The Century Addict
Please God please. Let me feel it just one. more. time. It makes me feel alive, important, loved and the white hot glow of euphoria makes all the past hurt, all the horrible mistakes, all the empty hours of breathing seem like part of a cosmic plan that feels so good, is so good, all my suffering was worth it, possibly even divine.
Smack. Dope. Mud. Horse. Skag. Junk.
Black tar. Black pearl. Brown sugar. Witch hazel. Birdie powder.
Dragon. Hero. White stuff. China white.
Chiva. Mexican horse. Pluto. Skunk. Number 2.
If you've ever heard "chasing the Dragon" or "chasing a high" it means the user is trying to "recapture" the euphoria of the first high.
See, that's Heroin's hook. The first time someone uses, it is transcendent, almost spiritual, total euphoria. I've heard an addict say the first time is like looking at the face of God. But Heroin is not a God. It is a cruel task master. No matter how much or how many times they use, they can never, ever, get that exact same feeling. In fact, they start feeling worse. But that first euphoric feeling was real, maybe the most real thing they've ever felt in their lives. So they try. And try. And try.
Chasing the Dragon is the addict's purpose.
It boils up from Mexico on the backs and bowels of mules, in the trunks of cars and a host of other types of transportation. The masters, two separate and competitive Mexican Drug Cartels, run amok through this community on their way to bigger, better paydays on the East Coast.
Not the Heroin of old, simply cut with baby powder or rat poison. THIS, this stuff is cut with Fentanyl, a synthetic drug 50 to 100 times as potent as morphine. This deadly duo's favorite distribution method is in capsule form (caps) and costs a mere $5-$7. It is now cheaper than pot and can be injected, snorted, smoked, even taken orally, though most addicts don't do that because some of the potency is lost in the stomach.
When I am on a sting and a prostitute arrives, 80% of the time she is addicted to Heroin.
Sometimes they look exactly like you'd expect. Tracks on their arms, between toes with fingers black and blue from shooting up in the fingertips. (Some lose fingers because of this eventually.) Begging not to be taken to jail where being "dope sick" means vomiting, pain and defecating all over themselves. Begging and promising anything, anything if you just don't take them away from the Master.
I had preconceived ideas about Heroin users before I started working in the Human Trafficking field 5 years ago. I've changed some of those perspectives, some have, as you can imagine, been reinforced.
I believed Heroin makes people crazy. It turns good people into criminals, truth tellers into liars, decent parents into neglectful ones. And you know what? It DOES do those things. But like most things, the broad brush colors it wrong just as often as it does right.
Heroin does those things in various degrees with each individual. Almost as if Heroin brings out inner demons. A good person doesn't simply become evil because they use Heroin. They aren't incoherent babbling idiots most of the time.
For example, "Woman A," is an addict, one-time suburban housewife, the mother of 5 kids, but not the custodial parent now. She says she loves her kids. Talks about them all the time. She loves them enough to know that she is not the best thing for them. She has to come up with $20 a day, buy 4 caps and shoot up at regular intervals to stay even. (This is a minor drug habit in the world of Heroin.) If she wants to get a high, she has to go to $50. A better high is $100 because she hovered at $100 a day for multiple months. But $20, 20 keeps her even. Meaning, she is sober and rational. Not sleepy, not high, not anything but even. She doesn't work, has absolutely no skill set. Married out of high school, started having babies while hubby worked. I'm not clear exactly how and when she started using Heroin, but like most addicts, it was a journey. She didn't just pick up a needle one day, shove it in her arm and yell "WOO HOO I'm an addict!!"
Still she finds ways to make enough to stay even and visits with her kids as much as she can. Recently, a man offered to buy her 4-year-old daughter in exchange for drug money. Even high, she was so repulsed, so utterly disgusted, despite any potential repercussions to her parenting rights and freedom, she turned him in to the authorities.
Contrast that to "Woman B." Also an addict with about the same daily habit. She has custody of her kids and thinks nothing of using in front of them, of placing them in dangerous situations too distracting to detail here. Though I am told she was a "good" mom before her habit, I don't think she'd hesitate to sell one of her kids for drug money.
Two women, two moms, similar habits, two different degrees of debasement if you will.
Probably one of the most potent preconceived ideas I'm changing is addiction as a disease.
Before I started in this field, I believed exactly what I was told, addiction is a disease often inherited from family. I think the case can be made for inherited addiction. But I work with a lot of people who have no addicts in their family and no history of addicts EVER. And this demographic is not an outlier, it is GROWING the longer Heroin goes unchecked. I label this group the "century addict." They are present. The here and now face of addiction.
