Pubdate: Tue, 01 Feb 2000
Source: Oregonian, The (OR)
Copyright: 2000 The Oregonian
Contact:  1320 SW Broadway, Portland, OR 97201
Fax: 503-294-4193
Author: Mark Larabee, of The Oregonian staff
Bookmark: MAP's link to items with 'heroin' in the headline:


Drug-related Deaths In The State Have Tripled Since 1989, And Officials Say 
The Heroin Scourge Is At Epidemic Proportions

By the time James makes a deal he's almost "jonesing."

That's what heroin addicts call the jumping anxiety that precedes the
gut-wrenching nausea, pain, vomiting and diarrhea brought on by
withdrawal. "Getting well" means getting another fix.

With the $10 he eloquently hustled off a street preacher in a
wheelchair, James makes his way to Second Avenue and West Burnside
Street. There, his next injection is just a word away from a dozen
drug dealers.

"Chiva?" he asks, using the slang word for the black tar heroin
prevalent throughout the Western United States. He flashes cash. Then
a handshake. James pops the aspirin-sized, plastic-wrapped packet into
his mouth so he can swallow it if police stop him.

Once he shoots up, the clock starts ticking toward his next fix, part
of the never-ending treadmill that is his life.

Despite the nation's continuing war on drugs, the increasing
availability of heroin has meant a bigger, more potent supply for an
expanding group of users. "That's one reason why deaths are steadily
rising," said Dr. Gary Oxman, director of the Multnomah County Health

According to statistics the Oregon State Medical Examiner's Office
will released today, a record 246 people died of drug-related causes
in Oregon in 1999 -- a 320 percent increase from 1989. Of those, 79
percent are because of heroin.

Public health officials say heroin-related deaths have reached
epidemic proportions, and they warn that the drug is reaching a new
population, one that is younger, more middle-class and just as likely
to be female.

Wide swath From the junkie to the street cop to the counselor, the
scourge of heroin touches many lives.

The public sees little of the hopelessness, either because it turns a
blind eye or because addiction clinics and homes for recovering
addicts are tucked from view.

But the drug cuts a wide swath through society, affecting everyone in
some way, however minuscule, experts say.

A junkie feeding a $100-a-day habit might steal as much as $1,000
worth of merchandise from stores to get that money. Merchants raise
their prices to compensate, and honest shoppers pay. Most petty
thefts, car break-ins and bank robberies are drug-driven, police say.

More than 70 percent of substance abusers -- including alcoholics and
other drug users -- are functioning addicts. They could be sitting at
the next computer terminal, driving that semi on the freeway or
teaching your children.

Oxman said the addict plays a game of Russian roulette with each shot
because the potency of the drug varies by supplier. "One time you get
something that's crap, and the next time you get the Lord's own dope,"
he said.

Many who ended up dead last year had recently returned to the drug
after abstaining, either because of jail time or an attempt at
rehabilitation, said Dr. Karen Gunson, state medical examiner.

Her deputies find the dead alone in motel rooms, in ditches and
dropped at emergency rooms. But most who die at home.

No one is sure how many heroin addicts there are. Experts estimate
there are 15,000 in Portland alone.

The user James' nose is running. He's antsy. He locks the bathroom
door of a gasoline station and heads into a single stall, where he
hangs his dirty black leather coat on the door. With nervous
precision, he rips the layers of plastic from the tar ball with his

The plastic protects the user or dealer from the drug in case it's
swallowed. One street dealer said he keeps his belly full of water so
if the cops stop him, he can swallow his stash and the packets will
float. He throws up to get his drugs back.

With a syringe in his mouth like a dagger, James places the drug,
which is the color and consistency of a Tootsie Roll, and a little
water in the metal cap from an orange juice bottle. He cooks it with a
lighter until it boils, looking like Coca-Cola.

He's done this thousands of times since he injected cocaine as a
teen-ager at a party. The first 10 years of doing drugs were just a
party to him, he said. Now he uses alone -- in a public toilet, on the
MAX train, in the back seat of an abandoned car in a friend's yard,
where he sleeps most nights.

He draws the liquid into his syringe through a cigarette filter he
found on the ground -- "to remove impurities" -- and presses the
stopper to get the air out.

He pauses for a second and holds the needle to the light. His left
forearm is a crossword puzzle of red sores, purple bruises and
injection scabs. His right is crisscrossed by long lines of blue
stitches, where in December doctors cut out the rotting flesh caused
by an abscess from a dirty needle.

He's lucky that didn't kill him. At age 40 and a 22-year addict, James
fits the Oregon profile of people who die from heroin: white men, age
35 to 45 and longtime users.

James pumps his fist, sticks the needle into a bulging vein and draws
until he sees blood. He rams it home quickly, stands up straight,
drops his arms and steps back.

For a second, he has left the room. "That's a good hit," he says,
shaking his head as if to clear it.

He says he rarely gets high. Rather, he shoots just enough to stave
off the withdrawal pains. And to keep his addiction alive.

