How often can you get a look at bags of marijuana, a kilo of cocaine, opium residue, crack vials and a bowl of "trail mix" containing hundreds of prescription narcotic pills?
The Drug Enforcement Administration Museum, nearly hidden in the agency's headquarters across from Pentagon City Mall, is a 5,000-square-foot cautionary tale, one that chronicles the nation's history of addiction and the efforts to fight the black market. Displays include Coca-Cola's early use of cocaine in its secret formula a century ago and graphic images of a crack casualty in the District.
But perhaps most powerful is a small binder just inside the door of the special exhibit "Good Medicine, Bad Behavior: Drug Diversion in America." There are pages and pages of victims of prescription drug abuse, something the DEA considers the country's fastest-growing drug problem.
The faces are those of ordinary people you could know, nothing like the rest of the museum, which features Mafiosi and drug lords. "Stories of Lost Promise" aims to show the effect of abuse on real people. Projected images of the victims fade in and out on the wall above the binder, their haunting smiles and hopes belying their fate.
Amid a few names nearly everyone would recognize -- such as Jimi Hendrix and Judy Garland -- are people such as 21-year-old Shannon Hungerford, who died at 21 of a methadone and Zoloft overdose, and Daniel Katz, 25, who died after taking oxycodone pills and cocaine.
Their faces are joined by the anguished words of their loved ones.
"He wanted to get married, buy a home and have children. His future held great promise," wrote the parents of Austin Barthen, a 24-year-old New Jersey freight dispatcher who died in 2005. "My wonderful, smart, sweet, gentle, kind, handsome son left a huge void in this world when he took OxyContin, fell asleep and never woke up."
The DEA hopes it's a message parents and children will take with them as they walk through the exhibit, which also includes a realistic sheet-covered body on a gurney representing an overdose victim and that "trail mix" bowl of pills representing the risky drug parties that have increased in popularity.
"It is meant to ask the question: What could this person have contributed to society had they not been lost to prescription drugs?" said museum Director Sean Fearns.
"Good Medicine, Bad Behavior" is tentatively scheduled to close at year's end. The DEA next plans to unveil an exhibit about drug interdiction efforts in Afghanistan, where the booming opium trade funds terrorism.
-- Josh White, police and courts reporter
Sunday, October 3, 2010
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