I've seen the century addict wean down to very little drug use (like Woman A above) without any help or meetings, or the traditional 12 steps, etc.
Compared to someone with a strong family history of addiction, it is almost night and day. The family history addicts tend to need serious pharmaceutical help and counseling/support to get off Heroin. Help they use as a crutch for years. Maybe this is the nature/nurture discussion at its root.
Is family addiction learned behavior? Is it why it takes many long years to "undo" that learned behavior? Century addicts who have no real knowledge of recovery and twelve steps seem to tackle the issue of recovery in their own way and some are successful. It's like no one told them it was supposed to be a long drawn out life-long recovery, so when they decide they've had enough, they work to get out of it as soon as possible without permission to slip back into it.
A family history addict often asks me to do the work for them. The phone calls, the advocacy, etc. The century addict, once they commit to quitting, just expects to be pointed in the right direction and they take care of the logistics.
Family history addicts do have hope. I see success in that community as well. This isn't a "this way is better than that" but more a "there are different paths to the same recovery" and they all don't have to start with a number.
Generally speaking, no matter the category, once an addict gets sick and tired of being sick and tired, then (and this is the most important part) finds a REASON to live, to get up in the morning, they're on the ramp to freedom for the most part. People without a purpose. Or to be more precise, people who believe they have no purpose, are easily lured into the false promises of addiction.
I had spine surgery. I was prescribed heavy narcotics afterward. I didn't want to take them. When I went for my checkup a few weeks out the Dr asked why I wasn't taking them. I told him I didn't want to get addicted. He said, "The very fact you worry about getting addicted means you won't. If addiction happened simply from exposure, most people would be addicted after major surgery. Do you have any idea how many opiates are pumped into you during the surgery and afterward for a couple days via IV? Think about the narcotics during your breast cancer surgeries."
It was an ah-ha moment for me. One I've seen worked out in the raw up close and personal with the people I work with.
Ultimately, the biggest change in my perspective came in challenging "not my monkeys, not my circus" point-of-view. Meaning, historically, Heroin? Not my problem. Addicts deserve what they get. No one forced them to use.
While the latter is usually true, like most things in life, there is method to the madness.
Maybe, back in the day, one could have this attitude. But no longer. Why? Because Heroin use has changed. No longer a fringe drug culture, it's hit main street America. The high is higher, cheap and easily accessible. And it comes with a whole new subculture of use.
Narcan is an anti-opiate. Most first responders and some civilians carry it. You can administer it to a person who overdoses on Heroin. They can be gray and waxy with death, Narcan administered and the skin changes color and a flush comes back. Within seconds the overdose victim is sitting up, sober, walking and talking. A total opiate antigen if you will. It's like raising the dead.
It's saved countless lives.
But, the unintended consequences?
Since most addicts are chasing the Dragon, they often believe the more Heroin they do, in fact, the closer to death they can push, will propel that first euphoria.
It translates in behaviors such as shooting up in their vehicles, putting their vehicle in DRIVE, and passing out. Why? Because if they push the Heroin to the limit, they may catch the Dragon, for a short spell of time they will be fulfilling their purpose. If they miscalculate and die? Well, a wreck, or rolling into a ditch, brings first responders. And with them? NARCAN.
The reason it isn't a circus problem any more? These episodes of french kissing death are rolling onto roads and into parking lots that you and me, our families, our kids, also occupy. Collateral damage.
Several years ago a book came out called "The Purpose Drive Life." I never liked the book and won't go into why here. But the seed of it was basically this idea: every human on this earth must have a purpose.
I now believe that purpose has to be chosen, it can't be assigned or assumed. Just because a woman has a baby, that doesn't mean she finds her purpose in life being a mom. Maybe it's true most of the time, but it's not true all the time.
Other people can't discover or tell an addict what their purpose is in life. They have to discover that themselves. Some stumble upon it and into a life of sobriety ever after. Others, stumble and stop, think they find it, and then discover, nope, that' s not it.
No matter what people actually believe about addiction, heroin is the single most community devastating thing I've ever seen.
Right now in Ohio, under Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, able-bodied addicts who want off can go through treatment and the state covers the costs with Medicaid. Even with that, many of them refuse it. They aren't willing to sacrifice their current (and often first time ever) purpose of chasing the Dragon for the life they had before sans purpose.
I do believe this is spiritual. We are part spirit and soul. Heroin speaks all sorts of tantalizing promises to that dead or unexplored place in people. But it's all a lie, a fraud, posing as a truth so pure, only a few people can actually ever obtain it.
Heroin is evil. It speaks to the spirit in soft whispers of promise while utter destruction is its primary goal. Of the user. Of the user's family.
Of us all.