Pubdate: Fri, 14 Mar 2003
Source: Tribune Review (Pittsburgh, PA)
Copyright: 2003 Tribune-Review Publishing Co.
Author: Ernie Batista
Note: The writer was assistant special agent in charge of the Drug
Enforcement Administration office in Pittsburgh. He is retired and lives in
Cranberry Township.


Columnist Dimitri Vassilaros's criticism ("Priorities go to pot in bong
bust," March 2) of the Drug Enforcement Administration's Operation Pipe
Dreams, which focused on the sale of illegal drug paraphernalia, compelled
me to try to provide him with a more in-depth perspective of the detrimental
affects and misery caused by drug trafficking and drug abuse on the citizens
of our nation.

Drugs equals money, money equals power. Drug money funds not only the gangs
committing the drive-by shootings in many neighborhoods but also
international terrorists, drug lords and narco-governments. The DEA has
conducted counterdrug operations against international terrorist
organizations long before they became household names. Drugs are just
another weapon of mass destruction. Thousands die each year in the United
States due to the terror of drugs.


The DEA's strategy has always been to attack drug trafficking organizations
at every level in order to make it more difficult for them to operate here
or overseas. The DEA, in partnership with foreign and U.S. law enforcement
agencies and prosecutors, has attacked the drug organizations' production
operations, methods of transportation, communication and distribution
networks, money-laundering methods and also attempted to seize the assets
generated from their ill-gotten gains. Not to mention incarcerating as many
major drug dealers as possible.

Drug organizations depend on others to provide resources and material to
produce drugs, transport, distribute and use them. Whether you provide the
chemicals to produce the drugs, the airplanes, ships and cars to transport
them, the people to sell them, the businesses to launder drug proceeds, the
equipment to use them or the people to consume them, you are a member of the
drug organization. Whatever your role is in the drug chain, your actions are
enabling drug lords and terrorists to exist, profit, and commit atrocities.
By working together to attack the various links, we attempt to make drug
trafficking more costly and problematic for drug organizations.


"Operation Pipe Dreams" has removed yet another tool from the drug dealers'
toolbox. Without the little plastic bags or other items sold in
paraphernalia shops, the street dealer has a difficult time distributing
drugs and drug users have a difficult time using drugs.

Remember that the kids buying heroin today in western Pennsylvania are
buying "stamp bags" of heroin. Quantities of crack cocaine, cocaine,
marijuana and methamphetamine are weighed on scales and sold in "knots" or
Baggies. Many teenagers buy marker pens designed to conceal drugs - making
it easy to use drugs while at school.

The items sold at paraphernalia stores promote drug use, pure and simple. No
one smokes tobacco from a bong. For that matter, most of the products sold
at a paraphernalia shop do not have any legal household applications. Some
shop owners also provide cutting agents in pre-measured amounts for the drug
dealers wanting to increase their profits by diluting the purity of the
drugs being sold. Easily influenced teenagers visiting paraphernalia shops
are exposed to the "tools of the trade" of drug abuse in an environment that
many teenagers consider "cool."

The Internet is widely used to sell drug paraphernalia and other drug-
related products worldwide. Paraphernalia shops are driven by profit and
have no interest in the welfare, safety and health of our children. They
could care less. They are making millions of dollars and I seriously doubt
that many are paying taxes on their income.

Should law enforcement consider these businesses harmless and look the other
way? During the current epidemic of heroin and methamphetamine addiction in
western Pennsylvania should we allow them to continue to promote drug use
under our noses in violation of U.S. laws? Is that what the parents of the
kids that have been drawn into drug addiction expect law enforcement to do?
I seriously doubt it.


Instead of being the targets of cheap shots, DEA, and other federal, state
and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the state and federal
prosecutors should be commended for their efforts in our region. They are
risking their lives and doing their best to make a difference. They have
taken a comprehensive local and global approach against drug organizations
in an effort to cripple the marketing and distribution of drugs in
Pittsburgh and throughout the nation.

Their efforts have included the initiation of a worldwide investigation and
the arrest in Spain of the world's most prolific supplier of Ecstasy,
followed by the arrests of the major Ecstasy dealers in Pittsburgh, the
recent arrests of Pittsburgh's major heroin dealers and the arrests of
unscrupulous doctors and pharmacists who provide prescription drugs such as
Oxycontin, Percocet and other opiates for resale to drug abusers.

Instead of showing compassion for those who promote drug use, I would
strongly recommend that Mr. Vassilaros visit a drug treatment center and
talk to the kids who are engaged in the desperate struggle of their lives
trying to rid their bodies of heroin and other drugs. Ask them what they
think of drugs, paraphernalia and anything else associated with the
substance that is stealing their hope, their future and their lives.
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