Seven years ago, I was what some people would call a heroin addict. Today I have a first class honours degree and work abroad. I want to tell my story to help shatter the stigma that surrounds people addicted to illicit drugs and show the potential that each of those people has inside.
My story begins back in high school. I was a good student. I got good grades and had a good group of friends. Like many other teenagers I began to rebel against authority. I started taking illegal drugs and quickly became fascinated by them. The very fact they were illegal drew me to them. It was a kind of ultimate rebellion against my parents and teachers.
No one could really tell you about them; you had to find out yourself. Discovering these new states of mind together with my friends created a special bond between us. Our shared experience in this illicit pastime bound us together. We had a naughty secret that others would never understand. As someone who had struggled to make many good friends in primary school, this bond was particularly enticing for me and gave me a sense of belonging.
My quest for a sense of belonging and identity led me to embrace much more than just taking drugs. I started to become something of an expert among my friends about different drugs and their effects. I spent hours researching everything about illegal drugs on the internet. I read endless scientific papers on their effects. I read about the neural pathways that illegal drugs activated. I read how similar illegal drugs activated different brain receptors in subtly different ways leading to major differences in effects. I read about their chemistry and synthesis. I had a singular drive to know all that I possibly could about different illegal drugs. The knowledge I gathered from this and the identity it gave me among my friends made me happy. I belonged somewhere.
My drive to know everything about illicit drugs led me to seek out any and all illegal drugs that I could buy. I wanted to experience what the different effects of different illicit drugs were. From stimulation to sedation, to mind numbing euphoria and ego loss, I was so curious to feel these effects that I read about. This also led to me trying the various ways of taking drugs. I injected my first illegal drug, MDMA, at the age of 16. This was not because someone older had suggested it or because I associated with other people who injected illicit drugs. I wanted to know what it was like. I wagged school that day to try it.
I remember sitting in a toilet cubicle of a shopping centre. I had a baggie filled with a crushed ecstasy tablet in one hand, my sharps kit in the other hand and little idea of what to do. I was nervous and excited. I mixed in 1ml of water and added a torn cigarette filter. Then I drew up the solution into the syringe. Now the time had come to inject it. My veins bulged so I didn’t need a tourniquet to find them. I pushed the needle in where one vein bulged rather prominently. I did not know how to do this so my first time I messed up. I didn’t even hit the vein. I injected and it really hurt. I was injecting the drug subcutaneously, under the skin. A lump was growing at the injection site. I had no idea of the dangers of injecting crushed pills in such a way.
My knowledge of drugs had come almost solely from the internet. I distrusted the anecdotal information from illicit drug users outside of my circle of immediate friends. The problem was that information about injecting illicit drugs was often sparse on the internet sites and forums I frequented. Forum users were reluctant to share information about it in an attempt to prevent people from starting to inject drugs. The other problem is that the internet is a subjective experience. You search for what you want to know and if you don’t like it you can always find another opinion that suits you better. I had already decided I wanted to do it so anything that was telling me not to do it was immediately ignored and any information there may have been to help me was dismissed along with it. I had no idea of what harm reduction services were available in my area, and being under 18 I figured even if I did know I wouldn’t be allowed to access them.
By the time the plunger stopped a huge lump had grown on my arm but that didn’t bother me that much. I was just waiting to feel the rush start. I went back out to meet my friend who had been waiting for me then we went to the park. I lay there in bliss for a few hours chatting away with my friend then went home.
A kid wagging school to inject illegal drugs, I doubt there would be many who would forecast a bright future for that boy back then if they had known. Despite that, I still saw a bright future free from troubles ahead. In my mind I would finish high school and then go to university where I would stop using drugs because that would all be behind me. Through this time my grades at school did not really suffer. I maintained Bs in most subjects despite never studying. My friends and I went out every weekend to party and then spent most of the school week planning our next weekend out.
Late in grade 12 I was with some friends for the weekend and we had the opportunity to try heroin. I jumped at the chance. I was sitting there in the public toilet cubicle with someone I had met just a few hours prior. She mixed up the small brown rock in the spoon and boiled it to dissolve it. How fascinating I thought, that such a small amount of a brown substance could have such profound effects on the body. I sat there in anticipation of what I expected to come. She passed me a syringe and told me to draw back before I pushed the plunger down to check if I had hit the vein. This was the first time I had heard this. It was also my first contact with any other person who injected drugs despite having been injecting for nearly a year by this point. This was the first time I had received information on how to inject in a safer way. My first experience was quite underwhelming. I vomited most of the night and didn’t really feel the amazing high that I had expected.
Back then my illegal drug of choice had become speed (methamphetamine). I was injecting speed on an almost weekly basis. Sometimes I would do it on weekends and other times on weekdays despite having school the next day. Around this point my grades did begin to suffer as I began doing it more and more. However, I still graduated with good enough grades to get into a Bachelor of Biotechnology where I intended to study drug development and design. I moved away from home and started university.
I loved going to university initially, there was so much to learn and all of it was fascinating. After a month though, I hadn’t made any real friends at university. I went to see my friends in my home town every weekend to break the growing isolation I was feeling. I started to use illegal drugs during the week as well as the weekend. I eventually decided to drop out of uni and I moved back home but this didn’t completely ease the isolation. All of my friends had jobs during the week so it was not much different to before.
Around this time, I had started to use oxycodone to ease the come down from speed. It was at this time I started to enjoy the effects of opioids. A single dose of oxycodone was also cheaper than speed at the time and so I soon switched to only using oxycodone. My speed use had always been very social and centred around hanging out with my friends. I preferred using oxycodone alone. As I used more oxycodone I became more and more withdrawn until I rarely saw any of my friends. I only saw the friends who also used opioids. Weekly use became twice weekly then daily. Drugs started to take over my life.
- Part one of a three part series