Przemek Hirniak: When did you first learn that there was such a thing as kompot [Polish heroin, translator’s note]? The discovery made in Gdańsk, one that can get you really high.
Marek: The discovery of Kraków and Gdańsk. One guy was from Gdańsk, the other from Kraków, a chemistry student, very intelligent, he simplified the method. All they needed was a few generally available reagents and stock made from poppy straw, of course. In the summer, we collected milky fluid from poppy straw, we dried it, acidified it, vaporised it very carefully, added water and filtered it. At that point, it was ready for injection.
Władek: I started taking drugs in 1981, a few years after kompot had been invented. There was also a second method without acetylation, which is a chemical reaction. You would produce just a little, but the kick was incredible. It had morphine, codeine and other compounds in it.
Przemek Hirniak: Have you met the inventors of kompot?
M: I have never met them, I don’t know who they were. The drug abuse existed before, people were stealing morphine from lifeboats. That was in the 1970s.
Przemek Hirniak: Where did you get the ingredients for kompot from?
W: You could buy ammonia in an ordinary shop, if not, you could go to a dairy, a bauble factory or to places where toothpaste was produced.
M: In Gdańsk, kompot was made with ordinary solvent, then with phthalic-carbamide sol vent. I added salt instead of acid. The stuff was a little bit citric, not brown, like after acid. You use anhydride to acetylate morphine, which turns into heroin. In Warsaw, they still use acetone. You could also drink something we called the soup, which gave miraculous effects. When you were on a jag and took the soup all the time, you wouldn’t feel the kick any more.
W: There is also the Russian way. You use only dried and threshed tips of poppies and grind it into a smooth powder in a coffee grinder. You would put five flat spoons in your mouth, swallow it with tea and, after that, the soup would brew itself in your stomach. The effect was amazing.
Przemek Hirniak: Did you study chemistry?
W: We were only practising. Everything I know comes from my experience and from what I saw.
Przemek Hirniak: Who did you take poppy straw from?
M: From the farmers.
W: Near to Gdańsk, where I lived, opposite the bus station, there were probably two hectares of poppy straw. All I had to do was to leave work for five minutes. In the summer, I would harvest five sacks and that was enough for the winter.
Przemek Hirniak: Was kompot spreading fast?
M: Incredibly fast. At the beginning, we had to pay for the patent. For example, you would have to give some part of your stuff away, then we would start teaching one another. It got from Gdańsk to Warsaw within three years.
W: I remember that I brought my own poppy straw to some guys that were going make kompot. I took my notebook and wrote down everything they were doing. They took five centimetres’ worth of stuff for it. The strength depended on the concentration. If you wanted more, you would add water to it, but this was making it weaker.
Przemek Hirniak: It must have been very contaminated.
M: Brown heroin, designed for smoking, is much more contaminated now. If someone injects heroin, at least once, they won’t ever smoke it again. After the injection, the difference in impact is huge, you stop smoking and start to take it intravenously.
Przemek Hirniak: What kind of environment was kompot most prevalent in?
M: In the 1980s, that was the environment of hippies, intellectuals, you know, kind of artists. Cool company, bohemians. There were also people that sympathised with them. They weren’t especially artistically gifted. However, they were getting along with that environment. I was fifteen at the time, but I understood them well and they accepted me. I read a lot so we had something to talk about. The end of the 1980s was the worst, when more and more criminals and the like began to soak into this environment. Then, a total mess started.
W: I was surrounded by people that I didn’t quite fit in with: painters, sculptors, Buddhists. First of all, I didn’t want to go to the army. Earlier in prison, I met a guy who had tried some drugs. I went to him with the call-up papers and he promised me that I wouldn’t go. He kept his promise. He gave me kompot. Water for the first few times and, then, the real stuff. I took it several times and, after that, I ended up in the psychiatric hospital in Srebrzysko. I had a discharge notice from hospital, but I wasn’t a drug addict yet. The whole idea was to have a proof that I was on detox, that I was an addict and I couldn’t go to the army. Can you imagine that, at some point, everyone from the hospital discharged themselves and started injecting kompot? A nurse asked me why I wasn’t I leaving as well. I said that I would like to be treated. She said it was impossible. If everyone left, I should go as well. Then I met some people …it just went fast. The drug is a beautiful thing, but unfortunately it can kill you.
