This article is part of "Safe Sesh", a VICE harm reduction campaign produced in collaboration with The Loop and the Royal Society for Public Health. Read more from the editorial series here.
Everyone has a low ebb they remember well. I have a friend, for instance, who says his most shameful moment was the time he got a nosebleed picking up three grams of coke at 11.30AM. The dealer looked at him pityingly and told him, "Your nose is pouring blood, Steve. You look like shit," before completing the transaction. Steve then had to mop up his sorry nose before sloping back to the gak gremlins crawling around his flat.
It might not be unreasonable to suggest that the dealer could have refused to sell his wares on the grounds that Steve was clearly not in a physical state to ingest them. But he didn't, and since then I've often wondered how much dealers care about the wellbeing of their customers.
"For one thing: it makes no financial sense for drug dealers to kill off their customers," says Max Daly, drug expert and author of VICE's Narcomania column. "For heroin and crack sellers it's all about money, so those supplying street sellers would prefer to sell a product that keeps people coming back for more. The same goes for those selling recreational drugs; you will make more money if your product is reliable and doesn't make people ill. Social dealers will be less motivated by profit; they know their customers, so care more about whether they damage them."
Max's comments made sense, but I figured I should hear some thoughts from actual dealers themselves, so I called a few and asked them if they care about their customers.
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Brighton is flooded with cheap coke. There's a lot of people around who are happy to pay £40 for a gram that's pure benzocaine and mannitol, but mine is a better product, which is why it's £80. I'm mostly open from 1PM to 1AM. This differentiates me from other dealers, many of whom don't start until late in the afternoon, as they've been up working late.
I'm first port of call for people who are still rolling over from the night before; New Year's Day and the Sunday of Brighton Pride weekend are always huge for me. If someone was coming back to me at, say, 7PM and I knew they were up from the night before, I might ask them if they were sure they needed it. But if they didn't look too bad and could string a sentence together I'd sell it to them, to be honest. If they don't get it off me they'll only call someone else.
Most people buy a gram or two from me and come through an existing customer, and I tend to think they know what they're doing. Because I'm a bit more expensive, my clients are generally older, so I don't worry about some kiddy trying to hoof it all in one go. I do have people who buy too regularly, and of course I worry about how they're affected by it, especially if I've got to know them a bit. But, at the end of the day, I'm a drug dealer.
I predominantly sold pills and ketamine. I had 50 to 60 regular customers, and overall close to 1,000. I very rarely met customers, and had runners to do the drops for me. I sold very clean drugs. All my product was tested before I sold it, and my customers returned because they knew I sold quality.
Because I never really met the customers I couldn't give them advice in person, but I would get a runner to tell them to be careful if I knew the drugs were strong. And I would refuse to sell to anyone under 16. I'd even get the runners to ID them if they looked really young.
The only time I would meet customers was when I sold at squat raves. If someone came up to me and asked for a drug, and I could tell they were too fucked already, I would refuse. I don't want someone's stupid mistake of OD'ing on my conscience. If someone had died taking my drugs I would have 100 percent felt responsible. It would have played on my mind for the rest of my life. That's one of the reasons I always sold clean drugs.
Lucy, Undisclosed Location
I used to deal heroin. I would take over from my ex-boyfriend when he would go away to prison. I would usually be out grafting and dealing on my push bike all day; I also dealt crack, but I think heroin is easier to sell without trouble.
I was also using both substances, and I think that has an effect on how you treat your customers, though I can't say I was necessarily nice. My ex-boyfriend would call all other heroin users "nitties" and say they were horrible, even though he was the one selling them the gear. But he didn't use heroin.
I've introduced people to heroin. I don't believe that all people that take heroin will go on to be full-blown junkies. I know plenty of occasional users – "giro junkies", I call them – and they just smoke brown after a session. However, some become engulfed in a heroin haze and will use until they lose everything. As a user at the time, it wasn't hard for me to watch. It inflated my ego, that I could graft, sell gear, have a habit and still not be like [my ex-boyfriend].
I'm clean now, and am passionate about harm reduction We need safer injecting, more funding into harm reduction, more funding into treatment centres. Not everybody that tries it will become dependent, but those who do – they need help. The government's ways of tackling addiction do not work.
I used to sell pills, acid and xanax. I didn't have anyone delivering for me and I sold to around 30 customers I mostly knew. With acid, most people would buy to take another time, so I never had issues with fucked-up people trying to buy it. Because of the sort of drug acid is, I think it's up to the buyer to understand what they're in for. However, I gave as much advice as people needed because it can be so messy if you don't understand it.
I started selling xanax after I took it once to come down from an acid trip. Again, I thought it was down to the person to understand the risks, though before selling to them I would ask about their previous experience with it and tailor what I sold. I'd never sell more than two to someone I didn't know, and I wouldn't keep selling to people on consecutive days, because I knew that meant they'd run out.
I quickly stopped selling xanax because people started wanting it for anxiety rather than just coming down from a trip. I'm not a doctor! Most dealers I knew were similar to me, but I think it depends on how they're operating. They weren't big time and could keep an eye on what was going on. But if you're dealing on a larger scale where money is the priority, I guess that would be harder.
Thanks to Dan Owns at the Sesh Safety Facebook group for his help with this article.
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