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what it's like - testimony from drug users

 


In researching "Drug Wars" FRONTLINE reporters interviewed many individuals whose lives--or the lives of family members-- had been adversely affected by drug abuse. Here are excerpts from their stories.
Lee:

I started out going to cop in a three-piece suit. The first time I went to cop I had a suit on. And it was this little door where you put the money in and you get the stuff through the peep hole. They opened the door, they couldn't believe I wasn't a cop or something and they put a bowl in my face, and a rock, and said smoke this. So I always wore the suit after that, figuring I'd get a free hit. But now five years later I walk into the building and the guy says, I remember you, you used to be fly, you used to come in in suits. Now look at you . . . .

People don't become addicts because they get up one day and say, well, it's Tuesday, I think I'll go out and destroy my life. Drugs deliver something at first, but here's how it works. Here's normal, [gestures] which you're not happy with. So you take a drug, and you're up here. [gestures higher] It delivers, and then you're back to normal. But since you've been here, it feels like this. [gestures lower] So now you take another little more to get you back to the same spot, and that curve becomes lower and lower, until you find yourself putting all that energy just to feel all right. In the early days we thought crack was not addictive, "Gee, I can get high, and then I can get up and go to work the next day." We thought people were getting rich on it. It let people without a lot of money be players. In a lot of ways, that first few years, or half year, it was a good time. There was money flowing around the streets. One day a brother would come draped in gold, and he's got cars and shoe boxes full of money. For awhile, it felt like that. Then it became something very, very ugly. And I think my own, I think everybody's individual experiences are like that. It was paradise for awhile, and then it became very very ugly, and part of that ugliness is knowing you can be arrested, and another part of that ugliness is desperation to get more, and part of that ugliness is when you start taking stuff of your house and selling it. . . . My personal bottom was when I ran off with a close friend's bank card, and didn't come back until I'd taken $5,000 out of the account. I had never done this. I had gone through 12 years of getting high without crossing that line, and that was my line. And then I went and sought help, and it wasn't easy to get, but that's almost a good thing. Because you want it as bad as you wanted those drugs. And I know when I wanted to get high, I didn't stop. So when I wanted to get clean--and I think that's another part of education, is what the person--not that the city is going to be waiting for you when you're ready to be clean, to let you know that, listen pal, you gotta chase that like you do crack. That's the honest truth.

Nancy:

To me, a drug is a drug, no matter what. . . . I started off with marijuana and just graduated. To me marijuana is the door that opens a lot of things. It's what you start with. . . . And I started smoking crack because I loved cocaine that much. And it was just the next thing to coke. But I lost everything. . . . I used to leave my kids in the apartment. And to me it was just that same day, [but it] was three days later. I lost my kids, my apartment, my self-esteem. And hurt the people that I loved.

A s time went on, I just hit rock bottom, and that was it. . . . The last time I got arrested, which was the second time, the judge told me if he sees me here one more time in his courtroom that he was going to send me to Rykers. . . . I went to [a rehab center] and they didn't want to keep me there because when they gave me a blood test they didn't find no drugs because I already had stopped for a couple of weeks. I wasn't using crack. But they wouldn't keep me there. And I raised hell and I started screaming and crying, telling them don't tell me I'm not an addict, I know I'm an addict. And I knew that if I didn't stay there and get the help that I needed mentally, that I was going to go back out. Because what my blood said and what my body and my mind said was different. I needed another hit. So they kept me. And I stood there for seven days. And that's when they started bringing the message of NA. And I went with it. But what I really went with was just that I was tired. And I knew that if I didn't do what I had to do I was going to die, and I was going to die in the streets. You know, because crack and any drug that I used was making me do things that I would never done if I was sober. . . . if I was still out there I would have been gotten high with my kids. And that's the bottom line. Because that's where it puts you and that's where it takes you. . . .

Inez:

Yeah, my first daughter was born in '93. . . . I had my [period], so I didn't know I was pregnant till my fifth month. And then when I did find out, I kept telling myself, you know, I saw what was happening to everybody else, and everybody else's children, and I kept saying well, I'm going to stop, I'm going to stop, but every day I'd wake up and it began all over again. It was really ugly. And I had this baby, and I got found out. Because for years I was an addict, but nobody really cared and it didn't really bother nobody because I didn't have no baby. But now I had this baby, so I lied, I lied to my husband, everybody wanted to know why the baby only weighed three pounds. I smoked cigarettes. You know, all kind of excuses, a lot of denial and a lot of guilt. And a lot of pain too. And finally the truth came out, she was born positive tox, and you know, I had this "crack baby."

