Preferred Name: Rachel
Rachel works in the health sector, and lives with her husband and their teenage child. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Australian, Irish and Scottish’: she and her parents were born in Australia.
Rachel began taking heroin, and other drugs, including cannabis and cocaine with friends in her late teens, after moving interstate to go to university. After her consumption ‘escalated’ in her early twenties, she attended Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings and stopped taking heroin. Some years later Rachel resumed heroin consumption and after a while she says she began to feel ‘physically dependent’ on it. When pregnant with her child, she went on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (methadone maintenance treatment, MMT) and stopped taking heroin. She’s currently on MMT and has resumed heroin consumption a few times a week.
When she was in her early twenties Rachel met someone who was going to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings and began attending them herself. She says that she met ‘a lot of really interesting people’ at the meetings but found that NA ‘didn’t hold [her] interest’ in the long term and eventually stopped attending.
In her late twenties Rachel found herself in a relationship that had become ‘abusive’ and after seeking counselling she ended the relationship. She described the next few years as ‘an incredible time’ during which she began working and receiving ‘praise’ from her employers, which she says gave her a sense of ‘achievement’ and ‘worth’. Since then, she’s valued work as a very important part of her life.
Over the next few years, Rachel began to ‘re-introduce drugs’ into her life, smoking cannabis, drinking alcohol, and taking cocaine and heroin on weekends. She says she ‘threw [her]self back into art’ and theatre, and socialised with other artists. Feeling like heroin was ‘all around’ her in her social group, she says she began taking it ‘more and more’. To manage her consumption, and avoid ‘a physical habit’, she maintained ‘a lot of rules’ such as only taking small amounts and taking regular breaks.
She met her current partner when she was in her mid-thirties and they began taking heroin together. She says she found it ‘much harder’ to stick to her rules around consumption when she was with her partner. After some time Rachel says she felt ‘physically dependent’ on heroin and would get ‘really crook’ if she didn’t take it. In her late thirties, she became pregnant and started opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (MMT). After she had her child, Rachel returned to work, resumed taking heroin, and remained on MMT.
In the years before the interview, Rachel has been working full time to support her partner and child. She now limits her heroin consumption to a few days a weeks after work for ‘fun’ and ‘to relax’, as she says this contributes to her ‘mental health’. In the future, she plans to stay on MMT as it helps her manage her heroin consumption.
Rachel (F, 50, works in the health sector, heroin) says that while she met a lot of ‘interesting people’ in NA, the program ‘didn’t hold her interest’ so she eventually stopped attending. (Played by an actor)
I met someone who was going to NA and so I went to a meeting, and then I met some other people. I ended up in a halfway house […] and I stayed there for a while. And [I…] just determined that I would kind of pursue the NA thing for a while. It was actually quite interesting. There were a lot of really interesting people in NA at that time who were artists and musicians, famous people. And you know, in a way, it was as much for me about discovering […] a different ethnographic situation as [it was about] getting straight. And, you know, I ended up deciding that it was a cult […] I sort of enjoyed it for a little bit but […] it just didn’t hold my interest.
When Rachel found it hard to make ends meet, she took on more work to fund her consumption and cover family expenses. (Note: strong language) (Played by an actor)
The [heroin] drought really fucked us up […] All of a sudden, you just couldn’t get [heroin …but] I just kept trying to. And because I had a lot of good contacts I probably had stuff a lot longer than other people. But you had to buy it in large amounts […] but I would use it in the same amount of time that I would use a smaller amount, so everything escalated and I was using more and more and […that cost] a lot of money. I ended up in debt.
Unfortunately [at that time] I had a really bad opinion of methadone […] I’d always been under the radar. I didn’t want to be a registered drug addict […] And yet [my partner and I] tried to stop and couldn’t, so we just had to do the best that we could […] I just took a lot of jobs. I was working four jobs. So I’d get up in the morning, you know, go find some gear, get to a job. It was like that. I’d get to my next job and then my next job […] and I did that seven days a week […] Things would be all right and I kept it together, I kept a roof over our heads […] I’ve always kept my family housed and clothed and fed.
Rachel was told to begin MMT when she became pregnant. She has been on it since then and finds it helps her manage her heroin consumption. (Played by an actor)
Then I got pregnant and I had to go onto [methadone]. The doctor basically said to me, ‘If you don’t go onto methadone today, you will not be taking your baby home from the hospital’ […] So the methadone helped a lot, except my partner wasn’t on methadone and […] he didn’t want me to go on [it]. He was saying, ‘You’re going to be on it for years and years’. And I said, ‘No I won’t. As soon as the baby is born, I’ll get off it’ […] Of course, I’m still on it years later […but] being on methadone is really good [It…] made all that chaos make sense. Because of methadone I am able to be a functional drug user […] When you are [taking heroin] every day […] you’ve got all the financial worries […] so you have to manage it, which is why we have methadone. It helps with all of that.
Rachel supports her family on a single income and finds it hard to afford MMT on top of her other expenses. (Played by an actor)
I pay the bills and I’m lucky to have $100 left, you know. [With] that I’ve got to feed the family, I’ve got to get transport […] I think that we would have this [financial] pressure even if we didn’t have [to pay for heroin] because we’re a single income family. Even though I earn good money, it’s still [not enough]. Mind you, I say I earn good money but I was earning the same amount of money in the 90s and the rent’s [gone up since then…] When we move out of this place, I don’t know where we’re going to move to because I just look at the rent and I just can’t see anywhere that we can afford […] I have to pay for [my partner’s] medication. He has a lot of medication and that’s $30 or $40 a hit, and he’s on about seven different medications. My [child] is on two different medications. Plus the methadone, so there’s all that. So if the methadone was free, God that would help.
For Rachel, the idea of recovery implies that drug consumption is a ‘disease’ to be treated. She says that this doesn’t fit with her experience. (Played by an actor)
If you are recovering, it implies there’s something wrong with you to start with. Right, you are recovering from something. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drug use, I really don’t. There’s never been any proof that there’s this disease. The disease is a metaphor, it’s not a real thing. And somewhere along the line […] a metaphor of the disease that came out of AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] has turned into this fact; that it is an actual sickness and it’s become medicalised, you know. And […] there’s no evidence for that […] I know the [neuroscientists] are trying very hard [to find evidence] but I mean the fact is that pleasure is about repetition […] If you like something you do it […] I believe that I use [drugs…because] sometimes it’s just fun. Sometimes you just want to relax. Sometimes it feels really nice […] I really like it.