No Life Without

The everyday reality of Rene and Biggi

Biggi had been clean for 15 years when she started using heroin again. Now, she substitutes it with polamidone and gets her dose each day. In many cases, substitute treatment shifts the addiction to other drugs. Though this may ease withdrawal, it doesn’t quell the desire to get high, so many addicts who substitute slip into alcoholism or start using other substances.
In addition to his “one-euro job”, Rene looks after his mother and runs their joint household. Without substitution, he wouldn't be able to take care of her. Although he cares for his mother, living together is hard for him. Now 38 years old, he has long dreamed of moving into his own flat.
Since 2008, it has been legal in Germany to substitute with diamorphine. Although treatment with this pharmacologically produced heroin has many advantages over established substitutions, few addicts have access to it. Rene was lucky enough to meet the requirements and now receives his substitute twice a day, likely for the rest of his life.
While he was homeless, Rene would sometimes sleep in a tunnel beneath Cologne's city center. One night he narrowly escaped a Molotov cocktail attack. Despite his severe burns and living situation at the time, after receiving first aid treatment he was searched and fined for possession of heroin.
Almost every day, Biggi roams the suburbs of Cologne to "make money", as she says, asking residents for work or a small donation. She is proud of being able to find legal means of funding her consumption. This hasn’t always been the case.​​​​​​​
Although Biggi tries to control her consumption and intentionally avoids going through withdrawal, obtaining and using substances consume her daily life while her health concerns and healing her wounds take a back seat. She once said that although she’s never regretted any of her decisions, she’d discourage anyone from living a life like hers.
Throughout the last 2 years, we stayed in touch.
Biggi, just turned 50, still goes into the suburbs to “make money” if she can. After her best friend, neighbor and dealer died one year ago, she cut down her cocaine use, but she doesn’t want to stop completely. When asked for how long she wants to carry on, she responds: “as long as possible”. She also says that most of her former friends are dead, in prison or in rehab. Most of the time she is on her own.
Meanwhile, Rene is looking for work and planning to move in with his girlfriend. It is difficult for him to find full-time work because he is still taking the substitute. That’s why he is cutting down, and in a few months’ time he will probably be able to stop taking it altogether. This would also mean he would be able to travel. For the past 10 years, Rene hasn’t left Germany; his dream is to travel to India.