This Is Your History … on Drugs: DEA Museum

Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America – an interactive DEA Musuem exhibit delving into prescription drug abuse (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America – an interactive DEA Museum exhibit delving into prescription drug abuse (Photo By: heydayjoe)

“By 1900, when 1 in 200 Americans was addicted, the typical addict was a white, middle-class female hooked through medical treatment. But there was also a rapidly growing new group of young, urban pleasure users.”

And it is these users who will likely enjoy the DEA Museum the most.

Located just one block north of the Pentagon City stop on DC Metro’s Yellow Line, the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum & Visitors Center greets you with the friendly checkpoint security you’ve come to expect at DC’s museums, i.e., empty your pockets and step through the metal detector. (Note to stoners: We know that subtlety is not your forte, but that was your hint on what not to bring on your visit to the DEA Museum.)

The DEA Museum literally showcases its successes in the brief history of drug enforcement in the United States while inadvertently highlighting its many failures in the futile war on drugs. The combination makes for a delightful cocktail of fear and yearning.

From opium smoking in China, whence “began the modern drug pleasure culture,” to pill-popping pharm parties with the kids in suburbia, the DEA Museum has it all. The illicit drug-use story begins with the Opium Wars of 1840 and 1860, which Britain won, thereby forcing China to make opium legal. (Kudos to the Western World for once again starting something that it would spend endless years and dollars to stop.)

Yes, Bayer promoted heroin for children. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Yes, Bayer promoted heroin for children. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The narco narrative then moves to the U.S., with an array of plexiglass displays that hint at a nostalgia for the good ol’ days, when Americans used Schedule 1 and 2 drugs to alleviate every ailment known to man, woman and child – from the morphine-laced Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for teething children to Bayer Heroin, a seductive sedative for that nasty cough.

The all-ages party begins to wind down in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotic Act, a law that dictated the orderly marketing of drugs in small quantities and the physician’s right to prescribe in larger quantities. Johnny Law took this to mean that a doc could not prescribe dope to an addict to maintain his addiction. Drug addicts took this to mean no more over-the-counter highs. Lines were drawn, and the honorable tradition of federal drug law enforcement was born. In a nod to the true motive behind this governmental oversight, the first enforcement agency was the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the precursor to the IRS. It was the U.S. Treasury that would enforce the Harrison Act, and it intended to make its presence on the streets known. Every narcotics agent was issued a badge, a Thompson machine gun and a pair of hand grenades. The war on drugs had begun.**

You didn’t see no kids selling or using drugs. If a kid came around … they’d chase him away. They’d say, ‘What do you want? Get out of here! You want a lollipop or something? The kids definitely were not involved [in drugs] in the Thirties and Forties.” – New York addict, 1970s

This campaign to make our children safer against heroin tablets and cocaine toothache drops was more than just taking candy away from a baby; it was taking away baby’s narcotics. Decades would pass before kids again had such easy access to drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration didn’t appear until nearly 60 years after the Harrison Act, when it was created in 1973 as part of the Department of Justice. Although it was a direct offshoot of the DOJ’s Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (1968-73), its ancestors include numerous agencies created in the first half of the 20th century: Treasury’s Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Prohibition, the Bureau of Narcotics and the Bureau of Drug Abuse Control in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Diamonds are a druglord's best friend, next to drugs. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Diamonds are a druglord’s best friend, next to drugs. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Each of these drug enforcement predecessors had a touch of seizure fever. Although they were all opposed to people taking drugs, none had any qualms about forcefully taking away people’s drugs – and anything else they found next to or in the same house or in the general vicinity of those drugs. Confiscated treasures on display at the DEA Museum range from a homemade honey bear bong to a full-size marijuana vending machine to the diamond-encrusted Colt .45 of drug kingpin Rafael Caro-Quintero

The DEA has even managed to obtain for display a box of twisted steel and concrete chunks from the World Trade Center. What’s the connection to drugs? Here’s your answer: Poppies grow in Afghanistan; poppies are used to make heroin; heroin production fuels terrorism; and terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. Seems straightforward, right? (NOTE: None of the 9-11 terrorists were Afghani nationals, and opium production has been on the rise in Afghanistan since the U.S. occupation began in 2001.)

