Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Pill City


vice |  When the Baltimore riots erupted in April 2015 after Freddie Gray's death in police custody, James "Brick" Feeney and Willie "Wax" Harris*, two tech-savvy teenagers with ties to Maryland's Black Guerrilla Family (BGF), saw opportunity. Using the chaos as cover, they managed to steal at least a million doses of prescription drugs and heroin from city pharmacies and rival dealers. But even if their caper was essentially an old-school, smash-and-grab-style theft, the teens had plans to sell the drugs in a more sophisticated manner: via the Dark Web, where pills went for upward of $100 each.

Leaning on location-based technology and encrypted messaging software, Brick envisioned their operation as an "Uber of drug dealing."

As the looted drugs were shipped up and down the East Coast, a spike in opiate overdoses in African American communities raised eyebrows, and the DEA and FBI eventually took notice. In his forthcoming book Pill City: How Two Honor Roll Students Foiled the Feds and Built a Drug Empire, veteran crime reporter Kevin Deutsch profiles the the teens' massively profitable scheme, which he contends had (distant) ties to El Chapo's Sinaloa cartel. 

Deutsch enjoyed incredible access to the two teens and some 300 other dealers, addicts, gang bangers, police, and drug-treatment specialists for the book. A reporter who prefers to work with his "feet on the ground," Deutsch saw the vicious effects of America's opioid epidemic in an urban setting. VICE talked to the journalist about how he wrapped his head around the technology in play, how opiates were never just a middle-class white problem, and where Brick and Wax are at now.