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Concerning Heroin...

updated January 6, 1997

If you have something to add, write to me, the Gus and mention "heroin" as at least part of the subject.

Take a survey on drug terminology for a Polish guy's Masters Thesis!

Philadelphia Heroin | Junkie Wanna-be FAQ
Heroin Links | Needle Exchange Links

My View

Perhaps the biggest untold story about Big Fun is the role heroin had in its formation. Currently, in Philadelphia, heroin prices have fallen to record lows. Its new levels of purity permit it to be smoked and snorted as well as injected, and for this reason its appeal has risen among middle-class suburban white kids, especially those identified with "alternative" cultures, such as the hippie culture and the punk rock culture. This is the very same demographic group that established Big Fun. And there is a connection.

As I type, a reasonably large fraction of my Philadelphia-resident acquaintances met through Big Fun are suffering either from a personal heroin addiction or the addiction of their friends. Those who have never taken heroin are routinely "pressured" into trying it in a way that I had always assumed was guidance-counselor-fictional.

But there is no glory, no coolness in heroin, just as there never was in smoking cigarettes. Heroin makes people into uninspired dullards, full of empty conversation as they lay around complacently. They have no needs, they have no wants because they have heroin. But in addition to being a surrogate for happiness, heroin is also a surrogate for life. And so it disgusts me.

It also disgusted the founders of Big Fun. The ascendance of heroin in Philadelphia and its impact on peers played a role in their decision to escape to rural Virginia, where heroin cannot be obtained. Meanwhile, some who held out against the heroin onslaught but who remained in Philadelphia became so depressed about the addictions of their friends that they themselves ironically turned to heroin as a source of numb solace. And some who had moved to Big Fun found that the absolute lack of heroin in rural Virginia was a cause for great aggravation. And so heroin recalled them.

I don't know what the solution is. I do not believe in drug enforcement and prohibition. That gives heroin all the alternative-culture credibility that it doesn't deserve. My solution has been to ridicule the fools who depend on and seek out heroin. But all I really feel is despair at their wanton waste of this one chance they have among the living.

Inside Philadelphia Heroin Culture

The following essay is the result of interviews conducted in Philadelphia in October of 1996.

The heroin economy is extremely well developed in Philadelphia, as it is also in New York City. It has been in place for years and serves a large pool of addicts in the greater metropolitan area. With increased competition and the relatively recent abundance of cheap, pure heroin, the market has changed from one based on large profits for small amounts at high risk to one of large amounts at small profits and low risk. The hub of retail marketing operations is located in North Philadelphia (called by junkies "the North"). Here, at places well known to purchasers, merchants staff sections of street, starting at 7 in the morning and working shifts until far into the night. They shout "Dope! Dope! Dope!" at cruising cars, especially if they contain white people (North Philadelphia is largely comprised of decaying Black and Hispanic urban residential neighborhood.) The same merchants also market clean syringes ($2 each), marijuana, crack and powder cocaine and are known to shout "Ready Rock! Ready Rock!" at passing motorists. Such solicitations are always blatant and can easily be denied should they result in a confrontation with authorities; the actual drugs are kept hidden around a corner, in a seemingly disgarded cigarette pack, under a board, or in similar concealed caches. Among the white addicts, especially of suburban Philadelphia, the only merchants trusted for heroin transactions are Puerto Ricans. Both White and Black merchants have bad reputations for ripping off purchasers. The prices are all fixed for each product, thus negotiation and haggling is never done. The purchaser mentions a trade name and the dealer goes to get the product. The product comes sealed in clear cellophane and is stamped with a trademark identifying the product. Example trade names include "I'll be back," "Whitehouse," "Viper," "V8," "Fugitive," "Cowboy," "Gandy," and "Game of Death." All these except "Game of Death" cost ten dollars, while "Game of Death" is five dollars. The money and product are exchanged simultaneously. Under most circumstances, the product is exactly what it has been stated by the dealer to be; its purity and quantity are rigourously maintained to ensure that the purchaser will return to make another purchase in the near future when another dose is needed. Furthermore, the dealers see to it that the neighborhood in which transactions take place is kept relatively safe so as not to discourage purchasers. It is not uncommon, however, for purchasers to rip off dealers, for example by slapping money in a dealer's hand and pulling away, having paid less than the standard price. Purchasers given to ripping off dealers in this way are forced to find new dealers (of which there is an abundant supply). However, they stand at risk of eventual brutal retribution. Naturally, there is no recourse to the law for either party.

