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Experiences with Heroin

Preferred Name: Amy

Gender: Female

Age: 52


Amy has worked in the arts sector and is studying for a diploma. She’s single and has a child who lives with her and her parents. Amy describes her ethnic background as ‘Australian’: she was born in Australia, as were her parents.

Brief Outline:

Amy first tried heroin when she was in her late teens and has taken it ‘on and off’ since then. Over the years, she’s tried various treatments for opioid dependence including residential rehabilitation treatment, home detoxes, pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy and most recently, homeopathy and acupuncture. She now takes small amounts of heroin a couple of times a week and is on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (Suboxone®, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone).

Amy's Story:

Amy is studying for a diploma and plans to work in an area where she can combine that qualification with her experience in the arts sector. She’s on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (OPT) and takes small amounts of heroin a few times a week, organising her consumption around her studies. She’s also in psychotherapy, which has helped her realise the value of finding ‘creative things [in life] that fulfil’ her.

As a teenager growing up in the suburbs, Amy felt like she didn’t fit in with the young people in her neighbourhood. In her late teens, she made friends with a ‘hippyish pot smoking’ social group and felt a ‘sense of acceptance’. When she was in her late teens, someone in the group introduced the others to heroin and Amy first tried it with her boyfriend at the time. She’s taken heroin intermittently for around thirty years, but there have been years where she didn’t take it. Amy describes taking heroin as ‘something familiar’, ‘like a comfort zone’ which helps her ‘do real life’. She takes it when she’s doing well in her studies ‘as a prize’, and also when she’s feeling down to make her feel better.

When she was in her early thirties, Amy had a child. In the years after her child’s birth, she was working in the arts and injured her back. The injury caused her a lot of pain and her struggle was made worse by a relationship breakup. Amy found heroin helped her manage the pain, and during this time began taking it every day. Over the years, she’s tried various treatments for opioid dependence including residential rehabilitation treatment, home detoxes, pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy and most recently, homeopathy and acupuncture.

When she was in her forties, Amy tried a naltrexone implant and stopped taking heroin. She moved to her parents’ house to help her save money. Around the same time, she began a new relationship and started taking ice and cocaine with her new partner. Amy then moved into a boarding house with her partner and met a number of female residents involved in sex work. Curious, she began sex work herself and used the income to build up her savings, which had been depleted by purchasing drugs. Eventually she resumed taking heroin, using her savings again to fund her consumption. During this time she lost contact with her family.

Amy has since regained contact and now lives with her child and parents. Currently she takes small amounts of heroin on a semi-regular basis and is on OPT. In the future, when she has completed her studies, she hopes to move into a place of her own with her child.


Amy (F, 52, studying, heroin) completed several home detoxes, some of which involved taking a break from heroin but still smoking cannabis and drinking. (Note: strong language)


Well I think, you know, with home detoxes, nearly every time I did something I thought that was it, ‘Great I’m giving up’. I never, ever thought I was just going to keep fucking up, you know. But the early ones, I still smoked and drank and didn’t even realise how problematic that was in my life, you know, I just thought, ‘What’s a half a bottle of wine? You know, everybody does that don’t they? What’s a little spliff?’ But it was a problem, it was absolutely a problem. And, like, now that those things have gone out of my life, drinking and smoking, but heroin is still there. Home detoxes when I eventually did them were just straight cold turkeys. And then as I got older, things got harder […] None of it has ever lasted. I always relapse.

Amy questions references to a ‘higher power’ in 12-step programs and adds that in her experience, they can be exclusive or ‘cliquey’.


I don’t like the God stuff. Like […] the higher power stuff […] I met some people in there that I really didn’t like and who didn’t actually live what was coming out of their mouths. And also the big thing about NA [and] AA is the newest person is meant to be the most important member and I didn’t feel that. I felt like it was a cliquey group and the older ones just wanted to hear the sound of their own voice. There are some really great people in there but to be a real NA [member], it’s like 90 meetings in 90 days. You’ve got to do like three, four, five, six, seven meetings a week. Like, I don’t think I can make that sort of commitment where I live. There’s only one meeting a week out there, for an hour and a half. So I just felt it was a bit too cliquey. NA people only hang out with NA [people].

For Amy, it’s important to keep trying and acknowledge the progress made towards recovery, especially when faced with setbacks. (Note: strong language)


Part 1

Well I’d have to say rehab was helpful in that I was five months totally abstinent. I really, really gave it my all. And I remember thinking – because there were people there on their second, third, fourth time – like, ‘What’s wrong with these people?’ I was very judgmental. I was very critical. So I’ve always got it in my head that you only do these things once and you’re cured. It’s taken me years to get that it is a – what would you call it – a process? Like even my psychologist, she’s been telling me for a year or more that relapse is part of recovery, that I mustn’t whip myself over it. I must try to see it more as normal and to not be so devastated and to not give up on everything. It’s like, ‘Get up on that horse again, just keep going’.

