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Heroin tightens its grip 

In Atlanta, the number of new heroin users is growing — with fatal results

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Amy went with him. But the stuff he got was bad. They didn't get high.

The next day, he went back. That time the heroin was good. But for Amy, the experience wasn't all that great. She thinks she probably shot up too large a dose.

She threw up several times. She was nauseated for 12 hours, and high for another 12. But she wasn't afraid. Nor was she deterred.

"I wasn't really scared of needles," she says, "because I was going to school to be a nurse – as ironic as that sounds."

The next time was better.

"You're not in your body," she says. "You're just floating. Your mind's somewhere else. Everything looks different, feels different. You have more energy whenever you're doing it – at first."

Those early days felt like perfection. She and her boyfriend would drive down to the Bluff to buy dope. Since they were already so close to downtown, they'd head over to Centennial Park. It was springtime. Everything was in bloom. They'd gaze at the sky and soak in the sun. That was how it went for March and April. They only used on the weekends.

By May, their heroin schedule began to bleed over into the week. They went from using two days a week to four, then five. By June, they were shooting up every day. She thought she was doing it because it felt so good. She didn't think she was addicted.

Then she stopped sleeping. The crook of her arm would throb so badly it kept her awake. It felt like a pulled muscle, right in the spot where she shot up. It was as if her veins were begging her.

"I didn't realize at first that it was withdrawals," she says. "I thought it was stress. And then I kind of put two and two together. I realized that whenever I used, this wouldn't happen."

That summer, her boyfriend left town for a week. He went to Europe to settle the estate of his mother, who'd recently died. While he was gone, Amy had to go down to the Bluff without him. By then, she needed to use so badly that she couldn't wait until she got back to their apartment. She started shooting up in the car. She kept a spoon, a needle and some cotton swabs on hand. She used the seatbelt as a tourniquet.

During one of those trips, she was pulled over. She stuck out in the neighborhood, a young white girl in a new Honda Accord with dealer tags. She stuffed the dope into her bra, but the cops saw the spoon and swabs. She was charged with disorderly conduct, and she bonded herself out of jail.

When her boyfriend returned from Europe, she checked herself into a weeklong detox program. She told her parents she was on vacation. It was miserable. "Your skin doesn't feel like it's your own," she says. "You're hot. You're cold. You don't want to sit down. But you don't want to stand up."

The idea was for her to get clean, then for her boyfriend to go in the day she got out. But it didn't work as planned.

When her boyfriend picked her up from the treatment center, he was clearly high. Back at the apartment, she came face to face with needles and heroin on the kitchen counter. It looked strange to her from the vantage point of a week of sobriety. How odd that this is what her life had become.

She quickly caved. Before she even had a chance to drop off her boyfriend at the treatment center later that day, she drove down to the Bluff to buy some smack.

A week later, after her boyfriend got out, they started using together again, a warped reunion – only they were using a lot more than they had before. Her boyfriend had received a sizeable inheritance from his mother, and they were both making good money as bartenders. They could keep up the charade.

Amy was planning to finish up her prerequisites that fall so she could start nursing school in the spring. But her addiction derailed her. By October, she and her boyfriend had blown through his entire inheritance – $80,000. And their bartending salaries couldn't keep up with their appetite for heroin. She started pawning off their stuff: the TV, the stereo, their DVDs, clothes and jewelry – anything that had any value at all. "We totally gutted that apartment," she says. "It's crazy; you work so hard for all of these things you've accumulated over the years, and in a matter of a few months you lose it all."

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