Disturbia, fiction, family, friends, and everything else between the lions.
The Century Addict
Published on December 18, 2016 By Tova7 In Current Events

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.

H.

Black tar.  Black pearl.  Brown sugar. Witch hazel. Birdie powder.

Dragon. Hero. White stuff. China white.

Boy.

Chiva. Mexican horse. Pluto. Skunk. Number 2.

Heroin .

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.

 


Comments
on Jan 20, 2017

I've seen a lot of people lost to heroin and cocaine. Its very sad to watch them literally wither away and sell their souls on the way to an early grave. Having had many surgeries for injuries, I've been put on heavy doses of Demerol and morphine. Every time when it was time to quit, I did it. I must have a very strong will where many do not. Although, the first couple of times were very hard. Quitting smoking was also very hard, but necessary.

on Jan 21, 2017

I have the use/dependence/addiction conversation quite often.  This is a little OT from a discussion of the physical and social effects of heroin use, so I apologize, but the 'opiod epidemic' in general has been getting a lot of press lately and has been, unfortunately, needlessly making the appropriate use of analgesic medications frightening to people.  When it comes to the medical use of narcotic analgesics, it is relatively rare for someone to become addicted to them, given the frequency of use in the setting of surgical treatment and pain management.

Since they don't provide that 'face of God' like experience, once someone's acute pain subsides, the need for the analgesic goes away and use ends.  That's the case for almost all who are exposed to them in this sort of setting.  Having had a kidney stone on one occasion, I can attest to the powerful benefit of hydromorphone, but that one dose was all that was needed, because it's only effect on me was relief of pain.

Far less often, and usually because medical/surgical interventions were unsuccessful at completely relieving pain, individuals become 'dependent' on the pain relief of narcotic analgesics in order to function on a daily basis with any degree of comfort.  A therapeutic dose is determined and they are usually well-maintained on a stable dose without need for escalation unless an intervening medical event requires otherwise.  They can function normally, without any cognitive or other impairment and can drive or operate equipment safely.  They are not 'weak' - they are simply dependent on a medication to relieve a symptom, just as many are 'dependent' on a medication to control their diabetes or high blood pressure.

Addiction to prescribed analgesics (escalating 'need', risky &/or deceptive behaviors to obtain higher doses, impairment of judgment and destructive effects on work & personal relationships, etc.) can, and does, happen in the medical setting, usually after multiple surgical events in my experience, but it is relatively rare.

Finally, kudos to you, Tova, for the selfless work you do to help the suffering.

on Jan 21, 2017

Anthony R

I've been put on heavy doses of Demerol and morphine. Every time when it was time to quit, I did it.

This is somewhat the heart of my post  You quit because you felt you "had" to quit.  The consequences of continuing were too high.  You have a REASON to quit.  Many of the addicts I work with have not discovered their reason.  I can look at their lives and think, you should quit because you have kids, a marriage, a life.  But for whatever reason, those things aren't enough.

 

on Jan 21, 2017

Dayton Ohio is ground zero for heroin in the US right now.  We have more ODs per capita than any other place in the country.  It's strangling our community, all available resources.  The team I work with at the Sheriff's Office is on the front lines.  Showtime just finished taping a series on the team, it should be out this fall.  You know things are bad when multiple news and pay per view stations from all over the country come and stay for months at a time to cover this issue.

I've worked Human Trafficking the last 5 years and it, as well as many other issues, is often pushed to the back burner because there are no resources left.  

Daiwa

They are not 'weak' - they are simply dependent on a medication to relieve a symptom, just as many are 'dependent' on a medication to control their diabetes or high blood pressure.

I can speak to this to some degree.  My husband had multiple deployments and his spine has significant damage from it all.  His back is so damaged that he literally moans out loud in his sleep all night long anytime he has to move/roll over.  Most nights he just gets up and paces.  He has averaged 4 hours sleep a night for almost 7 years.  He has three options.

1.  Spinal surgery (and the surgeons are advising him to wait as long as possible because he "will never be the same."  I do believe this, I had spinal surgery last year and not only do I have pain every single day, there are literally times when I drop to my knees gasping if I turn just right.)  For my husband, there are multiple fusions necessary, and some other procedures eventually as well. 

2.  Take pain medication to function without pain.  (He has tried everything non chemical from massage to acupuncture.)  He refuses the medication option.

3.  Live with it.

He chooses #3.  I've watched him age drastically the last 7 years from lack of sleep and constantly grimacing.  Pain is a cruel task master.  It cuts creases in your face, and in your personality.  I don't know how he does it. 


It's interesting how perspective broadens as one ages.  Seeing the world in black and white is the luxury of youth I reckon.  I can tell you though that some of the women I work with, selling their bodies for money for heroin, aren't much different from me.  Most of the suburban women developed a prescription drug habit, and when Ohio cracked down on Drs for prescribing them, they went to heroin.  First they snort it because needles, ew.  But it's not long before they shoot it usually.

I've never seen anything like this before.  It really is that bad here, in the suburbs, the inner city.  Crazy.