Part 2

Recovery […] for me is about responsibility. Self-responsibility and all that comes with that. And that scares the shit out of me: that I have to answer myself or challenge myself [and] want more for myself, without turning it into an unachievable, perfectionist, ridiculous goal that many people do anyway, even [people] who don’t take drugs.

Part 3

Recovery […] as I grow and learn, it changes. Like, there’s no way you could sum it up […] singularly. Maybe just be open to the fact that you may relapse […] I think the hardest thing for me has been going a little bit backwards, but not acknowledging how far forward I’m going […] All I know is you just have to keep trying.


Amy says that taking Suboxone® helps her keep her heroin consumption at an affordable level but it doesn’t prevent her taking it altogether.


I couldn’t manage my life without it. If I wasn’t on Suboxone I […] couldn’t afford to use every day and, you know. You couldn’t afford to because your habit would be going up and up and up […] Going on Suboxone, you can still use now and again so my experience has been that it doesn’t really stop me using […] I think ultimately […I want to stop using]. But I think that Suboxone gives me the opportunity to […] stabilise my life. I think that if I continue on this course, I will probably be on the Suboxone that whole two years. I wouldn’t even dream of trying to come off it because the two times that I have, I just [gone back to heroin…] Whatever it is that makes me bust, all those reasons I’ve brought up, I haven’t […] got ways to manage that stuff.

Amy finds the structured dosing arrangements for opioid pharmacotherapy treatment help her to avoid skipping doses.

Going to a chemist you sort of have to be committed and you do have to actually appear. There’s rules around [it]: you can’t miss three days and things like that […] But the longer you are on [OPT] the more take-away [doses] you get. But the more take always you get, the more you can abuse it, because you can not take [the dose…] So for a couple of months I actually went to the chemist more often because I felt it was better for me. I’d have less opportunity to muck around […] I need be on [Suboxone] because I couldn’t be going to school. I couldn’t manage my life without it. If I wasn’t on Suboxone I […] couldn’t afford to use every day. And, you know, you couldn’t afford to because your habit would be going up and up and up.

Along with taking opioid pharmacotherapy treatment, Amy sometimes has acupuncture, which she suggests may help to ‘shift’ her patterns of heroin consumption.

It’s been very interesting just going back into acupuncture. I’m feeling some really heavy stuff because when I said to my [acupuncturist…] ‘Should I feel sick?’ They said, ‘Well, things are leaving your body so [you may feel sick]’. I told them a fair bit at the clinic about myself, [about having] hep C and all that […Acupuncture is] my new thing like. Yeah, I’m on Suboxone [opioid pharmacotherapy treatment: a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone] but there’s something about getting acupuncture that [I like]. My very first ever time that I stopped using heroin, like I was like 22 or something, and I’d only tried it at 19. I went and sought out acupuncture, and got really back into health foods and gave up smoking. There’s something about going back to acupuncture that feels right, and feels healing. It feels like maybe that’s what I need with my heroin use, is to shift some[thing]. Like, there’s some stuff happening with my body at the moment that is just […] very, very painful. Like, across my shoulders and back, and I think it’s, like it’s impacting on my life, like to do stuff like this […] I know it’s all connected to my addiction. So [acupuncture] is like a new thing for me to try as a treatment form almost.

When Amy feels ‘out of [her] depth’ in her studies she sometimes takes heroin to help her to ‘feel better’. (Note: strong language)


Part 1

It’s quite complex. I’m studying because I want to improve my life, but when I come up against things that I feel challenged with or [are] out of my comfort zone […] you know, my first thought would be, ‘Use, self-destruct, run away’. So it’s problematic in that if I don’t use I have a clearer head, I sleep better, I study better, I remember more. So why would I […] do that? It’s not like you think rationally or logically, ‘Oh, if you do that when you wake up in the morning it’s going to be harder to get up for school’. It’s actually, ‘I’m not coping with something right now, if I use I’ll feel better.’ It’s kind of that simple sometimes.

Part 2

You sometimes wonder, ‘What fucking triggered me then?’ But I think sometimes […] it’s that, ‘I felt really lost today. I felt really out of my depth at school. I felt like everyone was getting it but not me. I’m going to go and use because I know how to do that, I get that.’

Amy has returned to study and plans to volunteer so that she can fulfil her dream of returning to work in the arts.

I’m back at school, and […] I’ve done some poetry and writing workshops, I’ve done other little things and community courses […] I need to [feel] fulfilled […] I suppose the future would be if I could get back […] into the arts world […] I think I’d like to throw myself into some volunteer thing because maybe if I wasn’t getting paid or I didn’t feel there were some expectations on me, I might, like, loosen up or enjoy it a little bit more […] That appeals to me that sort of stuff […] that’s the dream.