- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Heroin has a variety of nicknames. On the street, the stuff is called crank, horse, junk, tar, smack, skag, skunk, homicide and antifreeze, among other things.

But “beloved”?

Research released yesterday by the University of Buffalo says heroin addicts have a romantic relationship with the drug, and that the best way for them to kick dependency is to go into mourning — for loss of the needle and the lifestyle.

“I was surprised to hear addicts in the study describe their love for the needle. This has not been reported before,” said researcher Davina Moss, a counselor who has worked with heroin addicts for 13 years.

“They described a feeling of ‘oneness’ with the needle, how they would caress the needle, and how they would never forget their first time using the needle — much like someone would describe a first love,” Miss Moss said.

Her study included a dozen hard-core addicts in a New York detoxification facility.

“Heroin addicts have great difficulty ending their relationship with the drug. Their unresolved grief is not being addressed in treatment programs,” she added.

Of the 1 million heroin addicts in the U.S., those in recovery typically are treated with such medications as methadone or buprenorphine to reduce their withdrawal symptoms, said the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Behavioral therapies focus on rewarding good behavior, stress management and methods to help addicts modify their expectations.

Miss Moss has focused on the addicts’ feelings. Everyone in the study described “intense grief” and “great sorrow” while away from heroin, she said, “as if they were mourning a loved one’s death.” She compared their love for the drug to the adoration of a spouse.

One user in the study group said that if he didn’t “crave the feel of the needle,” he might be able to overcome his habit, Miss Moss said.

Such attachment has been documented in at least one example of popular culture. In “Heroin,” the Velvet Underground’s 1966 anthem to the drug, writer Lou Reed noted: “Heroin — it’s my wife and it’s my life.”

The study also found that recovering addicts mourn the loss of “heroin culture” built around the edgy challenge of finding and buying the drug.

“Heroin addicts develop a strong bond among themselves, much like you find within a family,” Miss Moss said. “They have their own slang, they watch out for each other and share information on where to get the drug.

“When heroin addicts start recovery, they have a hard time pulling away from this culture,” she said, adding that most addicts relapse within 72 hours of their discharge from programs.

Miss Moss recommends that grief counseling be made a part of standard treatment programs. She is pursuing a grant to develop a formal grief-counseling program for heroin addicts to help improve the success rate of treatment.

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