I took the phone from her as she left. “How are you doing?” I said.
“I don’t really know how to answer that,” Garrett said. He looked lost. Sad and angry at the same time. Trapped. He had deserved to go to jail in the past, he said. This was the first time he didn’t deserve it. He wouldn’t get better here, surrounded by inmates with drug connections. About two-thirds of men and women in local jails nationally are estimated to be using or dependent on drugs or alcohol.
It might not have seemed like it to others, but he had been doing well for him. He had started college. He had kept a job until he started school. With an adult record, he’d have trouble finding a job, an understanding community. He’d have student loan debt he wouldn’t be able to repay.
His probation conditions undoubtedly would prohibit him from using again — rules at odds with the reality of addiction where relapse is common, just as it is with other chronic illnesses. Even if he could find a good treatment program with an opening, he’d need to balance it with a job to pay off the restitution he owed for previous offenses as a juvenile — or face ending up in jail again. And the substance that righted his brain and connected him to his friends? No more.
“This is the only time I’ve seriously contemplated ending it,” he said. “I’ve never, ever felt this weak in my life.”
The fact is, and I don’t care who tries to dispute this, that a majority of the people who make the daily migration to the West Side to cop blows are as addicted to the ritual of copping dope as they are to the dope itself. It is an adrenaline rush no different than those achieved by people who jump out of airplanes. And dope fiends get to experience it every day.
A neurologist named Marc Lewis recently wrote an excellent book about how the addicted brain functions, â€œMemoirs of an Addicted Brain.â€ Written by a former junkie, the book offers cutting-edge explanations of how drugs, and a subsequent lack of drugs, work on the brain. Dr. Lewis goes chapter by chapter telling stories such as how he used to have unrestricted access to huge jars of pure morphine as a young medical student in the days before modern controls on these chemicals. And just as he is getting to a really funny or interesting part about the time his girlfriend took so much LSD that she thought she was a kitten, he digresses into a fascinating explanation of how the external chemicals are causing the brain to release, or block the reuptake of, certain neurotransmitters. It makes for really good reading, especially if youâ€™re a junkie.
I came to realize that every time I exited the West Side with drugs in hand and my body and freedom intact, a highly gratifying rush of dopamine flooded my brain. Now imagine this everyday occurrence: you are on West Monroe, a block you know to be highly volatile. You are there to buy, say, fifty bucks worth of dope. You turn the corner onto Monroe from Pulaski. A Crown Victoriaâ€”the classic police carâ€”slowly glides up the street, turns and disappears. The block seems empty, although you know of one or two abandoned buildings that the shorties sometimes use. You also see a few of them standing at the corner of Monroe and Karlov. This is relevant for a white person like me, because the goal is to stay as close to Pulaski as possible, so you can cop your dope, and then melt back into the foot traffic on Pulaski, a main thoroughfare. But today you see that youâ€™re going to have to walk all the way down to Karlov. You sigh and start walking. The same Crown Victoria suddenly glides from behind you again, and then slowly disappears again. This has you on edge. Shit, it has you downright petrified. And as you get closer to the shorties standing at Karlov, you can just sense that they are on edge too.
An E.R. doctor in the Pacific Northwest who writes a blog called â€œMovinâ€™ Meatâ€ might seem an unlikely candidate to know the economics of street drugs. But since he treats overdoses, heâ€™s learned quite a bit. Recently, he noticed a spike in novice heroin injectors right around the time that the supply of OxyContin got very tight. His patients told him that since the price of OxyContin had tripled (if you could find it at all), they made the switch to heroin.