Each heroin addict needs his own characteristic maintenance dose to keep from going into withdrawal and becoming ill. This characteristic dose changes over time, generally increasing. When an addict is in possession of uncharacteristically large amounts of money, he is likely to purchase and consume larger than a maintenance dose, allowing him to a enjoy euphoric bliss somewhat similar to his initial experience when first trying heroin. But most heroin purchases are for maintenance, and mostly occur when the addict is already going into withdrawal. For this reason, the purchasing heroin addict is concerned about very little except the moment of consumption. He acts much like a greedy child at the cookie jar once the heroin is in his hot little hands. If he injects heroin, he will have his needle and spoon ready for action, tieing off a vein with any available cordage, dissolving the heroin into any available solvent (usually clean water but sometimes cheap wine and even puddle water are used) and injecting on the spot. If no clean needle is available, a dirty one will not be rejected. One must understand that at this point the addict is in a state of insane desire and the future can be sacrificed for the readily accessible now.

The heroin user considers all money to be potential heroin. Commodities such as food, alcohol, other drugs, activities such as sex, socializing and hobbies are viewed as irrelevant if they do not apply to the task of securing more heroin. Most standards of dignity are lost in many cases; for example, women who are addicted are given to performing prostitutional or semi-prostitutional services in exchange for the money with which heroin can be purchased. From lack of eating, weight is gradually lost. And in one case I know of, an addict is down to defecating only once each week. Meanwhile, to increase the impact of what heroin can be afforded, the addict moves from smoking and snorting heroin to injecting it. After months of injections, the veins become bruised, calloused and raw anywhere they approach the surface and can be accessed by needle. With the experience of injecting heroin, many addicts also begin injecting other drugs with which they are familiar, such as cocaine and even distilled alcohol. Cocaine injections lead to long term damage to veins, leaving behind hard knots that last for weeks.

Thus the addict gradually comes to find himself placed in a pathetic situation that is inconceivable to the non-addict. Isolation from heroin seems to break the cycle only temporarily; addicts know too well the joys of heroin and seem to be unable to go back to the way they were before heroin. All their will power is seemingly destroyed, leaving them powerless and ineffectual in the trendy alternative world that brought them to heroin in the first place.

Junkie Wanna-be FAQ

now accepting submissions; credit will be given to those who contribute.

Kurt Cobain and other famous rock stars did heroin and they remained creative, productive people, plus folks thought they were cool. So why shouldn't I follow their example and be cool too?
Kurt Cobain was a rich rock star. He didn't have to suck the penises of strangers to secure funds for his next fix. So his dignity could be preserved despite his addiction. And as we know, Kurt Cobain didn't make it in the long run. But longevity isn't cool, I know.

I know for a fact that several of my friends became junkies because they thought it was somehow "cool." Being from comfortable suburban backgrounds, nothing they had ever done had ever placed them in much danger. But heroin, it had the headlines, it had the stigma. It was the way to be fully bad in a way that cigarettes could never be. Who would have ever imagined that heroin was just another form of slavery?

Others may not have the will power, but I know I can do heroin once or twice, find out how it feels, and then quit.
Heroin is really good in the short term. It's the ultimate live-for-the moment drug. It makes all life's problems seem strangely irrelevant. But that's the problem. Once you discover how good life is with heroin, you never want to go back to a life without it. If heroin had no drawbacks, it would be wonderful. But it substitutes for everything that we consider important to having lived a worthwhile and interesting life. It is much like a living suicide. It is less irrevocable than suicide, true, but it bears numerous similarities to it. After all, life's troubles are irrelevant after death as well, aren't they?

Those horror stories you tell of girls prostituting themselves for heroin and of people using puddle water to shoot up are just scare tactics, similar to Reefer Madness. I could never get that bad.
Perhaps you are endowed with will power that my friends do not have. The horror stories I have related concerning heroin didn't happen a long time ago to some faceless Haitian in a gutter in the ghetto. They all happened in 1996 to youthful middle-class Caucasians I know well, in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Have you ever taken heroin? I thought so. How come you're such an expert on heroin addiction?
Sorry, but I've never tried heroin and I have no desire to. I cannot assume I would be one of the few lucky ones who can kick the addiction. One advantage us humans have over other animals is that we can have long and complex conversations about abstract concepts and the experiences of others. We do not have to live through something to be familiar with it. We can see from the example set by others what choices not to take. There are plenty of people out there, famous recent ones like Kurt Cobain, Shannon Hoon, Jonathan Melvoin (and obscure ones you'll never meet such as my suburban Philadelphia friends) that provide ample evidence that heroin is not an easy horse to ride. The idea that we must try things in order that we may know for ourselves implies we are all isolated and incapable of communicating with each other or even making simple observations.

Do you think this FAQ will dissuade even one person from experimenting with heroin?
Honestly, I have my doubts. I am aware of the foolishness that even intelligent people exhibit when confronted with peer pressure. Rebelling against the fashions of ones friends not only carries a stigma, it is hard work as well.