Przemek Hirnik: Where was your bajzel [den; translator’s note] in Gdańsk?
M: On Długa Street. In the middle of the Old Town. Before that, next to the Cristal [casino; translator’s note] in Wrzeszcz and, before that, in Sopot. There was a tent where I was listening to beat music. Nalepa often played there.
Przemek Hirniak: What’s the kick after kompot?
W: My first time with kompot, a woman had an aluminium needle, which she held in a sweaty hand. It was hard to get the equipment. My friend had a syringe, we called it a pump, which had been used many times before, it was wrapped in toilet paper. It scared me a lot when I saw it. There was no such thing as HIV at the time, we didn’t know or talk about it. They sucked three bars into the syringe and the woman injected it into a vein in my hand. It took some time… I thought they gave me water. It didn’t work straight away.
M: You know, if you had hit a bigger vein, you would have felt shivers immediately.
W: I got up and, at that point, I felt a hit at my back and in my chest. My mate told me to sit down. It was as if someone covered everything with a brown curtain, not a pink one, with the brown one! I felt like I was inhaling some smoke and would start to choke. He told me I should have a cigarette to feel the taste. I drew on it and I got high…
M: It worked extremely euphorically. There is a lot of opiates in poppy. Sometimes my face and hands were swollen.
Przemek Hirniak: Did you have any health issues related to kompot?
M: I burnt my veins after three years, but it was because of the anhydride from the dried milky fluid that was never vaporised properly. I took diphergan. Kompot was not enough, I had to intensify it.
W: Diphergan is an allergy medicine. You can get it in tablets or in ampoules. Sometimes different types of abscesses or inflammation would occur.
M: I was dying once. I was even given the sacrament of anointing of the sick. One guy lent me his equipment, the other offered me his stuff. At that point, I was taking intramuscular injections. I injected it. Then the guy told me he had rinsed the equipment in his own saliva. In the saliva, there are anaerobic bacteria, and they caused infection in my entire body. In hospitals, no one wanted to admit an addicted patient. They were saying I was an addict, I was dehydrated, I was dying and I should be taken home. Finally, late at night, one of the doctors was forced by my stepfather to take me on. My mother’s hair turned grey within two weeks. She just knew that I was dying. My temperature was consistently above 40° C. My grandmother brought a priest with her to administer the sacrament. The head of the hospital called for an ambulance because the respirator was broken and I couldn’t be connected to it. I was taken to a different hospital and that saved my life. When I prepared stuff for myself, I would never have any abscesses, I took care about hygiene, my stuff was always clean.
Przemek Hirniak: So hygiene and careful preparation were crucial?
W: You could do it carelessly. But if did it for yourself, you would do it the best you could, the cleanest, the coolest and with good solvent.
M: You incise poppy heads, harvest poppy juice and, when it’s fermented, you get opium. Then you boil it and evaporate it to get rid of germs and pyrogens, which induce, for example, fever. The doctors couldn’t believe that someone is able to pass through it, but we would take two or four tablets of aspirin and it would die away. When craving for kompot, I would often go harvesting poppy juice in the field. That milky liquid dries out very quickly. I would make a ball out of it and coat it with bread or anything else and swallow it. I was high after eating such a ball … I could carry on harvesting in peace again…
W: I was working at the time and I had to function normally. I didn’t want to inject it. I was doing the same thing as Marek. I would spread poppy juice on toilet paper and roll it, then I would put it on my tongue and wash it down with tea. If you are hooked on opiates, you won’t feel normal until you take them. Only then are you able to think and function properly. It’s like insulin for a diabetic. You would be sooner recognised as an addict if you didn’t take it than if you did.
Przemek Hirniak: Is anyone injecting kompot now?
M: No, now you take heroin, which is just junk… There are still poppy fields in the south, where you can get opium poppy. As I was travelling to Warsaw over the last few years, I got familiar with many people that were still producing kompot.
