A 37-year-old homeless woman injects herself with heroin beneath the Manhattan bridge in  Brooklyn, circa 2002.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A 37-year-old homeless woman injects herself with heroin beneath the Manhattan bridge in Brooklyn, circa 2002. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Watching my sister become an addict after her introduction to methamphetamines and cocaine at the age of 16 by a hustler pimp ten years her senior, I knew that if she couldn’t be persuaded into becoming a prostitute sober–then being high, she would be.

By becoming the source of what made her feel euphoric–and needing the mighty dollar to buy the drugs that made them both feel unstoppable and immortal–he convinced her she needed to go to work in Boston’s Combat Zone as a nude model.

After two years of physical violence and psychological abuse, she left him to seek me out in New York City.

Tracking the Signs of Heroin Use


Here are the signs of heroin use broken-down for an un-suspecting public:

  • Skin popping: Injecting in the fat of the arm and not a vein.
  • Tracks: Permanent black or pencil-lead-colored pin marks along a vein where heroin has been injected repeatedly, from the forearm, to veins in the hands, behind the knees and feet.
  • Pinned pupils: when the black pupil of the eye becomes constricted.
  • Paraphernalia: i.e. works:
    • hypodermic needle;
    • rubber band/bandana/belt to tie off the vein;
    • foil/silverware/table spoons (covered in soot) to cook heroin into a liquid;
    • cigarette lighter to cook the drug;
    • mirror and razor blade to crush heroin not in already powdered
  • Physical symptoms: Vomiting within minutes after an injection; dry mouth, nodding off, itching, slurred speech, not bathing, losing weight, uninterested in food, hoarseness, loss of concentration, skin abscesses, swollen feet/legs/arms, sweet cravings, excessive “sleeping.”

–R. B. Stuart

That’s where she met those new “friends” who would show her New York’s underbelly and street scene.

She no longer hung out at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City, but at shooting galleries throughout the Village. Cocaine and methamphetamines became speed balls (shooting up a blend of speed and downs), then she graduated to the un-watered down high–straight heroin.

Fast forward to the age of 29 as she lay in a Florida Hospital bed in 1987 diagnosed with AIDS. She blamed the shooting galleries in New York City and sharing needles with other junkies for her dire diagnosis.

She died three weeks after she was diagnosed. Her death became a gift to transform my life, and I stopped smoking, drinking, doing recreational drugs and having casual sex.

It wasn’t only her that I watched dance with the needle, between consciousness and unconsciousness, Heaven and Hell, but a handful of other friends and acquaintances.

My first injection at 20, guided by her hand, gave me the depiction of the high after vomiting, “I feel dead inside… nothingness. No thoughts or feelings.”

She retorted, “Yes, that’s what I love about it.”

I never shot heroin again, but skin popped Dauladids, which she complained was a waste of good drugs, if you’re not going to hit a vein.

Of my family and friends who became drug addicts and heroin users during a 20-year period from 1980 to 2002, four, beside my sister, would die from AIDS; one from a heroin overdose.

And while I couldn’t grasp the reasons for the severity of their addiction during their lifetime, I found a correlation between my sister and five other friends as I became more self-aware: the common denominator was the secret of being sexual abused as a child by a family member, uncle or step-parent.

R. B. Stuart

R. B. Stuart

R. B. STUART is a New York and Los Angeles journalist. A literary risk taker, and fearless reporter, Stuart prides herself on creating original, compelling, unconventional and thought provoking stories. Some of her work can be seen at the following sites: sistersoldier, huffingtonpost, operationpurpleheart and writingsbyrbstuart

Twenty years ago we couldn’t comprehend childhood sexual abuse, never mind discuss it. I heard each friend’s declaration during glimpses of sobriety, but being unfamiliar with the damaging effects molestation has as a child reaches adulthood, those intimate stories were met with silence on my part.

I wish that I could have been receptive to their inner turmoil, suffering and pain, brought on by their abuser. I later realized that the only thing capable of drowning out the emotional and psychological childhood trauma–running on a loop in their head every waking hour–was heroin.

It became their savior, and later their Angel of Death. It may have temporarily eradicated the suffering–but without help, therapy, and understanding–the addiction compounded the shame and suffering and, ultimately, became impossible to escape.

Whether AIDS, or overdose… death was only one needle away.

Editor’s Note: If you’ve had a personal experience as a heroin user or you know of someone close to you who has, write and tell us about it. Email your account to Editor, TheImproper.com