Heroin usage is on the rise in America and a startling trend is taking shape: it is fast becoming the party drug of choice amongst a generation, who insists on revisiting Andy Warhol’s Studio 54. Though this generation never experienced the ravages of Vietnam or the devastating effects of long-term usage like liver transplant, hepatitis and institutionalization, young party goers now think of heroin as the ultimate “vintage drug”.
While Andy Warhol is often cited as the mastermind behind Studio 54, the artist never used heroin. Warhol was known to use stimulants and drink frequently, which was fashionable in the “3 martinis” era of the 50s.
Some sources say Warhol dabbled in cocaine, though this fact is not wholly agreed upon by friends and family. What is certain is that Warhol’s art and his nightclub spawned a whole culture of drugs and the notion that heroin could be progressive, “counter-culture chic,” so to speak. Most famous of the names in his circle was society girl, Edie Sedgwick.
After falling out with Andy Warhol, Sedgwick spent her remaining years flitting in and out of psychiatric wards. In between hospital stays, she fell into a motorcycle gang, helping obtain drugs. Highly promiscuous, it is reported she would sleep with anyone in exchange for heroin. She died tragically from an overdose of pain killers and alcohol.
Sedgwick wasn’t the only victim of heroin usage and the influence of Warhol’s dark circle.
Though Lou Reed did not die from an overdose, his addiction to heroin and amphetamines finally caught up with him in October 2013. Reed died after complications from a liver transplant. Reed contracted hepatitis from sharing needles with other users.
Andy Warhol is widely credited with discovering Reed, before Warhol became the manager of The Velvet Underground.
The Velvet Underground has been criticized for glamorizing heroin. Critics say Reed’s lyrics glorified addiction, rarely showing the negative, life destroying effects of long-term usage. Reed often simulated injecting heroin during his performances.
Forever unrepentant, Reed famously explained his dependency as being a necessary effect of living in a technologically driven era. He felt drugs were the only way to come down and behave normally “like a caveman.”
While users may be revisiting the same pressures that forced addicts to use within the enclave of Studio 54, heroin usage has changed over the years, becoming even more lethal. This does little to deter users, who believe it is the only way to switch off from the pressures of being online 24/7. The stress of social media and living life in the eyes of others has taken its toll. Experts say the blue light technology commonly used in smartphones is preventing us from unplugging at night, causing serious sleep deprivation and tempting people to resort to drugs to switch mental gears.
Heroin is now laced with fentanyl and is cheaper and easier to buy than many prescription pills on the black market. This has driven up demand considerably. CBS reported more than 80 people across America have died from this new form of heroin in the past few weeks. In each of these cases, the heroin was laced with the powerful synthetic opiate, fentanyl.
Fentanyl is traditionally used in hospitals, helping reduce pain in terminal cancer patients. It can also be used as an anesthetic. It is little wonder the drug often results in a lethal high, which proves fatal in its strongest form, inhibiting breathing.
People who are buying heroin on the streets are usually unaware that fentanyl is present.
Philip Hoffman’s death highlighted the risks posed to anyone experimenting with drugs. However, experts said fentanyl was not present in the heroin he injected himself with just before he died.
With a new generation of party goers taking “baby heroin” or ketamine, the horse-strength tranquilizer, it is easy to see how they could gravitate to a harder version or what users call the ultimate “vintage drug.”
While usage is on the rise, anyone keen on revisiting the glamour of Studio 54, should also know the dark truth that comes with addiction. Many users wind up destitute and disease ridden, contracting MRSA and other drug resistant bacterial infections as well as HIV—something Andy Warhol and his circle never had to worry about.
By Simone Innamorati
The Andy Warhol Museum