Rules of Survival: Intravenous Drug Safety
Quitting heroin, especially after prolonged use, could very well be the hardest thing you'll ever have to do. Society realises that it's an evil drug that takes over not only your life, but your family's and close friend's lives as well. Chronic addiction to any substance is most certainly a disease, and anyone who says otherwise still has the preconceived notion that the addict must remain locked in a shed until cured of his or her ills. Try doing that with a cancer patient.
Heroin addiction destroys, maims and tortures everything and everyone around it, while slowly, joyously, executing your soul, piece by sorrowful piece. No one enters an addiction deliberately, yet junkies from every walk of life are still treated like scum of the Earth, rather than with a progressive and holistic harm minimisation approach.
The drug has always been very easy to get a hold of (for a minor, it's easier than buying cigarettes) and is to this day so prevalent on our streets, that it must be considered as a deadly worldwide scourge. Rehabilitation facilities are perpetually at maximum capacity, while police lock-ups and privatised prisons remain bursting at the seams with addicts who, by no means, will ever be cured from their addictions, due to the current ignorant drug legislations of the majority of the world. Because of this, police resources are pushed beyond breaking point, emergency worker's safety is under constant threat, and the stress on the families involved has taken its toll. It's a snowball effect that shows no sign of evaporating anytime soon. However, if heroin addicts take responsibility for their own health and well-being, at least that's a proactive start to solving this costly issue.
Though still extremely dangerous, if used properly, heroin need not be so harmful. The basic problem with all drug use is that human psychological functions tend to cater to base urges, rather than common sense and instinct. We are a hedonistic lot; this is the very behaviour that always seems to get in the way of a drug user's safety. What's most detrimental to an addict's health is what the drug is cut with. In the case of heroin; battery acid, laundry powder, glass, bleach, talcum powder and even Panadol make up the majority of the illegal opiate compound. Ironically, it's the very legal and accessible Panadol that causes the most amount of liver and kidney damage in the least amount of time compared to the other additives. Just ask your liver.
It's the unpredictable composition of what lays in street heroin that makes it so dangerous. There is no quality control in the illegal drug trade, or if there is, it doesn't exist for our benefit. Like any other industry, legitimate or otherwise, it's all about the big bucks.
Rule #1: If it can be helped, do not buy from the street.
Street level heroin is cut to within an inch of its life. The quality is always bad, and more often than not, the deal will be undersized. The risk is ever-present of potentially being ripped off by the street dealer, who may not be selling you heroin at all, but a highly potent cocktail of other medications and chemicals. Remember, street dealers are generally junkies too. They are just as scammy, sneaky and desperate as any other junky, and will do just about anything to keep their habits going. On the street, in heroin hotspots, it's every person for themselves. Most people you see will also be users and are all trying to get their hit before you. You will be done over as soon as they see a weakness.
Masses of heroin addicts exposed to a daily street ritual are a magnet for police activity. Use for long enough, and they will catch up with you too. Cops on foot patrol are easy to avoid; they are usually low-level lackeys with little experience and a uniform that sticks out like dog's balls. If you play it smart, they provide no threat.
But none of that matters, because it's the undercover officers that will eventually nab you. Back in the day, an undercover was easy to spot; big, muscly, ridiculously clean-cut and with nice clothes. That ain't no junky. These days it's a different matter; the police are becoming just as sneaky as the junkies and dealers themselves. Undercover officers are now almost impossible to pick apart from users, as they often adopt a street look of torn clothes, hoodies, scruffy features, and even pale and drawn faces. Depending on the population culture, the police will usually racially profile a particular hotspot and implement a squad of the race that holds the majority on the street. In Melbourne, it was the now disbanded Asian Squad. Squad members would pose as dealers and users and parade up and down the street pretending to be looking for a hit until they nab someone doing just that. If you are busted scoring, it's you they will arrest, not the dealer. Guaranteed.
Rule #2: If the street is your only option, remain vigilant.
Unless you've already established a decent connection, it's difficult to avoid the street when you're new on the scene. Risks must be taken, so it's important to remain as inconspicuous and efficient as possible. Do not wear a hoodie or brightly coloured clothes; that's a dead giveaway. The hiding in plain view philosophy must be adopted here; show your face, appear purposeful, walk a full block rather than pacing back and forth searching for a dealer, have your cash exact-changed, folded and ready to go in your sleeve or an easily accessible pocket, and buy some small items from a couple of the local shops first. That way, if you are being watched, you've displayed an alternate agenda quite clearly. To make it seem like I was on a bit of a checklist mission, I used to duck into a cellphone shop to pick up some free pamphlets, a supermarket to buy water, and a greengrocer for some fruit. It was frustrating to have to waste my time, but well worth the extra ten minutes to throw the police off my trail. They are not going to keep wasting their time on you once you've entered a shop for a few minutes.
