DEALING WITH DRUG ADDICTS: A POISONED CHALICE?

DEALING WITH DRUG ADDICTS: A POISONED CHALICE?

I’ve been photographing drug addicts, pushers and prostitutes, up close and personal, for the last five years, creating a photographic documentary for the future of how life was in most cities around the world in this period.

In the Italian city where I live, I know nearly all of the addicts, and many of their parents, too.

To get photographs I have to appear to be totally impartial and non-judgmental. Any demonstration on my part of fear, revulsion or disgust means I would not be able to return to continue my work. I would lose their trust and their respect. In the beginning I was threatened, both with weapons and used syringes, by the addicts, the pushers, and people higher up in the supply chain, but I persisted.

To be successful, as in other professions, a documentary or news photographer has to be able to psychologically detach him/herself from the subject, at least while doing the job. The memories can be harder to detach but over the years, sadly, one can almost become indifferent to suffering.

Most people show revulsion and intolerance for drug addicts. They do cause serious social problems, and they do steal, beg and prostitute themselves to have the money for their next fix, and they do demonstrate seriously antisocial behavior. Most people also assume they chose to become addicts, but this is not so.

Ninety percent of the prostitutes and petty thieves I have come across have a drug addiction. They do the work to pay for their habit.

Most drug addicts come from broken, violent or abusive homes, and nearly all of them share a common denominator – their father. In nearly all cases the father is violent, abusive, alcoholic, is a drug addict, or is in prison, or has simply walked out of their lives or died.

A huge percentage of the addicts suffer from mental health issues before they start taking drugs. Many are bipolar, some are schizophrenic, and only stay fairly “normal” because of medication. Others are manic-depressives, serious self-harmers, suicide risks, or even violently paranoid. These illnesses weren’t a result of their drug addiction; rather the drug addiction came partly as a result of pre-existing conditions, because society tends to marginalize mental health sufferers, and they become easy prey for pushers, or they find some temporary escape from their mental confusion by taking drugs.

Mental illness, combined with a low self-esteem caused by problems at home, make these people very vulnerable to exploitation by others who want to make money selling their drugs. Many are homeless, because sleeping rough is better than returning to a violent household, or because they have been kicked out of their homes.

Most health services around the world don’t have the budget to give these (usually) young people the medical or psychiatric help they need. There are charitable institutions that do their best, but even their budgets are limited, and all they can really do is provide “first aid”; supply blankets, clean syringes, food and hot drinks, maybe a bed for the night. They cannot provide a cure. Drug addiction is often closely related to mental health issues.

Police around the world often target the addicts and the street dealers, demonizing them, when their resources would, in my opinion, be better used going for the importers and manufacturers of the substances. The authorities know who they are, but those people are very rich and very powerful.

Four years ago I took a photo of the dirty, scarred feet of two young, homeless addicts in a town park. They liked it, and they suggested I had them printed as postcards that they could sell, instead of begging and stealing, to get the money they needed. I had them printed and handed them out, but within days the police had fined many of them for unlicensed street hawking. No consideration was given to the fact that by selling postcards they would steal and prostitute themselves less. Dura Lex, Sed Lex.

There are threads in these forums that discuss how to deal with problem addicts. I have found that by accepting they have a problem and treating them with respect, as fellow human beings, albeit with a problem, they will show respect in return, but takes a real effort because it goes against our natural human prejudices.

Drug addiction has existed for millennia; it was documented in ancient Egyptian times and even earlier in various early civilizations. A percentage of every population falls into the trap. In ancient times it was less of a problem, but now that big criminal organisations have realized there is a huge amount of profit to be made by selling misery, the problem has increased. Drug addiction causes the addict to do anything to get their next fix. They will steal and prostitute themselves, spreading hepatitis and worse (every drug addict I know has hepatitis) by sexual contact with men who then take it home to their wives. This is a further extra burden for the health authorities.

The problem of drug addiction has a serious consequential impact on policing, health services and home insurance premiums.

The presence of drug addicts indicates a flawed political and social system.

I don’t think there’s a magic cure, but after five years of speaking to addicts, their parents and local councilors it’s obvious that social, government and policing attitudes need to change drastically before we see any reduction in drug addicts and associated crime. The worse we treat the addicts, the worse they will get, as they will feel they have nothing to gain. If, on the other hand, we can de-marginalize them, show them that if they respect others they will be respected in return, and find a way of stopping them from being antisocial, stealing and prostituting themselves, both they and the general public might find a better life.

