Addiction: 'I go to my chemist at 9am every day to pick up some heroin'

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The Independent Online

Most people will be unaware that there are about 300 addicts in Britain who are getting heroin on the NHS.

I know this because for the past 15 years I have received a daily supply of pure pharmaceutical heroin, together with sterile water and injecting equipment from my local pharmacy. I am now 44, and have remained generally stable, healthy, and in work in my chosen profession for the greater part of this period.

I was a child of the Seventies and drugs were seen as a rite of passage. I smoked pot at 12 and took acid at 14. By the time I moved south to attend university at 18, cocaine was starting to become readily available. When I met a dealer who also sold heroin, I didn't hesitate to try it.

I pursued a fulfilling career in marketing-related jobs, until leaving London to take a better job - arriving in perfect time to dive head-first into the drug-saturated madness of the acid house scene. Scoring E [ecstasy], I re-encountered heroin and relapsed into a higher level of dependence.

At the time I was married, earning £30,000 plus bonuses and car. But heroin began to eat up my salary. From using £20 a day, I rapidly "progressed" to burning all my salary and more. My wife and young child watched in horror as the stranger in their house slipped out of reach of their love. Like every precious relationship, I reached the point at which normal daily life lies on the scales: again the brown powder tipped the balance.

I would arrive at work at 9am and by 11am, leave to score heroin. Inevitably, my job quickly went the way of my marriage.

My parents tried to help me. I went through countless detox programmes, but relapsed almost immediately.

I received counselling from doctors and clinical analysts, attended Narcotics Anonymous, and worked my way up the list of increasingly powerful substitute drugs doctors could prescribe.

Then about 15 years ago I attended a clinic in my region of England, where I was approved for a prescription of daily injectable heroin.

Since then, I have attended a specialist addiction clinic, run by NHS doctors, nurses and support staff. Every fortnight I attend a half-hour appointment to establish that I am still alive, still in need of their services, and relatively sane.

A 14-day script is sent to my chemist, where my medication awaits me each morning. I go there at 9am and pick up five ampoules of diamorphine heroin. It is prepared as a freeze-dried white powder which I dissolve in sterile water and inject five times a day.

During the past 15 years I have stayed in employment, with short breaks between jobs.

One would expect the clinic to also help me when and if I decide to come off my prescription. In practice, there is little they can offer, at least in respect of physically detoxifying me from the high dose of opiates I receive.

The purposes of intravenous heroin maintenance are supposed to be to protect my health from the ravages of abscesses, thromboses, and infections such as HIV that impure gear and shared needles can cause.

There is also the "big idea", namely that a clean, legal drug supply frees the addict to pursue a normal life. Look closer, though, and one sees it's a very limited kind of freedom. I am not free to live outside the catchment area of my clinic.

David Clarke is not the author's real name

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