Scripping Drugs in Sixties London
I first used Heroin in 1963, I was 18 years old I had previously used hashish and amphetamine and was interested in all drugs. I had read Cocteau, De Quincy, Kerouac and Boroughs and was ready to try new experiences. I met a junkie called Gaoler and after much persuasion he agreed to share his ‘scrip’.
My first hit was speedball, a mixture of heroin and cocaine. I injected it mainline. It was amazing I had the strongest high ever. I was not hooked but from then on until I was 21 I regularly fixed mixtures of heroin and cocaine. I spent an entire weekend holed up in a bedsit off Westbourne Grove shooting up heroin and a large amount of cocaine.
On Monday I went in to work as a driver delivering 35mm movies to ship’s cinemas. Towards the end of the day I began to swell up, I got fatter and fatter. I felt rough but if it had not been for the swelling I doubt I would have taken my girlfriends advice and gone to casualty. I was admitted and treated with Piriton, an anti allergy remedy. I was discharged after a week; from then on I was allergic to cocaine. It probably saved my life.
Although I was unwell for the next year I continued to use heroin but switched to Methedrine as the speed component in my high.
All of the drugs I used were obtained legally on doctor’s prescription from a clutch of chemists around London. There was Boots at Piccadilly, Blisses in Kilburn, John Bell & Croyden in Wigmore St and a few others. Very few chemists stocked these drugs and so over time I ran into most junkies who were ‘scripping’. It was a small world. There were the medical personnel for whom proximity and ready supply overcame scruples. Ex military and sailors who started raiding field kits or who had smoked opium on tours. Fools like myself on a false pilgrimage for self-exploration or simply to indulge personal hedonism. Also a few ‘tourists’ from countries with harsher drug regimes. There seemed to be very few routes into this closed scene which was almost entirely separate from the growing hippy cannabis and acid scene . A camaraderie existed and we would gossip and discuss which Doctors were cool and which were severe. It was possible to boost a loan if one overused and ran out before the next ‘scrip’ became due.
The drugs were of course pure, British Pharmaceutical or BP. The heroin came by the grain (which is about one sixteenth of a gram), consisting of six tiny tablets called jacks, which perhaps gave rise to the expression ‘To jack-up’. On private prescription it cost One and tuppence a grain the cheapest hit in town. Half a jack was as much as a non-user could stomach. The cocaine was a shining white powder a bit like crushed mothballs. Fresh syringes and needles came with every ‘scrip’. There was very little re-use. I met many people from taxi drivers to set-designers who held responsible jobs and lived otherwise normal lives.
About a year later I became aware that I could hear my heart beating, it was like a clock ticking in my ears. Denial came easily to me so my lifestyle of indulgence did not change nor did I check it out, as I was afraid of being cut off. Even so I did not regard myself as a junkie I had many friends amongst hippies and non users who had a horror of the fixing world and I took pains to keep the parts of my life separate for the same reasons.
Eventually the ‘ticking’ became so loud that a one night a group of hippie friends heard it and tracked the source to me. They wanted to take me to hospital but I was running some hashish to the coast and did not want to fall foul of these particular customers. I insisted they take me to Waterloo and as they watched me cross the concourse I collapsed and was rushed into St Thomas’s Hospital. It was pericardia, inflammation of the heart. Bed-rest for two months and marked, finally, a change in my habits I stopped shooting speed!
About this time I took LSD for the first time and realized there was more to life and consciousness and so I started to make a determined effort to wean myself off heroin also a sea change had occurred. The tabloid press had got all-judgmental about the practice of prescribing drugs. Wilson’s government, impotent in other respects, needed to be seen as effective. Cocaine was the first to be stopped then heroin and finally even physepton (methadone) were removed from the prescribable drugs lists and almost overnight all junkies were cut-off from their supplies.
The contraband trade in Chinese heroin mushroomed. Nothing pure about it. A wrap of brown, white and black (unrefined opium) powder which had to be ground and the boiled in a spoon and sucked into the syringe through a wadge of cotton wool. There was no way to assess the strength of the dose. Over the next year I lost about six friends to overdose, all experienced junkies. The whole junkie scene exploded it became a ‘pushed’drug and the number of users grew as they got younger. Measured by effect heroin will always be one of the cheapest drugs and being addictive one of the most sustainable and profitable markets for gangsters.
The violence spilled over into the entire drug scene. There was a guy called Micheal De Frietas (Styled Micheal X) who set up a gang who hit dope dealers violently ripping off drugs and money. He was eventually hanged in Jamaica for murder. Anyway by 1968 the whole love-in was well and truly over
Me? I took the hippie trail overland to India and the ‘ Hashish Cure’ I spent about a year there. I cleaned up. I could see the junkies and speed freaks before they recognized me and I stayed away from them. I did smoke a huge amount of high-grade hashish and eventually hitched home from Katmandu with a pregnant girlfriend. We were broke but we picked hops then apples and started a new life as a family. I went into business as a builder and she trained as a teacher and neither of us touched white drugs again.
I think getting clean depends on various factors. First one has to hit bottom and realize a change is necessary. Then one has to be able to change one’s social geography, someone cleaning up is a challenge to junkies and they can be a bit like vampires coming around all the time trying to seduce you back to smack. They only need to get lucky once and then they don’t have to think of their own weakness. Then most important of all one has to fill the void with a new mission a passion a raison d’ etre. I think after getting clean one remains a non-using junkie for at least five years and unless there are new horizons, objectives; whatever, in ones life the sheer meaningless makes it very difficult to stay clean.