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'It Gets To Point Where You Just Can't Stand Yourself'

'It Gets To Point Where You Just Can't Stand Yourself' image 'It Gets To Point Where You Just Can't Stand Yourself' image 'It Gets To Point Where You Just Can't Stand Yourself' image
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Charles is a 44-year-old black man, born and raised in Ann Arbor. For more than 20 years of his life, he was addicted to heroin. He has now been "clean" almost one year, after joining Octagon House's methadone treatment program. "I started in New York once while I was visiting my sister," says Charles, thinking back on the origins of his habit. "I was with all these hustlers and they were all doing heroin. They gave me a little hit and the first time I got real sick. "But as time went on, they kept giving it to me and I stopped getting sick . . . Then it got where I had to have it." During the major portion of his period of addiction, Charles drove into Detroit to purchase his dope. Around the late 1960s, however, he recalls becoming aware of heroin's spread into Ann Arbor. By that time, he was pushing the narcotic drug locally. With a four-bag-a-day habit (which translates into roughly $60 daily) to feed, Charles was forced to supplement his meager, and sometimes nonexistent, income by burglarizing apartments and pimping for prostitutes. "I couldn't handle a regular job," he says, although he was honestly employed from time to time. Of the apartment break-ins at which Charles became a master, he claims, "It gets to be a challenge . . . Once we broke into a place and took everything, just cleaned it out ..." And he recalls the miseries of addiction. "When you would get up in the morning, first your nose would be running. Your bowel movement would be green. You'd tremble. You'd be real weak. You couldn't shave. Before you could do anything you'd have to have a fix. Nor was home life particularly pleasant for Charles and his wife. "You can't have kids when you're messing with this stuff," he says. You don't even want to do anything . . . Your wife is always bitching at you . . ." Nevertheless, Charles' wife knew of his addiction, and would occasionally wrap him in blankets to help keep him warm when he suffered severe chills from using too much water in the heroin he shot. She also left him briefly - then returned - a couple of times. Overdoses were a nother problem. Charles estimates that he "O.D.ed" at least 20 different times, and had friends who died as a result of overdose reactions. But for him, death was not a fear. "The guys I ran with were old hands at handling O.D.s," notes Charles. "You didn't have to worry about going to the doctor or dying. These guys knew how to handle the situation and take care of you." Finally , however, the direction Charles' life was taking reached a crisis point. "It gets where you just can't stand yourself . . . You don't think about taking a bath or anything; all you think about is getting that fix. "It gets to the point where you feel you could kill somebody (to get money), but you can always break into somebody's house . . . Why take the pain when you can steal? . . . I'd steal from friends. ' Concerned about his wife's desire to have children and worried about holding his job (which he has now held for approximately three years), Charles sought help to kick his all-consuming habit. He first got into a methadone-dispensing program in Detroit, but would save the tablets and later sell them to buy more heroin. "You want to quit but you can't," he explains. Charles next became involved in Dr. Edward Pierce's methadone program in Ann Arbor, based in the Summit Street Clinic. When Dr. Pierce stopped distributing methadone and Octagon House took over that method of treatment, starting in Ypsilanti around May of last year, Charles entered the program. Now free from heroin - a substance he now describes as "a poison ... a sickness . . . it's living heil, that's all it is" - Charles does volunteer work at Octagon House, praises the program being conducted there, and says, "If they didn't have this clinic here today, I think I'd still be on the street." The street, as Charles well knows, remains afflicted with the heroin blight. Compounding the problem are the chemical impurities contained in the drug after it has been "cut" for sale. "You don't know what your getting these days when you buy dope," contends Charles. "The stuff might kill . . . that's another reason I got off." Despite the d a n g e r of impurities, Charles believes the use of heroin in Ann Arbor is increasing. "You can get anything you want around the campus or downtown," he says. "I really didn't believe I could get strung out . . . It just happened. But as long as it's out there, everybody's going to get strung out on heroin ... I myself think it's here to stay." So speaks Don, 22, the product of a middle class black family from West Virginia who moved to Ann Arbor 11 years ago, played basketball and ran track at a local high school, graduated in 1968 and shortly afterwards became addicted to heroin. Don had the habit for almost three years before he heard about and entered Dr. Pierce's methadone program. Later, he got into Octagon House around the end of 1971. "That's when I finally decided to get off 'Jones' (slang for heroin), period," says Don. He says he detoxified (off methadone) in early March, and just recently started working as a full-time Octagon House counselor. The