We as a society tend to casually toss around the term junkie, without fully understanding the reality of being an actual addict. We sat down with a heroin addict to uncover what real addiction looks like...
We as a society tend to toss around the term junkie with casual abandon, without fully understanding the extent of the term or the reality and ramifications of being an actual junkie. We think of junkies as those casual drug users we see every weekend, who drop or snort their way through the night, because most of us have rarely had the misfortune of knowing a real drug addict; the kind of addict who shoots up so much heroin there isn’t a vein left for him to inject in, the addict who’ll use violence to get money for another hit, leaves their child with the drug dealer as collateral, or screams at the pain of withdrawal symptoms.
So we sat down with one such addict, a person not too unlike yourself, someone you’ve probably seen out at one of the parties where most of (a certain segment) of Cairo’s society inevitably ends up. A guy in his mid-twenties who went to an expensive private school and probably summers in the same Sahel compound as you. For the sake of privacy this person will remain anonymous, but it's someone right in our little Cairo society bubble. Using drugs since he was 15, he's been in and out of rehab eight times, and only seven months ago did sobriety actually stick.
How did the drug use start?
The first drug I tried was weed when I was 15. I liked hanging out with people older than me; my older brothers and their friends gave me some.
How did it progress from weed to heroin?
I started smoking hash, and then drinking, which then lead to cocaine and ecstasy when I was in university. And then in 2008 I started taking heroin.
How did that first heroin experience happen?
I was at a party and I was on ecstasy. We went to an after party and there was this guy there who was with me at school, and had been doing heroin for a while. After ecstasy, because it's an upper and stuff, you need something to help you come down. And this guy was telling me about how heroin is the best experience for coming down, ever, so I tried a line with him, sniffed it. I was fucked. That was the first time.
When was the next time you had it?
Six months later. I was still doing ecstasy, coke, and smoking hash on a daily basis at the time.
How did your heroin habit go from trial to addiction?
Six months after that first time, I met the same guy in Sahel, and at that point he'd already started shooting up with some of my other friends. I would fight with them and get pissed off at them, like ‘how could you guys do this? How can you use a drug like this?’ But I ended up taking some with him anyway. And then it sort of progressed…a friend of mine had a major car accident and from how bad the pain was, he'd take heroin every day. This one day I fought with my girlfriend and my parents so I passed by him and snorted with him. And then the next day, the same thing, the day after same thing. By the seventh day, I called him and I was like, ‘So aren’t we going to have any today?’ From that point on it was a slippery slope, a 'zo7le2a'. I lost control of my life. Every day, from the moment I woke up until I went to sleep I wouldn’t do anything except see how I was going to get money to score heroin, score, and take it.
There's a perception with regards to heroin, that if you try it once, you get addicted instantly. But clearly that wasn’t the case for you. It was more because you kept taking it, routinely.
No, it was more of friends' influence than an immediate addiction. The reason people say that about heroin is because the feeling is so strong, it's so nice. It messes with your feelings. So you keep doing it, without realizing the extent of the problem that you're getting yourself into. So you do it every day, until eventually, it takes hold of your body.
When did it go from snorting heroin to injecting it?
After around a year of snorting it. That was the first time I checked into rehab. All the people there were much older than me. I was 21. They were all in their 30s and 40s, and they were there for heroin injecting, not snorting. They had all been rich people who had sold their lands, their buildings, companies, lost millions, spending it on drugs. In the meetings they'd tell their stories and I was so shocked, like ‘how could they do these things?’ It was my first introduction to the program. At that point I wasn’t in the same situation as them, I still always had money, I'd never stolen anything, I thought my problem wasn’t the same as theirs.
I thought, ‘you know, my place isn’t here, I don’t need to stop now, nothing of the stuff that’s happened to them has happened to me.’ I still hadn’t even injected heroin. I stayed for three months before I decided I still had time to keep doing heroin. I thought, ‘why should I stop if I like it? My life is fine.’
The day I left rehab, I called my friends; they were doing heroin, I went to meet them, and they were injecting, and that was the first time I injected. My friend gave me the injection. That day, my life flipped upside down. The first time I injected, the feeling I felt…this crazy amazing rush, infinite happiness, your soul gets, like, sucked out. I don’t know how to describe it to you. It was that day that made me keep shooting up for another three years. I was chasing that high I had on that day, trying to get to that same point, of the first time you inject, but you never reach it. As soon as I started shooting up, I didn’t sniff it again.
What's better, heroin or sex?
Heroin. Heroin is like…it's like you're orgasming for 8 hours.
How did your life change, once the addiction takes hold?
Well, at first I didn’t know how to give myself the injection; people would do it for me, then I practiced, and taught myself. The situation got really bad. I'd shoot up all the time, I started failing university, I lost so much money, all my friends alienated me, my home life was shit, my life was basically destroyed. I stole stuff that wasn’t mine. My mom had land, me and my brother (he did heroin with me), we took it and sold it for a much lower value, and used the money to shoot up. I sold my car for drug money.
