First the shakes. Then the sweats.

He knows the symptoms, so he takes a leather case from the drawer and heads for the bathroom. He finds an empty stall and shuts the door.

The shakes get worse as he rolls up his left sleeve and uses his hands and teeth to tighten the rubber strap around his arm, making the veins stand out. The veins get harder to find among the scabs and scars that cover the inside of his arm.

He finds a vein, thumps it few times to make it stand out, and picks up the needle, spraying a little of the fluid out to get rid of air bubbles. Then he inserts the needle into the vein and pushes in the plunger. He releases the rubber strap and feels the drug course into his veins. The shakes and sweats stop and he feels good, real good.

In a few minutes, he’s back in the office, on the phone, continuing the fast track to a partnership at a Washington, D.C., law firm.

He’s a young man on the move.

He’s also a heroin addict.

Any addict knows the ritual. It’s practiced many times a day in restrooms, flop houses and back alleys. It’s also practiced in law firm offices, corporate executive suites and even on Capitol Hill. Some say it happens in the White House too.

“One thing you can say about heroin. It doesn’t play favorites,” says Alan Wilkinson. Wilkinson knows. He’s a recovering addict (“Same as alcohol. You never get over it. You just keep recovering.”). He was an attorney for 21 years before his addiction cost him his license, his marriage and a lot more. Now he works with addicts.

“A junkie comes in all shapes and sizes,” Wilkinson says. “If you think only bums shoot smack, you’re dumber than you look.”

Wilkinson knows about the young man at the law firm, but he won’t turn him in.

“He came to talk to me. He needs help, but it has to be his choice. I can’t make it for him.”

He also knows addicts on Capitol Hill. One’s a member of Congress, but he won’t say who.

“He’s getting help. He’s getting it together. Won’t serve any purpose making it public.”

That’s the way Wilkinson operates. Total privacy. Complete anonymity. With a few exceptions.

“I find a doctor or nurse who’s usin’ and I give them 24 hours to turn themselves in or I do it. These people deal with people’s lives. Can’t have a doctor cuttin’ on someone if they’re high. Same with cops. Junkies and guns don’t mix.”

Wilkinson hears tales of heroin addicts in the White House, but he’s never come across one himself.

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Heroin is a stress drug and that place has a lot of stress. Remember the story a few months back about the reporter who’s an addict. Same situation. Stress takes over. Booze don’t offer the relief. Cocaine’s too tame. Next stop, smack.”

Heroin use seemed to be on the decline a few years ago, but now it’s back and it’s a drug of preference for the high and mighty.

“I’m losing ground,” Wilkinson says. “We got more of them comin’ in the door than we can handle. The damn drug is everywhere.”

Ask Wilkinson about a war on drugs and he laughs.

“Never been a war on drugs. Not really. Been a lot of politicians talking about some war, but it’s not fought out there on the streets where it’s happening. You can’t fight this problem with expensive programs and government bureaucracy. You got to fight it down here on the street, one junkie at a time.”

It’s time to go. Wilkinson has a client coming in and he tries to space appointments far enough apart so people don’t run into each other. It’s better that way.

A few minutes later, a $75,000 Jaguar pulls into the parking lot. The man who gets out looks vaguely familiar.

Another Washington success story.

Another junkie.

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC