Why do the vast majority of heroin users live in cities? In his
provocative history of heroin in the United States, Eric C.
Schneider explains what is distinctively urban about this
undisputed king of underworld drugs.
During the twentieth century, New York City was the nation's heroin
capital-over half of all known addicts lived there, and underworld
bosses like Vito Genovese, Nicky Barnes, and Frank Lucas used their
international networks to import and distribute the drug to cities
throughout the country, generating vast sums of capital in return.
Schneider uncovers how New York, as the principal distribution hub,
organized the global trade in heroin and sustained the subcultures
that supported its use.
Through interviews with former junkies and clinic workers and
in-depth archival research, Schneider also chronicles the
dramatically shifting demographic profile of heroin users.
Originally popular among working-class whites in the 1920s, heroin
became associated with jazz musicians and Beat writers in the
1940s. Musician Red Rodney called heroin the trademark of the bebop
generation. "It was the thing that gave us membership in a unique
club," he proclaimed. Smack takes readers through the
typical haunts of heroin users-52nd Street jazz clubs, Times Square
cafeterias, Chicago's South Side street corners-to explain how
young people were initiated into the drug culture.
Smack recounts the explosion of heroin use among
middle-class young people in the 1960s and 1970s. It became the
drug of choice among a wide swath of youth, from hippies in
Haight-Ashbury and soldiers in Vietnam to punks on the Lower East
Side. Panics over the drug led to the passage of increasingly
severe legislation that entrapped heroin users in the criminal
justice system without addressing the issues that led to its use in
the first place. The book ends with a meditation on the evolution
of the war on drugs and addresses why efforts to solve the drug
problem must go beyond eliminating supply.
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