CHEAP AND LEGAL MORPHINE/OPIUM DERIVATIVES HAVE BEEN THE HOLY GRAIL FOR dope fiends since 1914, when the Harrison Act began the curtailment of most over-the-counter narcotics. In light of the FDA's current crackdown on organic and inorganic substitutes, it's somewhat surprising that the oldest, and one of the easiest, methods for getting a natural high is still alive and well — and available from the downtown L.A. flower mart, no less.

OffBeat found the little-known drug source after hearing the story of Sasha B., who became addicted to opium tea when a powerful prescription cough syrup reawakened her appetite for narcotics. “I was sick of working the quacks and I didn't want to get street dope where I didn't know exactly what I was buying — so I did a little research,” she says. A quick romp around the Internet led her to Opium for the Masses, a do-it-yourself manual by British author Jim Hogshire describing how the dried pods of legal poppies can be boiled down into the same ass-kicking brew that inspired Thomas DeQuincey and Lewis Carroll 100 years ago.

Sasha bought her first batch of 20 pods for $7.50 from merchants who sold the imported Dutch or Turkish botanicals for use in dried floral arrangements. A helpful business owner volunteered that it would be cheaper to buy pods by the case — $80 to $115 for 20 batches of 20 pods each — and Sasha was off and running.

“It's so easy,” she laments. “I started out using about 10 pods per cup, but I wanted the mix to get stronger, so I'd dump in more.”

Her husband didn't ask any questions — “I said it was an herbal remedy for gynecological problems, so he never asked for any,” Sasha says, laughing. Sasha's main supplier didn't have any idea what she was doing, either. “There's no huge demand for them so far as I can tell, and there aren't any FDA regulations about these pods,” said the baffled owner of Waverley's, whom OffBeat ferreted out from the phone book. “And we've basically stopped selling them for the most part because they're hard to get — two of our distributors have gone out of business.” Waverly's is also going out of business, but “not because of the pod thing — they're a tiny percentage of our sales!” Another flower supplier, Biaggi's Evergreen, also confirmed that it sold poppy pods.

Sasha's $10-a-day habit lasted 10 months, until she found herself nodding off at the wheel while roaring down the 101 at 75 mph. “The book says . . . you won't get strung out unless you use for a long time, but it only took about one and a half months,” Sasha says. (At press time, Hogshire had not responded to an e-mail query.) The doctor at her detox unit told her that her withdrawal was one of the worst he'd ever seen, she adds.

“What a mess — unbelievable anxiety and muscle cramping and headaches, weeks of agony, and all because I thought I could beat the system,” says Sasha, now an outpatient at a drug treatment center. “It was my own system I couldn't beat, unfortunately.”

–Johnny Angel




THE L.A. TIMES THIS WEEK RETRACTED A MAY 28 HEADLINE STATING THAT CHIEF BERNARD Parks had found that his officers “acted properly” in the shooting death of Margaret Laverne Mitchell. In fact, as noted in the original Times story, what Parks actually said was that his two officers “at this point, do not appear [to have] done anything wrong” in cutting down the Lilliputian 54-year-old bag lady while questioning her about the origins of her shopping cart.

Huh? Now, OffBeat would have loved to have been there for the endless parsing and hair-splitting leading up to the correction. (The story was three weeks old.) We'd also like to hear the fractured English that the Times cleaned up with the bracketed [to have].

But what we'd really like to know is: What is the difference between “acting properly” and “not doing anything wrong”? The fact remains that Parks exonerated his officers before his own, or the FBI's, investigations had even started; before eyewitnesses (first in the Weekly) disputed the cops' claim that the mentally ill woman had lunged at them with a screwdriver.

