Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pete Implanted

A molecule of Naltrexone, yesterday.

For Pete's Sake, It Doesn't Work

Over the last week, Britain's newspapers have been full of pictures of a gangling young man wearing two hats, stumbling over himself. The sad casualty in question is, of course, Pete Doherty, the onetime beau of Kate Moss, ex-Babyshambles frontman, and Britain's most famous smack addict.

The reason for the renewed interest in Doherty's twilit lifestyle is that he has just entered a very expensive detox clinic (paid for by Moss, apparently), where he will undergo rapid and sedated withdrawal from his dependency.

A few days later - i.e. early next week - he is slated to have a Naltrexone implant inserted in his thigh, to prevent his regressing into addiction.

It sounds weird and maybe even dangerous. And it is - as I can attest. Because I too have taken Naltrexone to come off heroin. And I still bear the scars.

The way Naltrexone works is like this. It blocks the receptors in the brain that are particularly susceptible to the euphoria-inducing effect of opiates, like heroin. These receptors exist because the body has its own heroin-like painkiller - endorphin. Heroin "works" by mimicking endorphin, like an uninvited partygoer pretending to be on the guest list.

So far so good. With Naltrexone in your system there is no need to take heroin, because it simply won't work. You can't get high, no matter what you do.

This is where the dangers lurk. A few addicts become so desperate to get a rush they consume more and more heroin, even though they know that, with Naltrexone inside them, the smack won't have any effect. They consequently overdose and die. It's rare but it happens.

There are subtler dangers, too. Because Naltrexone stifles all endorphin-like substances - natural and unnatural - you miss out on life's normal "highs". Things that used to give you pleasure leave you cold. This can provoke a fairly serious depression. Anhedonia, my doctor called it.

All this might be acceptable if Naltrexone worked. But that's a very moot point. Naltrexone is good for stopping a serious addict going into even steeper decline. But it's a drastic and temporary measure. Rather like moving to Saudi Arabia to give up the booze. In the end, unless you want to live in Riyadh all your life, you have to come back and deal with the addiction at root.

And how do you do that? You go to NA and do the twelve steps programme. Or you just grow up.

Surveys shows that heroin addicts tend to drift away from the drug in their late 30s, almost of their own volition. They seem to get quietly bored of it. I know I did.

The trouble here, of course, is that you have to make it to the age of 37 in the first place.

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