Smack, brown, horse, gear. Call it what you want, it’s the same thing. Heroin has been around for longer than people realise. Extracted from opium poppies, users take it to feel relaxed and “chilled out”.
As innocent as this might sound, there’s a much darker side to the Class A drug, with the number of heroin users doubling every four years since the 1990s. Celebrities such as Robert Downy Jnr and Mick Jagger have been known to use it, and they always seem to be having a good time … right?
I was intrigued as to why a person would consider taking such a deadly drug in the first place, and what could possibly make something so addictive, so I decided to explore further. I spoke to Jane*, an ex-addict who used heroin for 15 years to find out why so many people the world over make these kind of choices:
“I first used heroin when I was 14 years old. My older sister Marie* was already on it, and she took me into a public toilet to try it. She injected it for me. I remember being really scared and when she had done it, I had pins and needles all around my head and I was sick quite badly. I did enjoy it but to be honest I was young, and it was more about copying everyone than anything else.
I was living in the West End, and there’s at least 50 dealers standing around there, it made the drug so easy to get. Once I started I couldn’t stop. Everywhere I went it was there so I carried on using. I used to buy £10 bags but I would mix three of them with three bags of crack cocaine for a stronger hit. I also started taking cocaine when I was 14. I shoplifted to pay for the drugs.
When I was 17 years old, I was living in a squat with other users. I woke up one morning and found my boyfriend dead next to me. He had overdosed on heroin. I called the emergency services and they came and removed his body from the squat. My sister died from an overdose a short time after that and when that happened I came back home from London and came off the gear, my mum helped me. I got a cleaning job, and even though I was really ill throughout it all, my mum kept telling me I could do it, so I kept going. Soon after this, my mum found out she had cancer. I stayed with her to help her, as she was bringing up my sister’s baby and in the hospital quite a bit. After three months, she got the all clear, so I moved back to London.
The next thing I knew, the cancer had made a dramatic return, and my mum had passed away. It sent me off the rails. I started using again, and also developed a drinking problem. I tried to throw myself off Waterloo Bridge and was sectioned for it. The doctors told me I was bipolar, which made me take more and more drugs. I just didn’t care anymore. I felt so alone, I’d lost all my family and didn’t know what else to do except for heroin.
I was already four months gone when I found out I was pregnant. The doctors told me to stop using heroin because it would harm the baby, so I cut down instead. They advised me to go on methadone but I refused because it’s worse. When I was six months gone, my then-boyfriend beat me, and I went into labour. As soon as she was born, my daughter was put straight into intensive care because she was so premature. It was really horrible, the doctors were telling me she might not make it, and then they explained how she was such a lucky child because the drugs I had taken had not had an effect on her. I was in the hospital for two months with her, and then I saw her twice after that, before she was taken away by social services. That was five years ago and I’ve not seen her since.
After this, I was given two years in prison for shoplifting and selling drugs. I was fed up with my life, I wanted my family back. I stopped using after that, prison was like a major detox for me. I’ve been clean for two years now and I’ve recently managed to get back in contact with my family and moved back with them. I’m trying hard at the moment to get my daughter back too, and I’m not giving up!
I spent fifteen years of my life living in squats, hostels and the streets. I met a lot of people during this time, but no one I would call my friend, and I’m not in touch with any of them now. I lost all my teeth, had skin grafts on my legs and I have to be on medication for the rest of my life because of heroin. I need to stress how much people should stay away from this drug. It’s taken lives from me, and a great chunk of mine away too.”
After talking to Jane, it seemed that her drug addiction was a case of peer pressure, she was just trying to look good in front of other people, which had then spiraled out of control and now she has lost 15 years of her life. She’ll never get those years back. Heroin had taken Jane’s boyfriend, her sister, her daughter and ultimately her youth away from her. The fact it was so easily accessible for Jane made the addiction grow and there was no one around her to support her during this time. Jane’s story has certainly shown me the horrific side of heroin, and I hope it helps make others aware of the dangers to this drug too.