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Notes from the May, 2000 Conference of the
California Association of Toxicologists

Page 5

10:15 am -- "The Role of a Narcotic Detective in Los Angeles County"
Anthony Shapiro - Undercover narcotics detective, LA County Sheriffs Dept

Officer Shapiro described himself as half-jewish, half mexican. He was about 40 years old, but looked younger: he could get away with being 30 easily. He was obviously very comfortable as a public speaker and definitely had stand-up comedian delivery style, he made lots of jokes and was entertaining to listen to. He seemed open and friendly and didn't come across and hardened or jaded. I choose to highlight the unexpected qualities of Officer Shapiro, so this does not cover his stories of his years of work in South Central LA with cocaine, meth, and heroin.

He told the story of the history of his career from working in the jail where he said "somehow 99% of the criminals I talked to were related to drugs somehow", to working briefly in narcotics, to working a beat, back to narcotics. He had worked meth, cocaine, and heroin cases for a number of years, but the last couple years he moved to doing a lot of work in the rave/party scene and now he works to bust people for selling ecstasy. He mentioned that he had an ecstasy dealer bust setup for later that night.

He talked about how cocaine all comes from the andes, from south america, and can't be made here and so it is necessarily going to be replaced with things that can be made in the country or near the border like meth or E. He said he agreed with the DEA guy and that he already saw mexicans selling E and that over the next 3 years he expected the Mexicans would be major players in the E market and that the price of Ecstasy would drop by half over the next few years as it started to be made in large quantities locally.

He said that he knew people who had been using heroin for 30 years or more. He talked about mexican workers who buy black tar heroin and stick a small wad in their cheek that they suck on throughout the day. He talked about how many older heroin users are actually in good physical health, as long as they get their heroin.

He then started talking about raves and said that at the big raves, the "guards are searching for water, not guns or drugs" and that they will take your water away because "its all about money". He said he is able to sneak his gun into raves.

"The hardest part of the job is remembering you're still a police officer.. other than a few little bad things, it [MDMA] is the best drug in the world."

He said that E in LA has been primarily at raves and gay parties / clubs, but that recently he's been infiltrating groups of young married couples ("swingers") who use it at their parties. He said he had worked to infiltrate several different groups.

"Other than giving you a few bad side effects, I bet I could convince a lot of the people here in this room to try it [MDMA], that's how good it is."

He talked about how, as part of creating a credible cover, he gets to pick out a pretty young 20-25 year old female cop and ask them to go to raves with him as his date. He said that he had to pretend to be on MDMA as parts of some investigations. He said that it was "a great job" and made some jokes about the pleasure of being a 40 year old man with 2 kids getting to go out with a young woman dressed up to these parties. He projected a sense of seriousness of the job while obviously being able to joke about it.

He said people seem to be having "the best time" and that ecstasy is "the love drug, the hug drug". He also talked about organized crime and the problems around illegal drug sales. He talked about problems in and around raves.

Before lunch, I had the chance to ask him a few questions. First I asked him: Earth: "When you worked with heroin, coke, and meth I assume you saw a lot of problems for the users that you attribute to the drugs, what problems do you see with users of E?"

Agent Shapiro: "I worry about what's in the pills they buy, that its an unknown, but I don't see the problems I see with meth or rock. Because if you take E one day, the next day you can't take it again: it won't do anything. You can take it, but it doesn't make you feel that good. So kids take it once a week cause they can go out every weekend and have a good time. What I'm worried about with it is the next day they are so washed out, so depressed that they start taking other things to try to make themselves feel better. They start drinking alcohol or maybe taking meth or LSD or other stuff just to not feel so bad, and I worry about that." He also mentioned how he was worried about the long term effects of possible brain damage.

During lunch, Richard and I sat with Agent Shapiro at a table with a group of 6 or so state criminologists and toxicologists and one pharmacologist. I asked him something like: "If you see the use of ecstasy is about to grow by several times and the price going down and you've seen that the use of meth and crack and heroin don't seem to be reduced significantly by law enforcement, what do you see being the long term strategy ?"

He answered something like: "I try not to think about it too much, or I'd have to start drinking and be depressed."

earth: "Do you see law enforcement solving these problems?"

Shapiro: "no"

After some more discussion at the table, Officer Shapiro talked about the drugs being illegal and uncontrolled and "unregulated" and anyone could them and that they could have anything in them.

Richard asked him whether he thought that alcohol-style regulation might work with something like MDMA and Shapiro replied with something like "maybe, yes".

While he certainly is committed and believes in the necessity of what he's doing, he was also open to discussions of changes in policy. Although I found it difficult to understand why someone who didn't see any significant problems associated with a drug would spend their time arresting people for selling small quantities of it, he seemed a rational, caring, interested person trying to do the right thing.