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Experiences with Heroin

Preferred Name: Harry

Gender: Male

Age: 52


Harry works in the arts sector and lives with his housemates in a share house. He’s single and has a child from a previous relationship. He describes his ethnic background as ‘Australian’: he was born in Australia, as were his parents.

Brief Outline:

Harry has taken heroin fairly regularly for the past thirty years. He’s been on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (methadone maintenance treatment [MMT] and Suboxone®, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone) but is no longer on treatment. Harry now takes heroin a few times a fortnight, organising his consumption around his work.

Harry's Story:

Harry is employed in the arts sector and has many years of experience working in the entertainment industry. He says he grew up in an open-minded family and describes his parents as a ‘bit alternative’ in that they ‘pretty much don’t like the society we live in’. He shares their critical views and doesn’t conform to societal expectations about ‘where a person should be at [his] age’. According to him, these expectations include owning a house, a car and other possessions, none of which is particularly important to him. What he values most in life are his relationships, especially his relationship with his child. He commented that the bond a parent shares with a child is ‘precious and beautiful’, adding: ‘with children you give them absolutely everything […] and they love you back the same way’.

Harry has taken heroin throughout his career, organising his consumption around his work commitments. He first tried heroin with some friends when he was in his twenties. At the time, he took it as a ‘side drug’ as he was taking speed regularly. When he was in his thirties, he started taking heroin regularly with his partner. He was diagnosed with hepatitis B in the 1980s before the introduction of needle and syringe programs (NSPs) in Australia. He later tested positive for hepatitis C. When Harry was diagnosed with hepatitis B, he went on an interferon treatment trial for a few months. A few years before the interview, a test indicated that he had cleared the virus.

When Harry started taking heroin regularly, he was working full time and says he found it difficult to ‘maintain the heroin and the job’ so he went on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (MMT). He was on MMT for the next ten years and experienced a ‘horrible period of withdrawal’ when he came off it. About six years ago, Harry tried Suboxone®, another opioid pharmacotherapy treatment, but found he couldn’t maintain treatment because the dosing restrictions conflicted with his work hours.

Currently Harry isn’t on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment and takes heroin intermittently, usually a few times a fortnight. He describes his heroin use as an ‘arrangement’ in that he takes it as much as he ‘can conceivably afford to’, after paying his bills. He has no plans to stop taking heroin. In his view, some of the difficulties associated with drug use are an effect of prohibition. He hopes that in the future policy makers will be ‘a bit more reasonable’ about drug policy and consider the arguments for legalisation.


Harry (M, 52, works in the arts, heroin) acquired hepatitis B through sharing injecting equipment and later went on a treatment trial.


Part 1

I fell in with a great group of people that just so happened to use lots of drugs, and so I was introduced to a series of different drugs, and enjoyed the lot of them. I thought drugs were fun, and it didn’t hinder my work, it didn’t cramp my lifestyle, apart from getting ill. And that happened I think about 1981 or ’82 and I contracted hepatitis B, and that was because we were sharing needles, and that is because back then there was no NSPs [needle and syringe programs]. And so […] getting hold of needles was really difficult. Like, you go around to the guy’s place, a bunch of you would go around to a friend’s place, because he was the only guy who had a fit and you’d all use it.

Part 2

When I was chronic active B, when I was diagnosed as that and I went […] on one of the first interferon trials and I was given […] the hugest dose of all of them in that trial […] and I was seriously ill for six months, like really ill. [They said] ‘You might feel, like, flu-like symptoms.’ And again, ironically, I was on this trial, it was all very important, you were going in there having blood tests, wee tests, everything, and it was important. And it was a way to get rid of this chronic active thing. And so I put my hand up for it and they said, ‘Right, you’re going to feel flu-like symptoms,’ and you did and it wasn’t good. You were seriously ill […It] just was constant […] So to not affect the drug I was asked to take paracetamol, just paracetamol, that was it […] and it barely took the edge off, until I found that heroin was the best thing to remove the symptoms […] It just seemed ironic to me, and I probably would’ve been using speed a lot more then, but I was using heroin because it just made the interferon feel better.

OPT helped Harry fit his heroin consumption around his work but he found the dosing arrangements restricted his freedom of movement.


I had to [go on methadone] because at the time I was working a full-time job in a place that required a lot of shift work and a lot of hours per week. And I couldn’t even financially […] maintain the heroin and the job. So I had to go on methadone […] I didn’t know what journey that was going to be and it turned out 10 years on methadone and a horrible period of withdrawal from it. But it […] was, you know, maintenance. It wasn’t treatment to get you off [heroin] obviously. It was maintenance. And so it just made sure you could continue to go to work and not necessarily use heroin every day. So there was 10 years of that until I finally got away from the methadone and now my opinion of methadone is fairly low. I wouldn’t ever go back on it again. It wasn’t as though it wasn’t convenient or useful. It was the rigmarole, the process that you had to go through. And also that it bound you to a particular location.

Harry consulted two health professionals for depression and says their treatment approach was well-intentioned but ‘slightly misguided’.


