About a year ago, I went into a heroin shooting gallery near Fourth and W streets NW, where a woman who had only one arm and one leg charged $3 to $5 to inject the drug into other addicts. Her name was Diane White, with the aliases "One Hand Diane" and "The Hit Doctor." Despite her condition, which included being a heroin addict, One Hand Diane was a pro who made up to $300 a day.
Two days after my visit, White was arrested. But instead of complaining, she expressed gratitude at the prospect that her life of misery was about to end. She thought she was going to get the help that she had been too weak to get for herself. But it didn't work out that way. A few months after her release from an alcohol -- not drug -- detoxification unit at D.C. General Hospital, White was back at her apartment, where the traffic of junkies in need of a fix was backed up to the street.
Yet, what had happened to White was better than what happens to most addicts in this city. At least she got some attention, albeit from an alcohol detoxification unit.
The sad fact of the matter is that drug detoxification and recovery centers do not exist in this city for those who cannot afford them. Shortly after word hit the street that White had been admitted into D.C. General's detoxification unit, mainly because of the publicity surrounding her arrest, many of her friends tried to get in the program, but were turned away.
While at D.C. General, White was placed on methadone, a heroin substitute, and later returned to police custody. She was then taken to D.C. Superior Court, and released on her own recognizance.
Tom Nees, of the Washington-based Community of Hope, picked up Diane after her release and arranged for her to stay in Virginia with her daughter, who is a nurse. For awhile, things were looking up for White.
She appeared on several local television shows, always dressed in freshly pressed clothes and willing to speak out against the evils of drug abuse. She said she had been given a new lease on life and vowed never to touch drugs again.
Thinking White had fully recovered, her daughter allowed her to return to her own apartment. But this proved to be a grave mistake.
There was nothing for White to do once she returned but to fall back into her own routine. It was not that she was looking for a euphoric escape from her living condition; rather, drugs had become the motivation and rationale for the pursuit of a meaningful life.
Patrick Hughes, writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, noted that "given the social conditions of the slums and their effects on family and individual development, the odds are strongly against the development of legitimate, non-deviant careers that are challenging and rewarding."
The ultimate solution to the problem of heroin addiction is clearly not more prisons, as pointed out in this week's series on the mandatory sentencing law by Washington Post staff writer Ed Bruske. With about 15,000 heroin addicts in Washington, there is simply no way that enough prisons can be built to hold them.
Instead, more emphasis should be placed on making drug treatment facilities available to those who cannot afford, say, the Betty Ford Center. The city need not give up on the philosophy of rehabilitation, but it must recognize that alcohol detox programs are not applicable to drug addicts and that a change of environment is crucial to recovery from drug addiction.
Diane White lives and has proven that she is a fighter. She has not submitted to the confined, humdrum life of an invalid. It was clear that she wanted to change her habit, but without help there was not much she could do.
She said she wanted to continue her campaign against drug abuse and agreed to speak at a local church not long after returning to her apartment. Unfortunately, she never made it.