Jeff almost died from an overdose last month, but by sheer luck and/or the Grace of God he did not! This is what he told me when I paused to say hello on my way to a long postponed mammogram; a symptom of severe anxiety drives me to defer essential medical appointments among other things, but this year I am pushing forward and forcing myself do what may seem simple to you.
One evening he decided to treat himself to a twenty piece of crack, obtaining the product from an established local dealer, stopping at the empty bus shelter on Flemington to have a “quick puff” before trudging through the snow up a steep ridge, then descending the ravine and settling into his tent for the night. The drug was an afterthought; the pleasure of a crackling glow to ease the darkness of loneliness. Having bought extra batteries at the dollar store beforehand, the short term plan was to smoke the rest while listening to the game on his portable radio. Instead, Jeffry passed out the second he inhaled.
“Don’t remember nothing. Was in the hospital for two days. Good thing I only put a small chip on my pipe or I’d be dead! Must have been cut with fentanyl!”
Fortunately, someone came along and saw him lying unconscious and called 911. What is shocking about this is that Jeff is not what some would label a ‘Crack Head’. I imagine him dying from hypothermia or pneumonia and I’ve pictured a heavy tree branch laden with ice and covered in a mound of snow breaking and falling upon his feeble shelter shattering brittle bones, killing or trapping him for days to die in agony. However, never did I surmise that his demise would be drug related. In addition, the crack cocaine was purchased from what I would call a reliable source.
Hobbling up the Ramp to talk, the homeless man is tired and sickly; his nose is dripping and eyes runny. “Can’t see out of one of them,” he’d informed me a while back after scratching it on the tip of a twig. He doesn’t drink or take pills of any kind, definitely not oxycodone or other opioids, nor the occasional Tylenol extra strength to ease constant aches and pains caused by living rough for years with only a damp sleeping bag to soften the hard earth underneath. Yes, he lives this way by choice, but it was a difficult winter for everyone and the odds are stacked against those like him as are the options limited.
“If I had ten bucks for every time I fell this year, I’d be rich,” he’d joked mid-through the brutal season.
Compared to the addict whose sole purpose is to procure and consume, Jeff’s focus is upon other fundamental concerns, setting out every morning with the hope of bumming enough money to pick up a pack of cigarettes, a couple cups of tea, a daily lottery ticket, and one or two meals at the mall; storing food in his tent is risky with pesky hungry wildlife in close proximity. The man with few to talk to carries a cheap flip phone and pays the bill monthly, charging it wherever he can. Poor soul, he lost his last cell in the snow and had to get a new one recently. He is not and has never been desperate to get high, nor does he binge to a point of danger, and crack cocaine does a lot of things to the user, but an instantaneous overdose is not one of them.