Parks also ignored questions of why two young officers could not control a tiny middle-aged woman by less drastic means, as legally required before resorting to deadly force — and why they were wasting their time investigating homeless shopping carts. The Times also misquoted Parks as saying that Mitchell's family hadn't spoken to her for three years; what he really said was they hadn't talked for over a year. In either version, however, Parks was engaging in the most callous sort of blame-shifting, suggesting that the stricken family bore some responsibility for Mitchell's death. Parks' rush to judgment was reminiscent of Daryl Gates' response to the police shooting of another black woman, Eulia Love, whose death ushered in the era of hostilities that culminated in the Rodney King beating and the 1992 riots. No amount of craven caving-in by the Times is going to change that.




WHEN WE HEARD THAT SHIT — OH ALL RIGHT, RAW SEWAGE — WAS RUNNING IN THE streets of Van Nuys last week, OffBeat sniffed the rank odor of conspiracy. For those who haven't heard, a Y2K readiness drill at a treatment plant sent 3 million gallons of sewage into Woodley Avenue Park and surrounding boulevards. Computer error was blamed. (Y2K, of course, is the pseudo-crisis over what will happen when the millennium strikes and all our computers think that they've been time-traveled back to 1900.) Was somebody trying to sabotage the San Fernando Valley secession movement? Is this what will happen when L.A. pulls the plug?

For years “computer glitch” has served as a catch-all excuse for bureaucrats, who understand that anything more technical than tapping a keg is as incomprehensible to most reporters as the Rosetta stone. OffBeat defies any reader to slog through the Times and Daily News accounts of the spill and come out with a lucid explanation of what happened. All we learned was that, in addition to Y2K, we now have Y2K readiness drills to worry about. If they can't get through a test, what's going to happen when the clock strikes 12:00:00 New Year's Day? So we decided to go to the scene of the crime and find out what the people made of the clamity in the soon-to-be metropolis.

Arriving at Woodley Avenue Park, we found yellow police tape with neatly lettered signs in English and Spanish saying, “Sewage Spill Keep Out.” Problem was, almost no one we tried to talk to spoke either language: not the Asian tourists (Korean), not the Filipino birthday revelers (Tagalog), and not the parents watching the outdoor karate class (Chinese). It wasn't until we got to the karate kids that we were able to have a decent conversation. “Good Lord!” said Andrew Chung, a precocious fifth-grader from Balboa Gifted Magnet. “So that's what we were stepping in — we thought it was just some rain.” But Andrew wasn't really worried; authorities had reopened the park (assuring all that the sun would burn off any remaining bacteria).

The truth is that little of the bosky glory of summer is to be had at Woodley Avenue Park under the best of circumstances. A ragged stretch of grass, choking on white heat and smog, it is hemmed in by not only the sewage plant, but a National Guard installation and the Van Nuys Airport. Most of the people we managed to talk to said it was the only open space in the neighborhood safe from gangs. As long as L.A. relegates much of its park land to the edges of the industrial wasteland, a little sewage spill isn't going to scare anybody off. Ironically, Woodley was among the sites considered for the city's official millennium celebration on New Year's Eve.

Fireworks, champagne and sewage, anyone?




YOU REMEMBER JIM ROGAN. ONE OF THE HOUSE PROSECUTORS. ONE OF THE FEW WHO actually seemed to know how to prosecute a case. Who endeavored to convince his countrymen, and most certainly his constituents in his Glendale-Burbank-Pasadena district, that the impeachment of Bill Clinton wasn't about private morals, wasn't even about Ken Starr's theocratic yearnings, but was really, truly about upholding the law, and the oath, and the Constitution. That Jim Rogan.

Last week, after mulling over the proper response to the Columbine tragedy, that Jim Rogan voted to allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in the nation's public school classrooms. The correlation was fuzzy: The U.S. has one of the highest rates of religious belief, and one of the highest rates of gun violence, of any advanced industrial nation. But this was of little matter to Glendale's Protector of the Faith, who apparently thinks that the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” must mean that Congress can't establish a new religion of its own — the Church of the Holy-Owned Solon, or some such.

When Rogan's constituents oust him next year, maybe he and Ken Starr can team-teach constitutional law. Or how about Bible studies?

–Harold Meyerson


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