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A Crazy Drug Story Confirmed: Heroin Delivers Like Pizza

Updated: Jun 27

An event, a service, during a place and time in my life that I thought would never be heard from again, was confirmed and to my utter shock, detailed in great length in Sam Quinones' staple work titled, “Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.” It’s an incredible study of greed and how big Pharma, showing the hundred year move toward opioid acceptance and medical advertising, found its first one-hundred million dollar drug in Valium, before setting their sights on Oxycontin. Dreamland covers the crooked history of pharmaceuticals, the FDA, and the Sackler’s, (spawning numerous documentaries) while filling in a missing piece of the epidemic puzzle. A piece too crazy to believe had I not experienced it first-hand…and a story far too crazy to tell, without proof in writing:


"A heroin delivery service to rival Amazon’s same day delivery, is but a call away…."


2005-2006

At twenty-one years of age and nowhere close to being done and ready, an early stint in a thirty-day drug recovery center ended with a relationship and a move. Two things rehabs should never lead to. I’d met someone in treatment who opened my eyes to the possibilities of smokable heroin and a delivery system that sounded far too good (and easy) to be true. What I learned in rehab and what ensued is the stuff of drug lore and legend far too improbable to simply be told. In fact, I questioned my own memory of the events (and purity) until reading a chapter of my life in Quinones’ work. Let me tell you my story and recollection of events, before matching it with the testimonies and research conducted in Dreamland. My experience, it turns out, wasn't exactly unique...


In-Patient Limbo

The terms and operations were described in great detail with nothing but time and boredom in a state of drug treatment limbo. Plenty of stories are told in treatment, as you can imagine. She described a near pizza delivery-like operation with a call center, a dispatcher, business days and hours, numerous drivers around the city (all with temporary license tags), and a never ending supply of heroin so pure that needles aren’t necessary.


Sure pal...


This was early in my opioid addiction when I understood that Percocet and Vicodin were opioids just like opium or heroin, however I couldn’t grasp the singular effects of the drugs until taking the plunge first-hand. It was news to me that heroin could be smoked, but the real juicy bit was the delivery system. Actually it was both. As usual, I had a million questions.


Seeing It In Action

Upon leaving treatment, we moved in together in Colorado Springs, obviously with no intent of sobriety. The first thing we did was ring the call center, a number my friend had been given and saved before going to rehab herself. A quick two second phone call relayed name, car type, and a nearby crossroads with instructions to be there in fifteen minutes or less. Without saying another word we were out the door and pulling up to the crossroads mentioned, where we parked and began to wait. What a classic set-up this would be for a bust!


A minute later a car pulled up and parked directly in front of ours. He pulled out and we followed him for a few blocks before parking behind him once again, getting out and into his car and going for a short ride around the block where the deal would be done. Sure enough, five minutes later we were back with the best dope I’d ever seen. My mind was blown…


The driver always carried the heroin in their mouths and always had a bottle of water in the cup holder. If the driver was ever pulled over, one drink and the heroin was gone. The drivers were all in the United States without papers leading to quick deportations, without criminal charges. The car always had temporary tags, with the same driver showing up in a different car. Ten dollar bags of heroin would be spit out and handed over. Eventually I bailed on Colorado Springs with as many questions as answers. It would be fifteen years before I heard the same story.


Dreamland's DISCOVERY


“Heroin Cells'' are what Sam Quinones labels these independent operations dotting the nation! A map in the beginning of the book even shows one of these operations right there in Colorado Springs. Not only was it true, but these types of operations were spreading everywhere. And unlike cartel related operations, they were independent. The cells are “a system for selling heroin retail” that relies on “cheap, illegal Mexican labor, just the way any fast-food joint does. … Think of it like a fast-food franchise,” said an informant, “like a pizza delivery service. Each heroin cell or franchise has an owner in Xalisco, Nayarit, Mexico who supplies the cell with heroin." What appeared a unique operation to me in Colorado was actually being repeated across the country.



A map of heroin cells across the country


"Beneath the cell manager is a telephone operator, who takes the addicts calls and relays orders to several drivers. Under the operator are several drivers, paid a weekly wage and given housing and food,” which clarified the immense quality of the dope. Paid a salary rather than a cut of drug profits, prevents the drivers or dealers from cutting or stepping on the product. It also kept pricing the same, with deals for repeat buyers. "Drivers are encouraged to offer special deals to addicts to drum up business: fifteen dollars per balloon or seven for a hundred dollars." Paid a salary, these guys catered to the customer. What the cell supplier provided, direct from a Mexican poppy farm, was the same quality of product received by its users. This is completely unheard of in the world of drugs (and police were baffled).


Anyways, “The driver swings by the parking lot and the addict pulls out to follow him, usually down side streets. Then the driver stops. The addict jumps into the driver’s car. There, in broken English and broken Spanish, a cross-cultural heroin deal is accomplished, with the driver spitting out the balloons the addict needs and taking his cash. Drivers do this all day —eight A.M. to eight P.M. usually,” and to my repeated displeasure, they’re closed on Sundays in Colorado Springs. “Dreamland” goes on to detail everything I witnessed first-hand, while providing answers to questions that remained.


Dreamland: “Their job is to drive the city with their mouths full of little uninflated balloons of black tar heroin, twenty-five or thirty at a time in one mouth. They look like chipmunks. They have a bottle of water at the ready so if police pull them over, they swig the water and swallow the balloons.” A highly detailed retelling of my experience.


Low Profile


One way they avoid serious heat is by never selling more than a few ten dollar bags at one time. Ask for several grams and you might just be dropped off empty handed I was warned. Every aspect of these cells went against the preconceived notions and practices of established drug rings. Confidential informants claimed the operations would simply look for methadone clinics in major metro areas to quickly secure their slice of the pie. Another way they protected themselves was only selling and dealing with addicts who had a car. This minor detail is easily overlooked, but on the dope-paved streets of America, owning a car is the barrier to entry keeping dope-dealers safe.


My interaction with a Heroin Cell occurred just before the massive shift to heroin was underway. The Oxycontin flooding the nation was changed, and addicts and patients alike were desperate for an answer. An answer the heroin cells, knowingly or not, would go on to fulfill. Dreamland wanted to know if the pushers understood the pharmaceutical situation and whether they were intentionally fulfilling this new demand, but a clear answer did not come. Either way, these heroin cells supplied untold amounts of addicts created and then cutoff by big Pharma starting in the early 2000s.


And as usual, the police were totally and completely baffled by the situation, unable to understand the operation and unable to prosecute anyone of significance. The drivers never spoke upon arrest, simply being deported back home to Mexico. And on the rare occurrence that a driver did spill the beans, there were never more than four or five people up the chain of command. This was not a cartel-run operation. The operations were singular and reaching the top of the ladder brought police no closer to shutting them down. As soon as one operation was shut down, two more would pop up to replace it.


One Monday Morning...

There was a time, just waking up and needing to score, at 8:57 it appeared the line was disconnected. No way! A recorded message said the number was disconnected. While I panicked my friend laughed. “Call back after 9:00 AM”. Sure enough, at nine o'clock on the dot the number worked and my call went through. A well oiled delivery operation with some of the purest brown tar heroin I’d ever seen, would remain a memory almost too crazy to believe. Fast forward to today’s convenient fentanyl problem, completely foreseen, predictable, and warned about at least a decade prior. One can only imagine the fentanyl and carfentanil delivery markets today.



A Timeline of Opiate Events From Dreamland:


Timeline of Opiate/Opioid Events


 

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