On December 20, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Joe Petty made a traffic stop, and State Police K9 Frankie sniffed out 1,250 bags of heroin in the vehicle, including a large number stamped “title="obamacare heroin">OBAMA CARE,” the department announced on Facebook. (Another portion of the bags were labeled “KURT COBAIN.”) Heroin dealers on the East Coast oftentimes mark the small plastic bags containing a single dose of heroin for street sale with a personal brand stamp. The labeled glassine bags, which are traditionally intended for stamp collecting, inspire word-of-mouth promotion and brand loyalty from consumers.
This journalist was unable to uncover a single heroin stamp featuring George W. Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin, or Mitt Romney.
Jynxies Natural Habitat, a blog consisting of reviews of heroin and photos of stamped heroin bags, notes a bag of “WMD” heroin with a crudely drawn AR-15 on it retails for $5 in Delaware, “ BROOKLYN’S FINEST” heroin was on the street in 2009, and “ ARAB MONEY” was on the market in 2010. A line of Camden, New Jersey, heroin bears a “ USDA” badge. A batch of “ LAW & ORDER” heroin rebranded itself by adding “ CRIMINAL INTENT.” This February, a New Jersey couple was caught with nearly 200 bags of “HURRICANE SANDY” smack.
More generally, heroin brands often reference wealth (“ VERSACE,” “GUCCI,” “PRADA“), death (“187,” “DEATH SENTENCE,” “OVERDOSE“), and pop culture (“007,” “BADA BING,” “TWILIGHT“). Then there’s “AMERICAN DREAM.” And “LeBRON JAMES.” In 2010, a New York City gallery hosted an entire show of heroin stamp art.
Reached by email, novelist and screenwriter Jerry Stahl, who chronicled his heroin addiction in Permanent Midnight, which became a movie of the same name starring Ben Stiller, recalled a drug named for a Republican “way back when Bush Jr invaded Iraq.” He recollects dealers would “sling these strange red pills called ‘Cheney Hearts’” — although, he never tried them. “I still don’t know what they were,” he added. “I was strictly a junkie back in the day, and didn’t mess with pills.”
David Ford, a bar manager and self-described “erstwhile addict” who’s written about scoring heroin, observed in an email, “[D]ope is a business like any other, and dope dealers understand the value of branding.” Obamacare “is present in the national imagination right now,” he says, “so, like, why the **** not, you know?”