Sunday, February 03, 2008
Crack cocaine a fast ride down
Feb. 1, 2008
Guy Grolway and I came across each other at a bus stop near City Hall one morning a couple weeks ago - me looking for someone out there who felt like talking, him taking in the morning before another day on the streets set in.
He’s 57, and up until a couple years ago was making good money as a heavy-equipment operator in Fort McMurray. But then he met a woman - and soon after, crack cocaine. And wouldn’t you know it, crack cocaine was the one that stuck around.
“I came to this city from the Ottawa valley 35 years ago with nothing, and two years ago found myself like I started,” says Grolway. “There’s a lesson to be taught from all of this: Never get involved in crack.”
Grolway has been a drug user all his life. Marijuana first, starting at age 11. Cigarettes at 12. Crystal meth at 13: “My best friend put a needle in my arm and I woke up seven years later.” Then cocaine, for most of his adult life, but never so much that he couldn’t hold down a good job and keep a roof over his head.
Cocaine can be injected, snorted, or smoked as “crack” - a diluted but more addictive form of the drug. You wouldn’t think method would matter in terms of the impact on someone’s life.
But when Grolway switched from snorting powdered cocaine to smoking crack a couple years ago - mostly out of curiosity after seeing his new girlfriend do it - he ruefully discovered that at least for him, it mattered a lot.
“I started recreational use of crack, and within three or four months knew that THIS wasn’t recreation,” recalls Grolway. “I was totally out of control and spending every last time dime, including the rent money.”
He lost his house five months ago, and his girlfriend soon after. Like him, she’s now on the streets, passing the time chasing crack cocaine.
There’s only one day a month - Welfare Wednesday - when Grolway actually has the $1,000 he’s capable of spending on a single jag. But not a day goes by when he isn’t on the hunt for crack, even just a “hoot” from a friend.
“The thing with crack is that you’re never, ever going to get what you want. It’s not there,” says Grolway. “All that’s there is heavy addiction, paranoia, flailing, loss of control of your body.
“You’ll be up 10 or 12 days without sleep, and then you’ll finally crash and sleep for three days. But to shake that hangover - it takes the life right out of you - you’re going to go looking for more. Then it just spirals into this cycle: Buy it, sell it, middle it - whatever you need to do to be able to afford at least some of your habit.”
I ask Grolway what prevents him from turning his life around. There are some obvious ones: No place to detox. No place to live while he tries to clean up. No ability to find and keep work in the meantime.
“But there’s something else. I can’t get something straight up here,” he says, pointing to his head. “Something has happened, like a short circuit.
“A lot of us out here have hepatitis-C, and that alone can cause confusion. But then you add in the stress of no money, the police always harassing you, the drugs you’re using - there’s just so many issues to deal with. It’s almost like we missed the train, and it’s not coming back.”
Like most people on the streets, Grolway doesn’t like all his problems being on display in the busy downtown. But every “hidey hole” has been locked up, gated, mowed down or otherwise done away with by fed-up merchants and city cleanup crews trying to get a grip on the mess of homelessness.
“They’re only making the problems worse,” he says. “There’s nowhere to go anymore. We’re living where rats wouldn’t live.”
Grolway suspects people on the streets will eventually band together in their misery, and some will turn to violence. Politicians may be “hoping the problem just goes away,” but he sees new faces arriving every day.
“I just hope they come up with some kind of resolve soon,” he says. “If you were to go down a dead-end road 20 or 30 times, you would think that you’d start to see by this point that it was time to go down a different road.”