Every day, D.C. police estimate, dozens of suburbanites make the run -- driving from the numerous quiet neighborhoods that ring the nation's capital to the bustling drug corridors of the inner city to make curbside purchases of the hard drugs that feed their often closely guarded habits.
Some come once a week, others every few days. Those hardest up come daily.
In interviews with more than a dozen of the 50 suburbanites arrested in Washington since January for buying pills from undercover police officers, a pattern emerges: marijuana, cocaine and a few other mind benders apparently are easy to obtain in the suburbs. But most drug users must deal with D.C. street pushers for heroin, Dilaudid, sometimes known as hospital heroin, and Preludin, a diet pill often used as a heroin booster or heroin subsitute.
Of the 71 persons arrested near Ninth and O streets NW between Jan. 22 and the middle of last week, more than 50 were whites and suburbanites -- indicating that commuters and outsiders play a significant role in the thriving drug traffic in some of the city's black neighborhoods.
But that is where the similarities end. Consider these arrests:
A 20-year-old college student from Great Falls, Va. He began smoking marijuana at age 13, he said, and two years later, he made his first run downtown to buy pills with older high school buddies. Later, he was making daily trips to feed his habit, he said.
A 30-year-old Arlington carpenter who said he has been popping pills for more than half his life. He makes the run two or three times a week to buy Preludin, he said.
A 23-year-old telephone company cable-man living in Hyattsville who said he started selling drugs at age 13 to finance his fancy for cocaine, PCP and other drugs.
A newly married Arlington man, 26, who said he hadn't used hard drugs in years but was drawn to the corridor one day out of curiosity and the memory of what it was like to get high when he was in the Navy.
A U.S. Army computer programmer from Manassas, a 29-year-old bartender from Rockville, a 27-year-old Baltimore bookkeeper, a 32-year-old real estate salesman from Camp Springs and a 30-year-old construction worker from Gainesville -- all part of what police say is a growing number of whites and suburbanites that accounts for 50 percent of the illegal pill purchases on Washington's streets.
To help stem the commuter drug traffic, D.C. police last January initiated an undercover operation in which an officer posed as a drug dealer. On 18 different occasions, the officer sold pills and netted 71 arrests.
The average age of the suburbanites arrested was 31. The oldest person arrested was 41 and the youngest buyer was 20. Six of the suburbanites were women.
Those arrested who were interviewed for this article agreed to discuss their plight only if their statements were not attributed to them by name. They did not want to be embarrassed or to embarrass their families, they said. t
Some were fraid they would lose their jobs: "My boss is really picky and if he found out I was busted on drugs, he'd fire me," said the 30-year-old Arlington carpenter. The telephone cableman from Hyattsville did not want his mother to know of his 10-year-old penchant for drugs.
All of the suburbanites interviewed said they began experimenting with drugs when they were teen-agers.
"There is no one cause," explained Joan Kaplan, senior counselor at the Crossroads Program, Fairfax County's publicly funded drug treatment project, which has 280 patients from age 15 to 30.
"We get a lot of kids in here from broken homes. We get kids from families where a parent has an alcoholic problem, but we also get kids in here from ordinary families. We see drugs as a symptom of some disorder the person is having . . . . Drugs are a serious, serious problem in the suburbs."
Most kids using drugs, however, claim they first began experimenting for one major reason, Kaplan said.
"They all talk about peer pressure. Drugs often become problems for kids who fall in the cracks, kids without any social skills. You have to be athletic to be a jock in high school. You have to have a certain amount of intelligence to be a scholar," explained Kaplan. "But there are no requirements to become a drug user."
The 20-year-old Great Falls youth, arrested one February afternoon, said he believed he was one who fell through.
"I didn't fit in," he recalled during an interview. "But my friends using drugs really didn't care. Marijuana made me feel comfortable and when I started using cocaine, I believed it really helped me -- at first -- I was more alert, more creative, I was doing things that I'd never tried before. It gave me confidence, self-esteem."
