Heroin Addiction: An Illness


A chill ran through my body as I read of the murder of Barbara Coyne of Boston, 67 years old, allegedly by a young heroin addict known as Timothy Kostka, only 27 years old. Violence always did make me ill, especially violence that was irrational and had no valid purpose.

I remembered the picture in the Boston Globe, Timothy leaning over in conference with his lawyer, and I looked closely at his face. Here was a man who was cursed with the same affliction as myself, a craving for heroin, driven by a demonic yearning that brings out the worst in a human being.

I think of my lost years, over 3 decades of chasing the drug, being imprisoned within myself, the police always on my trail because of my desperate craving just to kill the feelings of despair that ate at my soul. I thank Gods I do not understand that violence was not a part of my life.

So many opiate addicts, so many, scattered throughout the world, just chasing release from themselves. When I read of the horrid murder I felt a deep sorrow, not only for Barbara Coyne, who died needlessly, but for all the heroin addicts without any violence in their spirits, who would suffer for the terrible act of one man, prone to violence, and the knee-jerk reaction that would take place in the community.

Hunted, like vampires in a nightmare fantasy, all those heroin addicts whose only crime consists of the search for relief from their tortured realities. Why do some of us become addicts, or alcoholics, which is addiction by another name? What causes this illness, nature or nurture, or is it both?

In my younger days I saw people try the opiates and then discard them, but myself, I was gripped by a raging need for the extreme liberation of the pain of myself and only the opiates would grant that state of being. Those of us who had a tendency towards violence were few. Addiction aggravates the worst in us—if a tendency towards violence exists in our spirits, it will be brought forth in our desperate search for relief.

However, if we were not prone to violence, the need for opiates would not create it. The true horror of this situation is that the cries for the new Prohibition will be louder and more exaggerated than ever.

According to the Boston Globe, police officers will be knocking on the doors of suspected dealers warning them that they are being watched. People are demanding to know why small-time street drug offenders receive small sentences and are quickly back out on the streets.

According to the Globe, U. S. Representative Stephen Lynch “acknowledges that the scourge of drugs is behind the killing of Ms. Coyne.” A community meeting was held in South Boston to chatter about the “curse of addiction.”

A curse it is, but let us have some compassion for those stricken with the disease of addiction, 95% of them just petty criminals, either shoplifting, dealing, or begging to support their habits. Not only am I a person afflicted with the illness of heroin addiction but I am also a counselor for people like myself. I have worked in various agencies that help people who are sick with the disease of addiction—the Cambridge Needle Exchange being one of the places I worked.

At no time was I frightened by the behavior of the people I treated; on the contrary, I was filled with sadness that our civilization has not come to grips with a sickness but chooses to criminalize it. Early this April, I read an article in the Cambridge Chronicle that was entitled “Drugs—Police: Heroin Ring Infiltrated.”

The article talked about hauling in 10 suspects and making numerous arrests, with a list of all the nefarious characters—most of them homeless or couch-surfing—the biggest arrest was a 41 year-old man who was caught with 21 bags—the size of postage stamps—who was living in a boarding house run by the non-profit organization called CASCAP. Ironically, CASCAP formerly ran a small hospital for the treatment of addiction and it was closed due to budget cuts.

Not for one minute will this action make the drugs go away. Small crimes receive small sentences—paid for by tax dollars, more expensive than keeping addicts in treatment centers where they would be better served. When treating the illness of addiction, one must realize that just by keeping someone in the hospital until the physical aspects of the disease are relieved, but then releasing them back into the world with their psychological and spiritual aspects untreated, we just create a revolving door situation.

Addicts just don’t get better because they go into treatment for two weeks or less or because someone tells them they are sick. First of all, part of this powerful illness is seated in the mind of the addict and it actually tells them they are okay—despite all evidence to the contrary. Imagine—an illness that tells lies—but that is exactly what we are dealing with here.

Families torn apart by untreated addiction—youngsters who find it easier to get opiates than marijuana—opiates are now considered to be an entry-level drug. Many people start out by having one of their friends give them some oxy-contin that they took from their parents medicine chest or dresser drawer—and some go on to be hooked and some don’t succumb. Why? If we knew that answer the disease might not exist.

Treatment for the disease, however, does exist. Prison is not the answer. Modern medicine has come up with some wonder drugs for opiate addiction but they need to be made available along with continuous therapy and a complete safety net consisting of support groups—and both therapy and support groups are there.

The miracle drug is called Suboxone. When people use opiates for a lengthy period of time the pleasure receptors of the body atrophy and die. This period of time varies from person to person—but if someone has used for 1 to 5 years or more—atrophy may have already taken place in the receptors.

I was addicted to heroin and other opiates for over 30 years, making many attempts to overcome the horrors of my illness, being treated short term and then released and using, to my dismay, even against my own unguarded will. After many treatments, I found that I could stay abstinent for long periods of time—a few years sometimes—but then the impulse would come and I would pick-up the drug and once the fire was re-lit, it consumed me.

I got clean or abstinent, if you will, and started to rebuild my shattered life, and then I needed knee surgery. Immediately upon narcotics being introduced to my system, it was as if I had never stopped—but I had the knowledge that I was ill this time. Victims of this illness heal in increments and that was what was happening to me.

But there was one missing component. That component was Suboxone, a mixture of Buprenorphine and Naloxone, one drug to fool the atrophied pleasure centers into thinking that it had opiates in it, and the second, the Naloxone, a blocker that would activate if the drug was administered improperly. This drug does not get one high but it is the ingredient that makes impulse using impossible.

Picture the cell in the body that reacts with heroin as a room that bids heroin welcome. When one takes Suboxone, the room is filled to the brim leaving no room for heroin to enter the cell. So even if the addict, like myself, takes heroin—nothing will happen. This drug blocks the affect and fools the body into thinking, as it were, that all is well.

And indeed, with Suboxone, all is well. It must be taken daily, under the tongue, or as they say in medical jargon, sublingually. Of course, the psychological and mental aspects of the illness should be treated too—with the help of a knowledgeable therapist and the psycho-pharmacologist who is specially trained to prescribe the drug—and include support groups.

This is a whole lot cheaper than having a giant prison system and highly paid police chasing after the 95% of the harmless street addicts. It makes more sense too. I know, for a fact, because with all these elements my entire life has turned a complete 180.

So, if a society wants to focus on eradicating drug addiction, well, the truth is—it can’t be done. However, drug addiction can be treated—with a much better result than what our society has done with alcohol addiction. Prohibition is Prohibition. We have reached a breaking point with drugs like the one we reached with alcohol in the years of Prohibition. Our streets are flooded with drugs. Dealers fight for turf with weapons and there are casualties. Then there are the 5% of addicts, probably less, that are prone to violence.

The addict, already a violent individual even before drugs, breaks into a house and kills someone’s mother looking for something that may not have been there. It wasn’t his addiction that brought him to violence—it was his way of being. He just happens to be addicted.

If every addict was prone to violence, our streets would be crackling with gunfire throughout the day. Most addicts are not violent. Fear is a component of addiction. I know. I’ve hung out with these tortured individuals, worked with them–I am one.

There is an answer to the disease of addiction. It must be acted upon, thoughtfully implemented, and the illness will abate. Addiction will never completely go away but the effects of it can be diminished with the proper treatment.

So, as a community of people, let us focus on the ailment and treat it. We have nothing to gain but our sons and daughters—and that’s worth it, don’t you think so? After all, how many families today are affected by this illness? If answers exist, and they certainly do, isn’t it time to use them?

I should know. I’m not only a member of the treatment team—I’m also a client.

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