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Turkey's bonzai drug epidemic

Despite harsh legislation and intense police work, synthetic drug abuse is on the rise among low-income Turkish youths, including in conservative neighborhoods.

ISTANBUL — On June 23, I was in a taxi in Istanbul that took a wrong turn and ended up in a neighborhood where a group of young men were crowded onto a street corner, chatting loudly. The driver, who had already informed me that he was a full-time physical education teacher and part-time taxi driver, pointed to the young people and said, “These are the druggies, and they are all over these impoverished neighborhoods now. It's gotten worse in the last couple of years.”

For decades poor Turkish youths have been sniffing “torba,” a bag filled with a mixture of cheap chemicals, to get a quick high. When I asked the driver if he was referring to torba, he said, “That's passe. The kids now use some kind of chemical drug, “bonzai” — as in the tiny, precious Japanese bonsai trees, but spelled with a "z" in Turkish.

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