On Heroin and Its Discontents

I was best friend to a junky once.

Actually, I was his only friend. I was the only social interaction in his life that was not for 1.) acquiring money for heroin or 2.) acquiring said heroin.

He was in his early 20s at the time. He had come to Amsterdam for a Stag Party weekend. Just a normal English guy with a normal family and a normal job.

Late at night, late into the weekend, somebody offered him some heroin at a party. Already drunk, he tried it, and he got hooked. He never made it back to England with his mates.

Being a junky is expensive. He was spending 100 Euros per day on heroin.

At first, he did black market construction work with a crew of Irish gypsies. When they realized he was an addict, they locked him in a hotel room to sober him up.

Breaking off heroin can be quite messy. They took his clothes and his wallet and kept watch 24/7. He said they were the nicest people he ever met.

He escaped the gypsy intervention by jumping out the hotel window. He caught a train back to Amsterdam in his underwear with no wallet, ID, money, nothing.

He was a nice guy. He could have been your next door neighbor.

When I first met him, he said he’d lost his wallet. He asked for a couple of bucks to use the payphone. He seemed more like “tourist having a bad day” than “heroin junky”.

We’d run into each and other now and then. It didn’t take long to figure out he was homeless and addicted.

He gave me a guided tour of street life. He’d walk up to a house, pull out a couple of lose bricks and grab some cash. He’d walk laps through tourist areas waiting for buzzed visitors to drop cash or trinkets he could sell.

His hustles got worse and worse. The last time I saw him, he had a backpack full of stolen rum and cola cans. He would sell those to Turkish night shop owners at half price.

People tried to help him. His Dad bought him a plane ticket home, but he cashed it in for heroin. I offered to help him once, but he said he didn’t want to quit. He liked it.

I’ve never forgotten that. How could you like being a junky?

Russell Brand is an actor and comedian who was married to the singer Katy Perry. He also used to be hooked on heroin.

Brand says that what heroin offers is meaning. When you’re addicted to heroin, your life has one single, crystal clear purpose: get more heroin.

Man would rather live a life of poisonous purpose than empty luxury.

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There’s a heroin epidemic in America as well. From coast to coast, in every walk of life, the country is full of heroin and pill junkies. The numbers are staggering: 50,000 Americans die from drug overdose every year. That’s more than from guns and car crashes.

People are just now opening their eyes to this tragedy. So far, there have been a few political proposals to address this: task forces, programs and that sort of thing.

But you can’t have a material solution to a spiritual problem. Cure the cause, and not the symptoms. The core question is — if drugs give addicts meaning…

Then why does modern life feel meaningless?