In the spirit of the holiday season, lets talk about hard drugs.
While our friends and family were out shopping for Black Friday deals, some of our neighbors were doing some shopping of their own, for heroin, crack, methamphetamine and illegal pills.
Turns out, when it comes to basic economics, theres not much difference between the two markets.
Its retail sales. You cant advertise, but word of mouth on the street is as good as anything, said Chris L. Cuppernell, supervisor of the Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force.
Chris and the officers he supervises buy drugs undercover.
I called Chris on Cyber Monday because I wrote a story about the rise of heroin use in the north country earlier this year and I was curious to see if the trend was continuing.
It is. In September, Chris told me that heroin-related cases accounted for 27 percent of his units case load. That figure has held steady and even increased slightly to 30 percent, Chris said.
Its like anything else; if you have a good quality product for a reasonable price, people are going to buy it, he said. If you can do that, you can make a lot of money, provided you stay out of jail.
Right now, heroin is the drug du jour in the north country. The quality has improved and the cost has plummeted.
A bundle of 10 postage-stamp sized bags of the stuff costs between $100 and $120.
Last year, that same bundle cost about $250, Chris told me.
And drug prices drop the farther south you go.
A rock of crack cocaine the size of a pencil eraser costs $40 to $50 in the north country.
In Syracuse it can be had for half that amount. In New York City? Fuggedaboutit. $5 a rock.
That difference in price provides an incentive for dealers to travel north to peddle their wares.
Prescription pills like hydrocodone go for $5 to $10 apiece in the north country, depending on the dosage, Chris said.
Strangely enough, the price of marijuana has increased. At $200 to $250 an ounce, its quite expensive, Chris said.
Meth is a little bit harder to come across for the casual shopper. Its mostly cooked in makeshift labs by hardcore users who then sell it to a small circle of friends, Chris said.
The task force usually discovers the labs only when something goes wrong, like a fire, or if officers receive a tip from a confidential informant or find something in the trash.
Officials are at a loss to explain why heroin is so plentiful right now, but Chris has his own observations.
Obviously theres more coming into the country for the price to go down, he said.
Demand has not yet caught up to the supply, according to Chris, but those who work in the addiction treatment field are keeping an eye on the trend.
We anticipate there will be an increase in individuals with heroin-related issues presenting either to law enforcement or addiction treatment services, said Anita K. Seefried-Brown, director of community prevention at the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County.
The low prices put more people at risk.
People who do other drugs are also trying out or dabbling in heroin, Chris said. Its different and its cheap and its all over.
According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, New York was one of the top 10 states for drug-use rates in several categories, including past-year cocaine use among people age 12 or older, illicit drug dependence among people age 12 or older and illicit drug dependence among young adults age 18 to 25.
Heroin is the most commonly cited drug among primary drug admissions in New York, according to ONDCP.
Drug users are typical consumers in other respects as well. They like quality, for instance (heroin in the north country is reportedly of good quality), and a bad review can spell death for a vendor.
The biggest difference between the two markets is that one of them is hidden from plain sight. There are no Black Friday sales on heroin though buying the drug in bulk does save money and you wont read a review about a batch of meth on Yelp, but make no mistake, illegal drugs are being bought and sold in the north country this holiday season.
Daniel Flatley is a staff writer covering Jefferson County government and politics for the Watertown Daily Times. He writes a column once a week for the local section of the paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.