The original title of this 1956 mass market paperback was "Second Ending." (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The original title of this 1956 mass market paperback was “Second Ending.” (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Growing drugs isn’t always a profession of choice, but taking them usually is. Many have tried to enhance their personalities by devouring dope, but drug use typically doesn’t enhance your career – unless you’re an athlete, or a former DEA agent, or a musician. The intertwined story of drugs and music is much like the chicken or the egg causality dilemma: Although we don’t know which came first, there’s a long history of taking drugs to make music to take drugs to. The DEA Museum graciously provides some pleasant side effects of that medicinal medley. Here are some of the high notes:

  • “Marijuana enthusiasts of the 1920s called themselves ‘Vipers.’ Jazz music with lyrics about marijuana, known as viper music, was often played in basement clubs known as ‘tea pads.’ To listen to the Rosetta Howard & the Harlem Hamfats version of “If You’re a Viper,” click here.
  • Milton ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow was the jazz musician who introduced marijuana to Harlem in 1929 when the drug was still legal.” He became so well known for selling weed to the jazz cats that “mezz” became slang for marijuana, a reference that is used in “If You’re a Viper.” He was also known as the “Muggles King” – “muggles” being another slang term for marijuana.
  • Kurt Cobain makes an appearance in heavy eyeliner, included in the gallery because he “shot and killed himself while high on heroin.”
  • Perhaps the greatest song featured in the museum is one created by the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Check out the video below.

Don’t forget to the visit the DEA Museum gift shop before you leave!

**According to the DEA, the “war on drugs” began during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, with increased penalties for even first-time drug offenders and expanded DEA powers. By the 1990s, more than half of federal prisoners were incarcerated for federal drug violations.

The Face of the Voice of the DC Metro

Randi Miller - from singing telegram to car dealer intercom to most heard voice in our nation's capital

Randi Miller – from singing telegram to car dealer intercom to most-heard voice in our nation’s capital

The most frequently heard voice in our nation’s capital isn’t the enunciated clip of Barack Obama or the smoker’s rasp of House Speaker John Boehner. It’s the sultry intonations of Randi Miller, the voice of DC Metro, who also happens to be an auto lease retention manager from Woodbridge, Va.

Randi’s voice is played 33,017 times a day in 86 Metro subway stations spanning DC, Maryland and Virginia. It’s Randi’s voice you hear just before the Metro doors snap shut on your bag with a thud – “Doors closing.”

Randi Miller’s voice was not the first to reverberate throughout Washington’s subway system though. Back in 1996, DC resident Sandy Carroll made a recording in her apartment as a favor to a friend, a recording that was to be the gentle voice of Metro for a decade.

Sandy Carroll - former voice of the Metro (1996-2006)

Sandy Carroll – former voice of the Metro (1996-2006)

In 2006, Metro decided to change its tone by announcing the “Doors Closing Voice 2006” contest to find a new voice for the Metrorail trains. The voice of Sandy had seemingly faded into the background, and Metro needed a more authoritative voice to nudge its passengers along. Anyone over the age of 21 was eligible to compete.

Metro asked each contestant to record two messages in three tones of voice: polite, serious and authoritative. Several scripts were specifically written to deter notorious door-blockers: “One arm. One leg. One briefcase. One purse … can delay everyone.” Another script began with “Jeepers, Batman! Did you see that person just shove their briefcase in the doors?”

The “Doors Closing” contest attracted 1,259 contestants from across the country, some from as far away as Seattle. Metro reviewed the CD submissions and narrowed the field. Of the 10 finalists, all lived in the metropolitan area and half rode Metro regularly. The contestants’ reward for making it to the Top 10: a DC edition of Monopoly.

The stage was now set for a studio showdown. Each finalist recorded new messages in a professional studio near Dupont Circle: a 10-minute recording session under the guidance of a creative director from Arlington’s LM&O Advertising.

Three judges – the head of marketing for Metro, the advertising creative director and a former local anchorwoman – listened to the recordings to select the new voice. On Feb. 2, 2006, Metro announced its winner.

Chosen for the honor of being the new voice of Metrorail trains – and it is only an honor – Randi Miller, like Sandy Carroll before her, didn’t receive a dime for her efforts. Her recording was simply loaded onto a chip and placed in Metro’s more than 950 train cars.

Although Randi’s a lifelong singer who’s delivered singing telegrams, her only previous broadcast experience had been over the intercom at the Alexandria car dealership where she works. But after landing the Metro gig, her vocal career took off. Now her voice can be heard at kiosks in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, aquariums across the country and even radio commercials. She’s also used her voice to raise more than $250,000 for charities including Central Hospice, the Duffy Project and the Thomas G. Larbrecque Foundation.

Although she’s an infrequent subway rider, Randi still finds it weird to hear her voice on the trains. “When it first started running on the trains, I couldn’t wait to hear it. I wanted to see how it sounded,” she said. “And it was so annoying to me when I heard it. Maybe because it’s me. Maybe because … maybe just because it’s me.”