My Life as a Diabetic Heroin Addict


Because I’m a diabetic, I forget that syringes really freak people out.

The tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman reminded me of this. When he died I was stunned. I called friends and family for help in getting my mind around the fact that he was dead. That he OD’d on heroin made his death seem more shocking. Then I read stories about how he was found with a needle in his arm. In many articles that image was considered more disturbing and off-putting than the very fact of his death. However, for me that image finally grounded his death in reality.

It took absolutely no effort to picture the needle. I could see the orange cap that was probably on the ground or somewhere else nearby. As a diabetic I’ve been around syringes for more than 35 years. There’s a box of the things in my bathroom closet. I keep one in a bowl alongside my insulin in my refrigerator so everything I need is close at hand. And I always make sure I have a ½ cc needle in my pocket, along with a few doses of fast acting insulin and a roll of Lifesavers, every time I leave the house. But, while they’re second nature to me, they’re disturbing to most everyone else.

Vial and Syringe: My Life as a Diabetic Heroin Addict

I grew up a skinny diabetic on some very mean streets in the late 1980s. I lived on the Lower East Side of New York, near Alphabet City, Tomkins Square Park, and around more junkies per block than the Betty Ford Clinic sees in a year. One time, coming home at night some kid tried to rob me using a broken beer bottle. Having no clue what I was even doing, I reached into my pocket, pulled out my syringe, popped the cap off, and watched my assailant’s eyes grow enormous before he took off running.

In my second semester of college I got a new roommate. I breezed into our room quickly between classes and introduced myself. He just stared at me, slack jawed and seeming really nervous. Wonderful, I thought walking across campus, a mouth breathing nut job. Later that day he told me that when he moved in he saw a syringe under my desk. He thought he was rooming with a heroin addict. I had introduced myself before he had a chance to notice my insulin in the small dorm fridge. It took him a while, however, to fully relax about the whole thing.

Once, my brother dragged me to a strip club. “Dragged” is the operative word. I am not a strip club guy. This was my first and last time at one and it was … well, let me put it this way. It was a strip club. In Grand Junction, Colorado. At 2 in the afternoon. We were drinking Bud Light. The entire scene was literally more pathetic than a day shift stripper. It only got interesting when the police showed up, told us they’d received a 911 call form the club manager, and asked to speak to me outside.

Once outside, the officer reached into his shirt pocket, drew out an orange-topped syringe, and said, “Is this yours, son?”

I frisked myself, drew out my bottle of insulin, my Lifesavers, but came up empty on the needle, which must have fallen out. Luckily, unlike the club manager, the cop was cool about it.

I, however, now realize that most people are not cool when it comes to syringes. That’s why this Thursday, when I host poker night, I’ll make sure to take the syringe out of the bowl and hide it away in the butter compartment so no one freaks out.

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9 years ago

Your tale about getting mugged is seriously priceless!  Way to think on your toes there ;) no way I would have been that keen. It is rather surprising to me how squeamish people are about needles.  I grew up living with an insulin-dependent grandmother, then ended up getting diagnosed with diabetes myself at age 11, so fortunately (I guess) that aspect of diabetes management has never been “the stressful part” of the disease for me. The funny thing is that the only way a needle/syringe could really hurt you is if it contained something that was poisonous/toxic or was contaminated… Read more »

9 years ago

Just a gee whiz… how many people out there keep their insulin in a bowl, and in the butter compartment of their fridge? GUILTY!!!

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