“It doesn't ring like anything I know,”
February 23, 2017 2:45 PM   Subscribe

Anonymous Sources, Pharmacy Pills, and Gang Wars: Inconsistencies raise questions about "Pill City," a Baltimore tale of drugs and murder. [City Paper] “But there are inconsistencies that raise questions about the veracity of "Pill City." After The Sun's Justin Fenton reported neither local nor federal officials could confirm many claims in the book, Deutsch responded in a post on Medium. "Until last week, I never knew what it felt like to be on the other end of reporters' barbed — and biased — questions," he wrote. Then he goes on to call out: Fenton; David Simon, who said the book is "by and large, a wholesale fabrication" on Twitter; and Baltimore City Paper, whose story, which you are reading, had not yet been published.”
posted by Fizz (24 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mmm. Yeah, that all sounds quite skepticism-inducing. And a bit derivative of the background of The Wire, with a previously unseen but massive criminal enterprise. Is it possible it's true? Sure, but so far it doesn't sound like it's very likely.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:25 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


The article is confusing in parts though, and it seems they did very extensive research to try to back up Deutch's story, but stopped short of visiting him to review his notes. It does point (again) to major flaws in the publishing industry.
posted by callistus at 6:11 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


Yeah - I saw that there was allegedly an invite and I was thinking "and... AND... AND THEN WHAT DID YOU FIND?"
posted by rmd1023 at 8:26 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of CIA discreditation methods: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-02-23/1967-he-cia-created-phrase-conspiracy-theorists-and-ways-attack-anyone-who-challenge
I’m reading the Politics of Heroin, whose author also experienced these sorts of public attacks.
posted by mecran01 at 9:19 PM on February 23


This smells, to me, a great deal like a James Frey moment. I am still extremely angry by his self-aggrandizing cheapening of the trials and travails of anyone who has battled addiction (yours truly as one of them) for pure profit.
posted by Samizdata at 11:09 PM on February 23 [4 favorites]


Reminds me of CIA discreditation methods:

Right, that seems like the more logical possibility here.
posted by listen, lady at 11:14 PM on February 23 [6 favorites]


Either he's crossed from nonfiction into fiction territory in his eagerness to omit the smallest identifying details about his subjects or he invented large chunks of the book deliberately and is using "protecting sources' identities" as an excuse for why the book doesn't stand up to even a fact-check of similar incidents/individuals as outlined in the article. If I were the reporter, I would have wanted to see the notes so I could nail him with them. It makes me wonder if he was being as cooperative as he's quoted as being.
posted by epj at 11:18 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


I picked this up a couple of weeks ago and jettisoned it after a chapter or two as being the most ludicrous bullshit I'd read since A Million Little Pieces.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:52 AM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of CIA discreditation methods:

Right, that seems like the more logical possibility here.


I'm not saying the CIA is involved, but that the pattern of discrediting the author looks similar to the methods described in the link I shared. From the author's defense:

Some of the government officials I’d relied on for information in the book called me after the Sun story appeared. They said their bosses at the DEA and Baltimore Police Department were furious over my book, and wanted the drug looting story to “go away.”

Now, they said, those same bosses were working with Baltimore media to help discredit my work.


The Politics of Heroin has me a little paranoid. On the other hand, you can't argue with David Simon. I guess we'll have to wait for the author's tearful confession when more evidence comes forth.
posted by mecran01 at 5:22 AM on February 24


I'm not saying the CIA is involved, but that the pattern of discrediting the author looks similar to the methods described in the link I shared.

None of it passes the smell test. Take the fundamental premise -- two young criminal geniuses invent an uber-like app. So is it in the iPhone app store? Why no, of course it isn't. So you'd have to have a jailbroke iPhone and be able to access one of those renegade app distribution sites? How do people find out about that? There's no discussion of such an app on any of the darknet discussion sites.

Initially hoping that the book might be true, I was dying to find out how these young geniuses overcame these huge obstacles -- but there's no discussion of any of that -- and I can only assume its because the whole thing is a complete fabrication. (Whether by his informants, or by the writer, I've no idea, but I'd wager my house on it not being true.)

Furthermore, *none* of the hard core drug consumers I know even own fucking iPhones. They spend all their money on heroin/crack. If they ever had an iPhone, they sold it and replaced it with a £10 Nokia that never has any credit.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:17 AM on February 24 [6 favorites]


Furthermore, *none* of the hard core drug consumers I know even own fucking iPhones.

I live in Baltimore and I know a few who have iphones.
posted by josher71 at 6:51 AM on February 24


A lot of this seems similar to the Alice Goffman case, although she was an academic who seemed to be defended mostly by other people. In both cases, you've got a white person who parachutes into an inner-city, mostly African-American culture, and seems to enjoy suspiciously unparalleled access. One of the hooks for this particular story is David Simon's involvement; the last season of The Wire involved a Baltimore reporter who fabricated parts or all of his stories. This bit, in Deutsch's defense on Medium, caught my eye: "Baltimore is a complicated, beautiful, one-of-a-kind place, with more going on than even the finest reporter or publication or even several could ever dream of discovering."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:18 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]




From what I've seen, the newspapers are factchecking articles he wrote for them, not the book. Am I missing something?
posted by postel's law at 8:23 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Just looked at the NYT article by the author now under review.