Without looking obvious, assess the surrounding situation before buying from the street. Are there any uniforms on foot patrol, hiding in laneways or around the corner? Is there anyone watching the street from a rooftop across the road or with a clear view of the hotspot? Undercovers often pose as construction workers, so check that scene out too. Are there any groups of people hanging around for no apparent reason? Assess the traffic. Are there any marked police cars on the road, or unmarked, late model cars with more than one antenna? Is there more than one person in the car, and what do they look like? If unfortunately you do end up using for long enough, in time, you will learn to assess the situation within seconds.
Don't take your phone or wallet with you onto the street, just the exact cash you need. Street dealers do not, and will not, give change, and more importantly, there is always a very good chance of being robbed in hotspot areas. In order to obtain your dealer's cell number quickly and efficiently, memorise it. If memory is not your friend, have a piece of paper and a pen stashed in your pocket and ready to go; old school. Do everything quickly and efficiently, without panic. This way, the next time you need your fix, you can pre-arrange a rendezvous point that's well away from the danger zone. The better acquainted you are with each other, the bigger and better quality your deal will be, and you'll be well off the radar of any type of law enforcement.
Do not pick up your needles from any needle exchange or pharmacy in or around the hotspot. Those once very cheap and useful facilities are now watched by police who relish in their authorisation to search you once you've left the premises. If you're thinking of picking up your needles from the exchange before you score, don't. By law, that now displays enough intent to at least have you searched, detained, questioned and booted out of the area. For me, buying needles beforehand was a jinx anyway; nothing good ever came from it.
Rule #3: Mix up with an OCD approach.
With a minimal amount of preparation, injecting can be completely pain free and your health and safety can be maximised.
On a clean, stable surface, lay out the items that you will be using to mix up with. If you are unfamiliar with the product you have just bought, or you have a relatively low opiate tolerance, only put a small percentage of the deal in the spoon. Remember, it's much better to have two holes in your arm and be alive, than one hole and be a corpse. With a fresh syringe, draw the amount of distilled water that's suitable for you. Again, if you are unfamiliar with the product, use a larger amount of water for dilution purposes. Gently squirt the water into the spoon, saturating the amount of gear you intend to use. If the mixture dissolves immediately, then that's a sure sign that you've got yourself some strong dope. Be careful. Occasionally, if I wasn't sure of my deal's potency, I would inject half the amount first, wait for thirty seconds and, with the needle still in my arm, inject the rest if all felt good. As long as you err on the side of caution, use whatever method works best for you.
Carefully place the cap back onto the syringe and gently slide out the plunger. With the plunger's rubber nub end, carefully crush the remaining gear in the spoon until it is fully dissolved. Remove any excess that might be clinging to the rubber and replace the plunger. Now take a small piece of cotton wool and place it into the spoon with your dissolved mix. This will act as a very necessary filter when you draw in the mix. Do not use a cigarette filter, they contain fibreglass and will contaminate your hit and ultimately, your bloodstream. Draw the solution through the cotton wool until it is completely evaporated from the spoon; don't worry, you won't filter out any of the good stuff, just the horrible gritty stuff you wouldn't want in your arm anyway. It's only necessary to flame heat the solution if the gear you have is a black tar, which unheated, can gum up your veins; a most unpleasant sensation. With any other form of heroin, flaming is completely unnecessary.
Holding the syringe at eye level and in the vertical position, slowly push the plunger until the solution reaches the point of the needle and slightly bubbles. This minuscule amount of lost gear far outweighs the other option, death by air bubble. Firmly flick the casing, as a nurse or doctor might, until all air pockets in the syringe have been expelled. This will be very easy to determine and should be completed with the maximum of ease.
With a fresh medicated swab, thoroughly sterilise the area you intend to inject. Do not inject multiple times into the same section of vein for too long; doing so will result in collapsed veins. Alternate between mainlines regularly, or use leg, ankle, wrist, or if you can stomach it, neck veins. Doing this will also reduce the chance of obvious track marks and permanent scarring.
