The New York Drug Exchange
If illicit drug sales were measured on the New York Stock Exchange, then Americans would be as familiar with the stock symbols PD (Purple Drank), DS (Dirty Sprite), SZ (Sizzurp), and LN (Lean)—the sickly sweet and seemingly innocuous, yet potentially lethal, combination of prescription cough syrup containing promethazine and codeine with white soda and a Jolly Rancher hard candy–as they would be with MSFT (Microsoft), AAPL (Apple) and WMT (Wal-Mart). The markets would see an uptick every evening as young students headed out for the night, and a lull during the day as those same consumers depressed the marketplace while “sleeping it off”. Markets would surge on weekends and holidays. Soon every stock trader worth his salt would know the schedule for student loan dispersals the way corner drug dealers know the 1st and 15th of the month, sensing it in their very bones and instigating a corresponding spike in the market as they stocked up on supply to meet the influx of demand. Call it the New York Drug Exchange (NYDE) and, nowadays, it’s an increasingly volatile market.
The word “exchange” may be more appropriate than you think, as a symbiotic relationship has emerged in today’s drug marketplace whereby the essentially legal prescription-based cough syrup used in Lean is exchanged for the exceedingly illegal street-based heroin. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs. Karl Marx would be so proud, though it is an admittedly strange way for students to learn about the historical figure and his economic philosophies, and even more difficult to do when behind bars. Whereas your average student—perpetually prone to dorm-bred illnesses—has campus clinics and free healthcare and the ability to procure the codeine-laced elixir, in large part they have no real need for it outside of a handful of students who may be devotees of the niche genre of Houston-born hip–hop known as Chop ‘n Screw music. Many of these same students have also had exposure and access to opioid prescription painkillers, with a large percent of them developing addictions to opiates that progress beyond the bounds of their prescriptions and into illicit heroin use. So our student-user has the ability to get promethazine/codeine cough syrup, but a need for heroin. On the other hand, your average heroin dealer is likely to live somewhat “off the grid” and lack access to things such as campus clinics and health insurance, key components in getting prescription-grade cough syrup which many of them crave, as the ubiquitous doubled-up white Styrofoam cups have become a status symbol in their circles on par with diamond-encrusted necklaces, Air Jordan shoes, and 24-inch spinning rims. So, our dealer-user has the ability to get heroin, but a need for prescription cough syrup. Student, meet Dealer. Dealer, meet Student. Exchange rates are discussed, shipments are scheduled, and an underground economy takes shape. The free market in action. Makes you almost want to stand up and salute the flag, if it weren’t for all the, y’know, ruined lives.
If one included these transactions between students exchanging lean for heroin on college campuses, then the markets would crash along with the convictions and addictions and news accounts documenting yet another promising artist, doctor, or engineer being trapped in the frantic buyer/seller market frenzies. The morning call sheets in Wisconsin’s intake courts already have the frenetic feel of a trading floor coping with an overnight market crash. But not so in India. Last spring Pfizer Pharmaceutical won a battle with in the Indian government and a temporary injunction was issued to Pfizer so that its cough syrup would not be included in new legislation to attempt to stop the abuse of its cough syrup.
A Note To Parents: It is has been our experience at The Shellow Group that officers, when encountering a young student in the context of a first time drug bust, will often simply throw out the white Styrofoam cups or Sprite bottles filled with the purple concoction known as lean, drank, etc. The reasoning behind this may be simple ignorance, or it may be a considered tactic to either leverage young students into being criminal informants, or to allow them to rack up more numerous and serious offenses to be charged down the road. While we can’t be certain of their ultimate motives, one thing we can be sure of is that parents can’t rely upon law enforcement to immediately alert them to the criminal behaviors of their at-risk children.