A Trip Through Drugs: Costs & Consequences
As guests enter the Drugs: Costs & Consequences exhibit, they will be faced with the ultimate cost of drugs: shattered dreams and lives. The wreckage from a real fatal drug-related accident, with scattered photos, toys and drug chemicals, is on display–a startling and emotional reminder of the dangers of drug use.
From here, guests start their journey to learn about the science and impact of the drug trade on our bodies, our communities and our world.
The growing and manufacturing of illegal drugs that are found on the streets of American cities does not often occur within our borders. Production often takes place in remote, mountainous areas around the world where opium, coca and cannabis are grown and where clandestine labs for producing methamphetamine are found.
These are the principal drugs of the international illegal drug trade, and in this section of the exhibit, guests will learn how they were introduced to society historically and how they are made today: from the coca plants grown in Colombia to produce cocaine; to the poppy fields of Afghanistan that yield opium, heroin and morphine; to the cannabis fields in South America; to the methamphetamine factories in Mexico. Guests are able to view an authentic jungle coca lab, confiscated and displayed in the exhibit space, showing how cocaine is derived from coca leaves and made into cocaine; as well as a recreated Afghan opium/heroin processing laboratory in which sap from poppies is refined into heroin.
Drugs are often smuggled into the United States to be distributed and sold. There are various ways of smuggling drugs. Some are as simple as hiding drugs in a secret compartment in a suitcase. Others are far more complicated, and involve hiding drugs in human beings acting as “mules,” people who risk their lives by swallowing condoms or balloons full of drugs. Several artifacts illustrate these smuggling methods, and maps highlight common drug trafficking routes throughout the world.
Drugs are a big business, and a business that makes a lot of money. In the United States alone, $65 billion changes hands for drugs every year–which, if it were legitimate business, would rank drug trafficking 29st on the Fortune 500 list. The money that is made from drugs is often “laundered,” given to banks and businesses then redistributed to the traffickers in some way as “legal.” In the 1980s the Drug Enforcement Administration began focusing more on tracking the profits of drug dealing, and has made headway to block money laundering, though the process still continues. Some estimates place the amount of money that is laundered internationally at $300 to $500 billion annually.
Guests learn more about some of the DEA’s money laundering investigations as well as some notorious figures in the drug money laundering trade. These include Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela of the Cali Cartel in Colombia and Osama bin Laden, who with Al Qaida, has handled hundreds of millions of dollars from various organizations involved in the drug trade, including the Taliban. Guests also discover how money is able to be surreptitiously moved around the world through wire transfers, ATM cards, gold jewelry and more.
Drugs and the Body and Brain
In this section, the science of addiction is addressed: What is it? How does it affect the brain? How is it treated? How do brains recover from addiction damage? Guests learn how addictions take control of the brain’s reward circuit, gradually altering motivation, pleasure and desire. An interactive display illustrates this by demonstrating the effects of certain “rewards” in a normal brain versus an addicted brain. Guests can view imagery from actual MRI and PET scans that help scientists uncover the mysteries of addiction, loss of brain function due to drugs and recovery. An additional interactive display allows guests to hear true stories of addiction and recovery from addicts themselves.
The Cost to Children: The Terrible Toll
Drugs exact a terrible toll on children–the children of drug-using parents, abused and neglected; young workers in the trade who are forced to process and sell; those youth who are caught in the cross-fire of drug gangs; and more. Guests see this toll first hand as they see shocking photos that illustrate how children are impacted by drugs:
- Between 2000 and 2007 more than 15,000 children were found at operating methamphetamine laboratories around the United States. These children had been exposed to the toxic chemicals of meth production. Some were burned or killed from explosions; others were found in filthy and dangerous environments.
- Thousands of babies are born to drug users each year and many are “drug-affected,” meaning that their mother’s drug use causes them physical, mental or behavioral problems.
- Drug use itself is affecting younger and younger children. Studies indicate that some children are already abusing drugs at the age of 12 or 13.
- A display of a young teen’s bedroom shows just how easy it is for kids to access Web sites that sell illegal drugs.
The Cost to Communities
Illegal drugs have had devastating impacts on communities across the country–urban to rural. Guests explore a recreated methamphetamine lab built in an average motel room from any small to mid-sized community in America. Pictures and charts show the devastation of meth use and manufacture. Moving to urban communities, guests explore the recreation of a section of an inner city tenement circa 1985 which illustrates the rise of crack. From the effects of the drug itself, to the violence caused by the buying and selling of the drug, crack has touched and continues t touch inner cities across the nation.
Other Costs of Drugs
There are many societal costs to the drug problem in this country–drug treatment, health care costs, law enforcement and incarceration–and they add up to $161 billion a year. Damage to the environment, dangerous driving, destroyed neighborhoods and lost lives (more than 28,000 in 2003) are all consequences of illegal drugs. Some of the damage to society is illustrated in this area with recreated displays of a drug user’s tenement apartment and a dangerous methamphetamine lab set up within a hotel room.
Damage to the environment is detailed as well: clear cutting of the rain forest in Central and South America for the planting of coca fields, the destruction of natural forests in the U.S. for the growing of marijuana and the dumping of hazardous waste products in to the water table after the manufacture of methamphetamine. Just one pound of methamphetamine creates between five and six pounds of toxic waste.
Breaking the Cycle
Illegal drug abuse has been a concern in the United States for more than 150 years. The result has been a vicious cycle of drugs and drug-related violence that has consumed many American families. A combination of law enforcement, drug abuse education and treatment programs have been and continue to be implemented across the country to combat substance abuse and break that cycle.
The final area of the exhibit offers many resources on how the cycle of drug abuse and drug-related violence can be broken with awareness, outreach and treatment. Computer kiosks offer access to different prevention and treatment websites, and literature is available from both national organizations and Southern California-based groups.