Jeff was your everyday successful guy. He owned a thriving clothing business, had plenty of friends, and seemed to be living the sweet life in sunny Florida. Except for one thing: He was a heroin addict. It began eight years ago at a party with a snort of just one line of the drug. Within weeks, Jeff, then 30, was a frequent user and enjoying it. So much so that before long snorting didn't deliver a powerful enough high to satisfy his cravings; he moved on to smoking heroin. Next, concerned that too much of the precious drug was being wasted -"going up in smoke," as Jeff puts it-he started shooting up, regularly.
Heroin was an expensive habit in every way. At first, Jeff tried hiding the addiction from his girlfriend. But she found out and left him. He paid less and less attention to his business and eventually went bankrupt. Finally, with no friends and no money, he moved in with his sister. He felt trapped: "I was scared to quit because I knew how painful withdrawal would be."
Desperate, Jeff turned to an illegal, one-dose anti-addiction drug called Ibogaine-a combination withdrawal treatment and hallucinogen. His 30-hour Ibogaine "trip" was a gut-wrenching vision that haunts him still. As he descended deeper and deeper into himself, he realized that on heroin he'd taken on a dual personality-the nice guy whom people liked and the selfish person who alienated friends and stopped at almost nothing to get money to feed his habit. Ibogaine took Jeff back to early memories. "It made me relive painful things from my childhood and beyond," he says. "But as I came out of it, I saw myself change from two people into one." Since then, Jeff hasn't had the urge for heroin, though he's still not over the mental trauma that Ibogaine left behind.
Jeff's decision to put the chemical equivalent of a howitzer to his head to rid himself of his heroin jones speaks volumes about the sorry state of the medical establishment's approach to addiction. A handful of medicines help stem substance abuse, but their approaches border on Draconian. Antabuse, an anti-drinking pill, blocks the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the body. For anyone taking the drug, the tiniest sip of liquor, wine, beer, or even mouthwash produces a rapid and extremely toxic buildup of alcoholic byproducts in the bloodstream. That's followed by any number of unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, throbbing headaches, respiratory difficulty, vomiting, chest pain, vertigo, and confusion.
Zyban, a quit-smoking drug that's a reformulation of the antidepressant Wellbutrin, is an indirect solution at best. The idea is that smokers suffer from underlying depression and treating it will quell the cigarette craving. Unfortunately, Zyban's potential side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, lethargy, and diminished sex drive. Perhaps the best known anti-addiction drug is methadone, used to treat heroin addicts. While a godsend for some, methadone is more habit-forming than any opiate and is also not without its discomforting side effects: low blood pressure, nausea, and insomnia.