Saturday, 30 June 2007

Chapter 17 - Needle Exchange in paradise

"The dose makes the poison."


May 1997

I had come to the coast to get away from the heroin but I found myself working in a needle exchange. To say I found myself there is a bit of a cop out, I mean I didn’t have to take the job, I knew what it would be like, somewhere deep down inside of me I wanted to inject drugs, heroin and speed, it was like I was programmed for addiction.

The exchange was the product of the aids epidemic. It was an extension of the harm minimisation process and they were usually staffed by current and former injecting drug users. They supplied clean injecting equipment, condoms, lubricants and advice on safe sex and drug use. They knew me from the work I had done years before in Brisbane raising the profile of steroid abuse.

The GAIN crew were an interesting bunch. There was Estelle the obese administrator, Bob the gay manager, Mary the hep c girl, me anabolic steroid project officer, and Ralph (on’ the done’) the client service manager.

Upstairs were the officers and downstairs was the smoking room and stock room filled with syringes. The staff spent most of their time chatting and smoking cigarettes.

“I cant believe the rough trade that boy brings home, he’s such a slut!” Bob threw his hands in the air, and Mary shrugged her shoulders.

“Oh morning sweety, have a late night did we?” Bob, tilts his head and wags his finger at me.

“Well I did actually, didn’t fuckin sleep at all.”

“Whats up partying too much?”

“Just hangin out, you know the drill.”

“When are you going to learn boy, that shit aint no good for you.”

“Should get on to this wicked go-ee I just scored. Its from Sydney, non of this Queensland slo-ee bulshit, this stuff really fuckin rocks.” Bob was of the opinion that speed in Queensland was of a very poor quality compared to Sydney.

That afternoon Bob and I had a taste together. Once the other staff had left for the day and the place was locked.

The local residents were constantly lobbying the local government to close it down. It was located at the rear of a local shopping centre and was a beacon for junkies.

On a fairly regular basis users would OD in the local toilets, soiling their trousers in the process. Only to be discovered by irate local business owners or bemused tourists.

I hadn’t been able to get a job, and had not really tried since I finished University. But the part time position at GAIN (Gold Coast Aids and Injectors Network), was a welcome change. I got a call on my birthday, while stoned on smack with Darren and Sharon offering me the job. I was elated.

They always say that you should look for work in your area of interest. For me that area happened to be drugs. With my experience as a bodybuilder and current and former steroid user I was perfect for the role. So I was employed as the Anabolic Steroid Project Officer.

This was a part time position that was created in response to the increasing numbers of people visiting the exchange who identified steroids as the drug they were injecting. I had been and still did use anabolic steroids. In the past I had been fanatical about my training, but these days I took a more moderate approach.

I had moved to the coast to get away from heroin now I found myself surrounded by it again. I had reduced my consumption to once a week or so but every time I went to work I was confronted by drug paraphernalia and the expectant look in the eyes of those who came in to get fit packs.

It seemed to me a funny contradiction. Steroids to make me strong, potent and energised and heroin to make me mellow, calm and at peace.

When you go to a needle exchange they ask you a couple of questions. What drug you will be using, age and postcode. The people behind the counter look at you knowingly

Peter was a client at the Needle Exchange where I worked. That’s how we had met. Peter used to come in and get fit packs. The local exchange served as a kind of meeting place for junkies.

Peter used to get prescribed testosterone for a medical condition, never did tell what it was. He would sell me a couple of vials of Sustanon 250 for $30 and he was also able to score smack for me.

One day while waiting to score Peter asked me, “Why do use heroin, I mean, you are healthy, smart, fit and educated it doesn’t make sense. You know for me its obvious I mean my life is fucked, I got no prospects, but you got a lot goin for ya.”

“I don’t know, I just enjoy it I guess… and at the moment I am a bit lost….

I thought to myself for a moment, yeh I do have a lot, but I still want to use. The question made me think and it made him feel unsure. Why was I here and why did I use heroin? Its just a game I thought, life is just a game.

Peter lived above the Gold Coast Hotel at Burleigh. A run down old pub with a few rooms upstairs. It was a grimy old place right on the main drag as you go through Burleigh. He paid $100 a week for a small motel style room, with bed, TV and bathroom. Which didn’t leave him with much money to live on.

I caught the bus down from Southport and every stop seemed an eternity. The trip took about 45 minutes, stopping for the hordes of shoppers, tourists and fresh faced school kids. As the bus pulled in to Burliegh Heads, I jumped off and headed up to see my old mate, Peter.

While waiting for the dealer to show, we watched Bert Newton crap on about some new cook book. After a few minutes he came back and informed me that his dealer would be there in about half an hour, it was time to play, “the waiting game.”

Peter showed me a picture of an asian women in his wallet, it was his ex-girlfriend he told me. He hoped to get back with her, his eyes became misty and he stared into space for a moment.

The interminable waiting, it hurt, each moment I waited my stomach churned. The excitement would build from the moment I thought about scoring, the peak of this excitement was when the smack had arrived and we were mixing up. The rush was so great but so brief and then the come down, a crashing emptiness washes over you life hurts and you feel empty. I was always trying to get just that bit more of a hit, to get that feeling of peace.

Eventually the smack turned up and the procedure started. We bought a quarter between us, but Peter was senior junkie, he was still on methadone and thus had a much higher tolerance. Lucky for me or else we might both be dead.

Once the drugs arrived it was action stations, fit packs appeared, swabs, sterile water and spoons, the tools of the trade. They always show junkies using tourniquets in the movies, but I didn’t need one my veins stood out like so many rivers on my muscular arms, neither did Peter.

Once the shit was mixed it was time to fire up. I injected my hit and wow what a rush, that warm golden feeling streaming through my body. And then the next thing I knew I was looking down upon myself from up in the corner of the room.

I could see myself slumped in the chair and Peter learning towards me like he was about to kiss me. It was like I was watching myself on TV, I was interested in what was going on, but disconnected from the emotion of the event.

Floating upward, I was rising up through the ceiling and it was as though I had x-ray vision, because as I floated into the roof and outside up into the sky, I could still see myself slumped in the chair, Peter’s face pressed against mine. Drifting further I could see Burleigh far below, the beach and Gold Coast stretching out before me. Rising ever upward and further away I can no longer see myself Burleigh is like a Lego village far below, I am being drawn to the light, and I feel at peace.

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