seeds of his addiction were planted when he began experimenting with the drug with friends. "If you have friends who use it, eventually you're going to try it, ' Don states. Although he was already a marijuana smoker at that time, he rejects as misconception the unproved theory that smoking pot in any way leads to a heroin habit. Don originally took the narcotic white powder into his system by snorting it , through his nostrils. That lasted for maybe a year, he guesses, before he began shooting heroin directly into his veins, in order to produce a stronger sensation. His habit gradually grew to a "spoon- or $25 worth - a day, "... and that s when it got rough," Don recalls. He lost his job at an automobile plant in Plymouth because of repeated absenteeism - the result of trying to lay his hands on more heroin. In addition, he dropped out of Washtenaw CommumI ty College about the same time. My mind wasn'tworking..-rdbem class 1 in a heavy nod_says IMIIi lul nl I Pli' l'nl lililí money, Don would check with friends or visit his supplier in search of a "free high." When this technique of finding heroin failed, he would turn to larceny. "I'd go out with my partners and take care of business, like breaking into a motel and taking a color TV," he admits. "They sell it to the dope man for $75 or $100, or enough dope to stay blasted for about a week." Each morning brought with it the craving for another fix. Don remembers, "If I didn't have my bag (containing heroin and shooting supplies) sitting on the side of my bed when I got up, I'd be bogue (sick). I'd have stomach pains and sweat." A proud man now that he is clean, Don was apparently also a proud addict. "I wasn't one of those slouchy junkies, around the gutter or something. I always kept my own works (shooting paraphernalia) and kept them clean ... I always had a pad to go to." Nor did Don ever O.D., although in that respect, he contends, he was simply lucky. "A good junkie is going to have his thing together; have a hit there in the morning and maybe a rip (larceny) going in the afternoon," he says. Yet the addict's life is certainly not wine and roses. "Heroin will get you to the point where you rip-off your mother and dad," Don emphasizes. "It used to be that I wouldn't go around my parents' home because I was afraid some other junkie would see me and rip-off the house." As in the majority of heroin addiction cases, making cash in order to stay supplied with the drug was a constant problem for Don. When he was still working in Plymouth, his $136 paycheck would be spent the day after he received it. Sometimes he would go through approximately $200 in one week, he says. During his final year of addiction, Don sold heroin himself in an effort to make money to satisfy his habit. "Jones made me lose everything . . . It put me in a financial bind. I blew a lot of cash . . I'm glad like heil I'm off Jones now." Octagon House worked for Don, but it was hardly a snap, he points out. "The worst part of trying to kick was the first couple of weeks on the program." It was during this period that methadone was administered to Don on a regular basis to diminish the physical need for heroin, while therapy sessions dealt with his psychological dependence on the drug. He first managed to kick the heroin, I and later the methadone (which is also addictive). ín retrospect, he says kicking the mets (methadone), was the more; difficuJt of the two. Don believes the spread of heroin into the white community is primarily responsible for the existence of Octagon House. "I don't think this program would have ever started if upper middle class white kids hadn't started getting strung-out on Jones. "The white people have really gotten into heroin recently . . . There are a lot more whites on Ann St. (reputed to be the setting for much of the city's drug trafficking) now than a couple of years ago. Then, a white person wouldn't set foot on Ann St.," he says. With plans to attend Eastern Michigan Michigan University and study social work, Don claims to be off dope for good. How can he make certain is abstention continues? "The best way of staying off Jones is to stay away from people who use it," he concludes. Nancy is the only child of what she describes as a "lower middle class" family from Brooklyn. She came to Ann Arbor last September when the man she lives with and professes to love was accepted into graduate school at the University. Through the Octagon House program ("The first time in my life I made a commitment," she says), Nancy kicked a 3 1/2-year-long heroin habit and has now been clean for about three months. White, college-educated and 25 years old, Nancy was 11 when her father - who worked in New York City's garment district died. Her mother has worked since she was eight. She remembers her childhood being "as typical as could be," although she also says she was an unhappy youngster. Recalling her early years, she speaks of her parents having fierce physical fights and her developing a taste for Scotch whiskey by the time she was 10 or 11. Eight years later, she was smoking marijuana because of personal curiosity and "a desire to fit in." During a year in nursing school, she became acquainted with "uppers" - stimulants which tend to produce a feeling of energy. Nancy used them to stay awake for studying. During this same period, she was smoking grass daily, she says. "I took my first acid (LSD) trip when I was 20," she notes. For Nancy, it was a mind-expanding experience. She