What I thought about: The Business of Drugs

Did you know one of the world’s largest producers of meth is Myanmar? Me neither. This docuseries, focused on the economics of drug dealing, shines a light on supply chains you never knew existed, and for that reason is a recommended watch.

Fox looks on at a display of force from a Myanmar militia – who might be funded by the drugs trade

What’s it about?
Amaryllis Fox is an ex-CIA analyst who used to work in counterterrorism. In other words, she’s been around. Fox takes us through a different type of drug in every episode, complete with a series of voice-overs, visits to drug trafficking hotspots, and interviews with experts (both the scientific kind and the… drug trafficking kind).

You’ll learn a lot about the economics of the drugs trade for Cocaine, Synthetics, Heroin, Meth, and Cannabis. There’s also a bonus episode on the opioid epidemic that the USA is still suffering the effects of. It’s not all numbers, though – you’ll be faced with the harsh reality of what pushes drug mules to risk their freedom – or even their lives – in pursuit of a slightly better pay packet. In other words, they’re also victims.

What do I like about it?
It’s a fresh take on the usual documentaries we see on drug abuse, although there’s enough of the ‘traditional’ drug documentary coverage to keep things interesting and well-aligned.

I particularly liked the Cannabis episode which explored why the legalisation of cannabis in California hasn’t managed to significantly reduce illegal sales of the drug – which still command 80% of the market. Although I’m generally an advocate of decriminalisation, it obviously has to ‘work’ to increase safety, reduce organised crime, and maybe benefit the public purse a bit. California is, it seems, an example of what not to do.

What do I not like about it?
The production values in this series are a teeny bit lacking. On-screen graphics appear somewhat inconsistently, and some of the filming seems a bit hap-hazard. Mind you, it’s not enough to distract you entirely.

Oh no, what’s far more distracting is the significant change in appearance between the version of Fox appearing in all the studio-lit interviews (a post-filming retelling that fills in some of the gaps and links between scenes) and the version of her in the rest of each episode where she’s interviewing someone or travelling to a particular area. It seems silly when you realise it, but it took me a hot minute to work out that they were the same person!

Worth a watch?
If you’re at all interesting in learning a little behind-the-scenes of the drug trade, there are some genuinely insightful pieces in this show. I’d recommend it.

By the way…

  • Fox joined the CIA when she was just in college. Her memoirs are available as a book, Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA
  • Wait, this also relates to the above… Fox’s memoirs are being turned into an Apple TV+ drama series. Get hyped!