Herion is a nasty word with ugly connotations. Smoking this highly addictive and relatively inexpensive narcotic may be on the way to becoming a recreational drug of choice. The next drug after the last. Speed. And the one before that. Cocaine. Smoking the drug has broken down the traditional aversion reaction to needles and shooting. It could become the next big one.
It is making a tentative penetration into the middle class. A local study shows one to four percent of teenagers in the county are using the drug regularly. That could be 100 to 300 kids having an ongoing relationship with the drug in Marin. It is very addictive. As addictive as cigarrette smoking. It's much more dangerous in the short term.
Brian, a counselor at the Marin Treatment Center, says there is an increase in herion use in the county. "Mexican Tar has been available for the last five years. It is increasing and is fairly pure." Smoking herion has become an alternative to taking it in a vein as a safety precaution for AIDS and hepititus.
Denis McCray, the residential program manager at Centerpoint, a drug and alcohol rehab center in San Rafael, observes, "We are seeing an increase in herion smoking. There are some pretty partiular characteristics with smoking the drug. There's a level of denial that goes along with it. Most of the people we've seen that are smoking herion are more functional than IV users. It's on a par with snorters but more illitist. I call it snobish dope fiends. Most are able to maintain their jobs. Most are between 18 and 24."
A former herion addict in one West Marin town described a growing herion problem as being "rampant." "I have personal knowledge of 20 to 25 people using the drug in our town. And that's in my small circle of aquaintances."
Lilly has been clean for seven years. She shot the drug recreationally one to three times a week from the time that she was 23 until 28 years old. She overdosed five times. "I was becomming addicted. I stopped cold turkey because one of my best friends died using it recreationally. I shouldn't be alive. Nobody overdoses five times."
Why did she get into using the drug? "It's like a big set of sissors cutting the world away. It's an opiate so it releases all the endorophins that are released when you orgasm in sex. Very pleasureable. It makes you feel self-contained, whole. You don't feel needy or vulnerable. It's the ultimate emotional pain killer."
The body builds up a tolerace for herion. You have to use more to get high, to get the rush. You develope a bigger habit. And in addition to the body's growing tolerance for the drug there is addiction.
E. Fromberg in a paper presented at the ABGEE Congress at Eidhoven Univeristy of Technology in 1994 best describes the physiology of addiction:
"When we speak of addiction to drugs, we mean addiction to substances which have an effect on the human brain. When these substances are administered they reach the brain by way of the blood, and influence there the stimulus transfer between nerve cells. Some psychopharmaca, e.g. the opiates, directly stimulate the nerve cell receptors as artificial neurotransmitters. Nerve cells are directly stimulated by the drug.
"Much larger amounts of artificial neurotransmitters are used for artificial stimulation of the receptors than when a true neurotransmitter is released under influence of an action potential. With artificial stimulation, the receptors are flooded. If this occurs only a few times or very occasionally, it is not a problem. However, if it happens often, the cells react by making more receptors, in order to be able to process this regularly returning flood. This, in turn, lowers the effect of the dose administered. This phenomenon is called tolerance; the user needs more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect.
"In addition, when administration of the substane is stopped, the number of natural neurotransmitters is too small for the sharp rise in the number of receptors. The nerve cells have become used to the administration of large amounts of artificial neurotransmitters, the body has become used to the presence of the substance and can no longer function without it. It needs the substance. This is called physical dependence. Discontinuing administration, then also brings on symptoms of illness, withdrawal symptoms, together called the abstinence syndrome.
"The same outline can be applied to all other psychoactive substances whether they are legal such as alcohol and tobacco, semi-legal such as the tranquilizers and sleep-indusing drugs, or illegal such as substances we Dutch then suddenly classify as drugs."
Papaver from poppy seeds were excavated in the remnants of the neolithic Cortaillod culture (3200-2600 BC. Arab and European doctors used opiates from the 3rd century. The English doctor Sydenham wrote in 1680: "Among the remedies which it has pleased Almighty God to give to man to relieve his sufferings, none is so universal and so efficacious as opion."
Fromberg points out in his presentation, "No human society exists where no psychoactive drug or drugs are taken. Whether Fijians drinking kava, mongolian shamans using the fly agaric, khat chewing Yemenis or westerners drinking alcohol, members of all human cultures have found ways to alter their minds by the use of psycho-active substances. No culture exists that denies the right on intoxication altogether."
The criminality of drug use and abuse is a new phenomena, as recent as the 1920s and 1930s and came more from abolitionist tendencies than concerns about the health and welfare of users. American society's drift towards filling 60 to 70 percent of jail and prison cells which cost $50,000 to $70,000 to build, and $20,000 to $30,000 a year to fill and maintain is a most recent curiosity.
The potential for herion to become a major player in America's drug scene has been exaserbated with politics and the war on drugs. The breakup of the Soviet Union resulted in a variety of new pathways and a reduction in detection and law enforcement in the middle and far east. American law enforcment's preoccupation with cocaine and cannibis has led to an upsurgance in availability and economic viability of speed (created domestically) and herion (increasingly imported from Central and South America).
But for the teenager or young adult looking to get high the physiological mechanics, world politics and law enforcment trends don't matter very much. Availability, affordability and desirability are the issues of concern.
Ex-addict Lilly will tell you it's the cheapest high you can get. Cheaper than beer in rush and longevity. A $20 piece would get anybody really high for 12 hours. Especially for a first time user.
"There is very little media attention," she observes. "It used to be herion was a black man's drug. It's not that way anymore, but it still carries that connotation in general society. 'Fuck 'em,' let them kill themselves."
"I've probably burried 10 friends because of herion," Lilly says. "One slashed his wrists. But they all committed suicide. It is the death drug."
What can Lilly tell kids? "Nothing stopped me from doing it. I think I would ask people, "If you want to do herion, are you prepared to die?"
Some people die because they choke on their own vommit. You can come down so much you forget to breathe. Your heart forgets to beat. Your brain function is severely reduced.
"Smoking it is not as risky, but most people who smoke it go to the needle," Lilly says. "They are stupid if they don't go to the needle, if you ask me."
She added, "The people who ODed, died, because of herion, were the best, the brightest, the funniest people I have known in my life. And they were all hurting from childhood, abuse, neglect and emotional abandonment."
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