Number 71 Page Four
Sunday, January 14, 1973
By Lars-Erik Nelson
IN A DARKENED, red-walled room,
a large white globe cast deep
shadows into the wise young faces of
a group of former narcotics addicts,
seated in a circle and talking about a
plan that would' have put most of
them in jail for life.
The plan was put forward by Gov.
Nelson Rockefeller in his "State of
the State" message to the legislature
at the beginning of the year. It would
punish drug sellers more harshly
than murderers, rapists or kidnap-
In a voice that rasped with frus-
tration over increased street crime
and years of ineffectual efforts to
control drug addiction, Rockefeller
demanded that mandatory life sen-
tences, with no hope of parole, be giv-
en to any adult convicted of selling
hard drugs-"heroin, amphetamines,
LSD, hashish and other dangerous
drugs," as he put it.
The proposal won immediate ap-
plause from police groups, conser-
vatives and some prosecutors. It drew
equally immediate fire from the
American Civil Liberties Union, the
legal aid society and liberals gener-,
It also evoked condemnation from
perhaps the most anti-drug group
in the world-reformed narcotics ad-
dicts and pushers, who, like ex-alco-
holics, are vehement in damning
their former poison.
THE GROUP in the darkened room
with me was comprised of whites
and blacks, ranging in age from 17 to
past 40. All were outpatients in the
final stages of a rehabilitation pro-
gram run by Odyssey House, a partly
tax-supported, partly voluntary or-
ganization that gets most of its pa-
tients from the courts on a "treat-
Most of the ex-addicts were also
ex-pushers, who sold drugs to sup-
port their own habits. They opposed
Rockefeller's proposal for a variety
of reasons, but chiefly because it
"I don't think it's too well thought-
out," a confessed ex-pusher timidly
began. "For one thing, he's got hash-
ish on the list but not cocaine or
methadone. Hashish isn't a serious
"In 1952 Michigan instituted a 20-
year minimum sentence for drug
by addicts," Commissioner Vanden
Heuvel said. "You are talking about a
class of people who are for the most
part without resources."
VANDEN HEUVEL believes in meth-
adone as a solution to the nar-
cotics - crime problem. "Methadone
blocks the craving for heroin, allows
you to be productive, to lead a normal
life to keep a job."
Of New York's estimated 150,000
heroin addicts, 30,000 are now on
methadone maintenance, receiving
methadone tablets from clinics. But
methadone has also become a street
drug with a black - market all its
own. Though it blocks the craving for
heroin when taken orally, when it is
injected like heroin, it is the same
A young black man in the out-pa-
tient group said of methadone main-
tenance, "Society is trying to beat
the addict at his own game. He rushes
from methadone clinic to methadone
clinic . . they're just legalized jun-
Methadone tablets have been the
booty in armed robberies \of clinics.
Called "biscuits" they are sold on the
street for five dollars a tablet-far
cheaper than a comparable amount
"When you give an addict who's a
criminal methadone you just give
him more time. They have more time
to think up a really good crime," a
blond young man in the group said.
"An enforcement officer I know
in Brooklyn says that you're starting
to see more unsolved crimes in
Brooklyn - because they may have
more time to sit down and think about
their crimes. The methadone addicts
don't have the same desperation as
the heroin addicts," another group
HEROIN MAINTENANCE - giving
free heroin to registered addicts,
as practiced in England and Scan-
dinavia - also has advocates in
America, but is scorned by the former
addicts and Rohrs, their psychiatrist.
"In England it worked because the
heroin addicts they had there came
from the white lower middle class.
The addicts had work habits, but
they had psychological problems-
a need for mothering and so on-that
made them turn to drugs. English
heroin addicts were old ladies, school
teachers, passive people," Rohrs
"These are not the typical Ameri-
can addicts. The average American
addict of 1972 is 20 years old, a black
or Peurto Rican, who uses five or six
drugs. And he's got no psychiatric
problems, though he may be the type
of person who's always been a prob-
lem as a juvenile. Now with the In-
dians and Pakistanis and West In-
dians who have come into Britain,
English authorities are finding that
their problem is different.
"If the pro-heroin people took an
honest point of view, if they said
there was no hope for a given ad-
dict, so he might as well be given
heroin, I might have some sympathy
for them. But they think that giving
addicts pure heroin, the best heroin
they ever had, is going to make them
want to give up the habit," Rohrs
ROCKEFELLER'S SOLUTION to the
narcotics problem is to jail
pushers for life. Vanden Heuvel's is
to provide methadone maintenance.
England's is tc give out free heroin.
New York City's is to try to persuade
addicts to go into rehabilitation, re-
ceive methadone, financial assistance
and job training.
Having dismissed the first three
answers, many ex-addicts also scoff
at the latter.
"Very seldom will a drug addict
say hmm, well I think I'll go and be
rehabilitated," an ex-addict in the
group said to general laughter.
"If you tell somebody you're going
to give him a welfare check and a
place to live and free heroin, they're
not going to go into the rehabilita-
tion clinics. You've got to be crazy to
volunteer for a (rehabilitation) pro-
gram when you can walk around the
corner and the people will give you
whatever you want."
The ex-addicts and ex-pushers in
the darkened room all nodded wise-
ly. Most of them were there because
they had to be - it was a choice of
the rehabilitation program or jag.
But they were all off drugs and ap-
parently safely so.
"How long would it take you to
buy drugs right now," a questioner
asker one of them.
"In this neighborhood, in the East
Village? About five minutes, if you
wanted it," he laughed. "You can get
anything around here."
Lars-Erik Nelson is a feature writer for
Reuters News Sevice.
charges for which they were arrest-
ed. You'd need 40 times 'the money
now being spent on the. courts."
