desk as the gas chromatograph blasts the sample at 280 degrees Celsius. Thirty minutes later the machine’s robotic arm automatically moves over to grip another bottle. The machine will continue cranking through the 150 samples in the trays for most of the work week.
To get the drugs to Barcelona, a user mails at least 10 milligrams of a substance to the offices of the Asociación Bienestar y Desarrollo, the non-government organization that oversees Energy Control. The sample then gets delivered to the testing service’s laboratory, at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park, a futuristic, seven story building sitting metres away from the beach. Energy Control borrows its lab space from a biomedical research group for free.
The tests cost 50 Euro per sample. Users pay, not surprisingly, with Bitcoin. In the post announcing Energy Control’s service on the deep web, the group promised that “All profits of this service are set aside of maintenance of this project.”
About a week after testing, those results are sent in a PDF to an email address provided by the anonymous client.
“The process is quite boring, because you are in a routine,” Lladanosa says. But one part of the process is consistently surprising: that moment when the results pop up on the screen. “Every time it’s something different.” For instance, one cocaine sample she had tested also contained phenacetin, a painkiller added to increase the product’s weight; lidocaine, an anesthetic that numbs the gums, giving the impression that the user is taking higher quality cocaine; and common caffeine.
The deep web drug lab is the brainchild of Fernando Caudevilla, a Spanish physician who is better known as “DoctorX” on the deep web, a nickname given to him by his Energy Control co-workers because of his earlier writing about the history, risks and recreational culture of MDMA. In the physical world, Caudevilla has worked for over a decade with Energy Control on various harm reduction focused projects, most of which have involved giving Spanish illegal drug users medical guidance, and often writing leaflets about the harms of certain substances.