Heroin Be the Death of Me

South Beach nightlife sophisticates know they can handle it. A little puff now and then won't kill you. No big deal.

Frank squirms when Colombia is mentioned. He doesn't want to talk about the source of tonight's heroin. Who cares where it came from? David avoids the subject of sources as well, except to provide a detailed description of some blood-and-feces-covered condoms he once saw at a dealer's apartment. The condoms, which had arrived from somewhere, were stuffed with heroin.

Users may shrink from discussing their supply, but the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has little doubt about the origins of high-grade Miami heroin. "Most if not all of the heroin we seize at the airport in conjunction with customs is coming from Colombia," asserts Jim Shedd, a spokesman for the DEA's local office. Shedd adds that the powder has been exceptionally potent, 98 to 100 percent pure.

Last year airport agents nabbed 101 people who carried heroin somewhere inside their bodies, "body packers," as they are known. That figure represents a dramatic increase from 1990, when only one body packer was arrested. And body packers account for only a fraction of all airport heroin seizures. "It's like an ant army," Shedd says. "They're swallowing it, bringing it in their shoes, stuffing it into false-bottom suitcases. Every day there's a seizure of heroin that's being made."

While Colombia supplies a relatively small portion of the U.S. heroin market (around fifteen percent, according to a recent narcotics intelligence report produced by the DEA in collaboration with eleven other federal agencies), the nation is the world's fourth-largest source of opium poppies. Because it is far more lucrative to smuggle heroin than cocaine, experts believe that Colombians are simply adding heroin to their existing network of cocaine distributors. According to the intelligence report: "Colombian traffickers used a variety of tactics to establish mid- and retail-level outlets for their heroin. In addition to providing heroin of unusually high purity, Colombian traffickers offered free samples of heroin to potential distributors, offered to front [on credit] ounce and multi-ounce quantities of heroin to first-time buyers, and persuaded their established cocaine distributors to purchase and sell heroin as a condition of doing business." To avoid competition from ethnic Chinese and other established heroin importers in major markets like New York City, the Colombian cartels have expanded into smaller metropolitan areas such as Hartford and Bridgeport, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; as well as Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami, the report states. Pressure on Miami's cocaine dealers to recruit new heroin customers may explain a couple of last year's more puzzling overdoses.

On September 26, Marianne Hebrard returned home to find her husband, Paul Flandrak, lying on the bed in their master bedroom, cold to the touch. According to police reports, on the nightstand next to the bed were five plastic bags filled with small amounts of white powder. A line of powder had been traced out on top of the nightstand, as if waiting for the next sniff up the nose. From the white residue caked near Flandrak's nose, there was little doubt for whom that line was intended.

An autopsy revealed that Flandrak, 42-year-old owner of the popular South Beach nightclub called Dune, had died of a cocaine and heroin overdose. A former owner of the successful Paris club Le Boy, Flandrak had recently moved to South Florida and was renting a home in Bay Harbor Islands while he renovated a Mediterranean-style mansion he had purchased on Pine Tree Drive in Miami Beach. Although Flandrak had admitted an earlier problem with cocaine, he claimed he was now clean. "I never saw Paul doing drugs," recalls promoter Sam Zaoui, "and I saw him many times during the course of an evening." Nevertheless, he concedes it's possible that Flandrak may have occasionally lapsed from his no-drugs pledge. This time his dealer may have talked him into trying some of the new heroin along with his coke.

By the time David learned of Flandrak's death, he says he had already resolved to quit. But heroin's new-found popularity made that difficult; nearly everywhere he went, smack would make an appearance. "There's a very rich man who lives in Palm Beach who has some big parties there sometimes," he remembers. "I was coming down, trying to do less and less heroin every day, so I was very tired, and I felt like shit all the time." A man David describes as "one of the richest people in the world -- not the owner of the house" -- approached him at a party and invited him to get high. Thinking he was being offered a bump of cocaine, David followed him into a bathroom. "Literally, this guy pulls a piece of aluminum foil out of his pocket and starts smoking heroin, and for me to, uh, protect my image I have to say, 'Heroin! Oh my God, are you crazy? That stuff will kill you, man.'"

Indeed, David believes heroin is killing him. Around one in the morning, after his guests have left the apartment, David heads out as well, hoping to collect on a few outstanding debts so he can pay his bills before leaving town. First stop is Bar None at 411 Washington Avenue, where he mingles briefly before rushing up the street to Risk. He has no luck there either, so he returns to Bar None. At every nightclub it's the same story: The people who owe him money have always left just before he arrives.

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