Dope is Death Review – A Story of Hope, Radicalism, and Determination

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Dope is Death, tells the story of how Dr. Mutulu Shakur, along with fellow Black Panthers and the Young Lords, combined community health with radical politics to create the first acupuncture detoxification program in America in 1970s Harlem.

The documentary begins by showing two uniquely different individuals at the Harlem Community Walk-in Acupuncture Clinic and we understand one of these individuals is Juan Cortez, an Acupuncture practitioner at the New York Harm Reduction Educators in Harlem New York and his patient, Walter is receiving ear acupuncture.


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Walter, the other man whom we have yet to be introduced, is walking through his uptown neighborhood and stops to pick up a junkie's needle. The drug trade which infected this neighborhood in the 1970s is still very active even as voices rise from the streets to try and show another way.

We understand, Walter, is a patient receiving Acupuncture to treat addiction, stress, and trauma. The documentary continues and others who are receiving the ear acupuncture begin to tell a little about themselves and what the "pins" do for them.

The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association recommends a five-point ear acupuncture treatment for addiction, stress and trauma.


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The history behind the modern drug trade and addiction in New York dates back fifty years to the 1970s, a militant time when the scourge of the drug exploitation landed in the middle of Harlem and Upper Manhattan and the drug of choice, Heroin, made the population less likely to be problematic as they were so drugged out, as we see, they were sleeping anywhere, nodding off on the park benches, and a community was under siege.

The Young Lords, a radical group of Puerto Ricans modeled after The Black Panthers, decided to police their own neighborhoods has the police were on the take. We see a kilo of Heroin being poured into the gutter as these activists. Asked why they didn't give it to the cops. They replied, if we gave it to the police at 11:00 it would be on the streets by 6:00pm. The corruption during the 1970s in the Bronx, Harlem and Upper Manhattan is well known and documented.

A free people, those in their right minds not clouded by the blight of drugs, alcohol, or other addictions, see the inequalities and lack of quality medical care and other substandard treatment the citizens of these neighborhoods received.

This led to the takeover of the Lincoln Hospital by the Young Lords who demanded change in both medical care offered and other social programs addressing the needs of the neighborhood. Of course, this momentary gain was met with resistance and a standoff.


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The documentary continues to reveal the history of the trade-off. Once the people became addicted the government introduced methadone, another form of sedation. The Young Lords introduced five-point acupuncture, instead of the FDA approved methadone, to great success.

Through the leadership of Dr. Mutulu Shakur, Tupac Shakur's stepfather, these activists created the first acupuncture detoxification program in the United States. This visionary project was eventually deemed too dangerous to exist in America, more it allowed those participants to be free form addiction. With the people enslaved they are controllable, free people are less likely to be controlled.


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The documentary continues as the acupuncture clinic drew many from neighborhoods outside of the Upper Manhattan and Harlem neighborhoods and included those who believed in Holistic medicine. The comradery and similarities in beliefs led to a revolution that went unbelievably bad.

Dope is Death is an informative documentary highlighting hope over dope and more immortalizing these moments of unity which ushered in changes to these Upper Manhattan neighborhoods. The documentary showcases the wild 1970s, when America was convulsing with change and facing problems head-on, rejecting government control over their lives, and moving from the unquestioning compliance to the psychedelic times of in-your-face activism.

Dope is Death premieres on VOD, Apple, Altavod May 14, 2021. See it. It is a trip back in time and so relevant.

Country: Canada.

Language: English.

Runtime: 78minutes.

Director: Mia Donovan.

Writer: Mia Donovan, Sofi Langis.

Producer: Bob Moore.

Executive Producer: Mila Aung-Thwin, Daniel Cross.

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