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An Addict's Story 

from "Drug Crazy" by Mike Gray 


Maureen was a nineteen-year-old Irish redhead when she married a rich kid from Manchester who gave her three children and introduced her to heroin. A few years later he decided to run off with a younger woman, so he left Maureen with the kids, no money, and a serious heroin habit. For the next several years, she moved the kids from one bed-and-breakfast to another, supporting herself with prostitution and shoplifting, all the time frantically chasing the dragon. Like most addicts, she tried to kick repeatedly without success. 

Finally the authorities were breathing down her neck and she knew she was about to lose her children. Desperate, a friend steered her to a clinic in suburban Liverpool where her life was instantly transformed. 

Dr. John Marks, the bearded Welsh psychiatrist who ran the clinic, examined her and determined that she was indeed a heroin addict. So he wrote her a prescription for heroin and told her to come back in a week. 

Almost unbelieving, she took the slip of paper to the pharmacist up the street and he filled it without batting an eye. As she stood at the counter staring at the small round container of pure heroin, an odd sensation washed over her. The auger of panic that had been twisting her gut every waking moment for a decade was spinning down. For the first time in memory, she had a tiny bit of brain space that wasn't focused on how to get the next fix. It began to dawn on her that it no longer made any difference whether she could get the cash, or whether her dealer would show up, or whether the stuff was any good, or whether cops would beat her to it. 

As she slipped the package into her purse, she caught a glimpse of herself in the glass and for the first time in ten years she stopped to take a serious look. She was stunned. Then she glanced down at her children, and she said, "Oh, my God." In an instant, the morality that had been instilled in her as a child came flooding back. "I felt so disgusted..." Over the next weeks and months her dose was stabilized at a point that allowed her to function without suffering withdrawal, and within a year her life had been completely turned around. She had a job, her kids were in school, and she was talking about going back to college. The piece of paper John Marks handed her almost nonchalantly turned out to be a passport out of hell. 


Unfortunately, the Liverpool clinic (one of the last of the old British heroin maintenance programs) was featured on a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast and U.S. drug enforcers went into convulsions. The success of the clinic (a 90 percent drop in the local crime rate, zero cases of AIDS, the elimination of homelessness, moving people off welfare rolls into productive jobs) flew in the face of American drug war orthodoxy. Dr. Marks was warned by friends in the Home Office that the U.S. Embassy was exerting tremendous pressure to shut him down, and in the end they were successful. The 450 patients Marks had been serving were kicked into the street and told to find a detox program where they could learn to give up their evil ways. "Two years later", said Marks, "25 of the addicts were dead." 

And what of Maureen, the heroin user with three children who planned to go to college? "I saw Maureen the other day", said Marks. "She was desperate, back to criminality, a lot of her friends are back in prison. She's on the streets. She saw me in passing and asked if I could take her back on. Her doctor tried to refer her to me but the Health Authority refused to defray the costs." 

And so the state, in its righteous determination to set everything straight, has managed to teach Maureen and her children a lesson. It's one they won't soon forget. 

Mike Gray is the author of "Drug Crazy: How We Got Into This Mess and How We Can Get Out" (Random House, 1998) from which this is excerpted. 

"Drug Crazy" is one of many fine, well researched books on drug policy. It is particularly readable and offers a look at when all drugs were legal in the U.S. and thoughts about possible alternatives for today.


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