P. Myers (
Wed, 21 Jul 1999 18:02:36 -0700 (PDT)

ch@nce...don't change one syllable!  pat

On Wed, 21 Jul 1999, Coalition on Homelessness wrote:

> Hey folks-
> Here's my August STREET SHEET article.  Comments/suggestions?
> Peace,
> ch@nce martin
> ================================================================
> Heroine
> "I started shooting heroin at age 15."  Heather says, describing her 25
> year junkie career as a vicious cycle of getting high, homelessness,
> methadone programs, and prison.  "I've gone to prison three times... I
> had three different CDC numbers... all drug-related."
> There's a determined edge in her composure as she as she recalls the
> landmarks of her odyssey as a prisoner / hostage of America's drug war:
> her first methadone program at age 17, meeting her main connect when he
> was a trusty sweeping an office as she waited for an investigator to
> interview her, the tattoo on her right shoulder she got from her cellie
> during a lock down in the California Rehabilitation Center.   Her
> regrets?  "Nine years of my life lost in prison, and all the people I've
> hurt.  I was an outcast... I was a junkie.  When I was using and needed
> money I did a lot of fucked-up shit."
> Heather's story mirrors disturbing trends in the United States today.
> After a long decline from the 1960s, America's war on drug users,
> coupled with the despair of a generation, has fueled heroin addiction's
> re-emergence as an epidemic.  Demand and risk have driven the purity of
> the average retail 'bag' of heroin from 5% in 1984 to 59% in 1995,
> according to DEA samplings of seized product. The age of a new heroin
> user has plummeted from 1988's average of about 27 years of age to
> 1995's estimate of about 19.   The numbers of regular heroin users have
> swelled nationally from adjusted estimates of 144,000 in 1993 to a
> conservative projection of 342,000 in 1996, while heroin-related
> emergency hospitalizations doubled between 1990 and 1996.
> Locally, the impact has been devastating.
> San Francisco leads the state, and arguably the entire nation in
> drug-related deaths: 20.5 per 100,000 residents.  Sources at SF General
> Hospital estimate $73 million spent annually treating wound infections
> alone for users of the cheap, plentiful, powerful and incredibly
> contaminated 'black tar' heroin that oozes from the corners of our
> poorest neighborhoods.  Abscesses are merely the tip of the iceberg --
> heroin users gravest risks lie in exposure to blood-borne diseases, and
> the longer they use the more certain they will be exposed to HIV and
> hepatitis C.  All these factors contribute heavily to the Dept. of
> Public Health's estimates that untreated substance abuse cost the City a
> staggering $1.7 billion in 1996 alone.
> When she was last released from prison, Heather knew her pattern all too
> well: "It was the worst possible situation.  In two weeks I had a
> habit."  The risks were familiar, too.  She came to a decision.  "I
> wanted out of that lifestyle, and to stop the harm I was doing to
> myself."
> Harm reduction for long-term heroin users usually comes in the form of
> methadone treatment -- a daily communion ritual of a pink liquid in a
> plastic cup proffered from behind a Plexiglas window.  Methadone
> suppresses withdrawal symptoms and relieves cravings.  Methadone
> patients soon learn that their accustomed 'hit' of heroin no longer
> provides the euphoria they seek, so habitual heroin use becomes easier
> to subdue.  In 1995, 191,000 persons in the U.S. were admitted to
> publicly-funded methadone programs.  Medically indigent addicts must pay
> around $ 250 per month out-of-pocket for this life-saving treatment, and
> pay they will.
> Heather began a four-year long run of methadone maintenance.  It hasn't
> been easy, but she's managed to remain free of heroin.  "Once you make
> up your mind that you really want to stop, it seems like people come out
> of nowhere offering to get you high."   These last nine months she's
> been "tapering" -- reducing her daily dose about two milligrams every
> seven days -- from her maintenance level of 80 milligrams per day to her
> current dose of six milligrams.
> "Methadone is a far worse drug [than heroin].  It's more addicting.  And
> it goes into your bone marrow, so it takes four times longer than heroin
> to kick.  It doesn't get me high, but it numbs my brain... numbs my
> senses.  Since I've been detoxing, colors are brighter to me today."
> If Heather sticks to her plan, she will be free of methadone, as well as
> heroin, in a matter of weeks.  The only other time that's happened in
> these last 25 years was behind bars.  Surprised yet again by un-numbed
> senses, her voice cracks a little as tears well in her blue-gray eyes.
> "All the things I've done, all the things I've been through, and here I
> am crying.  After 25 years, I guess I'm scared."
> 771 words
> ch@nce martin 7/21/99

It is in the shelter *
Of each other        *
That the people live.*

>From a mural,
Mind-mapped by homeless
youth from Seattle's
University District.