Zach Samuels has just published a rather disturbing book Confessions Of A Crack Head about his life as a drug user. I work with the homeless and a good proportion of my clients have addiction problems, so this book was one that I could definitely relate to. Zach (not his real name) agreed to sit down and give a short interview.

My normal style is to begin an interview with a biographical question, you know the sort of thing, ‘tell us a little about yourself’. Obviously that wasn’t going to work, he writes under a pen name and has changed all the names and places. Instead I decided to find out his motivation behind the book, and where the idea came from.

About two years ago I was at a birthday party for my sister and my mom and my cousin from Toronto, who is an actor/writer/director, was there. I started telling him some of my story and he got really interested in making it a play and told me to just start writing. So I did and the words just flowed. Soon it turned into a book. I really don’t care too much about fame or fortune; if I help a few people by telling my story I’ll be happy

One of the observations I have made in the 6 years I have spent working with people who have addictions is that they age really fast, in real years they may be 25, but they look more like 75. Bad skin, no teeth, thin like an escapee from a Nazi concentration camp, and health issues beyond comprehension. As one sage person told me ‘There are no old Crack Heads’, they have a career potential of an average NFL player a few seasons, and they are done. Zach seems to have fared better than most.

I used crack for about 9 years and then a couple more after stopping for 12 years. My breathing isn’t very good anymore, I cough a lot and I have to use a puffer now. That’s the only damage I’m aware of.

I live in Calgary, it is a city of just over one million people. It used to be a very friendly place. Over the past few years there has been a huge increase in street gangs, violence, and drugs. Crack being very prevalent. Hardly a day goes by without some mention in the local press about violence and drugs, is there any kind of solution?

I think education is the best prevention. I used to go to schools and tell my story so that kids would know where to get help if they got into trouble. I think it should be a big part of the curriculum in high schools.

I am not so sure I am in total agreement with this answer, yes, it is important to educate, but it is equally important to remove the dealers, the runners, and the cooks, from the picture. It is a rare day that I do not walk by a group smoking Crack or doing a joint, yet the police seem to ignore it. Unless there are guns or knives and a whole lot of blood involved, they prefer to look the other way. Too much paperwork involved? Too overfilled jails? Too much aggravation, to just watch while a Judge lets them out again? I don’t know the answer, I only see the problem.

There is a school of thought among the pot smokers that pot should be legal, it does not lead people to stronger drugs. My thoughts on this are divided, for some people pot is enough, I know people that have smoked for years, and have never been tempted to try anything else. I also believe that there are people that for whatever reason are compelled to move on to other drugs. This leads to the idea, can an addict move back down the ladder? From Crack to lets say Pot?

It’s my opinion that if you’re an addict you have to stay off all drugs and alcohol in order to recover. Substituting with alcohol or pot will just get you hooked on that or lead you back to your drug of choice.

It is said, once an addict always an addict, do you think controlling addiction becomes easier over time? My wife used to smoke cigarettes, she gave up 7 years ago, but she still has the occasional craving. Does time temper the urges?

The simple answer is no. The nature of the disease of addiction is that we have an allergy which means as soon as we put a substance into our body we develop a craving which demands more and we can’t stop. That never changes so the answer is complete abstinence.

I know that addiction has become a part of government funding, but I often wonder if there is enough funding, or if this is just a sop to look like they care, while basically ignoring the problem. Spending $100,000 for a drug rehab program makes for a good ‘sound bite’ but when you consider the fact that it is probably costing them $millions to just repair the pot holes on main street, you have to wonder.

I believe the government is already doing a lot at the rehab level. In my city they are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a new rehab and I think the trend is nation wide which is great.

I still remain skeptical. Little money is ever given freely in the area of mental health, and I don’t think Alberta is unique in this trait. If you are missing a limb, sure you are disabled, and the money comes easy, if there is a mental health issue, all bets are off!

The one thing that I am certain about, is that Zach’s support system is outside of the mainstream government funded one.

I wish Zach all the best in his conquest over Crack, and hope that others will learn the lessons from reading his book, rather than by personal experience.

Simon Barrett

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