I went to a psych [psychologist] for a year, and that was after I split with my partner […] it was all because of the separation from my child – that was the difficult bit. But we went into, you know, psychoanalysis and why you take drugs, or why you did take drugs, and things like that. And [her] attitude was that the drug controls you, you don’t control the drug. That was all I was getting from my psych. And the psych was right into the idea of 12-step, you know, NA [Narcotics Anonymous], which I […] just hold no truck with. Because […] I don’t have a greater being, I’m an atheist [… To say that] the drug controls me, [that] I don’t have any control, well, actually I do. I do [have control]. I’m choosing to do this […] Well, anyway […the psychologist] said, ‘Okay, you’re really depressed. You’re possibly suicidal’ […The psychologist] was also connected to [a] doctor. So, you put a psychologist and a doctor together and you’ve got a two-headed psychiatrist [laugh], which is what I had […] They were both nice people. Their aim was true, I’m sure, just maybe slightly misguided. So I went along with the whole thing. But, yeah, ‘You’re depressed,’ and it was something I had to work […] through. And it wasn’t about drugs at that point, even though that was a part of it. It was about the separation from the child. But then it was, ‘Right, well take this [medication]’, and [they] threw drugs at me. It was like, right, okay, you’ve got problems with drugs, I think the best way I can deal with this, is give you more drugs. […] The hypocrisy just seemed ridiculous to me.

Harry limits his heroin consumption to evenings after work.


If I’m working the next day then I have to be careful, not about what I use the night before, but […] if there’s any left over, what I might use in the morning. So if I use the night before and I’m working the next day, I will often times – and this is pretty unusual because I would like to have it – leave it at home, because I’ll still […] be fine in the morning and work through the morning. And then I’ll knock off and look forward to get home and have my taste [of heroin] that night. So I’m not using at work […] It actually, if anything, it might give me more energy.

Harry recommends taking a break from regular consumption every so often to ‘recover’. (Note: strong language)


After a while speed will wear you down, particularly if you’re doing the sort of work I do, which is shift work, which can constitute like 70, 80 hour weeks and stuff like that. It’s very convenient, a very useful drug in that regard. It’s not just truck drivers that use it for their work. But at the same time, it will bugger you over a period of time. You know, it’s one of those drugs you really need to take a break. I guess it’s like alcohol. You know, one of the tricks of alcohol is to give your liver a rest. Sure, get drunk that night, but don’t then get drunk the next night, the next night, the next night, because you will be fucked at the end of that.

You know, get drunk, give yourself a couple of days to recover, get drunk again, fine. It’s that matter of managing it, I guess, although when you’re younger you’re more sort of resilient physically and so you’re able to do things a bit better. Also, considering that earlier on in the piece I got hepatitis, I’ve sort of had not the greatest liver over the years and speed affects that.

Harry questions the idea of recovery because it implies that regular drug consumption is a ‘disease’ and he prefers to characterise his consumption as a ‘lifestyle choice’. (Note: strong language)


So if I was to say I had a contract, a binding contract with heroin, what would I do about breaking that contract? I think that I could, given the right circumstances, I could live a productive life, pay my taxes, do my work, have my relationships, and use heroin until the day I die […] There are so many things to recover from in life. I would actually rate heroin probably down the list a bit, like at recovering from relationships, recovering from fucking financial turmoil.


The other thing too is that, again, it plays to the whole, ‘it’s a disease’ argument that […] I object to […Drug consumption], as I’ve said, it’s a lifestyle choice as far as I’m concerned. It’s the decision that I’ve made […] I would recover from that […] when I decide that I wanted to make a different decision. It wouldn’t be someone coming up and saying, ‘Here’s a book, read this’, or ‘Here’s a pill, take that’. It would be like coming up and saying, ‘Oh, you voted Labor last time, here’s a pill and you’ll vote Liberal now’. So it’s an attitude thing.


As I’ve said, I’d be a lot richer if I didn’t use heroin. Well not a lot richer, I wouldn’t [be], but I would maybe have a car or a telly if I didn’t use heroin or hadn’t used heroin, but I don’t see an immediate need for recovery […] My arrangement is such that I can have […] my cake and eat it too. But obviously with the added bit that I’m not as social as I’d like to be. And, again, that’s because of its prohibition and my lack of money. But then also there’s my earning capacity, which at the moment is down, and that’s not any fault of the drug. And […] not seeing people as much as I’d like to, which, again, is a money thing. But you know, I don’t see recovery in there. I see that as me changing my lifestyle. You see, I could be a person who loves going overseas and so I’d spend most of my money going overseas, so I don’t see my friends, so I don’t have a telly, so I don’t have a car. Do I need recovery from travelling overseas?

Harry comments on how the media reinforces stigma by presenting inaccurate information and negative stereotypes about drug consumption.


There was a report that came out […] it was on the news, like, in the last few days […] and they were saying […] ‘What about casual heroin use?’ And the guy says, ‘For every casual heroin user, I’ll give you 500 addicted people.’ Hang on, now amongst my friends at the moment, I know of two casual heroin users, and […] I guess, even though I’m regular, I’m still, like I guess, probably casual because I don’t hold a habit at the moment or anything, so who is he looking at? Who is he actually examining? […According to the media] everyone falls into this category [of being addicted] They’re the junkie, you know, they’re the useless person on the street, they’re the bottom feeders, you know […] It’s not questioned in the mainstream media and that’s the unfortunate thing […that there is] that level of stigma [in the media].