David Neff shares an excerpt from a memoir he is writing about his experiences with drugs. This glimpse illustrates how easily one goes from prescription painkillers to the full-blown epidemic our nation faces.
The first time I shot up, I realized that I had found the answer to life. I knew who I was. I liked who I was. I was in control. When the drugs entered my vein, my ears started buzzing, I could hear my blood pumping, and nothing at all mattered.
A wave of euphoria rushed over my body and the only thing I remember saying was, “Now I know why people do this.”
Then the nausea hit. I leaned over the side of the couch and puked in the trash can. It was filled with cheap plastic liners that we had ready, in preparation for our evening. This happens to everyone the first time they shoot up.
“You okay, man?” my buddy Jennifer asked. “You got all pale and sweaty and I thought you had too much.”
“Nahthatsjuswhahappennnsss,” I slurred, loving everything and everyone. “I’ll be fine. Take care of yerself now, dude. You gotta catch up with me. Fuuuuck! I didn’t think puking could feel so good.”
She just grinned and put a belt around her arm. Through the haze of nodding eyelids and the already dark basement, I could only do a half-hearted job of paying attention. Not that I had to. She was a pro. She’d been shooting for the last two or three months, though you wouldn’t have guessed it from her appearance. Neither one of us looked like typical junkies. We were both fairly well-educated. Healthy. Bright futures. This was just for fun.
I couldn’t prep the rig for my own dose or take care of the injection without help. I’ve always hated needles. I couldn’t even watch when she stuck it in my arm. As a tattooed ex-junkie, this irony is not lost on me.
Of course, I didn’t start as a junkie. I didn’t picture myself sticking a needle into my arms. As a teen, I had my first withdrawal after serious consumption of liquid morphine, hydrocodone, and a cocktail of whatever opiates were available. At first, the painkillers were prescription, but once those ran out, I needed to score just to maintain. When I first got junk sick, I didn’t realize how serious my addiction had become. The typical symptoms arrived post haste. There was the sweating, nausea, headache, and general anxiety.
Jennifer knew what I was going through and said she had something to help. I had an indication as to what she was suggesting, but at that point, anything was better than withdrawal. We went to her place and to a small room in the basement. It was dark, stagnant, and smelled of old cigarettes. Like a scene from a David Fincher film, the room was a dirty, unkempt space with debris on the floor and an imminent threat of hepatitis.
After Jennifer had finished mainlining, we both sank back into the couch and listened to her copy of Space Oddity on repeat. I doubt we had the inclination to ever flip the record. Once you’re collapsed into an over-stuffed sofa, chain-smoking and talking, there’s not much that can prompt you to move. I think I remember finding some sort of poignancy in the album. One of the greatest feelings when you’re high on heroin is the uninhibited emotion that floods over you. Everything becomes meaningful and has a purpose in life. Music always had an impact on my emotions, but this was profound.
“And there’s blood on my nose / And my tissue is rotting / Where the rats chew my bones.”
“So, what do you think?” Jennifer asked. “Pretty good, huh? No point in snorting pills when I can get this for us and it’s way cheaper than painkillers.”
“Huh? Sorry, I was somewhere in my own head. This stuff is great, but how do you know what you’re buying?”
“I know a guy who brings in some good stuff. He’s pretty cool and swears that it’s the same that he uses,” Jennifer assured me. “He can get black or white. Whatever you want, as long as you have cash.”
I was still apprehensive, but if we could score heroin for $20 and it was enough to fix us for the weekend, it seemed hard to argue. Pills typically cost between $15 – $30 and took multiples to really get high. Sure, they were probably cleaner, but the risk of heroin seemed worth the ease of access. Cost-benefit analysis rarely enters your mind when you need to score.
“Okay, let’s get some more. But we have to agree that if we get too dependent, we’ll stop. Gotta keep it under control. I can’t afford to screw up my life just to feel good.”
“Sure, man. We’ll make sure we don’t go crazy, but wouldn’t it be great to be heroin-chic? If the Stones can do it and be successful, why can’t we?” she said with a laugh. “I mean, you’re a terrible guitarist and I can’t sing, but we’ll figure something out.”
We both knew it couldn’t possibly end well. At some point we would reach the nadir and our highs wouldn’t be enough. In some hedonistic recess of my mind, I decided that I just didn’t care.
I glanced at my arm and noticed a dried rivulet of blood that had made its way toward my wrist. I licked my finger and wiped it away. There was barely a trace of our activities and I thought that it could stay that way.