You're a 'Junky'! IV Drug Use and Stigma

stigma heroin drugs

The word "junky" conjures such graphic images these days, some of which seem to be diametrically opposed; on the one hand, our society shuns the junky, labels him/her dysfunctional, socially inept, lazy, weak willed, a danger to society everything that’s wrong with this world.

Most people would shudder to think there is a junky living next store. At the very least they buy a beefed up security system to protect their precious belongs from us. Worse, they would call the police and have their junky neighbor arrested just as soon as they can conjure up a reason.

On the other hand, society also glamorizes the junky; the lone wolf, living on the fringe of society, dabbling with the dark and forbidden. An artist. A poet. A musician. We make exceptions for the musician junky for some reason. We want a voyeuristic peek into their lives -- the taboo underworld where most people dare not venture.

This article was first published on Heroin is My Heroin. You can read the original here.

Just the word junky brings powerful imagery to mind. Whether you think of the dirty street dweller, passed out in or near a dumpster with a tie still on his bloody arm and dirty needles scattered around, polluting the streets and making them unsafe for your children, or the dark and mysterious artist, quietly brooding as he lays next to a gorgeous blond in bed half naked, quietly searching for that vein, until a plume of blood fills the chamber and he’s finally able to achieve the solace, the ultimate escape the he longs for, hopefulness lost in the clutches of addiction.

Yet, for all the negative or taboo connotations, the word junky is still thrown around as “hip.” Heroin Chic is alive and kickin’ in the fashion industry. People jump at the chance to label themselves a food junkie or a film junkie, or whatever the fuck they want to call themselves. But not a drug junky. “No, no, that’s not what I meant. And CERTAINLY not a Heroin junky. God, what you think I am? A loser?”

What's even more disturbing to me is that I was on twitter and decided to look up #trackmarks. There were literally dozens of people showing off their blood giving needle pricks and saying things like: “OMG. Just what I wanted. To look like a heroin addict. Great.” First, you look nothing like a heroin addict. Track marks don’t mean one needle prick. Second, if you don’t want people to associate you with heroin and track marks, why are you posting pictures of your “track marks” for the world to see and talking about heroin?

People have many variations of what the word means and how they associate themselves with it. I’ve heard undeniable opiate addicts swear they aren’t junkies, because they don’t slam. Total bullshit. If you are addicted to opiates -- you’re a junky. If you’re constantly thinking about your next fix -- where is it going to come from? How will you pay for it? How you’re going to get it in you? -- don’t even bother to deny it. You’re a junky. Heroin addicts do not have the monopoly on the word. If you’re addicted to Vicodin, you’re a junky. And, in addition, you’re a stupid junky. Stop taking all the Tylenol. Heroin addicts, especially the ones that mainline, are simply the most efficient junkies.

But let’s look at the topic more subjectively. I decided to see what some of the more common or reputable dictionaries had to say on the matter. Here are a couple of the samplings:

Dictionary.com on the word Junky:

  1. Of the nature of junk; trashy
  2. Drug addict, junkie, addict, freak, nut

On the word Junkie (slightly different):

  1. A drug addict, especially one addicted to heroin.
  2. A person with an insatiable craving for something: a chocolate junkie.
  3. An enthusiastic follower; fan; devotee: a baseball junkie

Okay, that was a rather lenient definition. At least it’s void of prejudice.

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

  1. A person with a compulsive habit or obsessive dependency on something: power junkies, a drug addict.

Ah the good ‘ol OED. Like the English, it’s diplomacy reigns supreme.

But sadly this definitive source of the English language will no sooner change anyone’s personal beliefs on what a junky is than it will start injecting heroin on its own.

The Urban Dictionary. This is where you go when you want to find the real State of the Union, since it’s written For the People, By the People. What does the critical mass consider a junky?

