CHASING THE DRAGON. A group of Filipinos get together for a shabu session
(above photo) in a Los Angeles motel.
(above photo) in a Los Angeles motel.
I was surprised to find out that shabu was not only popular with Filipino teen-
agers. I also met parents in their 40's and 50's who were likewise addicted to the drug.
One day in September of '95, I was invited to a home in Panorama City, Calif. where I was introduced to a father who was smoking shabu with his 18-year old son in their living room.
The group cooked and smoked their own "homemade" shabu almost on a daily basis. Majority of them were in their 20's and 30's and were jobless---or have lost their jobs and their homes and families. The long-term side effects of shabu eventually leads them to a life of crime, deteriorating health and lost of trust among friends and loved ones.
Their prolonged and continued use of the drug has also caused them to despise each other. Paranoia sets in and none of them would reveal were they actually lived---that is, if they still had a place to call home. Oftentimes, group members would steal from each other.
Mang Tony, 52, took four of his friends to his apartment because they no longer had a place to stay. Mang Tony recounts that he went to the grocery and cooked food for them.
When they left a week later, they took with them his co!lection of 4 sets of expensive darts, his stereo and VCR. They left without even bothering to say thank you or goodbye. "I gave them shelter, I fed them and they slept in my home---yet look what they did. Those monkeys even had the face to steal from me," Mang Tony said.
In another case, 34-year old Gerry P. one day asked his childhood friend Jose L., 38, to go to the local Dept. of Water & Power to pay his water and electricity bill of $300. Gerry handed his car keys to Jose and an envelope containing $300 in cash. That was the last time Gerry saw Jose. When I contacted Gerry two weeks after the incident, Jose has not been back since he took off with the money and his car, a 1992 Honda Accord.
In the next several months since I met and observed the group in Los Angeles --- for a book project documenting their daily ritual of cooking, smoking and selling shabu --- I have come to the conclusion that shabu is more dangerous than any other drug available in the market today.
The 20-second rush of crack cocaine is nothing, many of them said, compared to the euphoria they get from smoking shabu which would often last for days on end. A few of them admitted they were heavy crack users long before they discovered shabu.
"You're so high on speed, but at the same time you feel and act so normal. That's what makes this drug so dangerous," said Jimmy B., a 42-year old former postal employee in Los Angeles who was terminated from his job seven years ago after he was caught stealing credit cards from the mail. His wife of 18 years soon left him and took their 2 teenage children with her. Despite what happened, it still has not sunk in and Jimmy continues to live in self-denial.
That night when I saw Jimmy again he looked more like in his 60's. I would not have recognized him if he didn't remind me who he was. I still vividly remember meeting him in 1986 at a party and what a big beer belly he had then. But the Jimmy I met when I thanked and bade the group goodbye --- at the conclusion of my study --- was not the healthy and happy Jimmy I met 13 years ago. The last time I saw him was in 1988 at a picnic held at the Bob Hope Park in Burbank, Calif. One of my uncles worked at the same post office facility with Jimmy for several years. "We were more than brothers. In fact, we are compadres," he says proudly.
Jimmy's facial features have changed dramatically---and it scared me because he looked remarkably very different. I've seen a lot of events transpired in some people's lives. I've covered a lot of stories --- from massive and violent street demonstrations against the Marcos regime to the war between Muslim rebels and Philippine govern-
ment troops in my 19 years as a photojournalist --- but I've never felt so sad, depressed and disappointed --- afler I saw Jimmy again that night.
Jimmy looked extremely different --- so old and wrinkled. As a photojournalist I've developed a unique style in remembering a person's face even decades after I met them. But the fact that I failed to recognize him---gave me the goose bumps.
The drug obviously robbed him of his youthful appearance that he now looks like a grandfather in his early 60's---although he's only 42. He's lost most of his upper front teeth (the drug slowly eats away the users' tooth enamel, weakens the roots and damages the gums) and weighs a mere 120 lbs. for his 5'9" frame. "I used to weigh 175 lbs. he said with a faint smile.
Oftentimes, shabu smokers stay awake for days at a time. It is only when the user's body can no longer endure the physical and mental fatigue they get from smoking shabu---will the user finally go to sleep lasting sometimes over 24 hours.
