GENERAL ARTICLES

HOPHEADS

One jimmy fix leads to another till you lie, cheat, steal to get money for dope

Robert Francis February 15 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

HOPHEADS

One jimmy fix leads to another till you lie, cheat, steal to get money for dope

Robert Francis February 15 1947

HOPHEADS

One jimmy fix leads to another till you lie, cheat, steal to get money for dope

Robert Francis

A MUSCLE in the man’s face twitched convulsively, and in the smoky light of the tavern in Vancouver’s east end the grey scars on his face and neck seemed like deep pockmarks. The bones appeared ready to break through the dirty skin of his restless hands.

“I’m 36 now,” he said. His voice was low and unsteady. “For 17 years I’ve used drugs. They’re food and life to me.” He sank back in his chair for a moment, as if the admission had torn too 'much vitality from his thin body.

He peeled back a soiled shirt sleeve above the elbow.

“See those needle marks—?”

Grey scars like those marring his neck and face crowded almost every square inch of his forearm.

“I’m like that almost all over my body,” he said. “That’s how you get after a while. Those are the marks of my trained nurse. Her name is Miss Morphine.”

“How did I start?” His voice was weary. “Well, I was an ambitious youngster, I wanted to be a doctor. I went through high school, I made friends with doctors and started my medical course.

“One day a man I knew came to see me. He said he wanted morphine badly and asked me to get it from one of the doctors.

T got hold of it. He took a shot and then said to me, ‘You take some. It won’t hurt you.’ I suppose a kid will try anything, so I took a quarter grain and it made me sick as a dog.

“When I recovered I felt a bit drowsy. After that I had a sort of contented feeling. I’d never felt anything like it before. So I took it another time when things weren’t going so well. Then another time. Pretty soon I had to increase the dose. After three months I couldn’t lay off.”

I ve been off the stuff for months at a time,” he went on, fidgeting with his glass. “But I always go back. I can’t help myself. I’ll do anything now, lie or cheat or steal, to get money for drugs. It takes three shots a day to keep me going, and that takes money.”

For a moment there was a cunning light behind his dull eyes. “After a while an addict becomes a professional thief, you know. You see, I have to have those three fixes every day.”

This addict is one of the estimated 4,000 in Canada who are slaves to a habit that has enchained

thousands since its evil origin in the days before the birth of Christ. Drug addiction has smashed and twisted hundreds of lives, sent nations to war and in recent years, here in Canada, has driven men and women to pay 170 times the price of gold for a few grains of white powder.

And rarely does an addict fight free of the habit. This blackest of all black markets did a business of $8,000 a day in Vancouver alone before the war and police charge to it at least half the monstrous bill crime presents to Canada each year.

Addiction in this country is believed to have dropped considerably from the estimated 10,000 in 1920 and convictions followed the same downward trend from a high of 835 in 1925 to 147 for the year ending last Sept. 30.

Ontario led with 65 drug charge convictions followed by British Columbia with 39 and Quebec with 17.

The drugs men steal and kill to get fall into three general classes: opium, cocaine and marihuana. Morphine and heroin are in the opium group.

Morphine in powdered form is a fluffy, fuzzy white substance. Heroin is white and crystalline with a more granular appearance. Cocaine resembles snow.

The addict uses all these in different ways but the hypodermic needle has become the chief medium. The complicated process of opium smoking has fallen off. But opium is eaten, drunk and injected by needle, too. Tablets of morphine feed their organic poison by needle or mouth. Cocaine is usually snuffed.

“You can classify Canadian cities by drugs,” an RCMP man said recently. “In Vancouver most

of the hopheads use opium. In Calgary, it’s morphine. Heroin, which is the most powerful of the lot and has the worst effect on the body and the moral fibre, is used mostly in Edmonton, Regina and Toronto. Montreal is hard to classify.

“It all depends on the availability of drugs in a particular region,” he explained. “Old hopheads teach young addicts to use the same type of stuff they’ve been used to themselves.”

In the addicts’ tragic jargon a shot in the arm is a “fix.” But let one of them—the same man we heard talking in the Vancouver tavern—tell about it.

