What, exactly, is heroin?
Here’s the way one heroin addict described it in an online chat room sponsored by Experience Project:
“I call heroin the kiss of God because there is no feeling to describe it. It felt like me being lifted up to heaven, God gives me a kiss, then I gently come back to reality.”
Unfortunately for addicts, after being lifted up to heaven, they all find themselves in a living hell that is next to impossible to escape.
Heroin is an opiate and is highly addictive. It is produced from morphine, which comes from the seedpod of poppy plants.
When people introduce their bodies to heroin, enzymes convert the drug back into morphine, and it quickly binds to opioid receptors in the brain. According to Heroin.net, dopamine levels then go through the roof, as much as 10 times their normal level. The intensity of the resulting euphoria almost defies description.
Simply put, our bodies were never meant to feel this good. And once users experiences that kind of ecstasy, they’ll likely want to again. And again. And again.
Normal pleasures of life can’t compete. Literally nothing else compares. Consequently, nothing else matters.
An addict is born. And more and more are born each day.
According to crimemuseum.org, heroin abuse among first-time users has increased by nearly 60 percent in the past decade, from about 90,000 to 156,000 new users per year. And it’s not just a poor man’s drug. It’s becoming increasingly popular among the middle and upper class as well.
And the prospect of slowing it down, at least right now, is bleak.
“There’s seemingly no end,” said Bartlett Police Department Narcotics Detective Mike Christian. “It’s like the old saying of bailing the sea out with a spoon. It feels like that sometimes.”
Because of that, most of Christian’s efforts are spent working to remove the drug he hates the most from Bartlett’s streets.
“Heroin’s number one. I spend the majority of my time focusing on heroin. Not only because it’s so prevalent, but because of the damaging effect.”
Just what is the damaging effect? Let’s do the math. Rehabs.com estimates the heroin epidemic costs the U.S. almost $22 billion per year. Of that, roughly one quarter are law and criminal justice costs. Courts, and police officers, stay busy.
“These guys are going to steal. They’re going to break into your car. They’re going to break into your house,” Christian said. “There are guys here who work in Investigative Services that work primarily with thefts, anything from shoplifting to stealing a trailer out of your yard. And if you talk to them they would tell you the majority are heroin addicts, or some type of addict, and they are doing that to support it.”
Heroin costs a lot more than just money. In addition to the more than 11,000 lives lost each year from overdose and disease, rehabs.com is also quick to point out other devastating consequences of addiction. Heroin robs the addict of his or her health. Any hope of financial security — the average cost of heroin is $150 per day or nearly $55,000 per year — is gone. Most lose their jobs and careers, which further complicates any legal way of financing their addiction. The addict faces the likelihood of loss of freedom. Finally, and perhaps most devastating, is the loss of personal relationships with family, loved ones and friends.
Christian has seen it right here in Bartlett.
“I’ve seen the effects on the individual. They lose their jobs. They lose their families. A lot of them are homeless. A lot of them have kids they can’t possibly care for. It destroys their life.”
Most of these losses stem from the addict’s one overwhelming desire and purpose, the thing that drives whatever used to be important in their lives into a distant memory.
“Their whole purpose every day,” Christian said, “is how am I going to get heroin and what do I have to do to get it. I’ve seen girls go to prostitution. They steal from their families. They steal from their kids. Whatever they have to do to get that drug.”
Obviously these addicts aren’t growing their own poppies and making heroin in home laboratories. They buy it on the streets, and it’s everywhere.
“It’s so easy to get,” Christian said. “There are places in Memphis where I swear if I was in full uniform they’d sell it to me.”
Because of this availability, and because these dealers care only about making a profit and seem oblivious to the incalculable pain they are spreading with their poison, there’s no love lost between them and Christian.
“I put as many of these guys away that I can. I want them off the street. The whole idea is to make them stop. I want them to stop selling because it fuels a fire that’s already raging. And whatever I need to do to build a good case on these guys, and have them arrested, that’s what I do.”
The heroin epidemic is real. Christian’s passion is evident. And even though the enormity of what he’s up against can get him down sometimes, his motivation goes beyond what he’s already seen. What he doesn’t want to see also drives his passion.
“I get discouraged sometimes, sure, but I’ve always picked myself up, brushed myself off and jumped right back into the ring. I see my granddaughter, I see yours. And if we can knock some of these guys out of here, maybe they won’t have this problem.
“At the end of the day, if we can stem this tide just enough, then maybe our grandkids won’t have to grow up with this stuff.”
RICK JACOBS is an author, columnist, process server and family man who lives in Bartlett with his wife and grandchildren. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.