by Beth Macy

Start Free Trial

Chapters 6–7 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1422

Chapter 6: Like Shooting Jesus

Macy traces the roots of the opioid crisis partly to the unemployment crisis that struck working-class America when corporations started outsourcing their jobs to less expensive overseas labor markets, beginning in 1994. Though President Bill Clinton had predicted that China’s 2001 entry into the labor market would create a “win-win” for American workers, as American companies could now export more sophisticated products to China’s growing consumer base, his calculations were erroneous. Moreover, insufficient effort was made to upskill laid-off American workers to manufacture these sophisticated products, leaving a large portion of former miners and factory workers jobless. To companies and consumers, who could now sell and buy cheaper products, the workers’ predicament did not amount to much. Macy writes,

In rural counties decimated by globalization, automation, and the decline of coal, the invisible hand manifested in soaring crime, food insecurity, and disability claims. In Martinsville and surrounding Henry County, unemployment rates rose to above 20 percent, food stamp claims more than tripled, and disability rates went up 60.4 percent.

Macy notes that the connection between joblessness, hunger, and crime was clear. To make more money on the side, laid-off workers began to moonlight as drug dealers. A subtler connection was that which was playing out in the Lee County coalfields, where parents were coaxing their doctors into diagnosing their children with ADHD, “knowing that such behavioral problems could help make them eligible for Social Security disability when they became adults.” Children diagnosed with ADHD were often prescribed Adderall or Ritalin. Given Spencer Mumpower’s astute observation about “black-market Adderall,” it was only a matter of time before overprescribed ADHD drugs would begin to be abused. Disability claims in the region multiplied, with some children now aspiring be “draw-ers”—that is, people who draw disability checks for a living. According to Macy, “For people who have not ventured recently into rural America, the jaw-dropping and visible decline of work comes as a shocker, an outgrowth of the nation’s widening political and cultural divide.”

Though drug abuse among the poor often began in poverty and unemployment, and among the rich in leisure, the resultant despair in users, families, and communities was identical. Opioids exploded as a “vector phenomenon” in communities, seeded by one or a few individuals and quickly gaining immense momentum. Beginning in working-class neighborhoods in towns like Roanoke, opioids could soon infiltrate the “toniest neighborhoods” through peer spread. One of the sadder aspects of the spread was that it could have been arrested much earlier, when poor and Black families had begun to be affected. But the crisis was only termed what it was, an “epidemic,” when children from wealthy white families began to be lost to the crisis. Worse, the trend had assumed a dangerous dimension, with more and more users converting to hard drugs like heroin early in their habit. One reason for this, many experts concur, is that these users are already inured to the highs of painkillers and Adderall-like drugs because of overprescription. The other was a larger American cultural ease with taking pills and the belief that there is a pill for everything:

And so it went that young people barely flinched at the thought of taking Adderall to get them going in the morning, an opioid painkiller for a sports injury in the afternoon, and a Xanax to help them sleep at night, many of the pills doctor-prescribed.

Macy notes that in her experience, children addicted to stimulants like Adderall fare much worse in recovering from drug abuse as adults.

Going from painkillers and stimulants to heroin was an easy and...

(This entire section contains 1422 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

one-way journey for many users like Brian (a pseudonym). Brian, who was addicted to OxyContin before being introduced to heroin by a coworker when he was twenty, told Macy that once he had his first bag of heroin, his addiction was “destined.” Heroin was cheaper than OxyContin, more intense, and present everywhere. “It was like shooting Jesus up in your arm,” Brian said of his first IV injection. “It’s like this white explosion of light in your head. You’re floating on a cloud. You don’t yet know that the first time is the best. After that, you’re just chasing that first high.”

When Macy met Brian in 2012, he was in a rehab program, which used the steroid Suboxone to wean him off heroin. Recovering or imprisoned addicts like Brian, Spencer Mumpower, and Christopher Waldrop were still better off than those like Colton Banks, who died of OxyContin abuse at the home of a middle-aged man who had been selling his painkillers to teenagers and young adults. Like Jeff Bolstridge, Colton Banks was handsome and energetic, and he had been prescribed Adderall as a child.

Chapter 7: FUBI

In late 2012, Shenandoah County sergeant Brent Lutz returned to his hometown of Woodstock after a six-month assignment in the sheriff’s department. Lutz came back to a changed town. Before he left, the drug arrests in Woodstock had been related mostly to black-market opioids like “Roxicodone, or Roxy; Dilaudid; Percocet,” but he came home to a newer and more pernicious enemy: heroin. In his six months away, heroin had “exploded” in Woodstock, already causing three overdose deaths. The problem had accelerated at a local meat processing plant called George’s Chicken, manned by dislocated, poverty-stricken factory workers. Two “former drug offenders who’d landed in town a year earlier to work at the plant via the Virginia prison system’s work-release program, were responsible for the recent surge in heroin-related crime in Shenandoah County.” Charles Smith and Pete Butler were bringing bulk heroin into Woodstock, a community which, until now, had had a far better health record than Lee County. Unlike Appalachian towns that were dominated by a single industry and thus prone to widespread unemployment when that industry collapsed, Woodstock had a strong tradition of agriculture, which had left it relatively safe until Smith and Butler arrived on the scene.

Investigating Smith and Butler, Lutz learnt that they were the “eyes and ears” of a shadowy drug boss known only as “D.C.,” who was rumored to demand sex from female addicts in exchange for drugs. By 2013, Lutz had more details about D.C.: that he was African American, was in his mid-thirties, and drove a silver “old-model” Mercedes SUV.

His heroin was said to enter Virginia’s I-81 corridor in plastic Walmart bags, tucked inside snack containers carried by young women riding the Chinatown bus from New York, earning $300 to $500 per round trip.

The heroin was often shaped into four-ounce pucks and smuggled inside Pringles cans. Smith and Butler would then break up the heroin into “dosage-sized units,” which were tenths of a gram. D.C. himself, as one of his sub-dealers told Macy, was so afraid of coming into contact with even a particle of heroin that he reportedly wore a mask, gloves, and goggles as Smith and Butler broke down the units. Though officers like Lutz claimed the heroin explosion was sudden, former users like Dennis Painter told Macy otherwise. According to Painter, heroin and the demand for it had always been silently circulating in the community; Smith and Butler simply fed that demand. In fact, Denis and others contended that “dozens of young twenty-somethings from Woodstock had already been driving to Baltimore to buy heroin, some making the trip twice a day.”

In 2013, police in neighboring Middletown were on the trail of Devon Gray for a traffic violation. Luckily for Lutz, Gray turned out to be one of D.C.’s key suppliers. Bill Metcalf, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who was already investigating Gray, joined the search, and Gray was eventually arrested. In exchange for a reduced prison sentence, Gray agreed to tell Metcalf all about his boss. “He went by the nickname D.C., Gray told Metcalf, but his real name was Ronnie Jones.”

While Jones controlled the heroin supply in the northern Shenandoah Valley, “Kareem Shaw—aka New York—controlled the supply east toward the northern Virginia bedroom communities closer to Washington.” The third important name in the drug cartel for Metcalf, Lutz, and US Attorney Wolthuis was Keith Marshall, a “functioning addict” jailed in a North Carolina prison.

Wolthuis now had a name for the worst drug ring in the region’s history. Above his chart, topped with the names of Ronnie Jones and Kareem Shaw, he took out a Sharpie and wrote in black capital letters: FUBI.

The expletive-containing acronym was a play on the FBI.


Chapters 4–5 Summary


Chapters 8–9 Summary