In my view, the only solution that might work would be for the government to decriminalize all drugs, and to supply good quality drugs directly to the addicts, free of charge, together with syringes, sterile water, and antiseptic wipes. The cost would be minimal, as drugs are cheap to produce, but the consequential effects of such a measure would be far-reaching; theft and prostitution, the load on the health and police services would be reduced, as would the number of beggars on the street, and the people who supply, from the top of the pyramid down to the pushers would be out of business.

The big question is, would those people at the top of the supply pyramid allow the authorities to put them out of business? I have been present when somebody has said, “we know where your children go to school”. For governments this is, indeed, a poisoned chalice.
 
Last edited:
DEALING WITH DRUG ADDICTS: A POISONED CHALICE?

I’ve been photographing drug addicts, pushers and prostitutes, up close and personal, for the last five years, creating a photographic documentary for the future of how life was in most cities around the world in this period.

In the Italian city where I live, I know nearly all of the addicts, and many of their parents, too.

To get photographs I have to appear to be totally impartial and non-judgmental. Any demonstration on my part of fear, revulsion or disgust means I would not be able to return to continue my work. I would lose their trust and their respect. In the beginning I was threatened, both with weapons and used syringes, by the addicts, the pushers, and people higher up in the supply chain, but I persisted.

To be successful, as in other professions, a documentary or news photographer has to be able to psychologically detach him/herself from the subject, at least while doing the job. The memories can be harder to detach but over the years, sadly, one can almost become indifferent to suffering.

Most people show revulsion and intolerance for drug addicts. They do cause serious social problems, and they do steal, beg and prostitute themselves to have the money for their next fix, and they do demonstrate seriously antisocial behavior. Most people also assume they chose to become addicts, but this is not so.

Ninety percent of the prostitutes and petty thieves I have come across have a drug addiction. They do the work to pay for their habit.

Most drug addicts come from broken, violent or abusive homes, and nearly all of them share a common denominator – their father. In nearly all cases the father is violent, abusive, alcoholic, is a drug addict, or is in prison, or has simply walked out of their lives or died.

A huge percentage of the addicts suffer from mental health issues before they start taking drugs. Many are bipolar, some are schizophrenic, and only stay fairly “normal” because of medication. Others are manic-depressives, serious self-harmers, suicide risks, or even violently paranoid. These illnesses weren’t a result of their drug addiction; rather the drug addiction came partly as a result of pre-existing conditions, because society tends to marginalize mental health sufferers, and they become easy prey for pushers, or they find some temporary escape from their mental confusion by taking drugs.

Mental illness, combined with a low self-esteem caused by problems at home, make these people very vulnerable to exploitation by others who want to make money selling their drugs. Many are homeless, because sleeping rough is better than returning to a violent household, or because they have been kicked out of their homes.

Most health services around the world don’t have the budget to give these (usually) young people the medical or psychiatric help they need. There are charitable institutions that do their best, but even their budgets are limited, and all they can really do is provide “first aid”; supply blankets, clean syringes, food and hot drinks, maybe a bed for the night. They cannot provide a cure. Drug addiction is often closely related to mental health issues.

Police around the world often target the addicts and the street dealers, demonizing them, when their resources would, in my opinion, be better used going for the importers and manufacturers of the substances. The authorities know who they are, but those people are very rich and very powerful.

Four years ago I took a photo of the dirty, scarred feet of two young, homeless addicts in a town park. They liked it, and they suggested I had them printed as postcards that they could sell, instead of begging and stealing, to get the money they needed. I had them printed and handed them out, but within days the police had fined many of them for unlicensed street hawking. No consideration was given to the fact that by selling postcards they would steal and prostitute themselves less. Dura Lex, Sed Lex.

There are threads in these forums that discuss how to deal with problem addicts. I have found that by accepting they have a problem and treating them with respect, as fellow human beings, albeit with a problem, they will show respect in return, but takes a real effort because it goes against our natural human prejudices.
Interesting, because most of the addicts I dealt with in the UK came from single parent homes, the dad long gone and in many, not all cases, they were benefit kids, banged out.
How does Italian society differ from the UK? When I was at school the Italians were held up as model parents.
 
