The Dark, Ironic Branding Drug Dealers Use to Sell Heroin

Just an interesting heroin related article about the branding of heroin bags and an ex-user who now makes money on these little bags, rather than throwing every penny he earns at them. Good for him! Entertaining and relatable.

First published on Wired, by Pete Brook, 09.08.14 6:30am

“The glassine heroin bags in Graham MacIndoe’s photos have been emptied of their poison, removed from their context and illuminated in a professional’s studio, but they remain powerfully haunting. They become even more so when you learn MacIndoe shot all the junk those bags once contained.

MacIndoe’s been clean about four years. But he’s kept those bags because, even in the depths of his addiction, he saw something compelling about their names and logos. Even drug dealers understand the power of branding, and these crude efforts at it summarize the drug world MacIndoe inhabited for five years. “The promises that some of the baggies offered was just really intriguing,” he says. “References in the names reflected the addict’s illusions of grandeur (So Amazing, Rolex, High Life) but also the insidious destructive nature of drugs and the ultimate end game (Flatliner, Dead Medicine, Killa).”

The collection, featured in the book All In: Buying Into The Drug Trade, is  a typology of misery. MacIndoe says the dark, occasionally comic branding epitomize black-market entrepreneurship and risk. Names like ‘9 Lives’ and ‘Black Jack’ are a sick nod to the risks inherent in a daily heroin habit.

These bags contained the smack MacIndoe bought from drug dealers in the Gowanus and Red Hook neighborhoods of Brooklyn during an addiction that started in 2005. Some of the brands were available citywide. Others were brought to Brooklyn by dealers from the Bronx, Queens, and beyond as they sought to expand their markets. Many dealers would offer free samples to build brand awareness. “Inevitably, it would be really good and would knock the pants off the regular stuff,” MacIndoe says. “Being an addict you’d move over to it, but sooner or later, though not always, you’d find it was not as strong, and wouldn’t hold you as long.

In time, the dealers would begin cutting the product to increase their margins. Addicts would need ever more to maintain the same high, further boosting dealers’ revenues. “But when people drifted off to another brand the dealer would stop cutting and put something better out on the street to bring their clients back.” And so the cycle continued.

Beyond collecting the glassine bags, MacIndoe made self-portraits chronicling his own descent. I first saw them in early 2012, and MacIndoe and I have since become friends.New York magazine published a collection of MacIndoe’s photos alongside an interview by Susan Stellin—his domestic partner and professional collaborator—in which he frankly discusses the highs and lows of five years lost to addiction.CLICK BELOW TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE>>>>

The Dark, Ironic Branding Drug Dealers Use to Sell Heroin