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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

An unflinching look at drugs


From the farm fields and jungle labs where drugs such as crack cocaine, ecstasy and hashish get their start to the front-door steps where recreational users and addicts alike have their drugs delivered, National Geographic Channel (channel 260) explores the world of Drugs Inc. The series premieres on the channel at 9pm today and includes eight unflinching new episodes that examine the business of illegal narcotics production. Drugs Inc goes inside the world of producers, traffickers, dealers, users, doctors and cops with first-person perspectives on what keeps this business in motion. It also investigates relative newcomers such as ketamine and oxycontin – designer drugs for the 21st century – and the covert industry of grand theft auto, which provides cartels with stolen vehicles customised for smuggling. Worth an estimated R1.28 trillion, the business of Drugs Inc fuels crime and violence like no other substance on the planet, turning cartel leaders into billionaires. The illegal drug industry also provides vital income to hundreds of thousands of poor workers across the globe. While some users sacrifice their lives to an addiction they can’t escape, others find drugs to be their only saving grace from physical or emotional pain almost impossible to overcome. Where should the lines be drawn in this hugely lucrative industry? The series looks at hallucinogens, once hailed as a panacea. Psychedelic drugs are at the centre of an underground movement experimenting with mind-altering substances as they explore a possible new medical frontier. Deep in the Amazon, Rob, a Wall Street broker-turned-healer, has created a free clinic of sorts, administering a highly potent narcotic known as ayahuasca to patients desperate to escape powerful trauma. Taking on others’ stress releases Rob’s own demons and a shaman must step in as Rob’s trip spirals dangerously out of control. Dimitri, a former heroin addict, helps drug users to overcome addiction by using a controversial hallucinogen called ibogaine, and encounters dangerous side effects in the process. Turning to the power of mushrooms, one family man suffering from cluster headaches contemplated suicide before finding relief in this psychedelic trip, and a Swiss physician uses LSD to help ease terminal patients’ fear of death. The deadly and addictive drug crack cocaine is the subject of another episode in which users will do anything to get their hands on it. Addicts Jeff and Alexis are desperate for its intense high – turning to burglary, drug dealing and even prostitution. Smuggling hashish from the remote Moroccan Riff Mountains to the streets of Europe is a dirty, dangerous and deadly business. A former British gangster serves as guide into this illicit underworld, visiting a secret hash-making location nestled in the mountains. The smugglers use everything from hidden car compartments to donkeys, skis and drug mules. Their aim is to be as inconspicuous as possible – and to make it out alive. Facing off at the front line of Europe’s war on drugs, customs agents near Gibraltar seize 100kg of hashish, but the huge haul barely scratches the surface. From Spain, smugglers like “Billy” strap blocks of hash to their bodies and board flights to London and European cities. While smugglers take great risks, for some users, getting the drugs is as easy as walking into a coffee shop. But despite this easy access, users still pay a heavy price – as seen at a local youth psychiatric clinic in Holland. Ecstasy marks another trail. Dubbed as Christmas morning in a pill and penicillin for the soul, ecstasy’s euphoric high is said to come with major lows. Ravers have died from it and organised crime gangs will kill for it. One of the biggest ecstasy traffickers shares how he dominated the ecstasy smuggling world, and a high-level ecstasy distributor in California outlines smuggling strategies for the 21st century. Drugs Inc joins all the dots in this fascinating and disturbing network.


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