Heroin is a big news story in Portland at the moment. KGW, the local NBC affiliate, has made it the feature story of the day; kids as young as 13 are hooked, and people are dying and losing their homes and futures because of it. Apparently the kids have been to parties where Oxycontin was given out like candy, and with the recent government crackdown on opiate painkillers heroin is now cheaper than pills. It’s incredibly sad, because I knew someone who went down this path, and it was not pretty. At all.
I knew this guy in high school who was incredibly smart. He dropped out in junior year because he was bored, but showed up to hang out with his friends, guitar in hand, sitting in the halls playing. At one point he bragged on a full ride scholarship to a very prestigious school — “you see,” he said smiling, “I finally took an IQ test.”
After graduation I didn’t see him again for a long time, because I wasn’t in his circle of friends; he hung out with the kids from the Smokers’ Lounge (and this gives a clue as to how old I am, since these areas aren’t allowed on high school campuses any more). Almost everyone knew that there was more than tobacco smoking going on out there, but they were good at not getting caught, so nobody thought too much about it.
Years later, when I had an apartment in northwest Portland, I ran into him again; he had just moved into my building. And he was literally a shell of the guy I had known. He looked 10-20 years older than I did; the cocky smile was gone, and so was the brilliance. He spoke slowly, carefully, and slurred his words a bit; he explained that he had been hooked on heroin for three years, but had gotten clean, and had just graduated from denture making school, so he had a steady job. I congratulated him, and wished him well — but I never saw him in the building after that. I think he might have avoided me; I know that seeing someone who ‘knew you when’ can be painful after a huge shift in your life. But I spent a lot of time remembering the guy I’d known, and the guy he was now, and vowing that I would never let myself or my friends do anything that self-destructive. Luckily it never came up.
KGW is covering how people get into that kind of trouble, and the damage it’s doing to people’s lives while they’re in it; but this is a case where I think a lot of kids could be ‘scared straight’ if they could see the aftermath, and what they’d be stuck with for the rest of their lives if they continue down this path. I know it scared the heck out of me.