This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade's photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.



“K2” and “Spice” drugs (collectively hereafter referred to as Spice) represent a relatively new class of designer drugs that have recently emerged as popular alternatives to marijuana, otherwise characterized as “legal highs”. These drugs are readily available on the Internet and sold in many head shops and convenience stores under the disguise of innocuous products like herbal blends, incense, or air fresheners. Although package labels indicate “not for human consumption”, the number of intoxicated people presenting to emergency departments is dramatically increasing. The lack of validated and standardized human testing procedures and an endless supply of potential drugs of abuse are primary reasons why researchers find it difficult to fully characterize clinical consequences associated with Spice. While the exact chemical composition and toxicology of Spice remains to be determined, there is mounting evidence identifying several synthetic cannabinoids as causative agents responsible for psychoactive and adverse physical effects. This review provides updates of the legal status of common synthetic cannabinoids detected in Spice and analytical procedures used to test Spice products and human specimens collected under a variety of clinical circumstances. The pharmacological and toxicological consequences of synthetic cannabinoid abuse are also reviewed to provide a future perspective on potential short- and long-term implications.¹

Beauty, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

Beauty’s abscess is grapefruit-sized and oozing. Her boyfriend said when the doctor squeezed it, the pus was like lava coming out of a volcano.

Gary, the boyfriend, sat in the ER with Beauty from four in the morning until noon. When the medical team began cutting into the infection spanning the underside of her upper arm, the pressure of knife on swollen skin overwhelmed reasonable volume. There was no anesthetic. Her cursing could be heard down the hallway.

She cursed until the nurse became too uncomfortable and asked her to stop. As a substitute, she squeezed the fuck out of Gary’s hands.

When the doctor was done, he left the gap open to heal, but it began leaking all over.

To fix it, he laid gauze and wrapped three lines of tape around her arm, white that’s now mud-brown with hot red in its center.

Her zip-up shirt has a trail of dripped blood down its side and fits tight enough to allow folds of skin and fabric that looks oddly like gauze to be crammed into her bra.

She's worn this to catch dates for the past few hours: bloody top and wound dressings. Living here and there, she doesn't have a routine spot to shower and change, and she needs to make money.

She’s had no trouble attracting clients, though the track today, near a holiday, misses its regular semi-trucks. Business is pedestrian. The lines of parking on either side of the track are vacant. Down the street, broken cars await the attention of the auto parts' shop.

For work-time company, her boyfriend and his friends hang out by the cinder-blocked wall that fences in the monastery. A wall where, looking up, a mantel of trees hangs down. From the raised expressway, the area next to the the track appears to be a large park, green against Bronx industry.

But the trees are inside the monastery grounds, and no one's seen past the concrete wall. A secret garden for others.

Gary wears a black rosary under a red hoodie, hood up. Beauty sits with the crew under the leaves' shade and men to call her from their cars. Police too, sometimes, but for different reasons. She knows the grey Impala to avoid.

When she walks into the street, she does so with oblivion, immune to what’s passing. The breeze separates pieces of her hair out of her ponytail. Cars come within inches of her.

Getting close, Beauty smells like old sweat. The day’s become hot.

Like it’s always been in Hunts Point, she works alone but takes a cut of the profits.

Her new pimp (number well over 15) is married and said he was going to put a bullet right here.

Beauty, Hunts Point. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

Index finger to the center of her forehead.

She’s the only girl he’s got, and she's not speaking to him right now. He’s going to get his, because she’s not scared of any man.

He threatens because he doesn't like her disrespect and rage. She won't stop having either. Independent viscera.

She’s with Gary partly because he wants out of Hunts Point as badly as she does and partly because he’s a threat to her pimp: she can tell the pimp Gary’s coming after him.

This is the way threats are passed back and forth and the way conflicts die, rumors traveling from one side of the neighborhood to the other.

It isn’t all business. Once, Gary took her to Coney Island to walk on the beach. A two-hour subway ride. No one’s ever done that, not any of the other guys. She cried that day. She nearly cried again on the street, retelling in traffic, while Gary yelled across the street for her to move on.

He’s her fiancé, the most romantic word she’s used to explain how she feels. The last man, Heavy, was her husband, legal or not, and they lived together in the couple’s shelter. Heavy would calm her down, and she would give Heavy his insulin shots, so there was balance in the relationship. But Heavy started smoking crack, someone else said, and Beauty couldn't deal.

Beauty's mom smoked crack.

Gary bought his girl wedged, black-and-white Nikes and a new phone, but he got mad and took the phone away.

Gary buys Beauty things with money she makes, from the cut she takes from her pimp. She’s still wearing the shoes and she's going to get the phone back.

It’s ridiculous that the men think they have the power.

Friends that pass by worry, seeing a figure pimped and smoking K2, strung out all the time. Gary says she should go to rehab.

K2 makes her feel good, the one thing she ever does for herself.

The root of the abscess is still inside her arm.


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