Page 6, 23rd May 1969

23rd May 1969
Page 6
Page 6, 23rd May 1969 — Coming down to earth again

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People: Richard


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Coming down to earth again

THE boy is dark, thin and frighteningly intelligent. Words, in quotations, in various languages pour out of his mouth in a jumble of unfinished sentences. Halfformulated theories seem to struggle for dominance in a mind which jumps so far ahead that words can barely keep up.

His knee jerks up and down; his hand twitches. He is like a cat on hot bricks. But he is off heroin. He has been off it for nearly seven months after a four-year bout which nearly killed him. He is not yet 23.

He gives the impression that getting off heroin was not that difficult. "I was getting fed up. My life was too static and stagnant, It was becoming more trouble than it was worth. The clinic scene was too depressing."

He hated the change from comfortable doctor's surgery to a hospital drug centre, but the ruling, which came into force last year that only such centres can prescribe drugs, has been an element in his decision to "kick" the habit.

"The clinic sends the script (prescription) direct to the chemist now," he added, "so that forgery is no longer so easy and you can only get enough for one day instead of four.

"It's an awful bind to have to get up in the morning and go and get it, but at least there's no danger of running out as you can with a four-day supply. They don't prescribe methedrine or cocaine quite so readily now.

"This is good because those are the drugs which really freak people out and kill them. The clinics keep a proper check on addicts, too, weigh ing, measuring, looking at scars and they now use a computer to check on doublescripting (obtaining prescriptions at different centres). It's all so bureaucratic."

Pressed to talk about his own experiences, Richard (not his real name) became even less twitchy, more rational and probably more like the person he was before heroin took him over. A brilliant philosophy student, he had thrown up his studies by 19 and now at nearly 23 he borrows from his friends when the monthly cheque from his father runs out.

He doesn't do anything in the way of work, but then he doesn't see why he should—a very bourgeois habit, work. "You could say I'm thinking, I suppose," he said when I suggested it.

He takes himself totally seriously. "What I'm going to do doesn't matter. It's what I am that counts." His philosophy is based on that old Existentialist idea—if it makes you feel good, it is good. It it makes you feel bad, stop it.

It seems, together with a basic idleness, to have stopped the heroin habit for Richard. Were it not for these two coinciding Richard might still be taking, on prescription at least, four grains of heroin a day.

He was what is known as a "mainliner," giving himself a "fix" (intravenous injection) of "Junk," "Horse," "Smash," or "Smack" about three times a day.

"Heroin," he continued, now well away on the subject, "dulls your perception, cuts you off from too much energy at too many levels. You can't do much. It puts you in a nochange situation.

"You are chained to this country because it is only here that you can get heroin legally on the Health Service. The British system is good.

"It is certainly the most humane and probably the most effective for controlling drugs. This is why we don't have any Mafia-type black market over here as there is in the States.

"Heroin acts as a depressant on the central nervous system," he continued with the air of a medical lecturer dealing with a more than ignorant student. "Therefore one tends to take a stimulant as well in the same fix."

His was methedrine which, mixed with heroin, is called a "speedball." He added: "The trouble with methedrine is that it is one of the amphetamines —stimulants Which, taken over a period, can lead to extreme paranoia."

Fortunately for Richard he became allergic to the drug and so took heroin—with all its lethargy-causing properties, on its own and an occasional addition of dexadrine. Asked what it feels like to take heroin, Richard was lost for a moment, almost puzzled.

"Taking drugs intravenously is not something usually done anyway," he said, "But when you give yourself a fix" . . . he hesitated as though trying to choose his words carefully . . . "it has an immediate effect.

"If you take a fix before you go to sleep you get fascinating dreams full of strife and conflict and nearly always in brilliant colour." His face took on a faint look of puzzlement.

The regret in his voice gave way to firmness. "It took me a month to get off it," he said. "It is not that difficult once one has made the decision. That is why the reversion rate is so high. Now don't go thinking it is not unpleasant."

He looked worried. "It is— very. And cold turkey (withdrawing from the drug without aid) 'is not for me. It is horrifying. The withdrawal symptoms come on about 10 hours after the last fix. You become cold and shivery, hot and cold by turns.

"Your skin becomes oversensitive. Your eyes and nose water. Every part of you aches. Later comes the vomiting and diarrhoea which gets progressively worse until you feel as though you are dying. The only thing that will help, short of another fix which makes you instantly better, is a strong sedative."

Sedatives and psychiatry, however, have not been very successful in breaking addicts of the heroin habit. Now more and more doctors are trying to help by using another drug— fighting fire with fire, so to speak.

They are using a synthetic painkiller called methadone which is also addicting, but addicts are not so physically dependent on it and they don't get such a thrill out of using it.

It works — almost miraculously one could say — by blocking the effects of heroin, but quite how it does this nobody yet knows. "I gradually replaced the heroin with methadone," said Richard.

"You don't get such a buzz off it. You get it to drink like cough mixture so that you don't get the fix 'flash' off it.

The jargon is self-explanatory. He didn't want to take heroin any more, and with the help of doctors he has managed to "kick" the habit in a remarkably short time. He still smokes cannabis, however, and takes the occasional LSD trip.

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