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Experiences with Heroin

Preferred Name: Josie

Gender: Female

Age: 38


Josie is a single mother of two. She lives on her own but sees her children regularly. Due to illness, she’s unable to work. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Australian’: she was born in Australia, as were her parents.

Brief Outline:

Josie first tried heroin in her early teens and has taken it fairly regularly since then, with long periods when she stopped taking it while pregnant. She now takes heroin about once a week and is on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (methadone maintenance treatment, MMT).

Josie's Story:

As a mother of two, Josie describes her children as giving her ‘the strength to get up every day’ adding, ‘I live for my kids’. When she was in her mid-teens, Josie was diagnosed with a chronic, debilitating condition, which causes her pain every day. Due to her illness, she’s unable to work. Her condition is incurable and at the time of the interview, her doctor had estimated that she had about two years to live. In light of this, Josie emphasised the importance of living each day to the fullest: ‘I take every day as [if] it is my last. I make the most of it. Seeing my children, doing things I enjoy. It’s all about making your life, you know, you’ve got to make the most of it’.

Josie experienced family violence as a child and when she was in her early teenage years, she was placed in a group home for girls. She was unhappy in the home but says she didn’t have ‘anywhere else to go’ so she started living on the streets, sleeping wherever she could find shelter, sometimes ‘in a park […] or under bridge’. She made friends with a group of people who were also homeless and they became ‘like [her] family’. Around this time, Josie started taking speed with her friends and then when she found she needed to ‘come down [off the speed] and actually sleep’, she tried heroin. After about a year, she was taking heroin more regularly than speed, usually a few times a week, depending on how often she could access it.

In her teens, Josie went into a foster care placement and lived with a foster family for over a year. She describes the placement as one of the first she ‘actually liked’. In her late teens, she discovered she was pregnant. When she shared the news with the father of the baby, he left and she ‘had to make a choice and chose to keep [the baby]’. She got a place of her own and stopped taking heroin during the pregnancy. The baby was born premature and was kept in intensive care for several months. Josie says she found it hard to cope as a single mother with little support. After the baby was born, she resumed taking heroin. When her child was about two, she had a second child who also born prematurely but did not survive. During the pregnancy, Josie had stopped taking heroin but when she lost her second child, she says ‘everything […] came crashing down’ and she resumed taking it. A few years later, she had another child.

About four years before the interview, Josie started opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (methadone maintenance treatment, MMT) and is currently on treatment. She finds MMT helps ease the chronic pain she experiences. Josie now takes heroin about once a week and has no plans to stop. She describes heroin as ‘tak[ing] the pain away physically and mentally’ providing her ‘a bit of comfort’.


For Josie (F, 38, not working due to illness, heroin), taking speed and heroin helped her cope with homelessness and the effects of family violence.

We had family violence and one of my siblings was very aggressive to the point where, you know, my mother just stood back because she was scared of him. So [a government agency] took me out of home, put me with like a group home for girls. And yeah, that was the reason why I went on the street because I didn’t like the group home and at that stage, I didn’t know anywhere else to go […Being homeless] was so new to me, you know. You’d grab a blanket and a pillow and just crash underneath a tree [and] you’d just [take speed] anywhere. And then, you know, after a while you get used to it and it starts to make you feel good […] It was like blocking my home experience. So, you know, it was sort of like a getaway.

[…The first time I took heroin] I remember one girl saying to me, ‘This will make you feel better’. And at that stage I was like, ‘Yeah, fine’, you know. But my first taste of heroin, it was like this peace coming through your body [from] head to toe […] It’s peaceful and another getaway, and [I was] able to sleep. Like [it helped me] block out my thoughts and […] deal with the abuse at home. And so for me, that just made things easier.

Josie says taking heroin helps her to ‘block out’ flashbacks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.

[When I was in my mid-teens I was homeless, and] it was, like, as soon as we opened our eyes it was, like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to go and rort, get some money [to buy heroin]’. And that was our first thing for the day. We had to rort because we wanted to feel better […] Back then, I think, I could go a few days without [heroin] but […] it did take some pain away, physically and mentally […] I’d been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress [disorder] because of my family situation […] I started having some flashbacks of the violence […] And at that time the doctors were saying, ‘We can get you into counselling’, and stuff like that, but at that point in time, I just shut off. You know, I didn’t want to go and talk about it. I didn’t want to really have to deal with it […] I could have a taste [of heroin and] I could feel good for a while, but then also I could block [the flashbacks] out.

Taking heroin helped Josie cope with a painful lung condition and post-traumatic stress disorder.

[Heroin] did take some pain away, physically and mentally […] I was sick all the time as a teenager and I got diagnosed with a lung disease, and they couldn’t fix it but we could maintain it […] I was tired all the time and getting a lot of chest infections and, yeah, just being really lethargic […] I was finding it hard to breathe, like, really short of breath and my lips were going a bit blue and that’s when […] one of the girls [I was living with] said to me, ‘You’re not well, you look terrible’. So that’s the reason originally why I went to the doctor […] But yeah, being that age and being diagnosed with lung disease and post-traumatic stress didn’t help the situation […but] I could have a taste [of heroin and] I could feel good for a while […It causes me pain in] my ribs, because I cough all the time and I have to sit up, more or less, to sleep now, because I can’t lie flat. I just can’t breathe […] My doctor is saying just to be careful, because [heroin] can slow your breathing right down and stuff like that. So, I have to be mindful of it.