The Haunting Branding on Heroin Bags Illustrates the Highs and Lows of Addiction

Graham MacIndoe hasn’t touched heroin in about four years, but the lasting effects of addiction will probably stay with him for life.

In the photos above, you’ll see some glassine heroin bags, all of which were emptied by MacIndoe sometime during his five-year battle with the drug. He first became addicted to smack back in 2005, but doesn’t quite know how it ended up consuming his life. But as with most addicts, he found that the drugs became more potent and his need to get a fix became more frequent. Everything else in life become unimportant — his career, his friends… everything. He couldn’t focus his attention on anything, except the fact that he needed more dope.

It wasn’t until he pretty much lost everything and ended up doing four months at Rikers Island that he was able to get clean. While locked up, MacIndoe refused methadone and gained his freedom from heroin slavery.

MacIndoe, who made a living as a photographer before becoming a junkie, began collecting the glassine bags en masse after noticing there was something fascinating about the way dealers were branding their poison for consumption. In the same vein that advertisers use logos and names to compel consumers to purchase goods such as laundry detergent or a new television, dealers employ powerful branding to influence a user’s desired high or reveal the dark side of heroin dependency cold turkey.

In a sense, the bags also worked as a way to keep tabs of the quality of a certain dealer’s product, especially if something was exceptionally good, bad, or just plain dangerous.

“Addicts are just as much part of the consumer culture swayed by branding and product placement as those who buy iPhones, gym membership or the latest Lycra whatever,” he tells Pete Brook at Wired. “But heroin is the ultimate product because you really have to come back again and again.”

His collection of emptied glassine bags, featured in a book called All In: Buying Into The Drug Trade, is a glimpse into the harsh reality that dealers (and the drug itself) don’t give a damn if you live or die.

“The promises that some of the baggies offered was just really intriguing,” says MacIndoe. “References in the names reflected the addict’s illusions of grandeur (So Amazing, Rolex, High Life) but also the insidious destructive nature of drugs and the ultimate end game (Flatliner, Dead Medicine, Killa).”

While many addicts may quickly end up with a needle in their veins within a few months of treatment, MacIndoe took on the greatest battle of his life and conquered it.

It has been said that 95 percent of heroin addicts never get clean, and MacIndoe knows exactly why. Heroin makes a diligent effort to convince you that you will die if you do not get one more fix, leaving you as a shadow of your former self. For some, the merry-go-round never ends.

This excerpt from Gregory David Roberts’ book Shantaram touches on just how difficult it is to quit cold turkey:

Think about every time in your life that you’ve ever been afraid, really afraid. Someone sneaks up behind you when you think you’re alone, and shouts to frighten you. The gang of thugs closes in around you. You fall from a great height in a dream, or you stand on the very edge of a steep cliff. Someone holds you under water and you feel the breath gone, and you scramble, fight and claw your way to the surface. You lose control of the car and see the wall rushing into your soundless shout. Then add them all up, all those terrors, and feel them all at once, all at the same time, hour after hour and day after day.

And think of every pain you’ve ever known, all those groin-squeezing, stomach-tensing shrieks of pain and feel them all at once, hour after hour and day after day.

Then think of every anguish you’ve ever known. Remember the death of a loved one. Remember a lover’s rejection. Recall your feelings of failure and shame and unspeakably bitter remorse. And add them all up, all the heart-stabbing griefs and miseries, and feel them all at once, hour after hour and day after day.

That’s cold turkey. Cold turkey off heroin is life with the skin torn away.

The Long Road to Recovery for Heroin Addicts