“Fixes? Well, the boys have a lingo all their own. A shot with the hypodermic is a jimmy hix, or fix, if you take it in the skin. If you take it right in the vein it’s a main liner. You get the best effect that way.

“But look,” he changed the subject again, “here’s what amazes me. Taking a main liner is like having a blood test. You jab the needle right into the vein. But an addict uses a dirty old needle and never bothers about sterilization as a doctor automatically does in making any kind of an injection. Yet few of the boys seem to develop any infection.

“Look at these scars on my forehead. After a few years the veins on your arms get so messed up that you have to start somewhere else. I stand in front of a mirror and put the needle in the veins of my forehead. Some of the boys use their jugular vein, or their fingers or toes.

“How do I get the stuff? Well, I could take you to five or six places this minute, pool halls and cafés within three or four blocks of here, where we could contact the right guys.

“Here’s what happens: I tell the runner, that’s the messenger for the distributor, what I want. He tells me where to meet him later, maybe right there, maybe in an alley.

“He comes back with the stuff concealed in his palm, or his mouth. You pass the money over first and then he gives you the package. Sometimes the runner tells you he’ll drop the package someplace by a curb or a telephone. In that case you pay him beforehand and go along later and pick it up.

“No, you don’t often get double-crossed after you hand over the dough. The guy has to go on doing business and he wouldn’t if he crossed up a few people.

“I’ve had the stuff from doctors, too. Sometimes I’ve got it from them, then gone and peddled it in the street for more Continued on page 49

Hopheads

Continued from page 13

money to buy a larger amount of drugs for myself.”

The profits made from peddling drugs are tremendous. During the war the police found that the harder they cracked down the higher the price went.

At their peak, a grain of heroin or morphine powder was worth $20 in the West, as high as $12 in the East. This would make an ounce of 437 grains

worth as much as $8,700.

A druggist would have sold the same ounce for $10 on prescription. Back in 1936 the underworld traffic was paying roughly $1 a grain.

A few months ago in Vancouver morphine was selling for $14 to $16 a grain. In 1935 a deck of from one to five grains of opium could be had from 75 cents up. Recently it was worth $10 to $12.

Wartime high prices added racketeering to this already illegal trade. Burglary and theft of narcotics went

up possibly 300%. Drugstores and doctors’ cars and hospitals were robbed from coast to coast.

The Vancouver addict blamed the racketeering for the crimes committed by people like himself. This was the twisted logic of his drug-fogged mind.

“A guy wouldn’t be so desperate if he didn’t have to pay so much for the stuff,” he said fiercely. “We wouldn’t be forced to crime if the prices were lower.

“Was a time,” he went on, “addicts could carry on like normal people. Drugs were cheap and it didn’t take a lot of money to get all you needed. Anaddict kept his respect’ and remained congenial and polite. He was happier than most people and probably easier to get along with. To meet him then, you wouldn’t have known he was a drug fiend. He was less offensive than a slovenly drunkard. I don’t like to look like this,” he said, looking listlessly at his crumpled suit.

“Once I lived with a doctor for a year,” he went on, “and I acted just like anybody else. I got my shots free so I didn’t have to commit crimes to get money to buy them.

“Some professional men are addicts, but you’d never know it. They don’t get themselves into police court news. They can afford to buy the stuff without going through aú the rigmarole down on the skidroad where the cops are watching. They don’t have to go nearly crazy wanting the stuff, because they can always afford some—but they can’t lay off it any more than I can.”

The wrong use of drugs leads sooner or later to loss of moral control and even to physical and mental collapse. They shorten life, diminish usefulness, undermine mental power and character and sometimes destroy sexual powers. As organic poisons, they concentrate on the nervous system, primarily on the delicate upper brain. Addicts neglect their responsibilities, become utter liars, are completely dominated by their desire for more drugs. If they take an overdose, they sometimes die.

And yet rightly used, narcotics are among the greatest blessings nature and science have ever produced.

