Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy) – in the right amounts, all of them are lethal.

No surprise there.

Many of the addicts I’ve spoken to started their road to full blown addiction by smoking the occasional joint, thinking casual marijuana use would not hurt them.  How wrong they were.

Of course, the majority of the chemically dependant I’ve talked to call the Downtown Eastside home, where they live below the poverty line and do what they must to survive.  For many of them, ‘survival’ depends largely on when the next hit of their chosen poison will be.

Their lives aren’t pretty or glamorous, or anything I would ever want any of my loved ones to experience first hand.


Her name was Roxanne.

Petite and with black eyes and raven coloured hair, her spirit was such that she would talk to anyone and her sweet disposition made her easy to deal with when she found herself in trouble.  Roxanne did not steal or commit robberies or take part in acts of violence; instead, she supported herself and fed her habit by doing the only thing she knew.

She once made the statement of not knowing what her life would have been if she had grown up somewhere else.  I don’t know where she spent her childhood but I suspect the ‘where’ doesn’t matter as much as the ‘how’.

Her addiction to cocaine was severe and her body suffered horribly.  She was friendly and gentle natured and it pains me to imagine the type of woman she might have been had drugs not found her.


She was barely clothed, thrashing about in an alcove in the 400 Powell St.  Frantic, literally climbing the walls and screaming to ‘get them off her’, she rolled her head back and wailed.

Blood was smeared across concrete and glass.  When she turned her oil-drop eyes on me and begged Please, I was not sure what to do.

Her assailants were not visible and I spoke to her in a soft, low voice in an effort to get her to calm down.  Eventually, she stopped clawing her way up the cinderblock and turned to me, her arms extended so the raw, bleeding wounds covering her forearms and face were visible.  She took a few stilted steps in my direction before she collapsed, and when I rolled her on to her side, her body was limp with fatigue.

The paramedics were there in moments, giving Roxanne oxygen, IV fluids and warmth in the form of an ambulance gurney and a blanket.  She was semi-conscious, giving in to the comfort of the concerned people around her.

Or so I thought.


Roxanne’s mouth drew down in a frown and her eyes widened.  She brought both of her hands up to her face, a guttural moan issuing from deep within her chest when she hooked her thumb into a claw and tore at her other hand, ripping flesh and making the hairs on the back of my neck stiffen.  Her thumb was inside and under the skin of her other hand, blood starting to pour, when she looked up at the paramedics and asked them to make the spiders leave her alone.

“Get them off me!”

When one of the paramedics swatted her hand with his gloved one, Roxanne turned her attention to her forearm.  She gripped the edge of a fresh, jagged wound and pulled, the sound of tearing skin like the tearing of thick fabric.  I think I yelled for someone to stop her, and the gloved paramedic grabbed Roxanne’s hands, pinning them to her chest so she could no longer harm herself.

As it was, Roxanne was handcuffed and her hands wrapped in thick layers of gauze to stymie her fingers from their frantic picking.  She was sedated and it was only then I observed the wounds all over her body.  Her scalp, her side, her thigh, her genitals.

The poor woman had about picked herself to death trying to free herself from the spiders and bugs she thought were crawling underneath her skin.

Roxanne was rushed to the hospital.  I rode with her in the ambulance and stayed with her until she was admitted to medical care.


I may have seen her once or twice after that, but I can’t be sure.

Every time, I do a double-take and the would-be Roxanne is gone.  I don’t remember what her last name was, and in truth, I’m not sure I want to.

Like so many others, it is most likely she has been lost to drug addiction, her laugh ringing like the bells of other women I have known, all falling to the needle, the predator and the serial killer.

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