Preferred Name: Zadie
Zadie works in the health sector. She lives with her mother and has a child. At the time of the interview she’d recently begun a new relationship. She describes her ethnic background as ‘Anglo-Scottish’: she was born in Australia, as were her parents.
During her teens and twenties, Zadie says she took heroin ‘here and there’, as well as cannabis, LSD, speed, cocaine, and ecstasy. During periods of more frequent heroin use, she says she developed ‘small dependencies’, feeling that she physically needed it ‘to function’. On these occasions she would do a home detox and have opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (buprenorphine) for a short time to reduce her heroin consumption. She stopped taking any drugs throughout her pregnancy and her child’s infancy, and now takes various ‘party drugs’ at special events, and heroin every six weeks. She plans to continue ‘experimenting’ with drugs in the future.
In her late teens Zadie says she experienced a few ‘small dependencies’ on heroin when she was taking it more frequently. Having ‘a pretty short patience’ for going ‘on a mission’ to get heroin, and not wanting to feel like she ‘physically need[ed]’ heroin ‘to function’, she’d detox at home with the help of her ‘open-minded and supportive’ friends and family.
In her early twenties she moved overseas to live and work. She began taking heroin more regularly after she ‘fell in love with somebody’ who also had a ‘taste’ for it. She says she started having ‘flu-like’ symptoms when she didn’t have heroin, and found it ‘hard to manage’ financially despite earning a good income. Being away from her ‘support network’, and unable to stop work while detoxing, Zadie consulted a doctor about her heroin use and was prescribed opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (buprenorphine). She took the buprenorphine for two weeks and reduced her heroin use.
Over the next few years Zadie continued to travel around the world, working, going to festivals, and taking various ‘party drugs’, including cocaine, ecstasy and LSD, alongside heroin. In her mid-twenties when she discovered she was pregnant, she stopped taking any drugs. Several years after her child was born, she resumed occasional consumption of ‘party drugs’ and heroin when her child was staying with their father.
Now in her early thirties Zadie feels she has more ‘responsibilities’ and is no longer as ‘free’ to take drugs. However, she sees drug use as supporting her ‘physical and mental health’ and a crucial part of her ‘self-care’. She periodically takes various drugs with friends at social events and takes heroin once every six weeks, following a ‘fine-tuned’ plan for spacing out her drug use so that she can have a ‘fun time’ without it affecting her ‘work’ or ‘life’. In the future she plans to ‘build a little house’ in the country, ‘travel more’ and spend time with her child. She also intends to ‘experiment’ with drugs into her ‘twilight years’.
Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) stopped drinking and taking drugs while she was pregnant and breastfeeding. (Played by an actor)
I wasn’t using opiates at that point […] It was more like going to parties and doing coke and maybe a few ecstasy tabs and a bit of acid (LSD). So it was just parties, dancing and drugs like that. So as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I just stopped doing drugs. That wasn’t hard, because I wasn’t having a physical dependence on anything. So I stopped drinking and smoking drugs, and I kept that up. I breastfed for two years, so all up that was nearly three years of not drinking, smoking or doing any drugs. And, you know, once I weaned my daughter I started having a go at things again.
Zadie consciously ‘works on’ her mental health by dedicating time for it and setting personal goals. (Played by an actor)
I know that heartbreak can be a risk for me choosing to self-medicate [with heroin] so I need to throw myself at something else. So I picked up some hobbies, which was new for me, because I’ve never really prioritised that. I’ve always felt, I suppose maybe that it’s a little bit selfish to do something just for me, that I should be putting everything into the family, my children […] and I just went, ‘No actually, I need to do something for myself, and I know I’m at risk of potentially going down that road of self-medicating again, so I really need to do this for my mental health’, and I did and it worked.
I did a lot of work on my mental health, but again, I did it by myself. I read books, I came up with strategies, I kind of pinpointed people in my life that seemed to have really great mental health, and tried to figure out what and how and why they’ve got there, and I really dedicated a lot of time to it. You know, I came up with all sorts of strategies, and set little goals for myself […] You know, kind of put down on paper what kind of person I wanted to be, and I just worked out ways to get there, and it took maybe three years, but I got there, and I’ve been there ever since.
For Zadie family and friends are a valuable ‘support network’ on which she relies for her well-being. (Played by an actor) (Note: strong language)
I’ve always had amazing, amazing people in my life and lots of them. So that’s always been a really, really, really massive support structure […] I look at say, some of my family members that haven’t ever found their people or that big support structure. And I think, ‘Fuck, couldn’t imagine life without it’ […] because I’ve always had people that I can be open with and talk to. And [who are] supportive and inspiring and all of that. So that’s huge […] I know who I can go to. And this is probably why I’ve never accessed [alcohol and other drug] services, because I’ve got a support network and I’ve got great people I can talk to.
Zadie has experienced stigma and discrimination related to her drug use, and now challenges those who express negative attitudes towards people who take drugs. (Played by an actor)
On [the] one hand, I do experience that stigma, but I’m thick-skinned so it’s water off a duck’s back to me. But then, on the other hand, people [who] know me know that I’m extremely together: I’m articulate, I’m really motivated, I’m organised, I achieve what I want to achieve. They know that I’m like that so […] a lot of those people think that [my] drug use is in the past and I’ve come good now […] or they think I stopped doing drugs, you know. And it’s like, ‘God, little do you know, I’m actually doing what I always did’.
You know, it’s possible that you can be completely together and happy, and a great parent, and have a good life, and a job, and all of those things, and inject heroin […] Recently, I’ve just decided to just take the crusade of [ending] stigma and discrimination into my own personal life. I just start challenging people and going ‘No’, especially my friends that do coke and somehow think that it’s cool to do coke, but you’re a scum to do heroin. I hated that attitude my whole life. Drugs are drugs. Each to their own.
Zadie (F, 33, works in the health sector, heroin) describes a distressing experience of stigma in the health system, and highlights the need for stigma and discrimination training as a core part of workforce training in the alcohol and other drug sector. (Played by an actor) (Note: strong language)
I’ve overdosed quite a number of times, actually, and one time it was so bad that I was in intensive care for two weeks. Actually, when I came in, apparently I was dead for about eight minutes. You know, all the Narcan [naloxone: used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose] they gave me didn’t bring me around. I was unconscious and I came to in the hospital […] I became conscious but I couldn’t move a muscle […] I could feel pain but I couldn’t move, and I could hear what the doctors and the paramedics were saying about me [which was] just really derogatory, you know: ‘Stupid fucking junkie, get them all the time’. It upsets me even thinking about it [crying]. They were being very, very rough with my body. There was no care.
The whole time I was in there […] they treated me like shit […] I mean there’s clearly such a high level of stigma and discrimination, and misunderstanding of drug users and drug use, and they’re professionals […] I think there needs to be much more training for healthcare professionals.