Okay, maybe I don't want to be a junkie anymore. But all of my friends are either junkies or want to be junkies. What should I do?
As you are no doubt discovering, having junkies for friends is not an easy burden to bear. Your junkie friends can never be trusted since their true allegiance is to heroin. They might be close childhood friends, yet, as happened recently with one of my Malvern acquaintances, still be given to ripping you or your parents off in a ruthless search for ways to secure ever increasing amounts. Your only choice is to abandon your friends and either forge entirely new relationships with people not inclined towards heroin or else relocate to an area where heroin is difficult to obtain. The latter solution is probably the most satisfactory of the two, since you are in all likelihood drawn to people identified with "alternative culture," and chances are that you are familiar with most such people in your locale already, but these are the very junkies you are trying to avoid. Happily, though, heroin is difficult to secure more than a fifty miles from big urban centers1, and there are still thriving non-addict "alternative" communities remaining in many small cities throughout America.

As for your junkie friends, the best solution for them is also relocation to places where heroin is not easily obtained. Any other "solution" that leaves them with their present peer groups in their present locales does nothing to help them and they will slide back into addiction. I'd like to point out right now that I think commercial "rehabilitation" ventures (which, in exchange for $1000/day/person, claim to be able to treat addiction to drugs and alcohol) are one of the biggest scams in America today, in desperate need of an exposé. Such programs probably have more to do with the current cost of medical insurance than anyone is willing to admit. If insurance companies would pay instead for relocation, rent free, to (I don't know) Lima, Ohio, heroin addiction amongst the insured would be dramatically rolled back at only a small fraction of current costs.

Some Heroin Links

The Opiates --Heroin, Opium, Morphine-the most helpful heroin site on the web.

Hyperreal - the Opiates-links to FAQs on withdrawal, heroin preparation, and how to effectively take opiates.

Heroin Information-a dry, sparce, boring link that despite itself has some information in addition to its skull and cross-bones icon.

Erowid Heroin Page-the Erowid people put together good, uncluttered drug references for the open-minded web surfer. Also: here's where you get to see heroin's molecular structure.

alt.culture: Heroin-a glossy site about heroin, its history, its culture.

Heroin and other Opiates-provides basic information about the psychochemistry of heroin.

Drug Card 1: Heroin-nice pictures of poppies and paraphernalia. Also information about what legal problems heroin can get you into.

Heroin's Tale-a story about a heroin junkie boyfriend.

Opiate/Heroin Information-British heroin laws and more.

How bad is Heroin Withdrawal?-An excerpt from Heroin, Myths and Reality by Jara A. Krivanek pub. 1988, Allen & Unwin. Full of technical details of the pharmacology of heroin withdrawal.

"Homicide" Heroin Reported in Philly-On the bleeding edge of new trends in heroin preparation, Philadelphia is occasionally the setting for bad-batch pandemonium.

HEROIN-A nice little British blurb.

Volodya's story: a life trapped in heroin's twisted embrace -heroin in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Heroin could become a bigger problem, officials say-one of those dorky little distilled government press releases written in fucked-up HTML.

"Bad Heroin" Dangerous Drug Alert-another bad batch of heroin in Philadelphia, Feb. 1996.

HEROIN PROHIBITION IN CANADA-the history of heroin prohibition in Canada.

Heroin-this is an informative page. Comes with the complete lyrics of Lou Reed's annoying song.

swiss heroin-heroin in Switzerland.

Teen Challenge: Heroin-these are the sort of people who, with their anti-drug, pro-God message, make heroin seem kind of cool.

Ethnic Survival in Burma Supported by Heroin Trade-without our continued injection of ever increasing amounts of heroin, another ethnic minority will be snuffed out by the patina of civilization.

Needle Exchange Links

Heroin addicts, because of the frantic nature of their behaviour when in withdrawal, are at high risk of contracting AIDS when they do not have clean syringes readily available. Needle exchange programs replace dirty needles with clean ones at no expense to the addict. The aim of needle exchange programs is to ensure that addicts have unimpeded access to clean needles to stop the spread of AIDS. Barring access to clean needles will not halt an addict's addiction; it will instead sentence him to death.

Bad boy gettin' busted by the cops with a needle in his arm! Needle Exchange-a FAQ on Needle Exchange in the UK.

Safe Works AIDS project-helpful information about bleaching needles, needle exchange, etc. Based in Minneapolis.

New Haven Needle Exchange Abstract

The Australian Needle Exchange Experience

Needle Exchange Activist Dead of Overdose

Deploring Shalala's Views on Needle Exchange Programs

Needle Exchange Programs Have Doubled Since 1993

Needle Exchange Report

Internal Clinton Administration Needle Exchange Document

Hunter Needle Exchange-a British Needle Exchange. Some info on British needle laws, also.

Needle Exchange Policy

Australian Needle Exchanges

Hyperreal Needle Exchange Info

Does Needle Exchange Work?

1A 36 year old man named Alex reported that heroin was available in the early 1980s in Blacksburg, Virginia. In that case it was smuggled in directly via a foreign connection. But it was not cheap. A "bag" in Blacksburg cost $70, not $10, and it was much less pure than present-day Philadelphia heroin.

something more pleasant: !

Astrology links | Big Fun: punk in rural Virginia | Concerning Heroin | Diaries | Punk Rock links | Tussin links