Is Heroin Making a Comeback in Canada?

06/04/2013 12:24 EDT | Updated 09/04/2013 05:12 EDT
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Heroin has recently claimed the lives of some unlikely victims in Toronto this year. My friend just died, apparently from snorting what couldn't have been a huge amount, on a rare occasion. From what I can tell, there has been a spike in opiate use in 2013, specifically smoked and snorted heroin in Parkdale and beyond.

When I first moved to Toronto in late '99, there were some junkie casualties littering the alleys and squats around Parkdale. Midday you'd find needles, foils, young and old wasted bodies lying almost dead. Coming out of the indie scene of the early '90s, I've seen heroin at work amongst both the poor and hopeless but also within insular, privileged communities. Its operative properties of extreme emotional euphoria coupled with a comfortably numb bodily state are attractive and addictive to a spectrum of individuals.

Dr. Gabor Maté of Vancouver's drug-plagued East Side says that addiction is mainly an apparatus of childhood trauma. While that is certainly the main cause in most substance addiction cases I've seen with heroin and its pill form substitutes like Oxy, Dilaudid and Morphine -- drugs can attract and take hold of almost anyone. It's insidiously slow-acting but eventually all-consuming behaviour can take hold of anybody from prescribed patients to those with a curiosity for the occasional expanded state of mind.

My friend's father with eroded spinal discs was prescribed Oxycontin at 300mg/day to combat the intense pain, but he eventually became so immune to the drug that he was forced to find the majority of his dosage on the street, at inflated prices he could barely afford.

A millionaire artist I know mucked his knee up, was prescribed Percoset and then Oxy, and has gone on to foster an opiate habit which makes most people's habits look like dabbling. At one time I was forced to travel a lot for business, and back then I had an irrational but very physical fear of flying. I'd get so stressed during flights I asked my doctor for some anti-anxiety meds. He prescribed Valium. They gave me a funny metal taste in my mouth and I had adverse reactions to it, so I started self-medicating with 80 mg Oxy pills, combined with the free airplane booze this was a sure-fire knock-out recipe.

But this wasn't my first dance with the devil. When I was young, maybe five or six, my parents left me alone for only a minute while the neighbour and babysitter walked over. In that minute I locked the front door on the sitter, who cried herself to sleep on our stoop, and went right for the medicine cabinet. I made a stew of cough syrups, antihistamines and head pills, gulped some back and passed out under my crib to be found by my frantic parents hours later. Why did I do that? I think I was always a shit disturber, but I also had fond memories of the euphoric tablespoons of late '70s early '80s cough meds doled out by mom when I'd stay home sick.

Later in the mid-'90s I saw a lot of heroin death and disturbance among the punk rock squatters, the arts community as well as the indie rock scene in Hamilton. I think the world over had a surge of new heroin use and some places -- Dublin comes to mind -- still reel from it.

But as time passed and the drug once again became extremely taboo, mostly due to its bad PR with guys like Cobain, its use was demoted back to street-level junkies and some super privy upscale users with deep contacts in that murky world of Persian brown and Triad white. For infrequent dabblers it was a rare treat to have someone randomly treat you to a blast. But then came Oxy.

Sometime in the early 2000s I became aware of pills like Percocet and Oxycontin. They started popping up more and more in recreational use amongst the downtown party crowd. Seems these pills had been around for ages, but were finally coming into their own. There were lots of cocaine users sprouting up daily who would use Oxy to come down at the end of the night. Amazingly I didn't hear of many people who had deadly reactions to this speedball concoction. Until recently. .

Last year in Canada, the crushable, snortable, injectable Oxy pills were outlawed and a new gelatin-based non-crushable, non-snortable, non-injectable form was issued. The old reserves were depleted almost immediately and the new pills are undesirable on the black market. What replaced the old Oxy was an abundant amount of relatively pure street smack available through willing younger dealers at a low price per dose ratio. A certain hip element once again sought out the charms of the beige dust, as did a bunch of middle America. New York is said to be replete with glassine envelopes and Jersey is messy.

Interesting timing, but that doesn't lessen the impact when it hits so close to home. I could get all conspiratorial but the cause is less relevant than the fact that it's here -- it's back in a big way. It's crossed boundaries and entered a system ripe for its abuse, and we've seen that a small taste can kill in some unexpected instances.

I don't think the Dandy Warhols will save us this time, the only visible means to effectively address it is to explore the void that creates demand for it. Australian street kids are known to shoot any and everything. Some Natives in Nova Scotia huff gasoline. Where does the propensity to knowingly consume a deadly substance in pursuit of release from a harsh reality stem? You don't have to look long at the world around as according to the news networks to see the answer. It's like we dance with the devil in secret hope that one day he'll dance us away from this mayhem.