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Middle-Class Heroin Addict Got High in the Corridors of Power : Drug abuse: Washington journalist describes his life covering national security while shooting up on $50,000 worth of junk.

March 26, 1995|HOWARD KURTZ | WASHINGTON POST

In his private cubicle in the plush, carpeted offices of the National Journal, David C. Morrison has a photo of himself accepting an award from Gerald R. Ford at the National Press Club.

In nearly a decade at the high-toned public policy journal, Morrison has prowled the halls of the Pentagon, worked the corridors of Capitol Hill and carved out a reputation as one of the most dogged journalists in Washington.

He is also a recovering heroin addict.

Even as Morrison was making his reporting rounds, he was ducking into men's rooms and sticking a needle in his arm every four to six hours. Let him tell about it:

"Scoring a brick of junk-five bundles, or 50 ten-dollar bags-I'm up in Spanish Harlem, wading through the crack vials that litter 124th and Lex like pebbles on a beach in hell. Deal done, I fix in the john of a greasy spoon on Third Avenue. Heading back on Amtrak to D.C., I don a suit to interview a House committee chairman. One night I'm compulsively mixing and fixing speedballs by candlelight in a roach-infested shooting gallery on Avenue C. The next afternoon I'm gassing away on a panel discussion at one of Washington's more strait-laced think tanks."

These words are part of an anguished, funky, obscenity-filled confession that Morrison wrote--anonymously--in the Washington City Paper. The 20,000-word piece in January had people buzzing as to the identity of the reporter who said he had blown $50,000 on crack and heroin in just a few months.

Morrison, 41, who has been clean since a weeklong hospitalization last June, agreed to discuss his drug problem publicly for the first time. He says he considered going public when writing the piece but had no desire to join the "Oprah" circuit.

"I didn't want to be the center of a flaming controversy," he said. "I didn't want to be part of the electronic media mulching machine. The machine can get churning and it chews people up. . . . I'm pretty repelled by this orgy of confessionalism. I don't feel like a victim."

At the same time, he said, he wanted to paint a stark picture of drug abuse without preaching or moralizing. "It was something I felt compelled to do, while all the emotions were raw."

The City Paper article provides a rare glimpse of what Morrison describes as a significant subculture of middle-class drug addicts in the nation's capital.

"Reasonably well-raised white people with everything to lose are still getting hooked on crack, smack, you name it," he wrote. "I've met scores of people much like me. Journalists. Doctors. Lawyers. Designers. Consultants. Bureaucrats. Executives. Republicans. I have sat in my dealer's kitchen and watched the evening rush hour of civil servants picking up their $50 bags of junk or chunks of rock."

Federal authorities estimate that 2.7 million Americans are hard-core drug users, about 600,000 of them heroin addicts. But because statistics tend to be based on arrests and hospital admissions, no one knows for sure how many are white-collar professionals.

"My guess is there's a lot more middle-class heroin use now than there was a decade ago," said Mark Kleiman, a drug expert at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "People I talk to, who treat heroin abuse by rich folks, tell me there's a lot more of it among the young, trendy CEO class."

But affluent addicts are largely invisible in the press. "The picture of drug use you get through the media is dark-skinned people in ghettos, since that's where most of the arrests are," Morrison said. "The ghetto dealers are the only people desperate enough to run all the risks of supplying drugs to society, including people like me. But crack has cut an enormous swath through middle-class society."

After months of handing over wads of cash on dimly lit street corners, Morrison, like any seasoned Beltway operator, found a more efficient way. "A friend in New York now scores smack and coke for me, shipping it to Washington by Federal Express," he wrote. "Soon I'm wiring him a thousand bucks a week. . . . I financed my habit the American way: I put it on plastic."

He slid uneasily between the glittering marble of official Washington and the shadowy nether world of illicit drugs. "Early one morning, I appear on one of C-SPAN's viewer call-in programs. . . . Let's just say I hadn't exactly gotten my beauty rest the night before. "What do you know about anything?' asks a crazed but perceptive viewer from Atlanta. "Your hair's a mess. Your tie's undone. You look like you just came in from a party.' I was up late working on a story, I respond lamely."

Now, puffing on a Camel Light over lunch at a downtown hotel, Morrison struggles with the notion of public exposure. He will not pose for a picture. He worries that his disclosure will make his military and defense sources uncomfortable. He is an openly gay man, but he finds it harder to come out of this particular closet.

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