The damage done
A day in the life of a Portland junkie
They say day two is the hardest when youíre trying to kick heroin. Today is day two for me,
and I donít think Iím gonna make it to day three.
Thereís a Mark Twain quote about quitting smoking: ďItís the easiest thing to do. Iíve done it a
thousand times.Ē The same sentiment here: I quit heroin on a weekly basis, sometimes daily, but I
eventually give in, I always give in. It becomes too difficult. I didnít sleep last night, and I
probably wonít sleep tonight either. I lie there moving, changing positions. My skin itches, my
back hurts. Last night was unbearable, and I know tonight will be worse. Unless I get high.
Some people medicate themselves with alcohol, some weed, others get off on sweets. I like to shoot
heroin. Itís a part of my day-to-day life like anything else. Most days I canít do anything else
until I get my morning fix, my breakfast. Iíve been using heroin now for the better part of eight
years, but the past year and a half has been by far the worst. Iíve been sober probably only a dozen
days in the last 18 months, shooting anywhere from $30 to $200 a day into my arm. The sad part is
that most of the time I donít even get high. I do just enough to feel normal, to be able to function,
to get off the couch.
My body wants itís daily fix. Itís crying for it. Itís looking for the bliss, the sunshine. Heroin
coats your brain with endorphins. After a while, your brain recognizes that it is getting outside help,
so it doesnít produce as much on its own. So now my bodyís deprived of that outside help and itís being
left to suffer.
Withdrawal is different for everybody: a constant runny nose, cramps, diarrhea, body aches, vomiting,
depression. The depression is the worst part for me, everything becomes sad and meaningless, futile.
This is what scares me the most. There is a sadness in me I canít really explain. People close to me or
the ones who are good at reading others can see it in my eyes. I guess itís this sadness that Iím escaping
from. Rather than deal with the issues, I opt to medicate myself. I realize that this is only a temporary
bandage, and I have started something that is near impossible to stop by myself.
One definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result. I know what
heroin does to my body, I know the effects it has on my life, but I still choose this path. Sometimes it seems that I am just making
an excuse to get high and that I should toughen up and quit being so weak. A lot of people are sad, but not
everyone shoots heroin.
As I even just think about giving in, I know that I will. I already have. Once you think about it and youíre
an addict, there is no way to escape it. The trap is set. The seed has been planted. The wheels are in motion.
Pick your metaphor.
I first started using heroin in í92, it cost $40 a bag, which is a tenth of a gram (that is ideal, but rarely
do you get that, and if you do it is usually not all heroin, but rather cut with something else, like vitamin
B12 or baby laxative).
Ten bags equal a bundle, and five bundles equal a brick. In the larger cities, a bag costs around $10, less
if you buy in quantity. The high price in Portland is based on the fact that someone had to transport the
stuff over state lines. Most of the dope around here comes from Massachusetts, mainly Lawrence. On any given
day, I bet there are at least a dozen cars going down, ďmaking the run.Ē Iíve made runs before, but I donít
like to. For one, Lawrence Police are suspicious of Maine plates; theyíll pull you over just to make sure
youíre straight. Secondly, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has nothing better to do than make heroin the
number one enemy of the state. If you get caught with anything it is considered trafficking. And lastly,
even if you do manage to get by the police, you still take the chance of getting ripped off down there.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, gets ripped off eventually. I learned many lessons about copping in the big
city, but even the best of us get beat.
For the most part, I find it safer to score dope in Portland than Lawrence or Boston or even New York.
Unless you know someone in those cities, youíre forced to score on the street. Itís easier to network
in Portland. And accessibility is definitely a factor in how much dope I do. The more difficult it is,
the more discouraging it becomes. Around six, seven years ago, everyone got busted and heroin became
scarce. I can remember spending the whole day riding around the West End or Munjoy Hill looking for
someone on a corner. After a while I just gave up. A couple years later, heroin was becoming popular
again. After a while, the heroin-chic fad kind of made it passť ó I even think that was a song title.
So many younger people were trying it now, teenagers, kids. I guess I was just as young when I first
tried it, but for some reason I seemed older.
I used to go out to the bars in the Old Port, and most people didnít know what was going on. A few
people could read my eyes ó faded, with pinned pupils ó but most were clueless. But then Kurt Cobain
died, and every publication in the world had an article about the return of heroin, and then the jig
was up. Even old-school junkies couldnít hide it anymore; everyone knew what to look for. My mother
began counting spoons and Q-tips after reading an article in Parade magazine. She would always
be looking at my arms for marks, but I rarely wore a sleeveless shirt. I have a picture of myself with
some dope buddies taken a few summers back, and we all had on sweaters. Itís kind of funny if you think about it.
Someone will call me soon. Someone always does. The addictís day starts early. No sooner do I
think this than the phone rings. It is 8 a.m. now, and my friend Ricky is on the phone. He is
30-ish with two kids and no job, born and raised and living on the West End. Heís been pretty much
my partner in crime the last few months. I knew he would call first.
ďNothiní. Shitty night last night, huh?Ē he asks.
ďYou got any coin?Ē
ďNo, not really. Why?Ē I know where this is going. Itís the same conversation everyday.
So and so is lookiní, he says, and so goes the routine. Someone calls Ricky looking for dope,
he calls me because I have the car and most of the connections. Ricky quotes them a price of
$30 a bag with a two-bag minimum purchase but knows I could probably get three for $60 and me
and him split the bag. So much for day two.
Splitting a bag, I wonít exactly be high, but I wonít exactly be hurting anymore either. This
kind of deal happens once, twice, maybe fives times a day. We usually try to coordinate everything
for one run; what might have been there in the morning might not be there in the afternoon.
I go to his apartment and grab the loot, but I have to go across town to Munjoy Hill to get the
dope. One would think that most of the dealers I know would live in downtown Portland, but the
truth is I know a half dozen dealers living in North Deering and a couple out on Falmouth Foreside.
The suburbs are just as much infested as the rest of the town.
This morningís heroin comes in tiny, ziplocked bags with black and gold skulls on them. Usually it
comes in sealed plastic bags with some sort of stamp or emblem on them signifying the brand name.
Batman and Shamrocks were made famous during recent busts, but there are at least a dozen more:
LadyBugs, Pink Panthers, Moí Money, Blue Stars, Dolphins, TNT, Executioners. Some other bags are
waxed paper, like the ones stamp collectors use, with some kind of logo on it: Poison, Knockout,
Daí Police, Terminator, Rambo, Eagles, Red Devilís, and the deadly White China.
Names and certain details were changed in this story to protect the identity of its subjects.