I remember reading this article. Much of it is fairly uncontroversial recital of statistics. But I remember specifically reading this paragraph:
As recently as three years ago, few people outside the medical profession or law enforcement had even heard of fentanyl, which is legally prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges. But drug dealers have been lacing heroin with fentanyl for years, just to fill out the packets and save on the heroin — with or without the user’s knowledge.
I am not a player in the drug underworld, but this claim really strained my belief at the time. Fentanyl is far more powerful than heroin. Who in the world steps on their packages by (deliberately) putting better stuff in them? At the time, I thought maybe he was uncritically feeding back some addict BS: "Ohhh, you can't blame me for the OD, I didn't know that stuff was in there." Now I'm not so sure.
posted by praemunire at 10:46 AM on February 24 [3 favorites]


With a Dickensian Aspect, and everything...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 1:54 PM on February 24


Fentanyl is cheaper than heroin (at least around here). You just have to remember to cut it more or you kill your buyers.
posted by porpoise at 2:52 PM on February 24


I haven't read the book but from the articles, the author under question describes a well-known street preacher ("Rev. Grier") leading a group of interrupters who intervene on behalf of addicts and getting gunned down. He's so well-known and beloved that people from all over Maryland come for his funeral. If this guy was so well-known, why did the author need to obscure his identity? Even if he weren't well-known to the rest of the world, according to Deutsch's telling, it seems to me that everyone in that community would have known him and everyone would know whose story he was telling. Who is he protecting by obscuring his identity? And, Deutsch claims not to have made any composite characters, so what gives?
posted by mhum at 4:39 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


This is a book written for people who have no idea how the drug industry works, but who would like to pretend that they do.
posted by aramaic at 9:31 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Fentanyl is cheaper than heroin (at least around here). You just have to remember to cut it more or you kill your buyers.

Know what's cheaper than fentanyl? Baking soda. Which it's also perfectly safe, legal, and easy to acquire, unlike fentanyl.

The following scenarios make sense to me:

* accidental contamination of heroin by fentanyl (or misidentification), because god knows we're not talking about clean supply chains here
* deliberate mixing of heroin with fentanyl for greater effect, with the knowledge (or semi-knowledge) of the buyer, who pays more for perceived better stuff
* sale of fentanyl unmixed with heroin, again for a better margin for those who want that strength
* sale of heroin mixed with an extremely cheap non-fentanyl filler to improve margins yet another way

The following scenario does not make sense, without some information to change the calculus:

* wanting to make weight and filling the bag out with a perfectly good drug you could sell on its own rather than any of the many far cheaper fillers that have been used for this purpose from time immemorial

Using fentanyl as a filler (i.e., without raising the price to reflect its presence, which the buyer's going to be aware of) is basically giving it away. Why would anyone make a regular practice of that? It's not like you wake up in the morning and there's a shit-ton of fentanyl growing in your backyard you have to get rid of some kind of way.
posted by praemunire at 9:43 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


deliberate mixing of heroin with fentanyl for greater effect, with the knowledge (or semi-knowledge) of the buyer, who pays more for perceived better stuff

I think selling either heroin spiked with fentanyl or just fentanyl and filler as (i.e. at the price of) better/purer heroin is as likely or more likely than disclosing that it has fentanyl in it. If that's what you mean by "semi-knowledge" then yeah.

Using fentanyl as a literal filler would make no sense at all, because it is 50 times (some of the analogs much more so even) as potent by weight. However I read this passage

As recently as three years ago, few people outside the medical profession or law enforcement had even heard of fentanyl, which is legally prescribed in the form of transdermal patches or lozenges. But drug dealers have been lacing heroin with fentanyl for years, just to fill out the packets and save on the heroin — with or without the user’s knowledge.

as a poor description of the plenty-plausible scenario of selling the cheaper drug in place of the more expensive one.

(I think this story is probably bullshit anyway though.)
posted by atoxyl at 12:33 AM on February 25


praemunire you're misunderstanding the situation (possibly because the article, as written, is terrible).

"Good" heroin is a given dollar cost per dose.

Other 'opiates' are more or less "as good" as heroin - both in (specific) effect (feels) as well as duration. Fentanyl (and Carfentanyl) are "as good" as heroin.

It is much more potent - meaning, equivalent doses are much more physically smaller. It's just as difficult to smuggle 50x strength of something inside of cheap $1 plastic calculators as the same physically sized 1x strength stuff; and they're selling more-highly-cut fentanyl at the same price as heroin.

Fentanyl/Carfentanyl is much cheaper than 'real' heroin because each effective dose is so much physically smaller (also principally because it's synthesized in bulk at Chinese labs and smuggled into N.America - quality control is a serious issue here; a shit reaction job that isn't caught may end up with stuff that kills people without getting them high)
posted by porpoise at 7:25 PM on February 25


Another issue is when the opiate abusing population is in the 'poverty' end of the spectrum; they've been injecting junk heroin for months or possibly years; they aren't used to 'the good stuff.' The "therapeutic window" for heroin isn't very wide and tolerance progressively shuts it thinner.

Fentanyl/Cafentanyl substitutes for heroin predominantly kills the most mis/un-informed.

Legalized medically prescribed and monitored heroin therapy for (certain classes of) opioid dependency could produce out-sized effects on poverty, crime, and medical dollars use.
posted by porpoise at 7:34 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


I believe fentanyl is slightly shorter-acting than heroin and some people will say they don't like it as much subjectively. But opioid addicts are not all that likely to say no to a very strong opioid.
posted by atoxyl at 1:07 AM on February 27


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