Behind Rockefeller's proposal is
impatience on the part of authorities
-an impatience shared by millions
of urban dwellers-with a rise in
crime that has made city streets un-
safe to walk and city apartments un-
safe to live or leave property in.
Almost everyone agrees that this
rise in crime, particularly over the
past five years, is the result of nar-
cotics addicts who must steal to pay
for their habits. The trouble is, no-
body can prove, with statistics, that
there is any real relation between ad-
diction and street crime.
"I can't give ' exact statistics
but . . ." officials say when asked how
much violent crime is caused by ad-
yg nsfate. ". ./ r ,.i":. . . . ..: " d... v,
"Rockefeller's plan is the
largest invitation to wholesale
York, are as 'unsafe as those in any
high-crime area even though rela-
tively few addicts are on the street.
At the same time, Great Neck, N. Y.,
a middle-class suburb, has a serious
narcotics problem but little street
The old whaling port of New Bed-
ford, Mass., has experienced a sharp
increase in juvenile crime that its
authorities associate with an equally
sharp rise in narcotics use. But Pitts-
field, Mass., at the other end of the
state, has had an equally high ju-
venile-crime increase with no signi-
ficant drug problem.
ARE ADDICTS responsible for street
crime? Is the mugger who sticks
a knife at your throat and demands
your wallet a drug-crazed fiend who
will do anything for the money to
feed his habit? Yes and no.
Half a century ago, most drugs
could be obtained legally and nar-
cotics-abuse was not regarded as a
source of crime. Even then, however,
the streets were not safe.
Even more recently, narcotics ad-
dicts shunnedhviolent crime and con-
frontation. They resorted and still
resort chiefly to burglary, thefts from
parked cars, shoplifting.
"We were sneak thieves," a hand-
some young black woman at Odyssey
House told me. "You didn't snatch
anybody's pocketbook, you picked it
up. We were jostling (picking poc-
kets), boosting (shoplifting), check-
writing, working credit cards. We
were all cat burglars."'
"But the scene has changed," an-
other ex-pusher went on. I see things
now that at one time I wouldn't see.
Real young drug addicts, street
crimes could be perpetrated by
Speaking of his own 22 years as
an addict and a pusher he explained,
murder that I have ever seen presented to a reasonable state
legislature. . . . Of course they'll kill witnesses. They'll kill
anyone. What is there to tell them not to kill?"
--William Vanden Heuvel
Commissioner, New York
City Board of Corrections
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Photos by TOM GOTTLIEB
"We used to do sophisticated crimes.
Used to be you'd come home and
find something in your house was
missing. Now you come home and
find the door kicked down."
"Kids weren't into it in the old
days," the young black woman said.
"In 1957 you could walk in any hall-
way and see an old addict getting
off. But the older dope fiends would
tell you not to fool around with
drugs. They wouldn't sell you a
Dr. Charles Rohrs, a psychiatrist
who leads therapy groups at Odys-
sey House, says he no longer believes
the line of reasoning that says hero-
in addiction leads to crime and that
the root of society's evils is in the
Rohrs is a burly man in his early
30s with a mod moustache. Members
of his group call him Charlie, and
when one of them wanted to know his
opinion on a topic the group was ar-
guing about, the invitation to speak
was: "Come on Charlie, what do you
think? We need some father-figure
He draws a distinction between
younger and older addicts: "We can't
really find statistics, but a consider-
able number of street crimes are
committed by people under 18. Are
they committing crimes because of
a hunger for drugs or are they anti-
social types who would be committing
"Each time we find a person in jail
who's a junkie, we have to ask whe-
ther he committed the crime because
of his craving for drugs or whether
he would have committed a crime
anyway. Older addicts probably com-
mit crimes only to get drugs. But the
differences between adult and teen-
age users are profound," Rohrs said.
THE TEEN-AGE drug user is, in-
creasingly, an abuser of several
different kinds of drugs at the same
time. He comes out of school high
on "uppers" or "downers," "reds,"
"greenies," "yellow jackets," "black
betties" - all street names for vari-
ous barbiturates and amphetamines
which speed the mind up or slow it
With a group of friends he prowls
the streets. And when he sees an old
woman with an insecure grip on her
pocketbook, he grabs it. When he
sees a man walking down a lonely
street, he robs.
"Trouble is." an ex-addict said,
"Everybody got hip to the easy ways
we had of making money. Once upon
sales, the first in the country," an
ex-pusher from Detroit said. "It
didn't stop the escalation of drugs.
I sold after they passed that law.
Usually in Detroit they would let you
cop to possession.
Noting that the mandatory life
sentence is stiffer than the current
penalty for murder, now that death
sentences have been halted, one
speaker suggested that accused deal-
ers might find it profitable to murder
any witnesses against them.
"What's to prevent some dude
who's up for pushing from knocking
off all the witnesses, even the judge?
He gets 25 years to life for murder
and with parole he'll be back on the
street in eight years."
T'S THE LARGEST invitation to
wholesale murder that I have
ever seen presented to a reasonable
state legislature," William Vanden
Heuvel, commissioner of the New
York City Board of Corrections, told
a caller. "Of course they'll kill wit-
nesses. They'll kill anyone. What is
there to tell them not to kill?"
dicts. They then proceed to say that
80 per cent of all crime is drug-re-
lated, 50 per cent of all crime is drug-
related, most prostitution is drug-
related, and so on.
"There are no statistics," a staff
member of a New York District At-
torney's office told me. "They'll tell
you that 50 per cent of all street
crime is caused by junkies, but that's
An observer of drug patterns point-
ed out that the streets of Newark,
whose junkies usually travel to New