Update: Occupy Wall Street’s Drug Problem(s)

Editor’s Note: Points is pleased to present today a cross-posting by freelance writer and addiction specialist Jed Bickman, a regular contributor to (among others) The Nation, The Huffington Post, and The Fix–an online magazine of addiction and recovery culture whose debut we discussed last spring.  While the Points staff likes to think that our provocative think piece on drugs in the Occupy movements blazed a trail on the topic, as desk jockeys whose duty is first and foremost to serve the citizen-students of Florida we are limited in our ability to follow up on developments on the ground.  Thus we’re especially grateful to on-the-scene reporters like Bickman, who can bring our readership incisive coverage like that in the post below.  Thanks to him and to The Fix for allowing us to re-publish.

So how much of a drug problem is there at Zuccotti Park? That may depend on which side of the park you happen to be in.

Zucotti Park: Two Sides to Every Story

According to police and organizers, there are “two sides of town” in Zuccotti Park…and at night the differences become vividly apparent. The side of the park adjacent to Broadway, where the main protests are held and where the media center and library are, forms the clean, public face of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Long after midnight, a frenetic burst of activity continues under the bright lights.  By contrast, the other side of the square, adjacent to Trinity Place, has become an unlit camping area for overnight protestors, where sleeping bodies occupy pretty much every available space. Anyone who wants to spend the night can do so… and the lack of oversight has allowed less savory elements to set up shop among the mostly law-abiding protestors.

Street medic Paul Kostry, a 27-year-old volunteer from New Mexico, told The Fix that several drug dealers had taken over a few of the sleeping tents on the dark side of the park, selling drugs from cocaine to heroin to marijuana. “We’ve got our own set of drug lords here, unfortunately,” Kostry says. “We know what tents they’re operating out of, and we’re doing our best to deal with them.” But Zuccotti Park, he adds, is a microcosm of New York City itself—including people with drug problems and those who prey on them. “Everyone recognizes that we cannot allow the drug dealing, and there are certainly steps being taken to deal with that,” Kostry says. “But we are here to help the victims of that. There’s a reason the medical tent is where it is.”

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