The War on Drugs

Since 1919, the instrument of Canadian Government policy for handling this paradox has been the narcotics division of the Department of National Health. Currently it is headed by a First Great War infantryman, Scottishborn Kenneth C. Hossick, formerly in charge of the RCMP’s medical division, an affable, smiling man keenly interested in this major problem. His predecessor, Col. C. H. L. Sharman, is helping the United Nations take over the task of international direction formerly vested in the League of Nations.

The division’s tasks fall under three categories, criminal, domestic control and international.

The first involves the police and gives to the public the few glimpses at the surface of what is actually an endless and unrelenting war. During 1947, with supply back at normal, officials expect to see the first marked trend back to the pre-war smuggling era, but the wartime thievery from hospitals and doctors may continue, perhaps less strongly than before.

One result of wartime conditions was that it held down the constant trend of new addiction and possibly cut the total of existing addicts. Some of these died; some few, in the torment known only to an addict cut off from the stuff, learned to do without it.

Some managed to tap the pipeline that was bringing brown heroin,

“Brown H” to the trade, to Canada from Mexico. This was first reported in Toronto and later during the war moved across the country.

Others boiled the heads of opium poppies, which can be grown in Canada, and drank the brew. Some slashed the poppy heads to get at the raw opium.

But now with the reopening of the trade routes and the return of the supply new addicts have been reported.

Under the “domestic control” heading, the narcotics division handles the legal traffic. Authorized sale is entirely in the hands of about 125 wholesalers who get licenses yearly to import, sell, distribute or manufacture narcotics and products containing them. They report their sales monthly and their statistics are entered on the division’s charts showing every licensed doctor, druggist and veterinarian in the country.

A watch is kept on every grain of narcotics in the legal channels of supply.

International Policing

Under the “international” heading, Canada deals with a world aware since the early years of the century of the dangers of illicit drugs. Today’s international control of production and movement is in sharp contrast to the events of 100 years ago or so when Britain, and later Britain and France, fought China when she sought to shut off the flow of opium from India and to wipe out addiction within her borders.

Canada co-operates fully with international control bodies by furnishing annual estimates of requirements and quarterly and annual reports on imports and exports. Liaison with the United States is close. A renewed boom in smuggling may be coming but the authorities say 1946 failed to indicate it in any large way.

The underworld lords are said to organize drug sales without actually handling any narcotics. This makes the key men at the top hard to catch. Their headquarter is believed to be in Toronto, hooked up with supply lines passing from Mexico through New York and Minneapolis. In boom years, their transactions have run in the millions.

Below these masterminds, often unknown to their subordinates, come the distributors and then the peddlers and their agents, the street sellers, all getting their cut. The peddlers use their illegal gains to keep themselves supplied for they, unlike the higherups, are usually addicts.

Ás one example of the split in profits, in 1936 drug ring operators in Vancouver paid crew members of Jap ships $25 an ounce for morphine bought in Japan at $10; the operators in turn sold it to illegal wholesalers in pound or half-pound lots at $55 an ounce; the agents and peddlers sold it in the streets and dives at $1 to $2 a grain although, by this time, the morphine content had been cut almost in half by the addition of adulterants.

Nobody has put the cost of the great aching hunger of drug addiction into actual dollars and cents but AttorneyGeneral Gordon Wismer of British Columbia has estimated that its toll in Vancouver alone runs to millions of dollars a year. Of a group of addicts recently surveyed there, one man of 31 estimated that in the past 15 years he had stolen $100,000 worth of goods and money. Another had 33 convictions against him.

Why do people take to drugs?

Said an RCMP inspector: “Well, for a number of reasons. Perhaps some start just for the hell of it, without understanding what they’re getting into—maybe because a friend told them it was good.

“Some take it because they want surcease from worry or pain, and then they find they can’t stop. Lots of people start simply because they have access to the stuff and tell themselves they’ll try it once and quit, just to find out how it reacts.

“Sometimes they get it from a friend who has access to a supply, and then they’re off. And again, I believe many start because they get into jail on some minor charge and hear about it by association with hopheads who have been at it for years,” he said.

