New York City

Highs and lows of America

I didn’t know much about drugs until I moved to America.

There have been numerous anti-drug campaigns in Malaysia for as long as I remember when I was growing up.

‘Say No To Drugs’, ‘Kempen Benci Dadah’, ‘Kempen Banteras Dadah’. Dadah meant drugs, bad things. Take it and it will ruin your life or worse, get you the death penalty. From Hong Kong movies, I learned about the ‘white powder’ which is cocaine. From Western TV and British songs, I got to learn about other types of drugs – I knew of LSD, Ecstasy and marijuana.

I didn’t really know how they worked or what kind of damage they did. They were all just one encompassing category of drugs. I didn’t know anybody who had a drug problem. If anybody asked me, “Hey do you know where I can score some coke?” I would respond with silence and a cricket chirp in the background.

Then I moved to America. And the kind of “exposure” to drugs I’ve had over here has been an eye-opener.

A trip to Colorado that has legalised marijuana for recreational use was probably my first lesson. I’ve been to Amsterdam so it wasn’t much of a shock. But just visiting the dispensaries and observing the weed culture here, it was very different than just buying a joint in a Dutch café.

In Colorado, it is practically religion for some people and the weed industry has diversified into edibles, weed-food pairings to cultivation tours and conventions. I learned about scents, strain, depressant, stimulants and hallucinogens. You can drive down a highway and have the smell hit you hard as you drive past a cannabis farm.

On television, there are so many drugs shows – ‘Intervention’ being one of the more popular ones. It documents addicts whose family members stage an intervention to help the addict get help. It always starts with the addict’s daily routine, then a flashback of their childhood and the trauma that resulted in the addiction. Then it’s the intervention itself and whether the addict decides to go to rehab or not.

National Geographic has a series called ‘Drugs Inc’ that covers the business side of drugs including production, marketing, distribution and consumption. It shows how different drugs are made and has testimonials of the people making it, drug kingpins explaining why they do what they do, drug addicts telling their stories of how they got involved and can’t get out.

Every sordid detail related to the drug industry and related syndicates like human trafficking, prostitution and gang violence are presented in a fact-based documentary. Because it is a world so different than the sobering one that I live in, it really is very fascinating to me.

I went through most of my life hardly thinking about drugs. Now I see it in my daily commute. There are the homeless bums with needle track marks on their arms panhandling for money at all major traffic junctions.

You know for a fact that if 20 people gave them a dollar, they would have enough money to score themselves a gram of crack cocaine. Step into a train in Washington DC and all you smell is skunk but there is no animal in sight, just a person rocking out with headphones on, oblivious that the weed on him really stinks.

You talk to friends and someone knows of another who has a heroin addiction and they are now a shadow of themselves.

Families destroyed, thousands of dollars spent on an addictive habit.

I’m no expert on drugs. But I’m pretty sure I know more about uppers and downers, crushing and mixing, shooting and snorting than the average Malaysian.

It’s not a feather in my cap, it’s just what living in a big city teaches you.

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