February 2018

Down a dark alley: A glimpse inside the world of injecting ice use

I was 14 years old the first time I injected ice. I came from a good family home, but I was an anxious young man deficient in self-esteem and confidence. Aged 13 my parents separated, and away from the bulwark of a rigid family structure, these deficiencies deteriorated into a dangerous self-loathing. Angry with the world and uncomfortable in my own skin, I sought solitude on the margins of society.

When I found ice, I was regularly wagging school and smoking pot. I decided to sell small amounts of the drug for an easy source of income. My pursuit for a supplier led me to a man known as Mado. He was a chronic ice user, and my drug-dealing venture prospered under his guidance. I visited his flat with increasing frequency, where he advertised to me the rush of injecting ice.

Injecting wasn’t new to me. I had injected opiates on a few occasions, the first of which was at a friend’s house, aged 13. He was three years older than me, and I knew him as a source of drugs. He offered me a shot of OxyContin, or hillbilly heroin, and I reluctantly accepted. There was a small crowd there, many of whom were injecting. I was afraid of the purported consequences, but I was curious and yearned for the sense of belonging neglected to many young men in today’s society.

I enjoyed opiates, but they didn’t fill the empty void in me hollowed out by self-hatred. I was eager to experience the rush of ice and I had means of access. Friends who had revived from a cruel path of ice dependency warned me against it, but that only piqued my curiosity. It seemed an exciting drug, but it wasn’t long before I discovered the true consequence of addiction.

Mado was reluctant to give me my first shot of ice. As I came to know, the subterranean world of drugs is ruled by a loose code of ethics and inexorable violations included dogging on someone (giving them up to the authorities); paedophilia; infecting someone with a blood-borne virus; and giving someone their first shot. I told Mado I had injected before, and he agreed to do me up.

Initially, I relied upon Mado and other acquaintances to inject me. Over time, my use increased in frequency and quantity and my appetite for the drug grew insatiable. I became reluctant to share, and decided to learn to inject myself. Initial attempts were unsuccessful: on one occasion I missed, injecting subcutaneously rather than intravenously; other times, I struggled to find a vein and butchered myself, poking the syringe through both walls of the vein. I’d watched others enough to understand the practicalities of injecting, but it was difficult to keep a steady hand.

My first successful self-injection was a Rubicon moment. My habit soon spiralled out of control, and the actual motions of injecting soon became equally addictive as the rush of the drug. In our argot, the syringe was known as a weapon, and I lusted to draw the plunger back and watch the blood creep up the barrel. I would practice on myself, shooting up all kind of drugs – Xanax, Ecstasy, other insoluble pills strained through a cigarette filter – in various veins around the body, just to satisfy the desire.

Usually, I obtained clean syringes from the local chemist. These were supplied in the form of a FitPack, which contained three one millilitre insulin syringes. One millilitre was known as 100 units, owing to the measurements on the side of the barrel. These measurements were used to determine the quality of ice; if you mixed a bag with 20 units of water, and it jumped to 40 units, you knew it was good gear.

You had two options when purchasing a FitPack: with diluted water and swabs for $7, or just syringes for $5. The cheaper option was almost always preferred. Several free syringes could be obtained from a Needle and Syringe Program in the city, but it was a 45-minute bus ride from my residence, and I seldom passed by. Mado was part of the needle exchange program, and often had a surplus of syringes he supplied me.

Reusing a dirty syringe was common practice in the drug world, but sharing needles was considered a major taboo. Nevertheless, it was prevalent. Whoever purchased the drugs was obliged to the first taste, and if those next in line weren’t in possession of a freshie, or clean syringe, they confronted the predicament of sharing a needle or going without. As governed by the code, only if someone had been diagnosed with a blood-borne virus would they refuse to share, or allow another user to precede them.

Admittedly, I partook in the malpractice of sharing needles on a number of occasions. It was usually a direct result of unpreparedness, insufficient money, or inaccessibility of available syringes at the irregular hours of my drug use. There was only one 24 hour chemist in the entire city, and it was an expensive taxi ride away. Fortunately, I avoided the indelible scourge of blood-borne virus, or other serious health concerns associated with injecting.

It wasn’t just injecting, or even the ice I was addicted to. It was the lifestyle. Life was an emotional rollercoaster, and getting on was more about the search for innovative ways to source a bucket and find some gear.

Tom de Souza

It wasn’t just injecting, or even the ice I was addicted to. It was the lifestyle. Life was an emotional rollercoaster, and getting on was more about the search for innovative ways to source a buck and find some gear. Actually injecting the drugs was a fleeting anti-climax, a breather at the finish line of a thrilling chase.

In our subterranean world, we reproduced the values we believed society neglected us. Our addictions socially outcast us, and out here on the fringes of society we were united by a fraternal dissidence, belonging, and acceptance. In their world we were scum, but here we could be respected, revered even.

One year after that first shot, I was using up to $400 of ice a day. Ice is a rampageous drug, and I would stay awake on ice binges for days, even weeks at a time. Sleep deprivation is the most dangerous side effect of ice and it was a torturous state of being, but highly sought after. The longer you stayed awake, the more strung out and twisted the high became.

I realised ice was affecting my mental health after a serious psychotic episode, but it didn’t concern me. It was nothing out of the ordinary. I had been awake for 12 days, and in 12 hours I’d eaten 40 Valium to try and soften the comedown. My body and mind shut down, the ice kept my eyelids open, and I became violently deluded. Arming myself with a meat cleaver, I sprinted up the street in search of an illusory figure. Eventually, I was apprehended by the police and taken to juvenile detention.

I was frequently in police custody, but it did not serve as the punishment or rehabilitation that is intended. Instead, prison was a stimulant to crime. Behind the barbed wire fence criminal behaviour was glorified, and a measure of quantifying qualities of respect and esteem. As per the criminal code, criminality often determined the social standing of prisoners. Dependent ice users were of lower status, their crimes often erratic and ill-considered.

On the street, I resorted to all kind of measures to fund my habit, but selling pot remained my primary occupation. Selling drugs was a much a social activity as it was a source of financial revenue. Often, 30-40 customers would visit in a day, and dealing was a pleasant antidote to the loneliness of drug addiction. When you had drugs, everyone was your mate.

It was only when ordered by the Court I began abstaining from drugs. I was to be sentenced for a long string of offences and given the option of jail time, or release to the care of my mother with the strict supervision of the Drug Court program. I opted for the latter. I was subjected to tri-weekly urinalysis tests but I wasn’t ready to quit, and delighted in cheating the system.

I continued using intermittently, making only mild progress on the lengthy road of rehabilitation. Change only happens when it’s inevitable, and only after a drastic series of events did I realise it was necessary to change my life if I wanted to live. After a relapse and consequent failed suicide attempt, my Drug Court order was breached and I was returned to prison. I was given an ultimate chance, and shortly after my release, my two closest friends were charged and convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

It took two years to get clean, but today, with the guidance of my immediate support network, I’ve been clean three years. I’m still confronted with the consequence of addiction on a daily basis. Repairing damaged relationships is an ongoing work in progress, but the most difficult part of rehabilitation is learning to live again. Drugs rob you of joy, and it has taken years of re-learning to appreciate the simple pleasures of life.

– Tom de Souza