Heroin for the Masses: The Reality of "Cheese" Abuse in Texas

By Robert Rosso 02/29/16

The origins and popularity of "cheese"—a unique form of black tar heroin melted with crushed sleep aids in the Lone Star State.

The Reality of Cheese Abuse In Texas

Cody Jones started using drugs during his freshman year of high school. Like so many young Americans, his road to substance abuse began with a seemingly harmless hit of marijuana and expanded from there to cocaine, then Xanax, then opiate pain medications—a precursor to more serious drug abuse. A lot of drug literature calls marijuana the "gateway drug," but it's actually pharmaceutical painkillers that lead to more serious drug abuse cases.

"When I was 16, I broke my shoulder and started using hydrocodone, oxycodone, and Percocets," Cody tells The Fix. "And everyone around me at the time was either snorting heroin or shooting it.”

In the wide-ranging suburbs of Dallas, Texas that Cody called home, heroin has a strong hold on the community. With everyone else doing it, Cody gave in to peer pressure. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next.

We don't get powder down in Texas. All the powder is up North or on the East Coast. All we get in Texas is tar that comes from Mexico, and there's plenty of it.

"The first time I tried heroin, I shot it up and there was no turning back," Cody recalls. "I loved it."

To support his drug habit, Cody started selling a street drug called "Cheese," a unique kind of heroin primarily sold in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area. "Cheese is black tar heroin melted down like you're about to shoot it up," Cody explains, "but instead, you mix it with a crushed up sleep aid" such as over-the-counter medications Simply Sleep, Tylenol PM and Dormin.

With black tar heroin and sleep aids in abundance, Cheese became the norm for teens and young adults in the Dallas and Fort Worth areas. With a raging epidemic making heroin the scourge of the suburbs, Cody joined in the process, acting as a local dealer who made the drug readily available as the cartels pumped it into the country.

The primary purpose of Cheese, Cody admits, is to turn black tar heroin—a nasty-looking drug that is sticky like tree sap and odorous like vinegar—into a seemingly kinder, gentler, safer form of heroin that is fashionable to use, something for the masses. Something that is easily accessible, trendy and popular among the in-crowd.

"No one really wants to buy heroin in the beginning," Cody tells The Fix. "People are afraid of it, or scared of needles, or think heroin users are dirty scumbags. But when we take black tar heroin and turn it into something that they've never seen before and call it something else, they all want to try it.”

This marketing trick has worked wonders for heroin. Needles and track marks and skinny junkies make people think of overdoses and crime and violence. A powdery substance that provides the ultimate high and can be snorted is a much safer reality. But Cody emphasizes that he has never lied to anyone who bought drugs from him.

"We told them from the beginning that they were buying heroin," he says. "But we let them know that it's not the kind of heroin you inject, or go into some seedy area to buy. We sell it like coke, and coke is seen as no big deal."

Cody and dealers like him have turned Cheese into a fashionable drug in Dallas, while at the same time feeding their own addictions. It's all a means to an end, and the end was getting high and abusing the heroin that they sold.

Preferably, Cody said he would have much rather sold China White, a powder form of heroin that can easily be injected, smoked and is “snorter-friendly.” But he didn't have the proper drug connections or the money. Black tar is much cheaper than China White, although heroin prices are falling all across the country nowadays. But Cheese is a geographical thing.

"I live in Texas," says Cody. "We don't get powder down in Texas. All the powder is up North or on the East Coast. All we get in Texas is tar that comes from Mexico, and there is plenty of it."

Although tar can be turned into a liquid form by simply adding water to it, Cody explains, "Nobody wants brown water that tastes like shit." Apparently, his customers didn't mind snorting brown powder that tasted similar. According to Cody, he and another person would buy two ounces of tar every week for about three years.

Like Scarface wannabes, they were running a mini drug empire. They would supply all their friends with Cheese while they snorted or shot the black tar themselves to maintain their own addictions.

"We kept one ounce for ourselves while the other two were processed into Cheese," he says. "The process wasn’t that complicated, either. It wasn’t like cooking meth or anything like that."

"You take a plate or a dish and put a half-ounce of black tar heroin on it. You then take a syringe loaded with water and squirt anywhere between 50 and 100 cc's of water on it, and rub it around with your fingers until it turns into a sludge. Then, separately, you put a bunch of pills in either a coffee grinder or a pill grinder that you can buy from Walgreens, crush the pills up, and slowly add the crushed pills into the tar and mix it around. The goal is to turn the stuff into a brown powder, but you don't want it too light."

"The ratio of pills-to-heroin is 4-to-1," Cody continues. So by the time they were finished with the process, they would have about "four or five ounces" of Cheese, depending on the quality of the drug when they purchased it. This way, Cody would double what he had for sale while being able to use the pure black tar heroin for himself.

Ultimately, Cody's run came to a crashing halt when the feds stepped in and indicted him and nearly a dozen of his friends. "Everything started because there were so many deaths in the area," he says. "But what really started the investigation into my case is that my two co-defendants, Tony and Sasha, were in a house with a kid named Justin, and they were all snorting Cheese. What Tyler and Sasha told me was, they all nodded out and when they woke up, Justin was blue. So they panicked and left. Three days later, Sasha went on a guilt trip and called the cops and told them everything. He turned in a guy named Joe, and Joe told on everyone else."

In the end, there were three separate indictments in the case involving Cody and his Cheese-dealing co-defendants, one of which landed Cody in federal prison for 62 months. But some of his other friends were not so lucky. In a four-year span, or during the same timeframe that the stated indictments took place, at least nine people who purchased Cheese from this group died of Cheese-related overdoses.

When asked if he felt responsible for any of their deaths, Cody's response was adamant: "No, and one was my best friend," he says. "Look, they all knew what they were doing, and no one held a gun to their heads or forced them to use Cheese. They all felt the same way that I do about heroin—it’s the best feeling in the world."

As Cody's story illustrates, in the throes of addiction, users will do anything to get the drug. They don’t care about people dying or going to prison or any of the consequences. Heroin, in any form, is a powerfully addictive drug that sinks its fangs into users and doesn’t let go. Even in prison and away from the drug, users like Cody crave it and can’t wait to get back out to use it.

When pressed one last time to see if he felt even a little remorse, he said, "Only three of the people who died started using Cheese because of me. And like I said, they all loved the stuff. So, no. No, I don't feel responsible and I don't feel any remorse. That might sound bad, but that's the truth."

Cody was released from federal prison earlier this year.

Robert Rosso is a federal prisoner serving life for a drug conspiracy. 

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