W: I suspect that if there were poppy fields, kompot would still exist. Basically, kompot was popular until the early 1990s, when the den was taken over by criminals. They had their own ways to deal with people like us. I was hit in the face with a bottle once and I lost my teeth, they took everything I had, gloves, jacket, all my money and my stuff.
M: They started to take drugs themselves. Then they were coming with tears in their eyes, begging us to share.
Przemek Hirniak: So kompot was doing just all right in the 1990s?
W: I didn’t go to Gdańsk anymore. I stayed where I lived. I made the soup or took szuwaks [literally, shoe wax; translator’s note], which is ground dry poppy heads. I had my peace, I didn’t have to go anywhere or ask anyone, no chemicals, no stench.
M: I literally had a handful of friends, with whom I exchanged, what we called the climate, that is, a place where you could buy poppy straw.
M: In Gdańsk, the holocaust of people that were on kompot took place, it was prearranged. Later on, many of our friends died because no one introduced us to substitutional therapy. We could still fight for methadone.
W: We wanted to establish an association that would run treatment in Gdańsk. We had to collect 15 signatures. A year after, three out of these fifteen people were dead. And then many others… At the end of the 1990s, the topic appeared in newspapers in Trójmiasto [the cities of Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia; translator’s note].
M: Peoples’ organisms were destroyed. They took Polish heroin. Apart from that, they would take very fashionable drugs, like relanium and diphergan, just before an injection. Their respiratory system would shut down. The problem was that you could never tell how much heroin in cubic centimetres they took.
Przemek Hirniak: What drew you into Polish heroin?
M: I was drawn by something I call pain, which had been with me all my life, since I was born. Kompot was just the thing, it could finally soothe the pain.
W: One of the first experiences, when I started to take…. I injected it for the first time, the second, the fifth, the tenth, and that led me to this: when I took it, the doors would open and I would enter a different world. The world without hunger, without cold, without stress…
M: It gave me an incredible power…
W: Everyone perceives this differently, I just perceived it my way, as if it was the world I could fit in, and when it stopped working, I had to go back to the normal world. Over time, the reality behind those doors was my true reality, and the rest was something completely strange. I would do everything to be behind those doors all the time.
Przemek Hirniak: Now you are on a more realistic and less pleasant side of the world. How are you coping?
M: The substitute allows me to function. I take methadone as a drug. For me, it is comparable to performance-enhancing drugs. There was a time when I was on rehab. I took a series of testosterone injections and I went to the gym. The hormone was similar in functioning to methadone, which gives me more strength, endurance and a better mood. Conflicts with the law, fatigue when trying to get the drug, various unpleasant stories, which I am responsible for and will never forget. All this forced me to undergo treatment. I’ve been in a stationary centre four times. I’m talking about the four occasions when I finished treatment, but I would always return to taking drugs again.
W: I read in the “Dziennik Baltycki” daily about methadone, a drug that helped some guy. He didn’t have to take any drugs, he felt normal… I was browsing the Internet a lot. I had had enough. Children were growing up. Earlier, I was on treatment, 20 years earlier, that is. I had traumatic experiences from treatment and detox and I said that, definitely, I would never go through anything like that again. I went to Kraków, where I switched from heroin to buprenorphine and, three days after, I returned home. I began to function normally. This substitute made me feel as if I took the light soup and that feeling would dissipate after a while. I felt good. It just allowed you to function and work almost normally.
Przemek Hirniak: Are you missing the drug now?
M: The substitute will never replace the drug. You can live only if you have a lot of self-discipline. You have to be constantly on the go to eke out a living in this country, just live through another day. To go to bed with a fairly full stomach and to have something to eat in the morning.
W: I’m missing it like hell. What can I say? The world is nasty and hideous, mean, dirty and full of violence and shit. Drugs will always be in me. They can lock up all the drug addicts today, and in a few weeks there will be a next wave.
Przemek Hirniak: Do you have any passions?
M: Sailing. I sail whenever I can. Last time, unfortunately, two years ago.
W: I have recently started to think about that at my therapy. After twenty-four years of taking drugs, I don’t remember having any passions. I`ve never had a passion other than the drug. I like watching movies, I enjoy going somewhere with a metal detector to look for some bits and pieces. I like archaeology. I have so few passions.