Adventures Too Close To Home
Adventures Too Close To Home (For Comfort)
I first took heroin around the age of 18. You couldn’t really avoid it. It was all over the local scene like a rash! Professional junkies kept it in the headlines! Smack was all around & love was nowhere to be seen . . .
My unpopulist-combo-of-the-time, The Suspects, had been rehearsing at an undisclosed rural location somewhere in the Midlands. I’d snorted my debut line of golden brown . . . then ridden pillion for 10-miles or so on the back of a Honda 400/4. By the time we arrived at our local boozer, it only took a matter of minutes for me to redecorate the pub’s toilets with the kind of bile-based lime-wash commonly found on the walls of your average Victorian tenement slum. I’d heard smack could make you puke . . . but I’d never expected the Spanish Inquisition.
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as . . . ”
Nasal dalliances soon became intravenous fishing trips, as my junk buddies & I slowly (but surely) pushed the boat out further into heroin harbour, gently increasing the pressure on the tourniquet as we rowed. What began as a ‘little something for the weekend, sir?’ soon became a weekday pursuit to boot. We’d share a gram between four of us every other day or so . . . & play Backgammon relentlessly, smoking Red Leb furiously in tandem. It sure beat the fuck out of Dodos (a powerful amphetamine based cold cure of the day) & badly stamped on speed.
As we bummed, networked & generally practiced hanging around in the vague hope of scoring, we tended to spend a fair amount of time around older, more cynical junkies. Their enthusiasm to ‘cut out the middle man’ was inspiring, & soon certain members of our entourage took to liberating DDA cabinets from unsuspecting chemists.
Our subsequent drug parties were legendary, mainly because that’s exactly what they were: mountains of pure amphetamine being chopped into hundreds of massive lines by some dozy bint kneeling on a giant mirror that had been unscrewed from the wall, partygoers vindictively traipsing through the carefully measured lines out of spite! Revellers jauntily swigging from bottles of linctus, crushing little pink dikes (Dicanol) into piles of chalky pink powder destined to compromise the arterial efficiency of many present. Puke-athons by the fishpond: slicks of recently traumatised stomach contents stained the lily pads indelibly. It was like a first aid post on the Somme: in every nook & cranny, someone was cowering, gingerly poking about for a vein.
During my time, I often witnessed the frustration collapsed veins can cause. The sight of a junk buddy desperately stabbing their body like a voodoo doll, intent on spilling a little claret back into the barrel & flushing, was one of the most disturbing experiences of my entire life. No names, no pack drill . . . by the time you have been reduced to sticking a shared needle into your penis . . . or worse . . . you know it’s time to get down to your local GP for an informal chat about registering on the RDA & copping a few bottles of Methadone. Overdoses weren’t uncommon, either . . . often with oblivious parents watching TV downstairs whilst their beloved offspring were turning blue a matter of feet above their heads!
At my zenith, I was fixing up twice a day . . . maybe an 1/8th of a gram at a time! No Malcolm Owen, for sure . . . but not exactly innocent, either. The last time I actually wacked up, there was a film of dried washing up liquid - or something - on the spoon I cooked up with, & within a matter of minutes I was experiencing the other side of the smack coin: red & orange & blue & green, I can puke a rainbow, puke a rainbow . . . I’d never been so ill in my life. I could feel a supremely evil presence in the room. It felt as if I was being dragged off the bed by Lucifer himself. He had me by the ankles. He wasn’t letting go. I was asleep, but awake at the same time. Feverish. Sweating buckets. Trapped in the half-light betwixt unconsciousness & consciousness, desperate to call out . . . but unable to force a sound from my constricted throat. My girlfriend at the time tended to my furrowed brow, & eventually stuck me in the car & drove me down to Casualty, who duly refused to treat me, explaining that it was a self-inflicted condition, & that they took a dim view of heroin abuse. I was sent away with a flea in my ear & the telephone number of the Samaritans. I can’t remember much of my one interface with the Samaritans . . . but then again, I was off my head. Whatever they said must have had some effect, however, as I never shot smack again (OK, so there were a few dragons chased, & some more nasal abuse . . . but basically my romance with opiates was well & truly over at the age of 22).
The reason I’m telling you all this is not to prove my mettle as a copper-bottomed, Doherty-style, pseudo-rebel, you understand . . . but to illustrate just how easy it is to contract Hep C! They call Hep C the silent killer because by the time you’ve been diagnosed, it’s usually already too late! Luckily, in my case, I’ve always been a totally hopeless pisshead too! Bad times? Nah, it’s something I’m actually now very thankful for! After all, if I hadn’t had severe issues with alcohol, I may never have been diagnosed as relatively early as I have. Good times.
Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, the first thing to say is: I’m Not Here To Preach! Honestly, I’ve never looked good in a pulpit, & I’m buggered if I’m going to start now. My story is here & it’s real. It’s up to you if you can take anything from it . . . I don’t want to tell anybody how to live their lives.
The second thing I’d like to say is: for those of you about to shoot up . . . here’s some pertinent information!
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that can seriously damage the liver and affect its ability to function correctly. It is mainly spread through contact with the blood of a person who is infected. Less commonly it can also be passed on via other body fluids. You cannot catch it through everyday contact such as holding hands, hugging, kissing or through sharing toilets, crockery or kitchen utensils.
