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April 3, 2008 -- Drug War Chronicle Blog (US)

"Crack Heads Gone Wild" Video Raises Troubling Ethical Questions

By Amanda Shaffer (Note: Amanda Shaffer is an intern at

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

An innovative documentary that will reduce drug abuse or a sick exploitation of Atlanta's homeless in their most vulnerable moments? As my Internet search for anti-drug messages continues, I have uncovered a "documentary" that shows purported crack addicts performing a variety of acts on the streets of urban Atlanta (including everything from dancing and singing to having sex). Click here for the news report from Fox 5.

"Crack Heads Gone Wild" producer Daryl Smith pays people addicted to crack to perform these unfathomable acts, encouraging and even cheering them on at times. Smith professes that the purpose of this film is not to sell DVDs, but to expose the dangers of drug abuse in the hopes of preventing others from using drugs.

Has Smith successfully rekindled a previously popular method known as the "scared straight" tactic? Or is it a sleazy ploy to make money?

I set out to learn the truth by contacting the film's producers. After numerous unanswered emails and phone calls, I was finally able to get in touch with a spokesman from the company. The first strange thing that occurred during our conversation was his skepticism of who I was. I told him I was a college student doing a research paper on drugs and the media (which is true), and he proceeded to ask me questions regarding where I was calling from and how old I was.

After the brief interrogation, he was willing, but reluctant, to answer my questions. The spokesman informed me that the film has currently sold over 100,000 copies, however this figure is most likely higher due to the sales from bootleggers. I then asked him, "How much money has this film grossed to-date." He responded, "Approximately $1.5 million."

Next I explained to him that I watched the Fox interview where Smith made a promise to donate a portion of the film's proceeds to charities. I wanted to know if they had followed through. He replied, "As I said earlier the film was bootlegged so we haven't made any money off of this movie." Hmm ... that's odd -- at the time of the aforementioned interview, before it was stolen by bootleggers: Smith announced the film had made $250,000. Also, how would he have known that $1.5 million was grossed if the money wasn't going to the company? Something here just isn't adding up.

My next question involved the type of feedback they have received. The spokesman stated, "most people say it is interesting, they think it needs to be edited down so it can be shown in middle and high schools, that is why we are releasing a second version that is edited down more. The first film was more exploitative and was really not made to be educational; the second installment is an anti-drug film."

This response speaks for itself, the film was never meant to be a prevention tool but simply to make some dough. Why was Smith preaching about exposing the truth in the Fox News interview? It appears quite evident he wanted to quiet the critics.

So is the creation of the second installment (subtitled "Scared Straight") truly meant to be an anti-drug film? The spokesman directed me to the trailer on to see for myself.

An anti-drug film he says? I felt it more closely resembled a horror movie. And what aspects of the film were "edited down" to be more youth-friendly? The trailer showcases a topless woman taking a hit of crack. I sincerely doubt any parents would want their 13-year-olds viewing clips of this movie in health class.

Seriously, who are the producers of these atrocious films trying to fool? The only difference I found in the two films is that the first uses humor (albeit of the sick variety) to attract the audience, while the second specifically focuses on fear. I find it hard to believe that either of these films was created to prevent drug use. I mean, what professionals/academics did they consult to decide their methods?

Additionally, there is a clear morality issue at stake. Crack addicts are being paid to act out on camera when they are at their most vulnerable moments. Smith is encouraging this deviant behavior and is then promoting it through the media. Smith even acknowledged that he is exploiting these people during the Fox interview, "These people are at a point where nothing else matters. They don't care if it's 5 in the morning or a camera is on, they will do anything for 5 bucks."

Is it fair to say that one person's health and livelihood is more important than another? Also, who is Daryl Smith to deduce that someone's life is hopeless, and that even with proper treatment they have no chance of recovering? I do not believe he has a degree in psychology or neuroscience.

If the producers of Crack Heads Gone Wild are really trying to make a difference on the streets of Atlanta as well as the rest of the country, they would stop exploiting addicts for money and start helping them acquire the treatment they desperately need.

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