I hate when a famous junkie dies and we get empty gestures like, “We just lost a legend the likes of which we will never see again.” Why not say, “That cute English girl who became the personification of a walking mess took the whole thing too far and apparently OD’d on a cocktail of cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, and ketamine”? When celebrity roast-master Greg Giraldo died, all the Tweets were along the order of, “Greg was and will always be a legend RIP.” Nobody said, “Greg Giraldo just OD’d on Xanax and booze at the age of 44,” because that would be rude. Xanax is a heavy downer and when mixed with alcohol it can easily induce a coma, as it did with Greg. That side of the story is a little more important than remembering what a great guy he was, because it can save lives. Junkies aren’t as concerned about honoring the dead. I knew junkies in Vancouver who, upon hearing someone OD’d, would scramble for the phone trying to find out who the guy’s dealer was because if people are overdosing, it must be some good shit.
Heroin addiction isn’t a disease, as Russell Brand so despondently put it. It’s an indulgence—like obesity, but in reverse. Russell says we need to stop treating junkies like criminals and treat them “as sick people in need of care.” But England already treats them like sick people, with little success. In Scotland, that approach has fallen flat on its face like a junkie on the nod.
Drug addicts don’t need kid gloves. They need an iron fist. I know this because I’ve watched a dozen heroin addicts die over the years, and the ones who survived always say the same thing: “I can’t believe you didn’t just punch me in the face.”
If you know a drug addict, there will be that moment when they say they’ll call you back and then they don’t. Then you call them, but there’s no answer. What do you do? I’ll tell you what you do: nothing. If you charge over there and kick their door down to make sure they’re OK, you will have tagged yourself as a mark. The junkie then knows you can be relied on to help him get out of trouble, AKA loan him money. They will lie to your face and steal from you like common politicians because the drug has taken over their brain like a parasite. I’ve known junkies who committed crimes even when they knew they were going to get caught because, as one put it, “I didn’t care. I was so junk-sick, all I cared about was getting money to get high right now. What happened ten minutes later was totally irrelevant.” What happened ten minutes later? He went to jail.
“José” is out of jail now and looks back on old New York as a place totally out of control. “I gotta admit,” he told me in an interview a few years ago, “Giuliani did a good job cleaning this place up.” José comes from a New York where people would line up around the block to get high. He was a dealer and would literally get tendonitis handing out bags to the lineup through a small hole in the door. He and his fellow dealers had a “money room” back at home where twenty-dollar bills were piled from floor to ceiling. Eventually, he turned from getting high on his own supply to robbing former clients. He ended up in jail, where he was ultimately cured.
That’s what junkies need—a severe kick in the ass from a corrupt prison guard, not hugs and flattery. The more honest we are to drug addicts, the less often they’ll die. Here’s a helpful secret: If you see a junkie who’s about to OD, pick him up and walk him around the block a few times. Holding sleep at bay by keeping his blood flowing is a huge pain in the Grim Reaper’s ass. Here’s another: If you know someone who just got clean, don’t let him drink. They think they have everything under control. Then they have a beer. Then they have four or five more. Then someone has smack and they figure they can get away with just one bump (a booger-sized chunk sniffed off a house key). Their brain remembers doing five gigantic bumps back in the day, but their body can now only handle half a bump. So one big bump kills him. This is the message that has to get out to the masses, not cheap platitudes.
A couple of years ago my band was looking for a new guitarist. We found a guy and a week later he was found dead. I wrote about him being the 12th person I’ve known to OD on heroin. His mother saw the article and told me to remove him from the list. “He’s gone now and nothing can change that,” she said in an email, “and it breaks my heart to see his name there.” I respected her wishes but I didn’t tell her his name had been there for a reason. It wasn’t to sell Internet ads or make me look cool. It was to say, “This isn’t coke or pot or mushrooms or acid, you guys, this is one of those Russian-roulette drugs where people die.” Heroin addicts and their close friend Death thrive on ambiguity. They love it when people don’t tell it like it is and focus on the good stuff, like all the great art they make. That doesn’t do anyone any good. Like most things, the best way to handle a drug problem is to be balls-out honest about it. Don’t loan them money and don’t put up with their bullshit. When they lie to you, slam the door in their face. When they die, tell everyone exactly how they died so others will be less inclined to try it.
No matter what you do, the junkies you know will either OD or hit rock-bottom so hard they almost die and get scared straight. That is a heroin addict’s only future. Pampering them only delays the inevitable.
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