I kept her for the first three months, with the stipulation that I go to a day program, but I couldn't do that either. I'd go to the program, I'd come out the program, I'd get high. And I knew this [social] worker was going to come to my house and knock on my door and take this baby out my house. I kept telling myself I'm a good mother, because I love this child, I love this baby, but I just couldn't stop getting high. And one day, knock, knock, knock, and here she came with the police. And she took the baby . . . .

Jose:

On November 25th, 1978, my daughter was born. I gave out quarter bags stamped "It's A Girl." Instead of giving out cigars I gave out quarter bags of heroin. It's a girl. It was the first time I ever sniffed heroin and I liked it. It made my body warm, it made me feel like a king. I was on top of the world and I could conquer the world, and there it goes. My whole lifestyle just went down the drain from that first bag of heroin that I sniffed on November 25th, 1987. And that's my daughter's birthday coming up now, she'll be 21 years old.

Gilbert:

My love affair started in the early '80s with powdered cocaine. I was a New York City police officer. And I ended up sniffing anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a week. This behavior subsequently caused me to lose my marbles. I was subsequently tried and convicted of a couple of felonies. I was stealing money and drugs while I was an undercover . . . . In 1987 I tried the treatment process. I went to a 30-day residential program, was discharged upon completion, was promptly rearrested that exact same day. I then went to another program in 1988. And I remained--I can't even say sober, I [abstained] for about a month, then I relapsed. Initially there was actually a moral issue with me. Here I am arresting people, going to trial for doing the very same thing that I was. Was it a moral dilemma for me? It was, but then you start to use and it becomes a non-issue. Because you rationalize. I said well, this is a chess game, and the idea is always to be move or two ahead of everybody else. So I resolved that issue simply by not dwelling on it, by making believe that it wasn't there when it actually was.

Lisa:

I grew up in a crack house. The entire building was a crack building. They sold crack, they used crack, they killed people. I would have to say out of all my brothers and sisters, I'm the only one who is not an addict of any sort of drug, thank God. And I lost most of my brothers and sisters to that drug and a lot of them were young...

Even though I myself never took crack, I lived with it around, so I felt it as just as bad as I was taking it. And I felt my teachers, my friends, other parents labeled me, like they would tell my friends from school, don't hang out with that girl because her family are crack addicts, they are junkies, they are this. . . . So, I hardly ever went to school. I had to do what I had to do to survive. And unfortunately, if you live in a home where people are involved in crack, you basically would cheat, lie, steal, whatever it is for them, so they can let you live and | have another plate of food in front of you.

My mom was on welfare. She's been on welfare all her life and unfortunately, my brothers would go to the point, they selling drugs to get crack. They sell crack to smoke their own crack and they will go to the point to steal my mother's food stamps to get more crack. I've seen people die in front of me just because you didn't come up with the right amount of money or you tried to give them an imitation or it didn't nothing for him, it doesn't get him high enough. . . .

I've seen my brother, not only was he on crack, but he was a junkie. He was on heroin, so I seen him shoot up in front of me to the point that he would like pass out and I would have to take him to the hospital. My mother felt at that point there was nothing she could do, so she just like gave up on everybody and basically to the point that she died. And I had no one else to turn to, I had to struggle with my brothers. If he said go and sell this, I would go sell that. If he said, cut this much coke up for me so I can make crack, I would go do that. If he said go outside and watch who's outside, I would do that. It was a constant battle for me. It was like living in World War II probably and just not knowing like if I feel asleep today, am I going to wake up. People that are on crack, they have a very hyper and unrational temper. If my brother felt that he put this on the table, a simple thing as a pen on the table, and it was missing and no one else was around and I was around, I would get hit. And I don't mean hit like smack or go to your room, I mean like a hammer to my head or throwing a pair or scissors at me. . . . So it wasn't a home, period. It was just four walls with drugs in them.

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