Heroin Mill Employees Make $5K Per Week, Get Free Meals

Just like everything else in America, our thriving heroin industry has gone corporate and lost its edge. Today's smack-dealing "associate" works in the suburbs, toils long hours, and puts up with coworkers' kids. Might as well work at a start-up, or a bank.

The Associated Press tells us more about today's "factory-like" heroin mills, which cater to a wealthier, snort-ier clientele than the needle feeders of years past:

The new business model calls for more discretion and discipline, and better branding and quality control. The heroin is purer and the users more mainstream, including college students and professionals who snort rather than shoot up. Many have seamlessly transitioned to heroin after first getting hooked on prescription painkillers belonging to the same opiate family.

Compared to past eras marked by images junkies cooking the drug with a dirty spoon, heroin "doesn't have the same stigma attached to it," said John Gilbride, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office.

As AP tells us, one recently busted heroin mill operated out of a plain-looking, red-brick home in a New Jersey suburb. The dealers trimmed the shrubs and caused no disturbances. They were "good" neighbors. Not the kind you'd want to borrow sugar from ("Charles, why are you nodding off into your coffee cake? It usually makes you so hyper"), but quiet. Maybe even friendly.

What's really intriguing about today's heroin mills, though, are the benefits and labor conditions. Long shifts and monotonous work, but great pay—and protection from OSHA standard violations, in some cases:

Workers can make up to $5,000 a week, depending on how many 12-hour shifts they work. Their employers often protect them from an occupational hazard - heroin dust - by installing ventilation systems or providing them with respirators. They're also given meals and toiletries to help make it through their shifts, authorities said.

Whoah, free respirators and tiny shampoos? Almost makes up for the risk of getting arrested and sentenced to a lengthy prison stint. Almost.

Sometimes people bring their babies to heroin mills, because the environment's so chill. No mills appear on this list of baby-friendly workplaces, probably because all the businesses on that list are legal, but still. Today's heroin mills are also calm enough that kids can watch cartoons and eat their heart-healthy cereals, like Dusty Pebbles and Fruity Smack-O's, while the adults work. Until law enforcement officers come busting down the door and arrest the adults, anyway.

Some mills, like the one busted in Times Square in November 2010, are upscale places that offer convenient access to cultural institutions and shopping, while they exist. The dealers who ran that factory put the goods in preppy totes and named it after things that mainstream people enjoy, like car insurance and Broadway musicals. How sweet.

Of course, many heroin mills still stick to a rugged or spartan aesthetic. Some, like the one in the picture, offer television and free lotion, but only the most uncomfortable, church basement-style furnishings. (Check out the ergonomics experiment on that chair! Red cushion looks so sad.) Some mills don't have any identifiable amenities at all, though they still keep the yards looking nice somehow.

[MSNBC. Image via AP]