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Experiences with Heroin

Preferred Name: Sophie

Gender: Female

Age: 38


Sophie is engaged and lives with her partner and her four children. She’s their primary caregiver. She describes her ethnic background as ‘English Australian’: she was born in Australia, as were her parents.

Brief Outline:

Sophie first tried cannabis as a pre-teen, after seeing her sisters smoking it. She then began smoking cannabis regularly. After some time, she started smoking heroin through a bong and then when she found she ‘wasn’t getting a kick anymore’ she started to inject it. She now takes heroin a few times a week and is on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (methadone maintenance treatment [MMT]). On two occasions, she spent several months in a psychiatric ward after experiencing visual hallucinations. She was diagnosed with borderline bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and is being treated with lithium. She also takes Valium® (diazepam) and Serepax® (oxazepam) for anxiety and is on a psychiatric treatment order.

Sophie's Story:

Sophie is engaged and lives with her partner, and is the primary caregiver of her four children. At the time of the interview, one of them was nearing the end of high school and she said it was very important to her that her child complete school as they will be the first in the family to do so. Along with giving them ‘everything [they] need’ to succeed in their studies, Sophie’s also planning a celebration to mark her child’s completion of Year 12.

When Sophie was a pre-teen she decided to try cannabis, after seeing her sisters smoking it, and then she began smoking it regularly. Some time later, she started smoking heroin through a bong. When she found she ‘wasn’t getting a kick anymore’, she started to inject it and also began injecting ice.

In her early thirties, after the birth of one of her children, Sophie started experiencing visual hallucinations. She was admitted to a psychiatric ward, where she spent four months and was diagnosed with borderline bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. She was prescribed lithium and has been taking it since then, along with Valium® and Serepax® for anxiety. More recently she again experienced visual hallucinations and was admitted to a psychiatric ward for six months. She believes the hallucinations were connected to taking ice and now avoids taking ice.

A key experience in Sophie’s life is the death of her sibling from a heroin overdose. It happened about ten years before the interview and Sophie was the one who found her sibling after the overdose. She was devastated and struggles to cope with the memory of that day. As she explains, ‘it’s been […] close to ten years but it feels like it was just yesterday […] Every time I close my eyes, I picture my [sibling] dead’.

Currently Sophie takes heroin a couple of times a week. She is also on opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (MMT). At the time of the interview she was also on a treatment order, which means she received regular visits from a local psychiatric outreach program who assist her with any medical referrals and with managing her psychiatric medications.

At the time of the interview, Sophie and her partner had recently got engaged and she was looking forward to the wedding. They’d also just moved into a new home and Sophie says the future is looking good for them.


Sophie (F, 38, primary carer for her children, heroin) was diagnosed with dependence when seeking medical help for ‘withdrawal’ from heroin and methadone.

Yeah [I’ve been diagnosed with dependence…] each time I’ve been into hospital. Sometimes I’ve been at home and I’ve been sick because I haven’t picked up my methadone or I haven’t scored. So […] I’ll call the ambulance, I’ll go into hospital. The doctor will ask me what I’m withdrawing from. I have to explain to him, ‘I’m withdrawing from methadone, I’m withdrawing from heroin’. Basically he will either give me a shot of morphine or he’ll give me a shot of methadone. So they always label me as drug dependent. Yeah, so I’m depending on drugs to get by.

Sophie says receiving inpatient psychiatric treatment for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia was ‘a very bad experience’.

[When I’d just had my baby, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia], and they put me in hospital for four months and I got out. And then six years later, I had some ice […] and that’s when I was seeing dead people […] walking around and I was really scared.


They put me in [a psychiatric ward]. It was a very bad experience […] I remember screaming and crying. They were [giving me] a lot of drugs, a lot of psych meds. I wasn’t allowed to have no visitors. I was isolated […I did] everything […] I could to get out of there […] I’m still on psych meds […Now] I won’t touch ice because I truly believe that’s [what] causes the hallucinations.

Sophie finds her psychiatric medication is expensive and wonders what she’ll do when she can no longer afford it.

[The mental health clinic] are supposed to be getting […] my [psychiatric] medicine organised […] I’m supposed to be picking [it] up for zero [… but] I’m paying six, seven dollars per prescription. I mean, it’s unbelievable. What happens if I don’t have the money to pick them up? Do I not take my medications? Do I start acting up again? […] If a person hasn’t got the money to pick up their medication, well, what are they to do?

Sophie is looking forward to her wedding and is optimistic about the future.

[I think my] future looks good. I mean, there’s my ring, we’re getting [married in a few months…] We’ve got our house back now, we’ve got the wedding coming up […] It’s only good, looking up, at the moment. Everything’s looking good at the moment. Mum’s a little bit ill […] So, yeah, I’m a little bit sad about that, because mum is my rock. [My partner’s] my rock as well, but mum, she’s always been there from the word go. So she’s my rock and if anything was to happen to her it would really, really get to me. But [otherwise] everything is looking good at the moment, and yeah, I’m hoping it’ll keep looking good [… What’s really important to me] is that my daughter finishes year 12. No one in my family has ever finished year 12. My daughter will be the first one […] I’m so proud.