A story about an unbeaten businessman who turns out to be a regular heroin user once was published by The New York Times in its FrontPage in 1992. It began: "He is an executive in a company in New York, lives in a condo on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, drives an expensive car, plays tennis in the Hamp tons and vacations with his wife in Europe and the Caribbean. But unknown to office colleagues, friends, and most of his family, the man is also a longtime heroin user. He says he finds heroin relaxing and pleasurable and has seen no reason to stop using it until the woman he recently married insisted that he do so. 'The drug is an enhancement of my life; he said. 'I see it as similar to a guy coming home and having a drink of alcohol. Only alcohol has never done it for me.'"
The Times noted that "nearly everything about the 44-year-old executive...seems to fly in the face of widely held perceptions about heroin users." The reporter who wrote the story and his editors seemed uncomfortable with contradicting official anti-drug propaganda, which depicts heroin use as incompatible with a satisfying, productive life. The headline read, "Executive's Secret Struggle with Heroin's Powerful Grip;' which sounds more like a cautionary tale than a success story. And the Times hastened to add that heroin users "are flirting with disaster." It conceded that "heroin does not damage the organs as, for instance, heavy alcohol use does." But it cited the risk of arrest, overdose, AIDS, and hepatitis--without noting that all of these risks are created or exacerbated by prohibition.
The general thrust of the piece was: Here is a privileged man who is tempting fate by messing around with a very dangerous drug. He may have escaped disaster so far, but unless he quits he will probably end up dead or in prison. That is not the way the businessman saw his situation. He said he had decided to give up heroin only because his wife did not approve of the habit. "In my heart," he said, "I really don't feel there's anything wrong with using heroin. But there doesn't seem to be anyway in the world I can persuade my wife to grant me this space in our relationship. I don't want to lose her, so I'm making this effort."
Judging from the "widely held perceptions about heroin users" mentioned by the Times, that effort was bound to fail. The conventional view of heroin, which powerfully shapes the popular understanding of addiction, is nicely summed up in the journalist Martin Booth's 1996 history of opium. "Addiction is the compulsive taking of drugs which have such a hold over the addict he or she cannot stop using them without suffering severe symptoms and even death;' he writes.” Opiate dependence...is as fundamental to an addict's existence as food and water, a physio-chemical fact: an addict's body is chemically reliant upon its drug for opiates actually alter the body's chemistry so it cannot function properly without being periodically primed. A hunger for the drug forms when the quantity in the bloodstream falls below a certain level....Fail to feed the body and it deteriorates and may die from drug starvation." The addiction almost starts with a single dose and that leads everyone to become a potential addict if they continue to use then the addiction will become a certainty.