Crime and Drugs: The New Myths

Land of Opportunity: One Family’s Quest for the American Dream in the Age of Crack

by William M. Adler
Atlantic Monthly Press, 415 pp., $22.00

In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio

by Philippe Bourgois
Cambridge University Press, 392 pp., $24.95

The American Street Gang: Its Nature, Prevalence, and Control

by Malcolm W. Klein
Oxford University Press, 270 pp., $27.50

In a revealing moment in Pulp Fiction, John Travolta, playing a small-time hood, visits a drug dealer to score some heroin. As the dealer weighs out the merchandise, he offers a terse commentary on changing drug fashions. “Coke’s fucking dead,” he announces. “Heroin is coming back in a big way.” Later, a moll played by Uma Thurman discovers a bag of white powder in Travolta’s coat and, mistaking it for cocaine, greedily snorts it. The stuff is so potent that she lapses into a coma, and Travolta must rush her to the dealer’s, where she’s revived by a shot of adrenaline plunged directly into her heart. That’s what you get for being behind the curve on drug trends.

By now, everyone has heard about the comeback of heroin. The most recent round of stories appeared last August, after the overdose death of a thirty-seven-year-old stockbroker, the mother of two young children, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “The Middle Class Rediscovers Heroin,” declared The New York Times. “Although heroin’s resurgence first hit the West Coast five years ago, when it was embraced by Hollywood trendsetters and grunge musicians tired of cocaine’s manic high,” the paper reported, “the drug’s popularity has made a bold leap from the ghettos of New York to the plush Upper West Side apartments of the city’s young urban professionals.”

This was hardly the first time the Times had taken up the subject. In August 1993, for example, it ran a front-page story headlined “With Supply and Purity Up, Heroin Use Expands.” Describing a “young model” gliding through a swarm of “glassyeyed addicts” in East Harlem, the paper termed her “one of the new ones, drawn to a high grade of heroin that does not need to be pumped into the body with a hypodermic needle but can be inhaled like cocaine without the slightest damage to a finely turned nose, at least in the beginning.” In May 1994, the paper was back with a front-page story from Los Angeles headlined “Heroin Finds a New Market Along Cutting Edge of Style.” The drug, it reported, has “caught on, on both coasts, in circles whose habits often set trends—young people piloting the fast lane in the film, rock, and fashion industries.”

Joining the Times in reporting on the new craze have been, among others, Newsweek (“Heroin Makes an Ominous Comeback”), Mademoiselle (“Hooked! Why Nice Women Do the Worst Drug”), and The Village Voice, whose story on the subject made it sound as if virtually every writer, musician, and photographer south of 14th Street is doing the drug. In May 1993, the New York Daily News ran a four-part “special report” on “The Comeback of Heroin,” while New York Newsday in December 1990 featured a cover on “The Middle Class’ New Kick: Heroin.”

For five years now the press has been discovering a new trend that may not be so new. Perhaps it’s not even a trend, outside …

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