Of Canada’s addicts, a large proportion are believed to be products of the slums and perhaps 90% fall within the shadow of the criminal world. The noncriminal addicts sometimes penetrate into the higher strata of society.

Psychiatrists contend that the psychoneurotic factor bulks large in the make-up of any addict, that the danger of addiction is much greater in persons with a neuropathic temperament, that a family history of insanity, neurosis or alcoholism is usual among addicts. The victims frequently come from unhappy, unsettled homes where parental control and understanding was sadly lacking.

Crime Starts Them

Although many drug addicts steal to sate their hunger, most of them were probably already criminals when they took to drugs. In a recent survey of some 50 Vancouver addicts, RCMP Constable H. F. Price found the average to be about 34 years of age, a British subject of grade eight education who had enjoyed little parental control as a youth and little or no training for employment. He was first arrested at 21 years after about three years of honest work and shortly thereafter acquired the habit. He had been convicted of some eight offenses.

Further interpretation, however, indicated that more than half the 50 addicts had started the drug habit when little more than 17 years old.

The subjects studied were both men and women—all but one of the women were prostitutes—still in the grip of addiction, although 46% had made unsuccessful attempts to shake free.

In Canada convictions are made under the federal Opium and Narcotic Drug Act which is as tough as any similar statute in the world.

Sentences under the statute always call for jail or prison terms plus fines, and range from six months and a small fine to seven years and $1,000, with the lash added at the discretion of the judge. Such penalties are levied for unlawful possession of drugs—a heavy majority of charges allege this—unlicensed importing or transporting, cultivating or gathering opium poppies. Such offenses as smoking opium, possessing the paraphernalia of use, sending drugs by mail and getting them from more than one doctor bring lesser penalties.

Under the act, simply being an addict is not an offense. The law places an automatic onus on a suspect to prove that the drugs in his possession are legally his.

The approach has been largely punitive although there have recently been stirrings to attack the problem in the critical area where recruits to the habit are won and the dreary circle that spins from jail to needle to jail begins.

Police officers who have seen the narcotic-wrought havoc of human lives in dingy tenements and underworld hide-outs say that prison is not the cure for drug addiction. Not only does prison not cure the veterans, but allows them to tell youngsters in for petty offenses where to get hold of

drugs when they get out. So far, officers admit, they have not been able to figure out a solution.

For one thing, they’re too busy enforcing the law. As a result of their work, 1,327 persons of 22 nationalities have been deported from Canada since 1922, after serving time.

Help for Addicts

Police officers are against putting imprisoned young criminals in association with addicts of years standing, feeling that they should be segregated to give them a reasonable chance of avoiding becoming addicts themselves.

“Once they’ve started you can’t stop them,” one RCMP said. “When a man starts taking drugs the community has another problem on its hands that will be there until the day he dies.

“I’ve seen dozens of men, and women, too, come out of jail after serving a term and go right back on the stuff. Oh, sure, I’ve known cases who really did try hard to lay off. Some managed it for months at a time, but I don’t know of an instance in which they didn’t go back to it finally.”

Constable Price suggests a three-fold program of Government medical and psychiatric service concentrating en-

tirely on addiction; a varied form of sentence providing progressively heavier sentences for repeaters with life as the ultimate; a parole system keyed to the psychiatric service and parole officers to see that the addict stays off the drug.

Some experts support this. Others say it would cost too much. British Columbia’s Wismer has urged penitentiary sentences sufficiently long to drive the craving far back in the addict’s mind.

To this he would wed voluntary financial aid bodies, somewhat equivalent to Alcoholics Anonymous, to help the addict get on his feet, get a job and keep it.

The U. S. has made a serious effort to cure addicts by institutional treatment, without favorable results. The craving survives. Even in 99% of socalled complete cures the habit has sprung up again, sometimes after years of freedom.

Canada has a number of private institutions and sanatoriums for cures and has her jails and penitentiaries to help dredge the bilge of addiction from a man’s mind and body.

But here, too, a tragic maxim of the underworld holds true: the only sure cure is death, if