Driven to get a deeper understanding of the global narcotics scene, Niko Vorobyov hit 15 countries on five continents, talking to everyone from a Japanese yakuza hit man to cartel leaders in Mexico and Columbia. A former drug dealer himself, Vorobyov chronicles his journeys in an epic new book, Dopeworld: Adventures in Drug Lands.
It’s immersive journalism at its best, giving readers a ride-along as the Russian-born, London-raised writer meets cocaine farmers, heroin cooks, crack-era kingpins, drug-war crusaders, Iranian opium smokers, Moroccan hash makers, and Brazilian gangsters. Vorobyov has an insider’s grasp of the international drug game, and made use of contacts from his dealing days to gain entry to secretive, sometimes dangerous criminal worlds.
The book’s sweep includes a history of humanity’s relationship with psychoactive substances, and a look at issues like prohibition regimes, law-enforcement approaches, legalization, and the nexus between organized crime and drug distribution.
A drug user when he was young, Vorobyov began selling weed, coke, and MDMA in London, eventually moving kilos of drugs in an enterprise that included two assistants and a network of suppliers. At one point he got stabbed, and nearly bled to death. Busted in 2013, he was sent to jail and served two and a half years.
Prison fucked with his head. Vorobyov paced inside his cell, working out, down to the minute, how long he’d be locked up. Desperate for distraction, he binged at the prison library, which is where he discovered Mr. Nice, a memoir by drug smuggler Howard Marks, and Ioan Grillo’s El Narco, which exposed the way drug gangs threaten the very stability of Mexico.
Inspired by these and other accounts of the drug underworld, Vorobyov, once he had his freedom back, started down the path that would, years later, result in Dopeworld.
Penthouse sat down with the witty, engaging author and asked him about his journeys, prison time, the drug war, legalization, and what it’s like to hang with hit men.
What made you want to write this book?
I wanted to shine a light on a dark world that’s all around us. To do that, I wrote something that mixes genres. It’s a social-political-historical book, but it’s also got a layer of gonzo reporting, like Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I met El Chapo’s family, smoked hash with the police in Iran, and took part in an ayahuasca ritual in the depths of the Peruvian Amazon. It’s also kind of a fucked-up travel book, the sort of thing that, when it’s on sale at airport stores, could scare the shit out of people flying to Mexico.
Why would someone with your drug-dealing background want legalization?
It depends on what you mean by legalize. Do I think heroin should be sold in supermarkets? No. I mean, obviously, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about being locked away for dealing, but I’ve tried to educate myself about the drug problem and see other points of view. I’ve been to countries like the Philippines and Iran where they hang drug dealers or just shoot them on the spot. And guess what? There are still drugs in the Philippines and Iran, but the people who actually do have a drug problem are too scared to come forward and do anything about it because they’re afraid of getting killed, arrested, or shunned.
I think prohibition, globally and historically, has failed, and we need to start looking at other options. Legalization of at least some drugs — like ecstasy or shrooms — should be on the table.
How does the war on drugs vary, or not vary, around the world?
In every country there’s a lot of bad science and propaganda about what drugs actually do. And it’s always us against them — either minorities get targeted by the drug war, or the poor. Me and my team were out dining near a slum part of Manila one night and somebody got killed just outside our restaurant as we were eating. They drove up on a motorbike and popped two caps in a guy’s head.