 

on Jan 21, 2017

It's a difficult, convoluted problem (like I'm telling you something. Ha!).  There is an understandable tendency to generalize and look at anyone needing daily analgesic medication as having a 'drug habit'.  That phrase conjures up very negative connotations, needless to say.  And if/when people who have become dependent on analgesics to function, the folks in the second group I described in my reply above, as opposed to addicted to them (it is different), lose their access to them it's not surprising that some would look to alternative sources of supply.

'Cracking down on doctors' is now fashionable but there is a back story that isn't usually mentioned in current opioid epidemic exposes.  Roughly 20-25 years ago, there was instead an 'epidemic of suffering' - doctors weren't sufficiently attentive to managing pain it was argued, even in the hospital setting, leading to the widespread adoption of pain as the '5th vital sign' and a huge campaign to educate doctors in the error of their ways in not adequately treating pain.  Failure to document success in achieving the objectives of that campaign would even subject institutions to loss of Medicare funding.  Consequently, that effort was rather successful.  So much so that, even though the overwhelming bulk of prescription narcotics on the black market come from other sources, doctors are now back to being the scapegoats again, being now told that we're 'overprescribiing' narcotics.  The pendulum has swung back past the vertical.  Virtually every narcotic prescription is subjected to some sort of external scrutiny now, as are 'prescribing patterns'.  Are there unscrupulous doctors & pharmacists who effectively 'sell' narcotics in large quantities in various scams?  Absolutely.  Are there many of them?  No.  The tight controls in place on distribution of narcotics in the US make that a difficult proposition to pull off, for very long anyway.

The effort to make sure that the '5th vital sign' was adequately addressed may have had the unintended consequence of 'suburban women developing a drug habit' once that effort was curtailed and doctors were made to fear prescribing these medications again, as has happened over the past 5 years or so.  Potential loss of livelihood is a powerful influence on prescribing behavior so the pendulum can be pushed one way or the other fairly easily.

You have a perspective and experiential knowledge I don't possess, so I don't presume to be 'right' in this regard.  I just find the subject interesting (for obvious reasons).  And important.

on Jan 21, 2017

Daiwa

You have a perspective and experiential knowledge I don't possess, so I don't presume to be 'right' in this regard.  I just find the subject interesting (for obvious reasons).  And important.

No no, I don't see us as disagreeing.  I'm learning from you.  I've talked with Drs but I felt they were holding back.  I see the exact thing you are saying here with people suffering and NOT getting the medication they need to manage the pain.  

I didn't realize there was a difference between people dependent on opiates to manage pain and addiction.  If for instance they would go through withdrawal if the medication is stopped abruptly are they addicted?  I've operated under that definition (I am addicted to caffeine!).  It's not a nuanced perspective based on your contribution to this post.  I think there is much insight there, in that nuance.

Can I ask, what do you see as the benefit, or purpose of recognizing that nuance?  

 

on Jan 21, 2017

Withdrawal symptoms on cessation can occur in anyone accustomed to long-term narcotic use, whether dependent or addicted (as I've defined the terms).  Withdrawal by itself does not define addiction - the other destructive (to self and others) behavioral aspects need to also be present.

In the dependent, narcotic use is motivated by the avoidance of or minimization of pain.  In the addicted, it's motivated by the avoidance of withdrawal.  It may seem in some respects to be splitting hairs, but the distinction is real.  I've seen many who have been dependent on narcotics for years who have successfully and relatively easily weaned themselves off pain medication once a truly pain-relieving procedure or event occurs.  And they don't miss the narcotics at all, because euphoria or other non-analgesic effects weren't motivating their use in the first place.

BTW, 'coffee addiction' is an oxymoron. 

on Jan 21, 2017

Daiwa

BTW, 'coffee addiction' is an oxymoron. 

Now you're calling me an 'oxymoron'.....

on Jan 21, 2017

Daiwa

In the dependent, narcotic use is motivated by the avoidance of or minimization of pain.  In the addicted, it's motivated by the avoidance of withdrawal.

 

This is brilliant, so well said.  May I use it?  

As an aside, this kinda addresses a question I find myself asking a lot when talking with an addict who has been sober for a few months..... 

Me:  How did this start?

Them: I hurt my back in a car wreck (insert injury causing issue here) and was prescribed pain medication.  But, my Dr said he wasn't going to prescribe them anymore, that I should try (insert new medication here).  It didn't work, and when I went to another Dr they treated me like I was drug seeking...so I started buying pain pills from a friend.  Then the crackdown came, and I couldn't find anyone with extras, so I ended up trying heroin because it's only $5 a cap.  So cheap and easy to find.

Me: You've been sober for a few months.  What have you used for your backpain?

Them:  (Usually one of these two responses).  Nothing, I just learned to live with it.  or  My back doesn't really hurt anymore.


In the end though, by the time I meet them, they are truly addicts no matter how they got there.  And the ones who have the hardest time leaving it behind are the ones who have nothing to live for  

on Jan 21, 2017

Tova7

In the end though, by the time I meet them, they are truly addicts no matter how they got there. And the ones who have the hardest time leaving it behind are the ones who have nothing to live for

Really sad.  Yet quite true.

on Jan 21, 2017


Now you're calling me an 'oxymoron'.....

I gather the shoe fits...

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