  1.  A heroin addict, one that is, was and will always be. Before the crackheads and the crackwhores, way before the dexheads and the E-tards wasting his life away, for pure bliss and contentment.
  2. Someone who dabbles with illicit drugs.

Ha! I like the way they're thinking! Sure, I “dabble” with illicit drugs. How progressive, yet cavalier.

I looked up one more reference for the word junky. I searched for it under Google images. I found a variety of anorexic looking junky runway models, gaunt faced skeletons, “hip” street people passed out (OD maybe?) with ridiculous looking needles falling out of their limp hands (all staged of course) along with the term “heroin chic.” Oh, and I think I even saw Lindsay Lohan posing with a needle. No comment.

Now I don’t know about you… But in all my 35 years I’ve never seen a junky look anything remotely like those photographs. It’s like a caricature of a junky. Where did this concept come from? I’m not really sure. But the whole notion of anti-glamorization makes me nauseous. As does the naive and close minded notion that if you choose to IV drugs you will:

  1. be worthless to society
  2. most likely whore yourself eventually, and
  3. definitely die from it, soon.

“Of all society’s outcast, few are more reviled then those who inject narcotics, even among other drug users.”

For this reason I was a closet junky for many years. I never had the same intolerance for opiates or opiate addicts as my friends. So, I used in the closet for a long time. When I was finally exposed for what I really was … an IV heroin user, a drugged up junky. It was then I discovered just how deep the stigma ran. The black plaque of drug users. I’ve lost my best friends, friends I thought I’d have for life, simply because I inject. No other reason. Some told me to my face, gave me a “choice”-- their friendship or IV drugs. Some just stopped returning my phone calls. Some tried to help at first, but when I wasn’t receptive, silently slipped away. Luckily, my family have all stuck by me, allowing me to make my own decisions, no matter if it hurts them. They really are quite progressive that way. They practice true Mormon Christianity. I am extremely thankful to them for this.

IMHO, a junk habit is just that. It’s not glamorous, it’s not disgusting. It can have its draw backs. For me, it has some rewards. There are a lot of ex-junkies, people sober for weeks or for years, who say there are no real benefits, no true happiness comes from drugs of any sort. But I’m a drug user who has made the conscience decision to use drugs for the rest of my life, at least on some level (and reserve the right to change my mind). So at this point in time, I avoid the whole “complete sobriety is the only way to true happiness” argument. But I have experienced in my own life how unhappy drugs can make you as well.

At times, my life was the typical junky stereotype. I’ve lied, I’ve been fired, I’ve stolen, I’ve broken the hearts of those who meant the most to me. I’ve done terrible things for drugs. There are no directions on a ball of dope, or a bag of tweak that tell you how to fix your life if you become addicted. Your only hope is to catch yourself one day and realize that you aren’t different. Maybe you have a degree, maybe you make a few bucks, but in the end, we all have to deal with the same problems and are accountable for our own actions.

I choose to live a life “outside the law” because the government decided to make heroin illegal and can throw me in jail at any time. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve chosen to be a criminal in any other respect other than the buying and using of heroin and other drugs. Being a junky does not have to equate to a life of crime. Although for some it does, please, don’t judge us all that way. Our lives are hard enough. Inaccurate stigmas just makes it harder.

So, if you are a junky you have two choices. 1.) You can become the junky that society says you are and sink down to their level. 2.) You can be a safe, practice harm reduction and be respectful of others' beliefs, even if they conflict with yours. You might not change anyone’s mind, but maybe you will. It can’t hurt to try, right?

If you aren’t a junky, you have two choices too. You can … 1.) Keep perpetuating the negative stereotypes and hurtful stigmas.  Or, 2.) Be a little more open minded and consider that not all junkies are the same. Realize that IV drug use is just that, another way to use drugs and it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to ostracize someone. And maybe the next time you see someone’s track marks, rather than sneer and label them a pathetic junky, you could find out what that person is really like. I promise, we don’t have cooties and you can’t catch “junky”.