How Rx Drugs Spread Through Prison

By Seth Ferranti 07/31/12

As you'd expect, many of the pills handed out in jail aren't swallowed by their intended recipients.

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Every prison has a "pill line." And every night prisoners wait for "pill line" to be called so they can go get their issue. For the prisoners on medication, it's the highlight of the day. They get their meds and go to sleep, journeying to la-la land, until the next morning, when they go through the same motions again. They also call it the "thorazine shuffle." And with psych meds like Wellbutrin and Buspar available—not to mention prescribed narcotics like morphine—there's predictably a teeming market. "They got 30 and 60 milligram morphine pills," one prisoner tells The Fix. "It costs two and a half books of stamps for the 30s and four books for the 60s." In prison, stamps are currency—one book (20 stamps) is the equivalent of $6.00. "Dudes get the morphine for chronic pain," says our source. "There's 80 pellets in a 30 milligram pill; it comes in a capsule. When prisoners go to the pill line, instead of swallowing the capsule they hide it in their mouth and spit it back out or cuff it in their hand. Then they bring you the pellets. They get it once or twice a day. Most of the dudes get it and sell it." This fuels a huge black market in prisons across the nation. Just like on the streets, users find various ways to ingest the morphine pills: "You can crush them up, sniff it, crush it and put it in water to pour down you nose. You can shoot it with a binky, eat it, take it like a pill. You can get off on a 30, depends on how fucked up you want to get," says the prisoner. "I prefer to take a 60, you get real fucked off on that. I buy psych meds from dudes every day. That's how I do my time." 

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.