Is it expensive?
It's not that expensive of a drug, but after a while your dosage increases so you need to start getting an amount worth 1000-1500 LE daily.
But you went to rehab a bunch of times, without ever actually getting clean? What happened?
Throughout all this, I'd get these phases of wanting to stop; and I'd go back to rehab. As soon as I felt healthier and I'd been in there for a couple of months, I'd leave and shoot up again right away. I spent three years in this cycle. I'd call my dad and tell him I was better, he'd check me out and the day I got released I'd go shoot up again.
First time you went to rehab, was it your decision?
Yes. I called my dad told him, ‘I'm an addict, help me.’
How hard is it, trying to get clean?
In the middle of the addiction, like every day I'd swear up and down that this was the last day I'd ever shoot up, I'd swear that I'd wake up and I'd esta7mel the withdrawal. I'd swear that I'd lock myself at home for four days, and then would burn my money, and break my cellphone so I wouldn’t be able to get any drugs, hide my car keys, and lock myself in the room at night (high). I'd sleep, and then as soon as I'd wake up, I'd be in so much pain - you don’t understand how difficult withdrawal is; your back feels like it's breaking, you're throwing up and sweating, and it's like knives are stabbing at your skin. So as soon as I'd wake up, I couldn’t take it. I'd need drugs, and I'd do anything to get them. Law 2oddamy meen, 7adooso 3ashan ageeb mokharadat. If I didn’t have money I'd steal it. I'd figure it out. I'm going to inject means I'm going to inject.
What's the worst thing you’ve ever done on drugs or to get drugs?
A lot of things…. There are some things I literally can't say. Things that are unthinkable that a human would do.. I won't talk about stealing stuff from the house, because that’s totally normal for a junkie. Phones, laptops, money, a carpet, anything. Any addict does this. I borrowed money from everyone; friends, relatives neighbors, even the bawab.
But the worst thing?
Something I never in a million years imagined I'd do was stop an old man in the middle of Salah Salem and hold a switchblade to his throat. I took his money and phone.
There was also a point in time when I got kicked out of the house. I was renting a place. I did this thing to get cash: my friend put my phone number on an escort site in Egypt. Foreigners would call asking for girls, I'd meet them at their hotel room and say I'm the 'agent' and that the girl is downstairs, you have to pay the money first; this is our policy. I'd take the money and leave. I did this for months. And then I dealt drugs, that was horrible for me. The fact that my parents, when they raised me, sent me to the best schools and best universities, and they're good people, and I'm sure it never occurred to them that one day their youngest son would deal drugs so he could get more drugs and go shoot up.
What was the breaking point for your parents, when they kicked you out of the house?
After I'd sold everything, stolen everything. They found syringes in the bathroom, blood all over my body.
Where did you get the drugs from?
I'd go to this place on Taree2 Ismaeleya, or Taree2 Suez and deal with bedouins.
And what was it like there?
There would be men, women, boys, girls, famous singers and actors, and we would all stand there in a line, like dogs, waiting for our turn to get to the dealer. He'd throw the heroin on the floor, you'd pick it up and run to prepare the syringe, like a fucking dog. It was a disgusting life.
And what are some of the worst things you saw other addicts do out in this place where you got drugs?
I'd see girls, like one girl whose parents I knew, and she'd go to the dealer, and let him sleep with her so she could have a hit. Women who would leave their baby with the dealer so they could shoot up, go sort out how to get the money, and then come back to get the kid. Collateral. I saw a guy go to the dealer once with his daughter, and leave her in the tent with the dealer while he shot up outside. Things you couldn't imagine.
One time I ODed somewhere, in this really bad drug area. My friend was with me, this guy who I knew for 18 years, he'd been with me in school in kindergarten. He thought I was dead, and took my watch off, took my wallet, took my car, and threw me in the street. And I came to an hour and a half after that.
The areas where you go score are all really far out in the desert. A few times I was shot at and my car was stolen from me once. I was dealing drugs, people around me were dying. One day I got caught at a checkpoint. Etbahdelt. Et7abast. There was a court case against me; my parents had to spend so much money to get me out of it. Another time I was also on trial, because I almost killed someone. I was beating him so badly, without noticing, or knowing what I was doing. I'd been in uni for ten years. The girl I loved left me, my parents didn’t speak to me. I had nowhere left on my body to inject myself; my arms, legs, all my veins in my neck were gone. I couldn’t shoot up when I wanted to and I'd bang my head against the wall and scream and cry because I needed a hit and I couldn’t inject.
