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Heroin Usage and Treatment in Pop Culture Vs. Reality
Heroin usage, treatment, and addiction have been the subject of many films, but are the depictions a true picture of an addict’s life and recovery? Several films helped glamorize heroin addiction and created an atmosphere that failed to show the full reality of what an addict experiences during their day-to-day life and recovery. As any heroin addict in treatment will readily admit, there is nothing glamorous about being a junkie. It isn’t exhilarating or thrilling, nor does heroin addiction result in an exciting, adventure-filled life. Heroin kills. Heroin addiction ruins lives, physically destroys bodies, wrecks lives emotionally, devastates families, and is difficult to treat. There is an undeniable, false portrait of heroin use, treatment, and addiction painted in pop culture compared to what actually occurs.
During the 1990s, several films appeared in popular culture that featured attractive and beautiful heroin addicts. It makes sense that the lead for a film would be a good-looking person, such as Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting or Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, and Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream, but the reality of heroin addiction is that it robs a person of their physical looks. In the 1990s, the fashion industry began a phase known as “heroin chic.” Heroin chic was the most blatant attempt to glamorize the look of heroin addiction ever seen in pop culture. There was no mistaking the gaunt face of Kate Moss with dark circles under the eyes or Imogen Morris Clarke’s frail skeleton with jutting ribs and pale skin as anything other than an attempt to glamorize addiction. Heroin addiction had become fashionable, and magazines were dedicating glossy covers to heavily made-up, gaunt models who looked like heroin junkies in sexy poses. The fad didn’t last long, however, as the realities of heroin addiction continued to claim lives in the fashion world. One of the most notable cases of heroin addiction that led to fatality was the 1986 death of fashion model Gia Carangi. The 26-year-old lost everything to heroin, contracted HIV, and died of AIDS-related complications. Carangi’s death opened the door for Cindy Crawford’s career, as Crawford herself stated that when she began modeling, she was referred to as “Baby Gia.”
The fact that a model dies from complications attributed to a long-term struggle with heroin addiction and another model who looks strikingly similar easily replaces her indicates a problem. The treatment of heroin usage in popular culture is not a clear picture of the true heartbreak and pain experienced when someone loses a loved one to addiction. Family and friends aren’t as easily replaced as models who grace magazine covers. Additionally, Angelina Jolie portrayed Carangi in a made-for-television movie that many believe set her on the path to Hollywood stardom. With someone like Jolie portraying a model-turned-heroin-addict AIDS victim, and as one of the first famous women who died of AIDS was a fashion model, it is easy to see how heroin use has been glamorized. Heroin gained a reputation as a drug used by the rich, famous, and successful. It has been linked to artists, poets, actors, and musicians since the early 20th century. Despite the deaths of high-profile actors, models, pop stars, and musicians due to heroin, use has not declined and in fact has reached epidemic proportions across the United States.
Heroin is highly addictive, and there is nothing glamorous about addiction, withdrawal, or side effects. Heroin addicts have a higher rate of overdose than other drug users, and the FDA has approved the use of the drug naloxone to try to save those who have overdosed before an ambulance arrives. That fact alone shows the dangers of heroin and the high number of deaths associated with the drug. Some famous people who are believed to have died from heroin overdose include Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, Peaches Geldof (Geldof’s mother, Paula Yates, also died of a heroin overdose), Janis Joplin, Chris Kelly of Kris Kross, River Phoenix, Dee Dee Ramone, Brad Renfro, Dash Snow and Sid Vicious. There is no question that heroin kills, and the life of an addict is not one that is glamorous or exciting but one that is cut short.
Treatment for heroin addiction is a lifelong struggle. Once someone becomes addicted to heroin or other opioids, they struggle to remain in recovery throughout their life. When relapses occur, they can be deadly. Users who go back to heroin are more likely to binge on the drug and are in real danger of overdosing. Some movies have failed to show the full reality of someone going through withdrawal or the battle they face on a day-to-day basis to remain clean. Many users require long-term drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine in order to abstain from heroin. Giving up heroin doesn’t mean someone is clean and free of all drugs: They often take another drug for an extended period. These drugs also carry side effects and can be addictive over time. There is no doubt that popular culture has presented a picture of the heroin addict that is contrary to what real addicts experience.