The popularity of heroin has fluctuated throughout decades depending on its price, availability, and even how fashionable it is at the time. Derived from the opium poppy plant, heroin, when snorted or injected creates a euphoric high that can last hours. Classified as a Schedule I drug, heroin has become a threat to the health of young generations who are using it as a way to cure boredom and cope with personal issues.
In the early 1900s heroin was used to treat morphine addiction but soon doctors realized the substitute had similar withdrawal symptoms and was thus doing more harm than good to patients. Available over-the-counter, heroin addiction rose at an alarming rate and by the mid 1920s the Heroin Act was passed making it illegal to possess or manufacture heroin even for medicinal purposes. As a result, a black market for heroin began to develop and opiates were illegally smuggled into the U.S and sold on the streets.
In the late 1960s as the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War peaked, drug use became more socially acceptable. Marijuana and LSD were popular choices among the hippie generation but young adults back from the Vietnam War were turning to heroin as a way to cope with the trauma they experienced. As rock icons like Janis Joplin succumbed to their addictions, explosive reports of drug use in the U.S. set the government on edge. President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs and created the Drug Enforcement Administration in an attempt to lower the number of addicts in the country. With drug treatment facilities now easily accessible to the public, the clamor over heroin began to die down and by the mid 1970s cocaine became everyone’s favorite recreational drug for the time being.
In Locked Up Abroad: Busted in Bangkok, 26 year old Angela Carnegie was in the midst of a heroin revival. The Generation X of the 90s embraced a subculture of angst finding comfort in the music of grunge bands like Alice in Chains and Nirvana, both of which openly wrote songs about drug addiction. By the mid 90s heroin had become a fashion accessory with movies like Trainspotting and The Basketball Diaries helping to romanticize addiction. Fashion designer Calvin Klein even marketed a look as “heroin chic” suggesting that looking like an addict is sexy. While the jaded youth of America used heroin as a way to distance themselves from a society to which they could not relate, Angela Carnegie saw it as her ticket to starting over.
At the time of Angela’s drug smuggling adventure in 1994, the United States was consuming most of its heroin from Southeast Asia. Thailand is part of the Golden Triangle, an area that is considered one of the two main producers of opium with most of the finished product being shipped to Bangkok for international distribution. The drug laws in Southeast Asia are considered some of the harshest in the world. Individuals caught producing, importing or exporting narcotics with the intent to sell face life in prison or the death penalty. Nearly 60% of those imprisoned in Thailand are there on drug charges.
Busted at the airport in Bangkok with two bricks of heroin in her bag, Angela was sentenced to life in prison, nine of which she served at Lard Yao, an all female prison. She was then transferred to the United States to finish out the rest of her term but was fortunate enough to be released after three months. The personal problems Angela was originally running from seemed minor in comparison and she was able to leave heroin behind her to start anew. For the rest of the United States, heroin abuse continues to be prevalent among newer generations especially adolescents living in suburban areas.
Heroin use amongst teenagers jumped 80% between 1999 and 2009, an increase that health officials attribute to prescription painkillers which are widely available. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 15.2% of high school seniors admitted to using prescription painkillers for non-medicinal purposes. When their addiction to opioids like Oxycodone, Vicodin and Percocet becomes too expensive, teens are switching to heroin, a cheaper and stronger high. As more signs point to heroin addiction starting at the pharmacy, many parents and officials are urging for more efforts to stop not only drug traffickers, but haphazard doctors as well.
Watch Locked Up Abroad: Busted in Bangkok on August 28th at 10P et/pt