If I had stopped that first time, if I'd had any sense, 1% sense... But I didn't. I'd put this thing called a 'capsula' that stays in your body for three months so you don’t shoot up [if you shoot up with it in your body you instantly die]. Its time would finish and I'd shoot up again. One time, I cut my skin open myself to rip the capsule out so I could shoot up. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. My whole day I would just go score, go sit at home and shoot up, alone, in the dark, living in a shit hole.
When did you actually stop using heroin? When did rehab finally stick?
I was in and out, in and out. And every time I'd leave and shoot up again. The longest time I was clean for was about 2 months.
We were a group of people who shot up together, girls and guys. There were those who died, they ODed, those who got thrown in prison, those who left the country. And they were all respectable people, welad nass who went to exclusive universities, people you wouldn’t expect to be addicts.
At one point it hit me; I didn’t want to be like the 40 year old people I'd seen in rehab. I joined the program, and really worked at it and focused, and now, it's been 7 months, clean.
How open are you now about your former addition; can you bring it up normally in front of people or do you try and hide it?
It's not the same for everyone. Some people are understanding, but some people will think I'm a horrible person. But me personally, I have to think there's something brave about myself and what I've done, because I managed to stop, and only 1 out of 100 people can do this per year. I'm not ashamed. Everyone falls into problems, but thank God, I was able to overcome it. I'm proud I was able to do it, despite everything. But not everyone will understand this, so I can't talk about it in front of everyone.
You still do drugs now, but not heroin?
For a while I stopped completely. But then I went back to drinking, on weekends, but little things, they don’t cause a problem for me. It doesn’t have a negative effect on my life. Even though I'm not supposed to do this but…3adi. As long as I stay away from heroin.
But isn’t part of the program, and being clean and sober, not just that you stop heroin but that you stop every kind of drug, including alcohol?
Yes, that’s how it should be. But there are some things I can't stop, like drinking. And I only drink or use drugs a little, and only on the weekends.
Can you have fun on a night out without any drugs or alcohol?
But isn’t it a slippery slope? If you're on ecstasy, at one point couldn’t one of these drugs that are 'chill' for you eventually lead you back to heroin?
Of course there's a possibility. But now I know how to deal with it. I know now how to say ‘no.’ I learned this last time I stopped - how to say ‘no.’ I've fixed my life now. My friends are back, my parents and I are on good terms, and I'm back in uni. I shower and get dressed. And I won't go back to that point again. If I ever do, I'll die. And I don’t want to die like that. I want to do something with my life, I want to live a good life and be someone respected and accepted in society and the community, a responsible human being. So I'll never go back to that point. Over my dead body.
You go back to rehab now, to counsel other addicts. Does the rehab center know you still do drugs?
What's rehab like here in Egypt? Is it a proper institution, do they know what they're doing?
It varies. Some places just do it for the money; they just keep people there to make money. And other places do it to really help people. Some places torture people, they electrocute them, and they beat them. And other places treat people really well and help them recover. They're also incredibly expensive; I probably spent more money on rehab than I did on shooting up.
Do you think the drug culture has changed in Egypt over the past ten years?
A lot more people have started using drugs. And they're just kids - in rehab I see 16 years olds now. At parties, they're all on drugs. It wasn’t like this zaman.
How easy is it to get heroin here?
It's not. I mean, when you’ve been doing it for a while, you know the people, the drug circle, you're connected. But to get it, it’s a trip; you travel around 70 kilometres.
You're sitting in an a3da, someone's doing heroin. Think you'd be able to resist?
I won't be there in the first place.
After we conclude the interview, he laughs sheepishly and says how there are some things he'd done he simply couldn’t say. But we prod and one final grievous act is disclosed:
A friend of mine, he was a police officer, a zabit. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. He didn’t have much money, I had money to help him shoot up, and he was an officer and kept me safe from the police. One time we went to go score, for like 15,000 pounds (125 grams), the guy gave me bad stuff…he cheated me. I called him again, told him I wanted more, went with my officer friend and gave the dealer fake money. We were leaving, there was an altercation because the guy discovered it was fake, and he started shooting at us. Then my friend, driving, pressed the gas, and I turned the wheel, and we ran the dealer over with the car. We didn’t mean to.
We were in the middle of the desert, just us. My officer friend told me to follow his lead. The dealer's brother was coming, also a dealer, and he knew we were meeting him. We thought he was dead; we put him in the trunk of the car, and threw him somewhere off Taree2 Suez, and left. Heroin makes you a coward. He wasn’t dead. Until today there's a bounty on my head. If I go to the dealer's 'area', they’ll kill me and the person who brings my head to this guy gets 30,000 pounds. And this happens a lot in Egypt, for people who shoot up, junkies. It's totally normal that a dealer just shoots the guy, and gives some heroin to anyone willing to dump his body. And the police here don’t care, they leave them to buy and sell drugs and kill people; they're scared to go into the area and stop them.