What should I ask Ben Westhoff?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, no associated public event, here is from his home page:

Ben Westhoff is an award-winning investigative journalist who writes about culture, drugs, and poverty. His books are taught around the country and have been translated into languages all over the world.

His new book Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic releases September 3, 2019 in the U.S. (Grove Atlantic) and October 10, 2019 in the UK, Austrailia, and New Zealand (Scribe). Here’s more information.

His previous book Original Gangstas: Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and the Birth of West Coast Rap has received raves from Rolling Stone and People, a starred review in Kirkus, a five-star Amazon rating, and made numerous year-end best lists. More info can be found here.

…his 2011 book on southern hip-hop, Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop was a Library Journal best seller.

Here is my review of his excellent forthcoming Fentanyl, Inc.  He also has a well-acclaimed book on New York City bars and dives.  All of his work is fascinating.

So what should I ask him?


What his favorite drugs are, in a HST sort of way, of course. - “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.”

In the opioid epidemic that is killing tens of thousands it is Fentanyl that is causing the deaths. It is China making the Fentanyl and bringing it in through the open Southern borders. So why are they going after prescribed drugs?

It's not really an either/or choice.

Prescriptions are still about half deaths, and are probably behind growth of heroin and fentanyl by switching (esp as supply is restricted). So why not go after them too?

It's rather laughable that Americans have particularly high levels of pain compared to comparison countries with similar age structure, or that in particular counties that have high prescription rates there are higher levels of pain. (Some might propose some nonsense about how these places are particularly unhealthy and so have a high need, but come on, this is obvious nonsense) .So there is of course overprescription going on which can be "gone after".

That isn't true. The prescription drugs are poor substitutes for the desired drug of choice. They rarely cause death and they don't give a satisfactory high. The only reason the druggies go to them is because they cannot afford their drug of choice. It is the Fentanyl that kills most of those who died in the last few years. So the question remains; why are they attacking prescription drugs? There seems to be an overt attempt to harm and diminish the access to prescription drugs for legitimate users, why?

"There seems to be an overt attempt to harm and diminish the access to prescription drugs for legitimate users, why?"


I prefer to watch European football compared to the American version of it. Theirs is just too burly and unrefined for my taste in sports.

Please, take this kind of roids very careful. It can damage your life. Check your analyzes every week.

Not proposing fentanyl and heroin addicts switch back to prescription opiates (of course not!), purely the established prescription opiates->heroin and fentanyl pathway.

And there are overdoses on prescription opiates - prior to about 2016, this is the biggest source of OD.

Restrictions are because they're probably over-prescribed and need reining in. The whole conspiracy theory mutation whereby heroin and fentanyl abuse as a phenomeon are totally unconnected from "my pain pills, which I need and the federal government is trying to steal from me", seems like an unusual but expected nexus of the overlap between ill-informed, paranoid conspiracy theorists and weak willed types who'll easily become junkies on prescription meds (telling themselves it's "for the pain" and that they're not "druggies"... somehow).

Prior to the ready availability of fentanyl it was heroin and in particular black tar heroin that caused the most overdose deaths. It is actually difficult to accidently overdose and kill yourself with prescription opiates. It can be done but typically it is intentional. Drugs like oxycodone do not give the high that heroin and cocaine do and drug users typically will use prescription drugs out of desperation when they can't find the drug of choice.

The question remains; Why diminish the access to prescription drugs for legitimate users?"

Is Tupac alive and living in Cuba?

Why is Brazil having such a great success fighting crime (a 20% reduction in six months) while America is being swalled whole by drug use? What can be learn from the Brazilian experience?

Hip-hop fans actually read books? Huh. News to me.

Tyler's a Kendrick Lamar fan. You going to question his habits?

No, more like malign, mock, deride, ridicule, etc.

My cousin died from an opiate overdose. His family feels that it would have been better for him if recreational opiate drugs were legal and safer to use. What does Mr. Westoff think about legalization?

Does the Vancouver experiment with safe injection sites and a persistent high death rates tell us anything?

Canadians are a bunch of lightweights.

Yes. It tells us that rich Chinese money launderers shouldn't do drugs. Green tea is better.

Chinese laundry. Nice.

Are rich Chinese the ones dying? Doubtful.

I really don't know what you mean. I am talking about Brazil's anti-crime policies.

we have been doing the M.A.T. for awhile
what do we know that we know about M.A.T?

I think we know more than we dare to admit even to ourselves.

senor ribby,
did you see the newyorktimes.com headline today that
rebranded a "mass shooting" in philadelphia as a "failed drug raid"!
+1! postmodern


"I think we know more than we dare to admit even to ourselves."
isn't that from star wars?
isn't it possible that buprenorphine (narrative public radios favorite m.a.t.) may be increasing the relative risk of a fatal fentanyl o.d.


actually not a imposter
more like a dark psychic force or mebbe a demon

Is it even feasible to imagine a scenario where street opiates are "legalized" and overall cost decreases? Isn't a large part of the problem the abuse of already "legal" opiate medication?

Why do so many in his buisness just make stuff up?

And has he ever been tempted to do it.

I’d like to hear his thoughts about the geography of fentanyl sales. People in FL and the rest of the South did/do a ton of legal opioids but I don’t think fentanyl sales there are that high if deaths are any indication. Eastern New England was the first big market for fentanyl in the US (I think). What made it special? I would have thought FL after they cracked down on pill mills would have been the place to be for selling fentanyl and yet it evidently wasn’t.

