Chris is a full-time drug addict who has been in and out of prison, often homeless, and is continually seeking whatever high he can find. He detoxed in prison twice and in the county lockup several other times when opiates weren’t available. But as soon as he got out, there was always someone waiting for him with a pill.
Chris had started dealing dealing crack cocaine and ecstasy, along with prescription drugs, to support his habit.
“I’d pay other people to get scrips. Then I’d deal, take out my costs, and split the profits with them,” he told me.
Following his last prison stint, Chris stopped dealing or doing anything illegal. He was tired of prison, he said. He had detoxed in county jail prior to his prison term, but once in prison became addicted to morphine, which was traded for cigarettes by cancer patients in the medical ward.
“I went in with a habit, broke my habit, detoxed in jail, went to prison, and left with a habit. I never got clean. I got out with a habit and still have a habit,” he says.
Chris became an intravenous user at that point, and subsequently contracted Hepatitis C, along with several other infections.
“My first time using a needle was when I couldn’t get pills, and there was nothing snortable. It was either use a needle or be sick,” he says. “And then here comes a new addiction.”
When asked to compare the effects of various drugs, Chris speaks as if he’d been studying the clinical effects his whole life.
“Morphine’s got a rush, like pins and needles. It can be intense, where it actually hurts. Dilaudid’s got a better rush, and you get a body high from it. It’s like a tingling sensation, a warm flood as soon as you hit the plunger. It takes about 20 seconds for it to hit you, and then the actual rush lasts for maybe 15 seconds, 10 seconds. Then after that, depending on your tolerance, you get kind of noddy [falling asleep]. Heroin, you get a warm feeling in your gut. Oxycontin and oxycodone, no difference. Heroin and Oxycontin, no difference.”
Although he started using drugs legally, Chris acknowledges that he has an addictive personality, and that he never should have been near drugs in the first place.
“I get compulsive about things,” he says. “I want to be the best at whatever I do, even if it’s being a junkie. I want to be the best junkie out there. I pretty much shoot to OD every time I get high. I’m not going for a mild high. I want to fall over.”
Chris had tried to get clean once before, when he was homeless in Florida, with the help of a methadone clinic. In the beginning, the methadone worked. Then gradually, he began upping his dose.
The high from methadone is a little different than heroin or other drugs, but it’s still there. The original thinking behind methadone clinics was not to detox users, just to lessen intravenous use leading to the spread of disease.
“I’d go to the methadone clinic at 6 or 7 in the morning,” Chris says. “[I would] get my dose, 110 milligrams, and go get a cup of coffee.”
From there, he’d go to his panhandling site, retrieve his hidden sign, and fall asleep from the methadone.
“Within a minute, without having any control over it, in the middle of the road, I’d be touching my toes. Nodding out. And I’d be there until the cops came, or until the ambulance came, or a friend, who’d be like ‘what the hell?’
“Most people who go to a methadone clinic are just addicts who can’t afford to get high anymore,” he says. “Fifteen dollars a day is a lot better than $300 a day [for heroin]. For the first six months, I didn’t touch anything but methadone. It was great. Then I had problems, family issues, my dad’s cancer came back, and I started abusing methadone.
“Then I started using cocaine to stay awake. Because [I was] falling asleep in the middle of [Interstate] 95. It got to the point where I’d take my dose, and before making it to 95 with my sign, I’d buy some cocaine. So here comes a new addiction. I’m doing $15 a day of methadone, but now I have a $500 a day coke habit. And it seems to happen to everybody.”
Posts by Melanie Rosenblatt, M.D.
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