Many moons ago i was working in a south staffordshire hospital, in the same corridor ( Electrical instillation of new Cat 5 coms cables) as the drug dependency Dept. so seeing these filthy stinking drug raddled wastes of space was a daily occurrence. The chief maintenance bloke got chatting" These bloody people grip my shit" or words to that effect " why can't the chemist give them a bigger dose of methadone, so that they take the lot in one go, and save the taxpayer a fortune." Meaning that they top themselves and the public are well rid of them....i concur whole hardheartedly. :p ( Its my 20% tax that was paying for their free fix FFS.)

Await incoming from the usual suspects.....3...2...1...
 
Last edited:
Interesting, because most of the addicts I dealt with in the UK came from single parent homes, the dad long gone and in many, not all cases, they were benefit kids, banged out.
How does Italian society differ from the UK? When I was at school the Italians were held up as model parents.
When I was at school in GB in the 1960s and 70s the Italians were also seen as model families, but I suspect partly because they had left Italy (which was still desperately poor in those days) and were working hard to make a better life for themselves.
Here in Italy the street addicts come from broken homes. Divorce was taboo 40 and 50 years ago, but is now as common as in GB. Unemployment here is very high, and this is the only country where the average wage has gone down over the last 20 years, and people are earning much less, and paying much higher prices, partly due to the absurdly high taxes here.
I guess the problems and some of the causes are much the same now, wherever you are in the world.
 
There are threads in these forums that discuss how to deal with problem addicts. I have found that by accepting they have a problem and treating them with respect, as fellow human beings, albeit with a problem, they will show respect in return, but takes a real effort because it goes against our natural human prejudices.

Need this necessarily be the case though?

Addiction is a form of illness. Be it addiction to gambling, tobacco, alcohol or any manner of substances slightly less legal, addiction is a form of mental leaning that leads onto the physical.

Much as I hold the Scottish Government in visceral contempt for many things, I firmly believe that they have it right when they support the treatment of drug addiction; it just so happens that they don't do it very well!!!

Personally, I think we have to take a good long look societally and decide what we are prepared to allow to be legal and what we aren't. Were it up to me I'd criminalise alcohol (having seen and lived with its effects) on the spot, and be a bit more permissive towards cannabis.
 
Last edited:
I guess the problems and some of the causes are much the same now, wherever you are in the world.
Corrupt and inept career politicians, greedy bankers, and a clergy who don't give a fruck, just as long as the collection tray is full......"paging the pope... clean up required, population explosion in all your poor countries where you have massive following,,, immediate 21st century practical common sense required." :eek:
 
In training I was taught that pain comes in forms additional to Physical -for example Social, Economic, Emotional, Spiritual etc.
I have always regarded a proportion of addicts as highly unadvisably self medicating for one of the non physical varieties of pain.
I recently had the opportunity to experience IV Fentanyl, (administered by an anaesthetist while a surgeon removed a toe plus attached metatarsal under local anaesthetic).
I explored my mental state and found that any feeling about my life problems was absent, so I see why self medicators do this, locking themselves into a vicious circle.
I declined a repeat dose; I no longer needed it at that point, and wanted to remember and contemplate this experience which I have no intention of repeating.
 
So your Italian addicts don’t steal, rob, or anything like that? How civilized.
"Ninety percent of the prostitutes and petty thieves I have come across have a drug addiction. They do the work to pay for their habit."
 

Yokel

LE
Need this necessarily be the case though?

Addiction is a form of illness. Be it addiction to gambling, tobacco, alcohol or any manner of substances slightly less legal, addiction is a form of mental leaning that leads onto the physical.

Much as I hold the Scottish Government in visceral contempt for many things, I firmly believe that they have it right when they support the treatment of drug addiction; it just so happens that they don't do it very well!!!

Personally, I think we have to take a good long look societally and decide what we are prepared to allow to be legal and what we aren't. Were it up yo me I'd criminalise alcohol (having seen and lived with its effects) on the spot, and be a bit more permissive towards cannabis.

I have long been in favour of treating addiction as a medical problem, rather than a law and order one as such. That is not the same as advocating a soft approach, just advocating one that stands a greater chance of working, I am not sure if the Mental Health Act (and Scottish equivalent) could be used to ensure addicts attend treatment, but I think the courts can order that.

