So far, my life has consisted of almost 20 years of heroin use; several, if not a dozen, detoxes; three long-term stays in rehab centres; two failed attempts with replacement therapy, with the last – the third one – finally successful. Today I am nothing but Marta, a mother of wonderful daughters, and soon to be a granny.
I started my last course of opioid substitution therapy in 1999, just several months prior to the introduction of an outright prohibition on drugs in Poland. What actually made me decide to undertake that therapy was not the fear of prison or any other restrictions; the major motivation in my case was my daughters, my love for them, and the fear I might lose them. What helped me so essentially was the support of my family, who did not turn away from me, but understood that only with their strong support I stood a chance of recovering.
The restrictive drug policy in Poland influenced neither my addiction nor my healing, especially as until the mid-1990s there wasn’t really a proper “Polish drug policy” to speak of. In those days, the Polish drug scene differed from what was happening around the world mainly in the way that addicted users would produce a homemade drug, so-called “Polish heroin” (kompot), for their own use, selling their production surplus in order to be able to buy reagents. They were therefore considered both drug “producers” and “dealers” under the law.
In 1997, Polish drug law became stricter, banning the cultivation of opium poppy while allowing only the industrial variety that contained only traces of opioids. This, coupled with the opening up of the country to Western Europe, led to an influx of “new” drugs into the Polish market. Following the blanket prohibition in 2000, which penalized the possession of any amount of drugs, the nature of addiction in Poland changed. The home “production centres” disappeared and those addicted to the “local stuff” inevitably had to shift to buying street heroin distributed by proper dealers.
The repressive approach in Poland meant that those who ended up in prison were very sick people, with a long history of drug use, who had never before been in conflict with the law.
When I look back on my case, I am certain that, had I been criminalised or punished for my addiction, I would never be am what I am now. In 2007, I founded the JUMP 93 Patients’ Association, which runs an addiction therapy centre and an intervention hostel for the homeless undergoing opioid replacement therapy. I am also the Secretary of the Polish Drug Policy Network and MAR Replacement Therapy Association. But above all, I am alive – I am a mother and a grandma, and that is the most important thing.
What I find most rewarding in my career is the ability to support others who are still somewhere at the beginning of their way to recovery. I try to help them find the most suitable path for themselves, doing my best to assist them at every stage, to provide them with good advice, support, and words of encouragement.