If you need a tourniquet, use one. If not, pump up the intended vein until it is as prominent and primed as possible. An overly active and healthy vein means easier access, a faster delivery to the system, and a premium rush. Make sure there is another small piece of cotton wool close by.
With the angled side of the needlepoint facing up, slowly push the needle into the chunkiest part of the vein. Don't go too deep, or you'll end up pushing through the vein completely. It hurts. To make sure that you have hit the vein properly, very slightly pull back on the plunger until you draw blood. If there is no blood present, you have missed the vein and will have to try another spot. Injecting into an area outside of the vein is not only a waste of a good rush (you'll still feel the full effect of the gear, but it will come on very slowly), but it also leaves a hard, lumpy air pocket under the skin where you've injected. The lump will eventually deflate, but it can be fucking painful!
Now that you've drawn some blood, push down on the plunger until all that you intend is in your system. Gently pull the needle out and very quickly replace it with the piece of cotton wool. Press down firmly until the area stops bleeding. Do not use a medicated or alcohol swab for this as chemicals may enter your bloodstream through the punctured wound. Discard everything safely to remove the temptation to re-use the same equipment. All fit packs should come with an appropriate syringe disposal container so please discard them properly. All needle exchanges and many public toilets are fitted with a syringe bin. Don't jeopardise the public's health and safety by thoughtlessly throwing your needles directly into a rubbish bin or worse, onto the street.
If you feel like you have injected too much, whatever you do, do not lie down. Do your utmost to remain upright; put on some music and walk around the house singing to keep yourself alert and awake. If you need to throw up, then let it ride. It's better to waste a hit than die. If you feel you need the paramedics, then call for one. They won't judge you, and will help you to the best of their abilities, provided you don't resist. Just do as they instruct, and please do not become angry or violent with them for harshing your buzz. They really don't get paid enough to put up with that bullshit, and besides, they've just saved your life.
Rule #4: Inject safely; there's no excuse not to.
Safe injecting is of the utmost importance for ensuring your health and prolonging your life enough to avail you of the option to quit. Avoiding safe injecting practices can not only result in the spread of disease, but it can also cause blood poisoning, collapsed veins, overdose, liver, kidney or heart failure, blocked arteries due to excess trapped air pockets, or more presently, missing out on your rush altogether.
It's just so ridiculously easy to organise yourself into a safe injecting ritual; there really is no excuse not to do so. I understand the laziness and also the urgency of wanting to use as quickly as possible, and I also understand the ease in which a collection of used needles can build up at home or in the car. Every user goes for the quick needle at some stage, but if you do, just remember that doing so can be extremely dangerous. Syringes are designed to blunt after the very first use; there's a reason the seal has single use only stamped on it. A blunt needle always means slower access to the vein, and a much more painful and detrimental hit. It means a weakened pinpoint of accuracy, and worst of all, it means that you are putting an unsterilised and deteriorating piece of metal straight into your bloodstream. Sure, you'll still get a high, but that's no good to you if there's toxicity present in your system. Once you come down, you'll feel weak, apathetic, have blurred vision, a severe headache and no appetite. This will continue until the intrusive element is flushed from your system.
Free needle exchanges are everywhere, in and out of hotspots. Or, for five dollars or less, most pharmacies will sell you a fit pack or, at the very least, a single syringe. There are homeless shelters and mission houses that can provide free, clean needles and swabs in bulk, while most major cities have collectives that can be phoned for a pre-arranged rendezvous. Prostitutes' Collectives in various forms exist all across the globe, and offer free syringes, swabs, distilled water and spoons in bulk. You don't need to be an actual prostitute to use this free service, just pretend that you are one.
Always use distilled water and plastic spoons. Tap water can contain chemicals such as fluoride, chlorine, arsenic and pesticides, as well as excess grit and rust. Any of these elements in the bloodstream may result in blood poisoning, toxic shock, hospitalisation, or even death. You do not want this stuff in your system.
Stainless steel and silver spoons are obviously made from metal. The deteriorating particles may not be visible to the naked eye, but metals in common household cutlery break down with every use. Always use plastic spoons that should be provided in your fit pack. I can't reiterate this enough; you do not want any foreign objects in your blood stream.
That's it; four simple, common sense rules to follow, that will keep you out of legal trouble, prevent you from being ripped off, help you achieve your buzz, and keep you in some degree of health. I have only learnt these vital steps through years of trial and error, sometimes to my own severe detriment. If you're a rookie especially, I urge you to take heed.
At least then, you might stand half a chance of survival against these vile drugs.