The friend just stuck the full syringe into her arm, she didn’t look for a vein.
“I’d seen needles but I’d never seen anyone ‘skin popping’ it. I was fucked like, fucked as I was taking tablets on top of it. One time I gave her a few digs over it, as the two of us ended up later down in a house getting another girl on to it. The three of us used to be sitting down in that girl’s house, sticking needles into each other, doing it all with each other. It was mental.”
It was mental for about a month afterwards as the girls couldn’t get enough of the stuff. “It was injecting, injecting, needles, needles, everywhere. We were in one of the girl’s house and she was housesharing with people and they knew nothing. She got thrown out in the end when one of them in the house stuck their hand in the bin, throwing something away and Jesus Christ, there was a needle”.
Susan says she never shared needles but came close to it with those two girls. “They were older than me, they were 23 and 25. The two of them were with each other but they knew each other through me. We used to be the best of pals, every bag we got we shared, everything. We shared all the same drugs, money.
“If we were hungry, we wouldn’t waste money on food, we’d go somewhere like Cork Simon for a dinner. We’d love it. It was like ‘oh man, I can’t believe it, I don’t know the last time I had a dinner’.”
Susan is just 19 and possibly one of the loneliest people I have met in my life. She first smoked heroin when she was 15 and wasted from alcohol and prescription drugs, she only started injecting it at the start of this year. The guy who first gave her heroin has since died from an overdose — as has his girlfriend.
“My first smoke was in a rollie. I didn’t smoke it off the foil as I didn’t want people knowing what I was doing. I had taken handfuls of D10s and D5s on top of it so I just blanked out, passed out on the chair and woke the following morning and I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t believe I done that’.”
She’d fallen in love with drugs years beforehand, because it allowed her to “block everything out”.
She’d also been drinking heavily since she was 13, drinking “on the streets, lighting fires, at house parties”, drinking with people 15, 16, and 17 years older than her.
“I was having a mad time taking any drug I could get my hands on: speed, yokes, everything. The first drug I took was ecstasy, yokes. I got a handful of them for nothing, I didn’t know what they were. Then I ended up lying in bed for three days awake, a jaw wrapped around me, one of those days was Christmas day, yeah Christmas day on a come-down,” she smiles.
When she was six, Susan’s mum, a chronic alcoholic, walked out on her and her brothers, heading off to the UK and leaving the children with their dad. “It was just me and my other two brothers in the house and I was left do all the girly stuff and if it wasn’t done, I’d get a beating like”. One day, she was hit so hard she went flying from one end of the room to another and broke her nose. That was it, she couldn’t take anymore and walked.
“I was bouncing all over the place then, moving back and forth to a friend’s house, to my brother’s house. I just wouldn’t go home again to my dad. My friend’s family were very, very good to me. I was drinking 24/7 already then, there was so much I wanted to blank out.
“I used to have slabs of beer hidden under the bed, bottles of vodka, I used to be sharing a room with my brother’s three children, with bottles hidden under pillows and all tablets hidden in bags and the bags hanging off the curtains.”
By the time she hit 16 her drinking and drug taking was so out of control that her brother couldn’t take any more and kicked her out, chucking all her stuff in a skip. She started smoking heroin again, seeing herself as rejected by the one family member that she’d been able to rely upon.
“I went downhill and downhill. My other brothers weren’t talking to me just calling me ‘ya dirty junkie, ya scumbag’. When they’d bump into me, they wouldn’t talk to me or nothing. When my friend, who I used to stay with, found out I was taking heroin, she didn’t want me near her dad’s house either, didn’t want me in the house or around the house”.
Still too young to access homeless services in Cork, Susan started sleeping on the streets and in squats.
“It was all just die, die, die. From when I was 12 I just wanted to die. My motto at the time was ‘drink, drugs, I don’t care where I’ll stay, I’ll end up here, I’ll end up there, I’ll do that, I’ll take that, I don’t care’. I used to think in my own head, ‘this is my time, this is my fun’. I liked drugs, I got into it. Some people don’t get into it but it blocked everything for me, my childhood, everything that had happened to me and I loved it. ”
When there are kids squatting and doing a lot of drugs in Cork, the city is of a small enough size that they tend to get noticed quickly by others in that scene. One of those was a man in his 60s whom Susan terms “the old man”.
“We met this man and he gave me a house to live in. People picked him up as a pervert but when I met him, I’d nowhere to go. Don’t get me wrong, he’d often say ‘if you were with me, you’d have this and you’d have that’, trying to sweet talk me into being with him and stuff. I know in a heartbeat he’d have no problem going off with a young one but he wouldn’t touch me. My own father thought he was giving me heroin, pimping me out, that’s what most people thought of him, the guards, everyone wanted to catch him.