says she had sexual intercourse for the first time while tripping. "Barriers seemed to break down . . . the fear disappeared," she shrugs. Fully into drug experimentation, Nancy began drinking "speed" (amphetamines) mixed with water and snorting heroin, although she did not start shooting the narcotic right away. With LSD beginning to cause her ident i t y problems ( ' ' I became mentally hyperactive, paranoid, introspective"), heroin started to look better and better as a means of escape, Nancy says. "To me, as soon as I began to shoot dope there was nothing else ... I dove right into it." Still, she contends, she didn't become physically addicted to heroin until the following year, in 1969, after having attended school in Denmark for a while, having an abortion and spending a summer living in the woods of California. "Emotional changes made me get heavier into dope," she states. When heroin ceased being an "occasional thing" for her, however, an emotional breakdown ensued. Upon recovering, she temporarily left New York and moved to Colorado. But her addiction became stronger. "The white middle class morality was still in my head," she says. "I wanted to kick, but I loved it." In addition, she began using LSD again while living in Colorado. Returning to New York, Nancy made one of several unsuccessful efforts to completely rid herself of the heroin hab-" it. She got into a methadone program which she believes was actually "destructive" because the mets were handed out so freely and without proper therapy. The program has since been closed down, she adds. About the time Nancy entered the program, "I had the most intense habit I've ever had," she claims. Although she feels the program did not adequately help her deal with the true problem of psychological addiction, she did succeed in diminishing her physical need for heroin somewhat. Working as a telephone switchboard operator and as a middle or go-between person for a drug pusher, Nancy usually managed to feed her habit, which at its worst point would run up to $90 a day. "And that's with better quality dope than in Ann Arbor," she says. She also made money around this period by sometimes stealing watches or cash from her mother. "I always had a wake-up shot to face the day, or at least some mets," she recalls. Nancy arrived in Ann Arbor with a more moderate habit than the one she had in New York. She might shoot $20 worth of heroin a day here, but because of the poorer quality of the narcotic, she rarely got high, occasionally got sick, and often wondered whether the substance she was shooting was really even heroin. To her, a heroin hit brought on "a feeling of release ... a slowing down . . . Sometimes just getting the needie in my arm was a partial release . . . The high itself is something you can never obtain in any other way - a total escape." While making money in order to purchase dope was a never-ending concern, Nancy emphatically declares, "I never had to sell my body to get dope, but I did have to prostitute myself mentally at times. Like I'd have to be with a man I didn t like to get some dope ... I always had ways to avoid sleeping with these guys, though." Nancy O.D.ed four times during her addiction. The final time was last year in Ann Arbor. "Some people rushed me to St. Joe's hospital here, but I wouldn't go in. I didn't want to be known as a heroin addict ... I handled it (the overdose) myself." In a statement which reflects similar attitudes of other addicts, Nancy says, "I was too involved with heroin to worry about dying." - I'd go out with my partners and take care of business, like breaking into a motel and stealing a color televisión set. Then I'd sell it to the dope man for $75 or $100, or enough dope to stay blasted for a week.' 'Heroin will get you to the point where you'll rip-off your mother and dad.' Skeptical of the Octagon House program at first (I didn't really believe it would help," she says), Nancy began seeing friends of hers - fellow addicts - being treated there and emerging clean. This then became an incentive for her, too, to kick the habit. Following a visit home over Christmas, Nancy joined the program on a regular basis during. the first week in January. "The minute I got on the program here I didn't do dope again," she boasts. "It's the psychological addiction to heroin that Octagon House is dealing with." No longer high on drugs - "I won't even take aspirin now unless it's absolutely necessary" - Nancy is obviously high on the rehabilitation methods employed at Octagon House. "The only thing I can say is that it works. It worked for me and I see it working for a lot of other people," she states. A semi-staff member there now, working at janitorial-type jobs, Nancy spends most of her time around Octagon House and has aspirations of greater things. "I never before felt I could be responsible for anything, including my own actions. Now I think I can be an incentive to others to get clean ... I think I can make a contribution." Tomoirrow: Christmas trees, black beauties and red devils. (Editor's Note: Ann Arbor News staff reporter Owen Eshenroder has spent weeks delving into the drug problem in the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti area. Hours of talking with addicts, former addicts and the experts who are trying to mend the broken lives caused by drugs have brought some revealing conclusions - one of which is that the war on drugs need not be lost. The following is the first of his three reports.)