2. I know tens of thousands of people die from drug overdoses in the US while millions have addictions. Which is the bigger health problem?

and if you are one of the lucky people who have just read this before it got deleted remember this ----
you can do it.
don't feel bad about me, and don't think I am on the spectrum (God how easy and sad my life would be if I were!).

No, I understand this world, and I know how to speak to people.

Maybe I am much more persuasive in real life, than I am in "comment threads" or whatever the losers in life are calling these things nowadays,

but it does not matter, these comment threads on websites where the deep questions of "fentanyl addiction" are discussed are better, and more useful, when someone just steps up and says

like I am saying to you right now:

I know you can do it.

"I see that your work is praised by Rolling Stone, an organization made famous for publishing obviously-fake gang rape allegations. Does that mean your work is crap?"

if he works for rolling stone ask him
when John Prine is playing at Red rocks we heard
it was Thursday Sept. 18

Saw him again this past June. After traveling many times to see him over the past 30 years I can’t decide if it’s because I want to or am obligated to. Opening act this year was better than John.

we would go see John Prine just to see him talk about meatloaf

Ask if he thinks the AMA is responsibly managing the prescribing authority it grants to the doctors it licences.

Are police crackdowns and/or monitoring of gang-influenced hip hop scenes (I'm thinking Chicago and London's drill scenes) a significant impediment to upward mobility for aspiring rappers? Is hip hop a viable way for former gangsters to transition out of crime? Or are police right that these music scenes and their inter-rivalries can fuel gang violence?

Ask him about the current state of hip-hop music with regard to desegregation of what some used to call "backpack rap" with pop rap and other styles (gangster, trap, etc.). When I started listening to hip-hop the backpackers were seen as more intellectual and underground, while the others had wider appeal and seemed less cerebral. The groups were very distinct. I feel that distinction is still there, but the groups mix easily and the community feels less separated. I'd be interested in his perspective on how/why that happened.

What are the areas ripe for marginal revolutions in drug policy?

Does the concept of authenticity still matter in rap? Is rap still transgressive, or fully mainstream, or so diverse that it hits all bases? Has rap ever had a political impact? What's the lesson of BTS? How many seconds of 'battle raps' can you listen to before getting bored?

Is calling Gil Scott-Heron "The Godfather of Rap" an honor or an insult?

-How would policy response to the current opioid crisis be different had we not had the opportunity to learn from the crack epidemic in the eighties?
-The crack epidemic in the eighties was marked by gang violence while the opioid epidemic has not. What explains this discrepancy?
-Nearly every piece of journalism on the current opioid crisis features addicts who claim they became addicted after a work-related or surgery-related issue. To what extent might these subjects be lying to reporters, the way Trump voters were not upfront about their candidate preferences to poll takers during the 2016 elections?

Remember all the press over crack babies? Turns out it was alcohol doing most of the damage.

What’s his favorite dive bar in NYC tha closed since he wrote his book?

The CDC estimates 72,000+ people died from overdoses in 2017.

Why do drug dealers attract so little public and political condemnation (“it’s just the way it is, they always sell drugs on the corner”)? Instead we pay for free injection sites and teach pre-schoolers to step over used needles.

Should drug dealing a capital offense? If not, why not, and what would he suggest instead.

Southeast Asia suggests that capital punishment does not solve this problem.

What are the opiate death numbers in SE Asia? And should we consider those numbers reliable?

An inversion of values? Because drug dealers are part of a larger favored class? Why do people pretend rap is amazing and not a sad falling-off in quality where black music is concerned? Why does Joyce Carol Oates claim to love boxing? Why do the silliest girls I know, who are in all respects as silly and absorbed with clothes, fashion, fingernail polish and their appearance as any girls ever were, like to tattoo themselves in the specific manner of gang members and convicts?

Linking "Drug-dealers" and death is rather overbroad, since many illicit drugs have low risks of death.

I'd be interested to know what he thinks of the hypothesis that the opioid crisis is primarily driven by restrictions on the legal access to opioids.

And in particular, Hydrocodone being moved from DEA Schedule 3 to Schedule 2 in October 2014.

how lil wayne and andre 3000 stack up against bob dylan and shakespeare

Question: Do changes in technological infrastructure underlying drug sales - messaging, phones, particularly the Dark Web - that allow more invisibility to sellers drive epidemiology, or are they irrelevant?

We all know people who buy drugs on the Dark Web (or are one degree of separation from such people) for example. But are these a significant force driving changes in distribution and use?

Extreme poverty existed in our cities back in the early 1900s and yet many residents kept their streets spotless and even scrubbed their stoops. Today many of those neighborhoods have become arguably uninhabitable because of crime and blight. To what do you attribute that change?

The virtuous poor pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and moved out. The others ye shall always have with you.

Journalists are experts at attracting eyes for advertisers, you should mostly discuss how they do that, and with that in mind how should we read journalists defensively.

1) What is required for a hip hop scene? Can you still have a scene nowadays with the internet? Why does Toronto, despite having two of the biggest artists in hip hop currently, not have a real recognizable scene unlike say - London, NYC, Cali, Atlanta.

2) Based off your work on the drug trade, who has the most accurate coke rap lines?

3) Finally, Pusha T or Drake?

Who is the most important rapper(s) (not necessarily the best MC) to understanding the rap and hip-hop landscape in 2019?

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