Brianna Parkins: I loved him. He loved heroin

As Princess Diana said, there were three of us in the relationship – a bit crowded

‘Finally he told me about the whole doing-a-bit-of-heroin thing. It forced me to grow up on the spot’

‘Finally he told me about the whole doing-a-bit-of-heroin thing. It forced me to grow up on the spot’

 

Two separate but linked events have made me break the golden rule of maintaining happiness – that is, not reading the comments sections under articles.

In the space of a few days news broke that Ireland’s first supervised intravenous drug injecting centre had had its development approval knocked back by Dublin City Council and that new drug laws were announced favouring rehabilitation over prosecution for personal use.

There wasn’t much variation in the comments generally: one said drug users don’t deserve any tax money, another that drug overdoses are Darwinism in action. “If they overdose then good riddance,” said one woman. Hard-core approach there from a woman with babies dressed as sunflowers as her profile photo.

She wasn’t alone. There was a clear line between us and “them”, those who deserve help and those who don’t.

It made me examine my own previously black and white attitudes to drug use. 

I didn’t see the embarrassingly obvious drug habit

My first love triangle was a painful one. It was a simple variation in the age-old dilemma; I loved him. He loved heroin. As Princess Diana said “there were three of us in the marriage so it was a bit crowded”.

I was in my late teens, faffing around on an arts degree at Sydney University and folding clothes I couldn’t afford at the local shopping mall.

Aside from the small issue of drug dependency, he was an ideal boyfriend. He would drop me off by midnight, cook, was nice to his mum. When I wanted to drop out of college, he encouraged me to stay while I did assignments in his car between work. He worked two jobs to take me out to dinner. My parents loved him. I learned how to love another human in a safe space.

But then came the odd disappearances. Hours in silence. Weird friends turning up. At that stage in my life I considered a West Coast Cooler a bit too hard-core without it being watered down so I didn’t see the embarrassingly obvious drug habit.

‘Doing a bit of heroin’

Then something happened at a party that nearly killed him. It was short, violent and caused an almighty mess in a stranger’s bathroom. The police were called. People were unsure if he’d pull through. But he did.

Finally he told me about the whole doing-a-bit-of-heroin thing. I remember sitting in his room which still had posters of his childhood footy team up, realising that we weren’t going to stay together after all. There would be no getting out of Western Sydney, no house by the beach, no matching tattoos (the only silver lining.)

It forced me to grow up on the spot. It was a grim graduation ceremony.

My firm position was there will always be drug users and there will always be deaths regardless

For many of the girls I grew up with, having a boyfriend with a drug habit is a right of passage. Like going through a horse phase or growing a fringe. It just happened in my area. Or you dated a drug dealer.

I watched the best and brightest kids I know become low-level dealers because that was the only outlet that seemed available to them. If they had gone to a good school, been encouraged into university or had the social connections to investors, they would be running start-ups. Instead they settled for petty conquests of Nissan skylines, short jail sentences and custody battles over kids.

When I covered the story of the Merchants Quay supervised injecting facility awaiting council approval, my personal history coloured my opinions of it. We had one in Sydney for 10 years. There were fewer needles on the street. But when a member of my family died from heroin-related causes, it didn’t save him. My firm position was there will always be drug users and there will always be deaths regardless.

Then I interviewed Merchants Quay’s Derek Parker and Dublin City Councillor Cieran Perry. Despite their polar opposite views on injecting rooms, they shared an underlying empathy for drug users.

Both came at the same problem with the same motivation. Both thought their solution would be the most kind and effective. Both seemed motivated by the desire to help. Both agreed on the dire need for increased spaces in treatment facilities.

Drug addiction is a sickness. No one starts using serious drugs because they’ve had a happy life

Perry was worried the injecting facility would distract funding for beds, while Parker pressed the need to keep people alive until they get into treatment. Ultimately they were on the same side – Dublin has a drug problem and drug users need treatment.

The real aggression towards users was in the comment sections. It’s in the Facebook comments under articles and in retweets. Back in Australia I watched right-wing media personalities take harsh stands on drug users. It earns ratings being the tough man unafraid to say it like it is, you see.

Drug addiction is a sickness. No one starts using serious drugs because they’ve had a happy life. If you’ve been able to go through life without being exposed to addiction or lost a loved one to it, you’ve won the lottery. I walked around angry at the users in my life for years. Bitterly holding on to thoughts like “it’s a choice” or “they just need to get their shit together”.

Those thoughts are incorrect. Worse – they’re unhelpful. I have two people in my life who are battling addiction successfully. It’s a game of snakes and ladders, and it’s taken a few goes to get here but they’re flying it now. If the Facebook commenters had their way, we should have given up on them after their first hit.

I live in the Merchants Quay district of Dublin, the ground zero of the drug debate. Chatting to an elderly neighbour, I asked her what she thought of that proposed centre. “The addicts are already here. All we can change is how we treat them.”

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