“But girls that are mixed up, he tries to help them, pawning things off. He says ‘I’ll buy you a drink, I’ll buy you that’, I suppose it was a blackmail really and it went on for months and years. I owe the man thousands of pounds. I used to have the best of jewellery when I was young, real heavy gold chains, he has all of them, they’re worth loads of money, everyone pawns to him.”
At the time she was messing around with the old man, she was 17 and living with other girls in a squat. She and the girls used to meet up with a gang in their 20s as they needed somebody to buy alcohol. “Our house was just a party house. People would come down and all you had to do genuinely was push the door open. At night, we used to sleep with wardrobes, drawers, all the furniture up against the door and sleep with scissors, knives, hammers under our pillows, in case anyone came in. People did get in though and when people came into the house I stabbed people. I sliced a knife into my hand once and slit all my finger, I can’t bend my finger now.”
Susan says she part funded her heroin habit with money she was given for attending various VEC courses. “No matter what condition I was in, I’d attend the course, I needed the money, I’d wobble into the course, using, abusing, thinking nobody would notice but everyone knew. I also used to get stuff on tick, pawn off things and rob and rob and rob. I also got to the stage where I sat on the street with a cup. If not I was tapping people on the street for money.”
Susan is now on a methadone programme at Arbour House in Cork. She has her good days and the bad days when she just can’t go on without heroin. “When I was smoking it every day I loved it, I loved the whole thing, I loved the brown running down the foil, I just loved everything: the smell, the taste, there’s not even a big smell off it, but I’d sit at home on my own, smoking all day and hiding bags, putting bags away for later. Being off it is really, really hard. All the time when you’re off it, there’s a cue that comes into your head and gets you thinking of it. There’s a line somewhere, a queue in a shop, and you’re off. One time I was trying to stay off it and I touched coal, I got black and I was like ‘fuck, fuck’, the black was just like how you’d be black on your hands from burning on tinfoil.
“Can you believe I touched coal and then I was like ‘a bag, a bag, I need a bag?’.
She’s been in hospital 10 or 15 times with drug and drink related injuries: from overdoses, car crashes and at aged 19 her stomach ulcers are so bad that she has been warned that she is living on borrowed time if she doesn’t change her lifestyle.
One night, she fell off a three-storey building in a drug haze. She didn’t end up in hospital.
“I was that out of it, none of my bones tensed up, I just fell. I couldn’t feel my body, I thought I was paralysed and was going ‘oh my God, I’m only 16 I can’t do nothing no more’.”
All around, her friends were screaming to ring an ambulance but she wouldn’t let them. Two boys picked her up off the ground and eventually she was able to sit up.
“The first thing I did was skin a joint, take a litre of vodka down the throat and then tinfoil, I was whacking the tinfoil out of it, having a fog [ smoking heroin]. That’s mental I know but it was what I was around. It was company, places, things.”
Susan won’t call any particular part of Cork a heroin blackspot, heroin is all over, she says and in every suburb. “I could get off at any bus stop and get heroin in 10 minutes.”
And it’s not just any one gang or any one nationality that are controlling the growing heroin market in Cork. “From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve done, its all nations, everyone, every colour, black, white, Travellers the lot. It’s after getting so popular, so many people is taking it, everywhere you look someone is taking it.
“I’ve often stood outside a shop waiting on a bag and people will walk up and ask ‘can you get me a bag?’ And I’d ask them ‘do I look so bad?’ But a junkie do know a junkie. Your face is all sucked in, your bones are sticking out of your chest, you’re half dead. I used to walk from the northside to the southside and back again if I needed a bag. You do lose so much weight as you’re constantly running around to get it, you don’t walk to get it, you run to get it and then you run back to smoke it”.
For the past three months, Susan has been trying to get on a particular residential treatment programme but she needs to stay clean for a month before they will accept her. She often manages a few days without using and then something happens and before she knows it, she’s looking for a bag again. The day I meet her she tells me she’s had a good few days and is trying to take it hour by hour.
Earlier that week, she had woken up and the first thing that she saw was a needle with a full 7ml of heroin sitting on a wardrobe in her room. She had hidden it behind a picture and the picture had fallen overnight. “I couldn’t believe it. I jumped up, grabbed it, ran to the window and squirted it. Never in my life ’til then did I throw away a drug. I’d give it away, give it to someone but never, ever throw it away. Squirting that, that was a big step from me.”
*Susan is not her real name.
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