Cork City’s best-known emergency consultant is not a fan of methadone, the substitution drug used to get addicts off heroin.
“Very few heroin users die from withdrawal, but they die frequently from methadone,” says Chris Luke. “I believe methadone is as dangerous as heroin.
“Heroin and methadone compete to kill the user. At the start it’s heroin winning, and then in the end its methadone, and the straw that breaks the camel’s back is benzodiazapene.
“We increasingly see that when methadone users die from overdose, it’s from mixing the drug with these sleepers.”
Mixing heroin with alcohol is another big overdose risk, says Dr Luke, and most of the users presenting at Cork’s Mercy University Hospital are polydrug users, regularly mixing heroin with alcohol and sleeping tablets, thereby accelerating overdose risk.
“Heroin is a disease of areas of poverty,” says Dr Luke. “It’s a disease of areas where the community is weaker, is less well-off.
“But while heroin might take hold in the deprived areas first, it spreads, and it is doing that in Cork now. Heroin is now a regular part of my day at work and is synonymous with the homeless. Most days in the Mercy Hospital we will see two or three homeless people, and heroin abuse is the leading cause of death amongst this group.”
It’s not that heroin is the drug of choice of the homeless. But once chronic heroin abuse develops, many users find themselves on the streets, as the next fix will always take precedence over rent.
“More than cocaine, even though it is much less expensive, heroin is the drug most likely to make you homeless,” says Dr Luke. “It makes you one of the living dead.
“Heroin users become lobotomised, they lose all the social and life skills that allow them to stay in normal society. They really will rob their granny time after time and they wreak havoc in the family home.
“Heroin users are a shell of the person they once were and for the sake of the rest of the family, parents often have to make the appalling decision to tell them to leave home for the streets.”
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