For the hell of it, I decided to do a Google search on “Heroin Addicts”. The above photo is an example of what came up. There was pictures of Amy Winehouse and Macauly Caulkin, who are of course known heroin addicts. The rest were sickly, anorexic-looking people. All pale skin and stringy hair. Some were probably legitimate pictures taken of real heroin addicts. Many of the pictures, however, were staged. Some were clearly fashion models, you know heroin chic. The models were thin and had stringy hair, but there was absolutely zero indication that these women had any history of abuse. But, I suppose smear their eyeliner, but some grease in their hair, and they must look like heroin addicts, right?
The problem is that when people see these images they look even farther down their noses at addicts. Parents with children who are struggling with addiction buy into this, and all of the sudden the son or daughter that they have raised since birth is the devil. They in turn treat their child different.
These perceptions of addicts come to us via movies, books, TV, magazines, everywhere. The problem is that more often then not perception is reality. There is very real, very tangible damage done by portraying every addict as someone who is ready to whore out their mother in order to get their next fix. It makes people so ashamed to be an addict that they are terrified to speak up and ask for help. They know that once the label “Dope Fiend” is tattooed on to their forehead, it is a scar that they will work for the entirety of their life,to work off.
This is not conjecture either, there is factual evidence to back this up. Portugal has decriminalized heroin and most other drugs. Since they have done this, the number of heroin addicts has been cut in half. Switzerland has started heroin clinics that work very similar to the way methadone clinics work in America. Users can go once or twice a day and receive an amount of pure heroin that is determined by a doctor. The patients use the heroin at the clinic (much like a methadone clinic makes a patient drink the dose in front of them). They provide clean needles, cookers, cottons, ties, matches, everything. They even have nurses that will help an addict shoot up if they can not find a vein. The results of these sort of clinics is astounding. Obviously drug arrests are down, that’s a given. It is so much more than that however. Felonies over all are down. Burglaries and thefts are down. People don’t have to take such extreme measures to obtain the money to support their habits. The most remarkable thing that has happened is that the rate of addiction is way down. More and more people are getting help. They are going to rehabs, they are getting clean.
See, once the stigma was taken out of the equation, people are willing to admit that they are addicts. As anyone even remotely familiar with NA knows, the first step towards getting clean is to admit that you have a problem. In this country, there a millions of people struggling in silence, to afraid too speak up.
That leads me back to the title of this essay, “Who Is The Addict?”. Especially now a days with the influx of people becoming addicted to prescription pills, the addict is your mother,father, neighbor. The ting is, opiate are very sneaky thing. The physical dependency sneaks up on you faster then you realize. Many people get hooked innocently enough. They get prescribed Oxys or percs by a doctor because of a surgery or a car accident or a pinched nerve or WHATEVER. Then one day, the doctor decides that you have been on these pills long enough and cuts of the script. Unfortunately, if you have taken any sort of opiate day in and day out for months or years, you can not just stop. Unless you only took them for a week or two, you get physically addicted without even realizing it. One day you wake up and have no more pills left and realize that you are fucked. Most people will not just up and switch right to heroin instantly. They usually stick to whatever they were prescribed. Thing of it is, dealer are charging up to a dollar a milligram to people who are purchasing small quantities. This ridiculously expensive. Heroin is much stronger and cheaper. For someone used to taking three Percocet thirties at a time, can do five dollars worth a heroin and be rocked. More often than not, they end up switching to heroin.
Yes, I have seen grandmothers copping in the hole. Business men, corporate women. Admittedly, most corporate types pay someone to cop for them, but the point is that they are the faces of addicts. I’m not going to lie to you, if you go to Skid Row, or under the subway, or wherever the homeless live in your area, many of them are going to be addicted to one drug or another. Honestly though, that may be one of the only ways to make that sort of situation even slightly bearable. But the thing is that they only represent one aspect of the population of drug addicts.
Stereotyping all addicts as skinny, scrawny, bad skinned, homeless, devil children only pushes addicts farther back away from society. Making people think that their loved ones that suffer from the disease of addiction are the spawn of satan only alienates the addict even more. No one wants to come forward and admit that they are the lowest of the low, the scum of the Earth, it is easier to just stay addicted. If we could realize that addicts are everyone. They are our loved ones, maybe we could get more people to receive help.