Have you ever wondered why people take heroin? You’ve had it drummed into you that it’s instantly addictive, will kill you within minutes and that you’ll end up selling your children to pay for it. Except that if it kills you so quickly how come you’ll be addicted to it?

And knowing all that, why do people take it? Is it really true that a couple of puffs of weed or a snort of coke and you’ll be searching around for heroin in under a week? Maybe you smoke, that kills you, just more slowly than heroin right?

Well I’m that guy who never even puffed a cigarette. I’ve smoked a couple of cigars, have a normal relationship with alcohol and have never partaken of any other recreational pharmaceutical.

But I have spent a weekend on heroin.

I did it the safe, middle class way. I was recovering from elective key hole surgery and, in the UK at least, “Diamorphine” is a recognised post-operative analgesic. From the “Book of Knowledge” Wikipedia page for heroin:

When used in medicine it is typically used to treat severe pain, such as that resulting from a heart attack or a severe injury. The name “heroin” is only used when being discussed in its illegal form.

When it is used in a medical environment, it is referred to as Diamorphine. The white crystalline form considered “pure heroin” is usually the hydrochloride salt, diacetylmorphine hydrochloride.

My severe pain was from the equivalent of being stabbed five times in the abdomen. Admittedly by a careful surgeon, but the result is rather similar to a bar fight.

So it’s safe to say I got the real thing. I did notice, however, instead of putting it into my intravenous line, the nurses insisted on rolling me over and sticking it in my gluteus maximus muscle; my bum. That seemed a bit odd when there was an open line in my wrist (I’ll explain at the end what I missed out on).

Cut to the chase: people take heroin because it is like a holiday from reality. Once the stuff is working in your blood you just can’t care about anything. If your life is really down the tubes, heroin will whisk you away to another place, where the air is clear and the scenery serene.

I was being given it for totally normal but massive, postoperative pain in my abdomen. Despite the heroin, I can still remember exactly how much pain there was and which movements would make it worse. If I sat up or twisted from one side to another it caused a huge spike in pain. The kind of pain you feel in every nerve of your body yet you know exactly where it’s coming from.

What the heroin did was make me not give a damn. I just couldn’t care less about the pain. I knew all about it, it wasn’t masked or dulled or diminished. It just didn’t matter.

Only after experiencing this did I begin to understand the film Trainspotting. Only after this did I understand how someone could ignore a child’s screams till it starved to death. I watched a favourite TV show but felt nothing. I just couldn’t care about what I saw.

And then, after around two days, I started calling the nurses before the four hours since the last fix. I had to ask them when I would get my next shot. Within a few hours of doing this my anaesthesiologist came to see me, wrote something on my chart and the shots stopped. From then on it was two lousy pills of Codeine. This was like being downgraded from first class to economy. I was furious.

I called Dr Drugs back and demanded I switch back to the good stuff. He smiled and told me as soon as I had asked for it, I couldn’t have any more.

But I can tell you this: as expensive as you think heroin is, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than a weekend in Eilat. And if you really want to “clear your head” and forget about your worries and your strife, it’s not bare necessities you need. Nothing makes you forget every single problem you have like this stuff.

I’m not getting involved in the legislative arguments but I do believe we should talk about the real reasons people take drugs. I’ve never seen opiates (like heroin) explained properly. It’s my opinion that dishonesty is not helpful.

Finally by not getting an intravenous injection I’m told I missed out on or got a highly toned down version of a very pleasurable but transient sensation. This is certainly part of the drug’s addictive lure but long term addicts are much more interested in the oblivion that follows the rush at the start.

Usual caveats….. don’t do drugs. Unless a pretty nurse is sticking them to you in a hospital OK?

UPDATE: Since receiving some comments and emails I want to elaborate some points that perhaps don’t come through with my slightly British sense of humour.

Heroin is not like a weekend holiday. Heroin is a way of distracting (completely) oneself from life. I was making a flippant comparison for those with disposable incomes that stretch to expensive holidays.

I’ve seen much written about heroin by writers who don’t seem to understand the enormous power of forgetting ones life and falling into oblivion: to concentrate on the transient high is to utterly miss the point.

Heroin is not given medically to elderly patients or people with respiratory weakness. It will kill them. It is difficult to dose correctly and will suppress breathing, including fatally, if a patient is not monitored closely.

And that’s the pure stuff: I shudder to imagine what you’d get buying it on the street. Needless to say for all these reasons it really is as bad as you think it is: but I hope you understand why some still do it.

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