Driving through downtown Tacoma I sometimes revert to old guy mode, as in “I remember when that building used to be a cave.” I love looking at both the new and remodeled structures, especially when I recall how bad it used to look in the mid-90’s when I worked in a street crime unit downtown.
I was reminded of some of those old streets and structures when I read a Trib story about the reemergence of heroin.
The word heroin conjures up memories of the 1500 block of S. Commerce St., former home of both the Nativity House and Rescue Mission, a soup kitchen and shelter respectively. Their altruistic presence was daily perverted by the drug dealers and users that made the sidewalk in front the largest open air heroin market in the region. That spot is now the location of the beautiful Hotel Murano and a gathering spot for business people and travelers instead.
It is funny what passes for nostalgia sometimes, but the vinegary smell and tootsie roll texture of black tar heroin had become a part of my life during that time period. We found it in spoons being cooked over lighters, peeled it off makeshift pipes formed out of crushed coke cans, removed it from brown-stained syringes dangling from limp arms, and grabbed it out of the hands of junkies trying to swallow the evidence. Heroin was a completely whole and separate experience.
Just as the landscape downtown rose with the tide, heroin swept right out. In its place came the laboratory created pharmaceutical known as oxy–codone or contin, take your pick.
Oxy created its own reality. Drug store robberies, prescription fraud and undercover operations became the new norm. For years oxy ruled the drug market, but just as science introduced this drug, with its new and synthetic high, so science was largely responsible for ushering it out. New restrictions and civil liability finally forced the pharmaceutical industry to engineer a new pill, one that resisted the efforts of users to crush it into powder form for smoking, snorting or liquifying.
Now a whole new generation of drug users, people who have never known the highs of black tar, are experimenting with this cheap new/old drug. But with the highs come the lows.
Whereas crack users can be manically aggressive during a high, heroin is best known for “the nods,” referring to the tendency to nod off into a semi-conscious state following ingestion. Though its effects appear to take a more subtle toll on the body than methamphetamine, most heroin users are incapable of holding down a job after they begin regularly abusing the drug. Since injection is the typical platform, a large percentage of users became infected with Hepatitis C and/or HIV. There are also many health risks due to its production methods–this normally white drug gets its dark color through a non-hygenic process that introduces human and animal waste as well as other accumulated filth.
Despite these dangers, drug users searching for a cheap high appear to be returning to black tar heroin. To make matters worse, its resurgence has renewed a revenue stream that originates on our streets, moves in an ever-expanding southbound torrent, and eventually ends in the swelling accounts of Mexican drug cartels.