He found himself in the emergency room last year after overdosing.
Seven times. He rationalizes. And he could care less. "Heroin is my
shepherd . . .," he says.

The recovered addict Cynthia Kowalski, 25, came to Portland from
California to kick a drug habit she began at age 13, when she first
smoked pot.

Before she entered Hooper Detoxification Center last fall, she'd been
addicted to heroin for six years, stripping and prostituting herself
to pay for the drugs.

She is one of many in a younger generation who are checking themselves
into treatment programs, a fallout of the heroin chic image portrayed
in pop culture.

Although Kowalski was a needle user, many younger users smoke and
snort heroin, wrongly thinking it's less addictive. Officials say it's
a dangerous trend.

"It seems that some of the fear surrounding heroin has evaporated,"
said Dennis L. Donin, director of development for CODA, a Portland
methadone clinic.

Some addiction clinics are turning away clients because their beds are
filled. Still, many addicts are beating the drug. Ed Blackburn,
director of chemical dependency services for the Central City Concern,
said Kowalski is proof that the hard-luck story does not always come
true. "There is life after addiction," he said.

Sitting in a circle with other recovering addicts at a residential
treatment center run by Central City Concern, Kowalski says she has
put her drug life behind her.

She got tired of the danger, being sick and getting beat up. The
strung-out, skinny, pitiful person she was is someone else now. She's
been sober for nearly three months.

"I'm surprised that I'm alive today," she says. "I was just so loaded.
Whenever I got upset, I just took another shot of dope."

She plans to go to school to become an alcohol and drug counselor.
"I'm so glad that I'm here now," she says. "I'm so glad that I have a
life and I can help others. It's something I really feel like I'm here
to do."

The undercover cop Joe Luiz blends right in with the drug seekers
wandering through Old Town. Tall, dark and unshaven, with a dirty
jacket and rumpled cotton clothes, a silver hoop earring in his ear,
you'd never mistake him for a police officer.

Luiz, one of 14 investigators with the Portland Police Bureau's Drug
and Vice Division, has worked dope for seven years. He loves the work,
knows the frustration and figures "someone's got to do it."

But he admits police are overwhelmed by the Mexican and Central and
South American cartels that control most of the heroin trade, shipping
drugs by car, plane, bus and train.

"We're not winning this battle, but we're in the fight," he says.
"What people don't understand is how insane it is. You can get
anything you want, at any time, anywhere and in any amount."

On a cold afternoon in a "Drug Free Zone" near the stairs on the
Burnside Bridge, Luiz is out to prove just that. It doesn't take long.

Walking near Skidmore Fountain, Luiz points out deals, sometimes every
few seconds. His eyes are sharp. He notices and files minute details.

At Southwest Third Avenue and Ankeny Street, where unsuspecting
Portlanders sip Hefeweizen around the corner at a tavern, Luiz flashes
$20 to an unsuspecting dealer who spits two balloons from his cheek
and slips the bill into his pocket. The exchange is quick.

A few blocks away, at the police precinct office on Northwest Couch
Street, Luiz cuts into a balloon to check the goods.

Luiz asks a couple of uniformed officers to hook up the dealer and his
buddy. Ten minutes later, they are searched in the back room.

"Fish in a barrel," Luiz quips.

The counselor Alan Levine was a hopeless drunk and drug user when he
drank himself to sleep one night beneath a freeway overpass. When he
finally woke up, both his legs were so severely frostbitten they had
to be amputated.

But the disability is no handicap for Levine, 53, who is preparing to
graduate this spring from Portland Community College as an addiction

Sure, he lived much of his life on the streets, hustling to support
his heroin and cocaine habits. He's been in seven prisons for drug
crimes. He lived with an overpowering belief that he benefited from
the drugs and was in control.

 From 1965 to 1990, Levine tried one drug after another. Heroin.
Booze. Cocaine. Methamphetamine. Pills. Even after he lost his legs,
he and a buddy cruised the West Coast, working town after town for
drug money. But in 1991, Levine checked himself into rehab.

While in a Veterans Affairs hospital, he met the woman of his dreams.
"Nancy saw something in me that I was unable to see because of my
addiction," he says. "She refused to talk to the addict in me. She
addressed the person in me . . . the part of me that my mother loves."

They were married in 1994 and live in Milwaukie.

Levine, a founding member of the Recovery Association Project, says he
wants to spread the word that addicts are worth saving.

He says it's important for them to view society as a healing place. He
likens addiction to living in a cave -- addicts can see the light but
are afraid to come out, despite what everyone around them says.

The next victim? James heads back toward Burnside. He's got three or
four hours, before he needs his next fix, to hustle enough money for a

Those balloons of dope -- how addicts like James measure time -- are
like steppingstones on an endless path to nowhere. "This stuff is
going to kill me," he says.

Why not get into rehab? He admits it makes sense but says it seems

"The devil is driving me around like a cheap go-cart," he says. "He
gets inside of me and drives me around, and when he's done with me he
crashes me into a tree."

Hopelessness and desperation are winning.

"Hell, I want to die." he admits. "This is no life."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake