a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Museum highlights the gruesome side of illegal drugs

A grim reminder at the DEA Museum in Arlington, Va., of the consequences of abusing drugs. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

ARLINGTON, Va. ­– A fake stiff is placed under a white sheet on a gurney suggesting a morgue at the federal Drug Enforcement Agency’s museum near the nation’s capital.

The disturbing scene is a cold reminder that death is “what happens when you take too much,” the display indicates in this odd tribute to America’s drug war.

Unlike Washington Monument across the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., visitors do not face a long line to get inside the DEA Museum at 700 Army Navy Drive in nearby Arlington, Va. On the Friday morning leading into the Fourth of July weekend, there are just three visitors in the building whose interior is shielded by black tinted windows suited for a drug dealer's Cadillac Escalade.

Just beyond the metal detector at the side entrance are glass display cases whose contents focus on marijuana. One of them protects a brick of pot so old it has lost its color. Another holds a bevy of pot-smoking bowls and pipes and even a cute bong handcrafted from a plastic Honey Bear bottle.

Further inside another display focuses on saxophone player Milton Mezz Mezzrow, who introduced cannabis to Harlem in 1929. He argued the drug “improved their music,” possibly coining a phrase so often repeated by musicians to follow him in the drug-fueled 1960s and 1970s.

Prominently displayed down the hall is an old-fashioned clandestine pill press, the kind used by drug mixers who specialized in dealing in bootleg narcotics.

Another display honors Operation Scorpion, which uncovered Pablo Escobar’s lucrative cocaine shop in the Colombian jungle in what became known as the Tranquilandia bust of 1984. The DEA used satellite technology to track a huge shipment of ether there based on information received from a tipster in New Jersey. The Escobar case became the most-infamous bust in DEA history as it helped to bring down a cartel that netted $25 billion a year.

On a lighter note this museum boasts a hip pair of green snake-skin platform shoes worn by an undercover agent working Detroit in the 1970s.

And then it turns quite serious around a glass case containing a black 9 mm submachine gun used nowadays by agents battling the heroin comeback, among other drug-related issues.

Here there is a gruesome crime scene photograph of a man who died in 1995 from inhaling fumes at a meth lab where someone was carelessly cooking the drug in San Diego.

That helps to explain why anxious tourists are not rushing to get inside this place.
Pimp shoes worn in the 1970s by an undercover DEA agent in Detroit. (Scott Beveridge photo)

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