Veteran Dope Addict at 17
Salt Lake Telegram
June 29, 1951
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] have no idea of the name of this tragic youngster. He was 17 years old, a Puerto Rican from New York’s little San Juan, and — to his shame and bewilderment — a veteran dope addict.
There he was in his double-breasted dark brown suit and gay necktie being led by a federal turnkey to the senatorial hot seat to tell what he knew about baby dope fiends, like himself, and how they got that way. So let’s call him Juan Doe.
Juan balked at the television cameras ordered up by the crime investigating committee. He did not want his old mother, from whom he stole household treasures to buy heroin, to see his face on a TV screen. So, Sen. Herbert R. O’Conor (D., Md), the chairman, told the video experts to keep their machines from looking into his handsome young face.
Focused On Hands
One of the cameras focused on his hands; in his slim fingers Juan clutched a handkerchief until it turned into a tight ball.
I, myself, think he made a mistake about his mother; she could have felt a little proud watching her boy, who took up dope at the age of 13, helping those senators figure out new laws to catch the harpies preying on children with reefers.
These are cigarettes made of marijuana. First one Juan smoked was free. One of his schoolmates, himself still much too young to think about shaving, gave it to him. It made Juan feel wonderful. For a while. Then he wanted more cigarettes. They cost 50 cents apiece. And the more he smoked the less effect they seemed to have
One of his fellow reefer smokers slipped him a capsule of heroin, a white powder, which he sniffed up his nose. This caused him to feel good again. But when the effects wore off, Juan was sick. He suffered nausea, jumpy nerves, butterfly stomach. So one of the peddlers sold him more capsules, 25 for $10.
The senators couldn’t understand how Juan located a drug peddler. Juan said he didn’t have to. “They could see I was sick”, he said in English with only a hint of Spanish accent. “They came to me.”
So he sniffed heroin for a while. The longer he used it, the more he had to have. He quit school and took a job as a clerk to get the money for his vice. He didn’t earn enough to buy all the drugs he needed. By now they were a necessity. He took to injecting them into his veins with a hypodermic needle. Without them he was too sick to work. Then he stole jewelry from his mother and her best silver dishes.
Learned the Truth
She discovered finally what was wrong with her son; for weeks she’d worried about the way he stayed home in a kind of nervous stupor. He told her the truth — it wasn’t easy — and she financed his train fare to the federal narcotics hospital at Lexington, Ky. For Senora Doe, finding that money was not easy, either.
Now Juan is under treatment. The doctors believe he’ll be as good as new in a few more weeks. And I’m inclined to ignore the testimony of all the officials, the specialists and the physicians who told the evils of narcotics among teenagers. They all meant well, but nothing they could say was as impressive as the softly spoken words of Juan Doe. His evidence is expected to result in stiff new penalties for those who lure youngsters into the drug habit. Juan’s mother at long last can feel happy, a little happy, about her son.