Marijuana was easy to get at Herndon High School, he explained. The system worked like a ladder. "Seniors and juniors at school bought it from kids who had just graduated and had gone to work -- construction jobs mostly. Then the upper classmen sold it to freshmen and sophomores who sold it to junior high kids that they knew. You only sold it to kids you knew."
Money for drugs was never a problem, he explained, because his parents are wealthy."My father was never home. He was always at work. They gave me money when I asked for it," he recalls.
His parents never asked how he spent his money, nor did anyone ask him about the marijuana joints they once found in his room, he said.
He first heard about making a run into Washington at age 14. A few months later, he and three buddies decided to try it. It was a real Friday night adventure, he recalled. "Here we were going into one of the worst areas of Wahsington to break the law."
Older kids already had schooled him:
Don't get out of the car or you might get mugged. Keep the doors locked.
Open the car window only a crack, hand the seller the money at exactly the same moment your hand reaches the pills.
They taught him the sign language. Four fingers held up meant Dilaudid -- tiny pills with a "4" stamped on them that could be crushed on a matchbook, poured into a syringe and mixed with hot water for injection.
His drug-using pals even told him he could get hot water for 32 cents a cup at a fast food restaurant on 14th Street. But always remember, he recalled them saying, don't get out of your car. "They [the pushers] think all whites are rich."
"At least 10 guys ran up to our car when we pulled over," he remembered.
It took him one hour to work up the nerve to inject himself. Once he did, the drug made him vomit. But he used it again and again. Four years later, he needed three pills a day, plus a variety of booster drugs to stay high. Now, he says, he is trying to stay clean.
Another suburbanite, a 30-year-old Arlington carpenter, regularly comes into the District to buy drugs. "I always go to D.C. to buy it," he said. "In Virginia, you got to know somebody. In D.C., they sell to anybody. It's a set price. It's easy to get. You can get it anytime. I got phone numbers now and I can call ahead of time and they [the dealers] will meet me.
"They see a white boy in a car with Virginia tags, they will flag you down. They know what you're there for . . . drugs ."
Drugs have been a way of life for him since he was 14 years old and smoked hashish, he said. From hash, he experimented with marijuana, acid, glue, dry cleaning fluid, Preludin, Dilaudid and heroin, he says.
He says drug use is widespread in the suburbs and most of his friends are into drugs. Many do the same as he does -- buy their drugs in the District.
He prefers "bam," the street name for Preludin, a prescription diet pill that some persons use as a heroin booster or substitute. He said he generally comes into the District two to three times a week and spends anywhere from $50 to $120 a week on drugs.
He said he pays from $8 to $10 a pill for bam. Dilaudid, a synthetic opiate commonly prescribed as a pain killer, costs him $27 to $30 a pill, he said.
He also has learned that buying drugs in D.C. can have its risks. He was once "smashed in the face" with a coke bottle by a dealer who mistook him for a customer who had ripped him off, he said. Some buyers have been killed, police said. Last January, a Woodbridge man was fatally shot while making a buy from a street dealer who tried to rob him, police said.
Undercover officers nabbed the Arlington carpenter on May 6 during lunch hour.
"I should have known something was up," he said, recalling that the undercover officer and another man were the only two at Ninth and O streets when he stopped to buy the drugs.
When he drove by, the officer posing as a dealer signaled him with raised eyebrows, he said. He pulled over to the curb, the officer asked what he wanted and he told him "four bams." The officer told him he only had two, so he bought the two.
"I got ready to pull off and there were cops everywhere," he said.
The carpenter, who was already on probation in another drug case, pleaded guilty to the charge and was given an additional probationary sentence.
When he was arrested, his 5-year-old son was with him. "Getting busted was no big deal. But having him with me was the worst," he said.
But the carpenter says he thinks the police should concentrate on the dealers instead of customers like him. "I'm all for busting the man selling the drugs," he said. "I wouldn't want him selling drugs to my kid . . . But why arrest me? I'm not hurting anybody but myself."