Life Polytechnic
Citation:   Terwilleger. "Life Polytechnic: An Experience with Opiates (exp46392)". May 13, 2007.

  repeated   Opiates
I moved to London from the country in Autumn 1999. I arrived with nothing more than a backpack, 50 and a place at University. After spending the first few nights sleeping rough I found a room not far from the Uni and moved in. The course was interesting without being too demanding and I was able to continue my routine of heavy drinking and hash smoking without interruption.

I spent a lot of time in Camden town trying to find a reliable source of hash and while I invariably found something to put in my pipe I rarely got what I paid for: everybody who sold hash or weed seemed to do so to finance their Crack or Heroin habits. As the new kid in town I was always going to get ripped off. Of course I had long been dimly aware of the influence of hard drugs but my provincial upbringing had shielded me from the worst of their effects. My nocturnal wanderings around the less desirable parts of London, however, forced me to confront the harsh realities of the Government's failing drugs policy. Everywhere I went I saw disenchanted youths standing in doorways or huddling at windswept bus shelters waiting for their dealer to pedal by. Yet as much as it appalled me the 'anti-glamour' of it all enticed me. I reasoned that hard drugs must have something going for them if people were prepared to endure such privations all in the name of their next fix.

I had read Irvine Welsh's 'Trainspotting' some months previously. Although a work of fiction it remains, in my opinion, the most authoritative and genuine account of heroin addiction and withdrawal available today. It makes grim reading but it tickled my curiosity and after reading it I resolved to take heroin at the earliest available opportunity. Back at Camden town I approached the shifty-looking individuals who gathered around the tube station. My first attempts to procure Heroin were unsuccessful, rather as I had predicted they would be. I was not so naive that I imagined a middle-class white student with a provincial accent could approach a perfect stranger on the street and negotiate a successful heroin deal without complication. Those I approached who offered to help me quickly revealed themselves untrustworthy, departing with my money as swiftly as they had arrived; those I thought genuine were suspicious of me and muttered darkly to one another about undercover policemen. Many times I was left in a stairwell or on a corner with instructions to wait while the 'deal' was put together. I am ashamed to say on some occasions I waited upwards of an hour before concluding I had been scammed: hope springs eternal and all that.

Eventually I was approached by a middle aged black gentleman in a leather overcoat who had witnessed my clumsy attempts to score. He took me to a telephone box, produced a stem (tubular crack pipe) and got me high. Later we found some heroin and in a serious breach of etiquette I took off home without repaying the favour - a mistake, as it turns out, for he was to recoup his investment with interest before my dealings with him were complete. The heroin itself was a disappointment: I smoked it on foil but was unfamiliar with the technique and consequently wasted more than I smoked, carbonising the heroin before the fumes had been released. It would be some time before I learned how to take the drug effectively and economically.

After some months of sporadic and largely ineffectual heroin use I considered it time to embark on a serious habit. I visited a hospital in North London which operated a Drug Treatment Centre. They provided me with clean needles and a wealth of literature relating to safe injecting methods and related injuries and diseases. I returned to Camden town and procured some heroin from a homeless Scottish man I had befriended for exactly that purpose. I injected laudably small amounts, so concerned was I of the dangers of overdose. A seasoned heroin addict would have laughed at the minuscule amounts I cooked in my spoon, but had I OD'd in a bedsit I could conceivably have been dead for days before somebody found me: probably it would be the landlord after his rent who would stumble upon my lifeless corpse.

Nevertheless, I got unfeasibly high, even to the point of having to walk myself around the room, like a horse with the colic, in order to prevent myself lapsing into a coma.

My daily life became a ritualised sequence of injecting, waiting, scoring, travelling and sleeping. I didn't attend University, I lost contact with my friends, I blew my student loan and my arms and the backs of my hands became dotted with puncture marks and grew bruises the size of eggs. Despite the many fresh veins I had to choose from I was not adept at injecting and to this day I contend I probably wasted more heroin than I ever shot into my arm. Eventually I missed a vein and accidentally shot my fix into the soft tissue in my upper arm. A large lump appeared and after a visit to the doctor I was told to keep my arm elevated above my head for forty eight hours in order to avoid amputation. It occurs to me now that the doctor was perhaps playing a trick on me in order that I had some time to reflect on my situation. I did indeed have what I believe alcoholics refer to as 'a moment of clarity' in which one is compelled to question the wisdom of one's actions. I subsequently stopped injecting but continued smoking heroin for several more months until my student loan ran out.

I managed the withdrawal symptoms with Codeine Linctus, a preparation that used to be available from most chemists as a cough medicine but which is harder to get hold of these days, largely because the only people to buy it were junkies trying to stave off withdrawal. Alternatively I would buy Kaolin and Morphine, intended for the prevention of Diarrhea but equally effective in managing withdrawal symptoms. The Morphine is separated from the Kaolin suspension by refrigerating it for several hours until it rises to the top of the bottle where it can be drawn off with a syringe and drunk. As a last resort I would use codeine tablets taken from my parents medicine cabinet at home - the only downside being that many brands also contain large doses of paracetamol preventing the user ingesting large amounts at any one sitting.

Nowadays I take heroin intermittently and never for more than three days in a row at any time. Even so, my body seems to remember the old days and punishes me heinously every time I do so.

I finished my degree (a little later than I would have liked, and at considerably more expense) and left London. After my flirtation with heroin, I am now acutely aware of it's presence wherever I go: my spidey-sense tingles every time I see a rat-faced youth lurking furtively in an alley or a teenage cyclist with his cheeks bulging pedaling frantically along a canal towpath. It's everywhere you look, but I'd give anything not to notice - I never used to. If you use heroin, you lose your innocence, and if you fuck up no-one has any sympathy for you whatsoever - and who can blame them? You made your bed. You have to lie in it.

Exp Year: 1994ExpID: 46392
Gender: Male 
Age at time of experience: Not Given
Published: May 13, 2007Views: 11,103
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Opiates (207) : Various (28), Addiction & Habituation (10), Retrospective / Summary (11)

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