I used to know a nurse who had run anti drug and drink programmes in a prison. A supportive environment and humane treatment works better than purely punitive ones, and her experience was that many addicts did want help. If people start taking drugs in response to some life event, punishment is likely to make them do the same. For example if someone became an alcoholic as their response to feeling low was to down a couple of cans of strong lager or reach for the Vodka, then is it a good idea to castigate them for having a single drink?

I have never been addicted - but I have self sabotaged due to anxiety related behaviours, which I guess is not a million miles from addition. In front of me I have a packet (mostly unused) prescription painkillers...

Corrupt and inept career politicians, greedy bankers, and a clergy who don't give a fruck, just as long as the collection tray is full......"paging the pope... clean up required, population explosion in all your poor countries where you have massive following,,, immediate 21st century practical common sense required." :eek:

When I read your posts I sometimes wonder what you have been taking.

"Ninety percent of the prostitutes and petty thieves I have come across have a drug addiction. They do the work to pay for their habit."

Hence my view - see it as a medical (neuropsychiatric) problem and treat it as such (and still deal with crime that results from it), or treat it as a crime problem and stop some seeking help, whilst reinforcing the viscous circle for others.

One size fits nobody.
 
Last edited:
Were it up yo me I'd criminalise alcohol (having seen and lived with its effects) on the spot, and be a bit more permissive towards cannabis.
I'd have this exactly the other way around. Cannabis is a lot stronger nowadays than 20/30 years ago, and it's frequently (especially in the form of skunk) an aggravating factor in paranoid schizophrenia cases who go postal and injure or kill.
 
My sister had a good job in the music industry and ended up with a Keith Richards sized addiction.The low point was when she and her boyfriend (a Brig’s son) robbed my gran. My family spent a fortune on rehab sending her all over the world and I think it helped my parents to an early grave. I remember my mum being in tears coming back from the chemist with her after the meth dole out and them both being treated as low life’s and my dad’s despair of it all.

This isn’t a sympathy tale and thankfully she’s been clean a long time but it is an illness and there’s plenty of folk who’ll take advantage of it and many more that judge. The addict is only concerned with the next hit just like the alcoholic,gambler or even a chain smoker and has no concept of the chaos and pain they leave in their wake.
 
Tramadol. Although, not handed out like smarties like it used to be, is what one doctor described to me as a dirty drug"
My mum was prescribed some after a partial amputation of her foot..
I did my back in after a fall, and took two.
Not reccomended if you like me have a nasty feeling after taking Opiates.
After the initial nausea had worn off i just got the feeling that no matter what happened i could not give a flying ****.
I have spoken to lots of poeple with the same affliction and it seems that that is the main attraction.
 
Having had to clean up after various infestations of addicts, I conclude it isn't that society has given up on them, it's they gave up on society.
Offering treatment, treating them like normal people, other good intentions, they'll invariably lie, until next able to score, and all you've achieved is to waste resources more effectively used elsewhere.
 
Many moons ago i was working in a south staffordshire hospital, in the same corridor ( Electrical instillation of new Cat 5 coms cables) as the drug dependency Dept. so seeing these filthy stinking drug raddled wastes of space was a daily occurrence. The chief maintenance bloke got chatting" These bloody people grip my shit" or words to that effect " why can't the chemist give them a bigger dose of methadone, so that they take the lot in one go, and save the taxpayer a fortune." Meaning that they top themselves and the public are well rid of them....i concur whole hardheartedly. :p ( Its my 20% tax that was paying for their free fix FFS.)

Await incoming from the usual suspects.....3...2...1...
Yeah let’s do the same for the ex soldiers who have drink problems or PTSD after all it’s your 20% tax no one else’s and their only “filthy wastes of space” not some ones son or daughter.
 
Last edited:

Poppycock

War Hero
Execute the dealers and those involved in the importation.
No ifs or buts, hang the bastards
How about just executing the most senior people complicit in drug production in the first place?

We could string Drug Baron Richards of Herstmonceux up straight away :-D

Image text:
The February 2014 image shows water stored inside [Camp Bastion] as well as the run-off subsequently used to irrigate poppy along the perimeter wall of the base. The March 2015 image shows the lack of storage water and run-off and a substantial drop in land under agriculture, including poppy cultivation.

opium harvest irrigation.jpg


 
Last edited:

Latest Threads

Top