In my study, one member of the group stayed awake for four nights in a row that he started hallucinating and having stomach cramps after taking very little food or liquid during the 96-hour period. Shabu users normally have no appetite and the end result is for them to lose a lot of weight over a period of time. And as time goes by,
a shabu user can no longer tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
$100 A GRAM. Shabu's rising popularity and increased demand in the United States has driven up the price of the drug. In Los Angeles, for instance, shabu costs anywhere between $100 to $140 a gram depending on the buyer's connections.
But what actually makes shabu extremely dangerous is that an abuser would act just like any normal person thereby making it even more difficult for family members, loved ones, friends, and medical practitioners to detect addiction or pinpoint an addict in it's early stage when counter-measures and other preventive methods could normally be applied without the user going through an extensive drug rehabilitation.
The results of my shabu study-- starting in Manila in 1989 and my personal involvement with several childhood friends, a few relatives and loved ones, including a large group of Filipino teens and their parents in Los Angeles made me decide to start writing my first book on the subject of shabu.
The book will make shabu abusers and non-users alike as well as their love ones and members of the family --- understand the devastating effects of the drug and how they could best deal with the problem and to understand the need to help and comfort those who are deeply involved and helplessly addicted to the drug. The drug's main ingredient is ephedrine, it's raw product, known in the U.S. for it's Tagalog term, "tik-tik."
I'm sure many among us know someone or have loved ones, friends or members
of the family who have fallen victirn to this extremely dangerous drug. It only goes to show the seriousness of the problem and how well-entrenched and powerful the drug syndicates have become---not only in the Philippines but also in Filipino communities across North America.
We must not let our feelings of helplessness discourage us in fighting this global drug menace---especially against people who make their living selling shabu and destroying the lives of other human beings.
I hope this book will help save lives in the years to come by explaining to those who are unfamiliar with the drug --- or for those who have not tried it --- on how to deal with a potential problem should they encounter them.
The book --- and this is my main objective in choosing this subject --- will greatly increase awareness among our people, the young ones specially, on the devastating (physical, mental and spiritual) effects of the drug not only to the addict's well-being, but also to members of their family and the many the people around them. My ultimate objective is to discourage the younger generation from experimenting with shabu by presenting them with detailed facts, pictures and illustrations and numerous cases and real-life incidents I have documented since 1989.
The [ shabu] drug problem in the 7,107-island nation has reached epidemic proportions that a senator once expressed alarm over the situation and compared the magnitude of the shabu problem in the Philippines to that of cocaine in Colombia, South America.
I strongly encourage people reading this article to join us in the battle against shabu and drug abuse by showing compassion and understanding to those who are already addicted to the drug---instead of criticizing, jailing or punishing them because an addict is just as much a victim as the loved ones they hurt. The best place to start this campaign is with one's family circle at home---particularly the children.
I hope Filipinos will view the shabu problem as a national emergency and urge the Philippine government to organize a national task force with the main goal of drawing up solutions and preventive measures in its fight against the shabu menace now permeating even the remotest part of the 7,107-island nation because the situation is already out of control.
SHABU IN AMERICA. A front page article (above photo) by John L. Shinn III, LAZT's founder and editor-in-chief, on the growing market of shabu in the U.S published by the Filipino-American Herald (Nov. 15, 1995 edition) in Seattle.
Since shabu first surfaced in the streets of Manila in early 1985, the Philippine government has not launched any meaningful and objective campaign to educate the general public on the harmful side effects of the drug. If such an undertaking would be put into action, it should start by educating our grade and high school population because it is they who are very much vulnerable to fall prey to this dangerous drug.
On the city, provincial and barangay levels, local officials must be "ordered" to be always vigilant as ever against drug activities in their respective areas and localities and they must be rewarded---and their collective effort recognized --- accordingly, by the national government.
We must unite in the war against drugs, the drug lords and their suppliers because the future of our children's children are at stake here. It's never too late to start now.
How a bedroom shabu lab looks like:
It took me almost a year to gain the trust and confidence of the group's members---
enough for one of them to let me shoot pictures while he was cooking shabu in his room in Panorama City, Calif. Shabu users normally have no appetite and the end result is for them to lose a lot of weight over a short period of time. And as time
goes by, a shabu user can no longer tell the difference between reality and fantasy.