I don’t presume to fully understand heroin addiction. I can’t imagine the demons that lurked in the mind of acclaimed actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’ve never used heroin, and I never will.
I have a sense, however, of what it is to be a slave to heroin. Over the years, I’ve interviewed heroin addicts and dealers, on the street, in offices, even at the Nassau County jail.
Parents should tell their teens this about heroin: Never try it. Ever. You might be offered heroin or another opioid at a party. You might be intrigued. For a moment, you might consider trying it –– just this once. Perhaps you want to fit in. Maybe you want to experiment. You must understand this, though: Heroin is more powerful than you. The second that you inject or inhale it, it starts an insidious neurochemical reaction that rewires your brain.
Heroin addiction is often quick, even instantaneous. Most people can’t take a small amount and simply walk away from it. Once it grabs hold, it is uncontrollable. Unless you get help, heroin commands you to ingest more and more until you die. And your death won’t be fast and painless. It will be long and tortured.
I will never forget the 24-year-old heroin addict I interviewed at the Confide Counseling drug treatment center in Rockville Centre in January 2010. At one point, he shot and snorted 50 packets of heroin a day –– street value, $250. The young man, a once promising lacrosse player headed for college, began taking heroin at age 17 after abusing alcohol, marijuana and prescription painkillers since he was 12. He was looking for his next big high. In the end, he didn’t seek pleasure. He wanted only to relieve his pain.
Without heroin, he could not subsist. His body, from his head to his toes, was racked by unbearable muscle spasms. He sweated when he felt cold. He was anxiety-ridden. He couldn’t control his bowels. If he went too long without heroin, he curled up in a fetal position and rocked until he could gather enough strength to lift himself from his bed or the ground to search for more heroin. He was a younger, less wrinkled version of Gollum. If this young man had not sought treatment, he likely would have overdosed.