Founded in 1970 in the South Bronx by an alliance between the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and other revolutionary groups, Lincoln Detox was an attempt to provide alternative methods of drug addiction treatment. This was just as Nixon’s War on Drugs was revving up, which was of course in fact a war on poor people by other means — on one end it’s been alleged that intelligence agencies funneled drugs into impoverished areas, while on the other end police incontestably used the presence of drugs as a pretense to brutalize those areas. In between were underfunded, token efforts at care for addicts. Dope Is Death tells the story not just of Lincoln Detox, but also of how that whole generation of activists and freedom fighters were continually attacked by the state for trying to build a different, better world.
Among its holistic attempts at rehabilitating addicts, the center offered experimental methods of treatment like acupuncture (a practice which the film shows successor programs still using today), as well as political education classes. The staff, which included Tupac Shakur’s stepfather Mutulu Shakur, sought not merely to wean people off drugs, but to awaken them to the material conditions which caused them to be plagued with addiction in the first place. Whatever one may think of practices like acupuncture, it was certainly those efforts at shared social consciousness that brought the government hammer down on these people, and not any real concerns about public health.