- In England, the number of people with chronic (long-term) hepatitis C infection is estimated to be around 200,000.
- Most people with hepatitis C do not realise they have the virus because it can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear.
- Around one in four people with hepatitis C will get rid of the virus naturally. The remainder will develop chronic infection. Many people with chronic hepatitis C infection will live out a normal lifespan. About one in five of people with chronic infection will eventually develop severe liver damage (cirrhosis), which can lead to liver cancer or liver failure and the need for liver transplantation.
- Hepatitis C is not just a disease contracted by people who inject drugs. Anyone whose blood has come into contact with the blood of someone infected with the hepatitis C virus, could be at risk. There are other ways that the virus can be transmitted (See How to avoid hepatitis C for more information).
- Hepatitis C can be successfully treated - effective drug treatments are available (See treatment for more information).
What are the symptoms?
Most people do not experience any symptoms when they become infected. Some people may feel briefly unwell and in rare cases may become jaundiced (yellowing of the skin and eyes). Many people with chronic hepatitis C infection will have no symptoms, while others will feel unwell in varying degrees.
How to avoid hepatitis C:
There is no vaccine to protect against hepatitis C, but there are a number of things that can be done to avoid being infected with the virus.
To make sure you don't put yourself or others at risk, follow the advice below:
- Don't start injecting drugs.
- Stop injecting drugs if you possibly can.
- If you're unable to stop injecting drugs, then never share drug-injecting equipment. Only use your own equipment and do not pass it on to others. This includes needles, syringes or anything else that might have been contaminated with blood.
- Avoid helping new users to start injecting.
- Talk to FRANK for confidential drugs information and advice 24 hours a day - 0800 776600.
- If you don't know someone's sexual history, use a condom. Only condoms provide 'all-in-one' protection against pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- If you are considering having body piercing, ear piercing, a tattoo, semi-permanent make-up or acupuncture, whether in this country or abroad, make sure that any equipment used is sterile.
- Avoid sharing toiletry equipment such as razors, toothbrushes or tweezers as they may have been contaminated with blood, for example due to bleeding gums or a cut from a razor.
- If you are planning on travelling abroad, all of the precautions above still apply. In addition:
- If you are visiting developing countries and may require medical or dental treatment, try to ensure that any equipment used is sterile. Other sensible precautions are:
- If you are going to an area where the availability of sterile needles and syringes for medical treatment is in doubt, consider taking a special kit with you.
- If you need a blood transfusion, ask for blood that has been screened for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
- Pack an adequate supply of condoms, if you think you may need them when travelling, as they might not be easily available or of good quality in some countries. Those bought in the UK should carry the British Standards Kite mark or the European Standard bullet mark. If you drink, remember that alcohol can make it easier to forget about safer sex.
- If you are planning to inject drugs while you are abroad, eliminate risk by taking your own needles and other equipment with you.
- For further information, visit:
Are you at risk from hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is spread mainly through direct contact with the blood of an infected person. Currently, the greatest risk of acquiring hepatitis C infection in this country is through sharing blood contaminated needles and drug injecting equipment. If you have EVER shared equipment for injecting drugs - even if it was a long time ago, and even if you only did it once or twice - you could be at risk from hepatitis C!
However, there are other ways in which you could have been put at risk of contracting the virus:
- If you received a blood transfusion before September 1991, or blood products (such as clotting factors) before 1986, you may be at risk from hepatitis C. For example, if you had an operation prior to 1991 you may have received blood. Nowadays, all blood and blood products are screened for viruses such as hepatitis C.
Less common ways in which hepatitis C can be passed on are:
- From infected mother to baby, before or during birth.
- Unprotected sex with someone who has the virus.
- Medical and dental treatment abroad where un-sterile equipment may be used.
- Tattooing, ear or body piercing or acupuncture with un-sterile equipment.
- Sharing razors or toothbrushes or other toiletry equipment which may have been contaminated with infected blood.
If you think you may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus in any of these ways, ask you GP for advice on whether you should be tested.
Increasingly effective treatments for hepatitis C are available. A form of drug therapy is available that can clear the virus in more than half of those treated. The two main drugs used for treatment of hepatitis C are called Pegylated Interferon and Ribavirin. You will either receive Pegylated Interferon alone, or the two drugs together.
Treatment usually lasts for six or twelve months.
Your specialist will discuss with you what treatment is available and assess whether it is appropriate for you. Treatment is usually offered to people with moderate to severe liver damage.
What are the side effects?
The drugs used to treat hepatitis C can have a number of side effects that can be significant, although these may not affect everyone in the same way or to the same degree.
The most common side effects are flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches, aches and pains, and decreased appetite. Other side effects may include nausea, anaemia, depression, and itching and skin rashes.
The side effects are usually worse at the beginning of the treatment, and then as your body becomes used to the drugs, they should become less severe.
Treatment may be contra-indicated for some patients, including those with certain pre-existing medical conditions and pregnant women.
If you are offered treatment your specialist will be able to provide more information and explanation.
Jean Encoule – tMx 30 – 07/07
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