The grim reality of a day in the life of a heroin addict
This is the harsh, grim reality of a day in the life of heroin addict Magnus Lilleberg: injections to the groin because he can no longer use his neck, an inability to afford plasters for painful blisters, and a lack of sleep due to constantly being awoken by shakes and sweats.
Lilleberg was given a hand-held camera by Christoffer Næss and Per Kristian Lomsdalen of the documentary group, Munin Film, in 2011. They asked him to document his everyday life as a heroin addict in the capital of Norway, Oslo.
The video which is posted on Vimeo is simple, with Lilleberg not pushing any message or agenda on the viewer. He just explains his routine, which in itself reveals the lack of direction to his life, the all-consuming nature of his addiction and his belief in the need for a change in drug policy in Norway.
The producer and editor, Naess, told The Independent, "In Norway, and elsewhere, heroin addicts are often perceived as a homogeneous group who are outcasts from society," and said that Lilleberg hoped to alter this false picture through the 17-minute film. Lilleberg filmed himself between 2011 and 2013, which Næss and Lomsdalen then edited with the help of Lilleberg.
The film starts with Lilleberg injecting himself through the neck in his bathroom, blood seeping out after he is finished. He then performs some mundane tasks, such as watching morning television, before making a cup of "strong Earl Grey tea with lots of sugar and milk."
He reveals that his father is 63 and he hopes that his dad meets a woman soon. Yet he adds, "I guess it's not cool to bring a woman home and have to introduce me: 'This is Magnus, my son.' 'Hi kid! So, what are you up to?' 'Well, I'm selling street papers and I beg for money on the bridge between the bus terminal and the train station. And then I inject heroin five times a day.'"
Lilleberg sells the Norwegian version of the Big Issue, which he buys from a vendor for 50 Krone (£4) and sells on for 100 Krone. At one point in the video he says he manages to make £48 in just 15 minutes through selling the magazine for more than its asking price.
Lilleberg also films an internet chat with a friend who asks how he is doing and he explains that he tried to go cold turkey "bt (sic) the third day I was well into psychosis. I'm scared s***less of getting off horse. Having to find some purpose. Staart(sic) all over again."
Lilleberg calls heroin his "medicine". A substitution treatment programme using methadone has been made available to addicts in Norway since 1998 in an effort to wean them off their drug addiction. However, Lilleberg says that the methadone "medicine" does not work for him. "Because of that," Naess says, "he finds himself living in inhuman conditions in one of the best health and welfare systems in the world.
In the video, Lilleberg heads to an underground tunnel where he recounts a meeting with a stranger who noticed his shoes laces were untied and that if he had terrible blisters, he should use plasters. However, Lilleberg cannot afford to protect his feet: even if he did make £48 in 15 minute selling the magazine, he needs to buy his "medicine".
Lilleberg shoots up, injecting himself in the groin because he says his neck has started to fail him; even he admits the process is "nasty". Just a few moments later however, he is disappointed with the high. "Nah, I feel like having another one," Lilleberg says. "It wasn't that great. Only way I can relax properly nowadays. A couple of valium washed down with cider and half a gram of good dope."
The second hit is better for Lilleberg - "it's a sign that it's good when it starts to itch like that" - but he warns that that is also a sign that withdrawal symptoms will return soon if he doesn't score some more heroin. Despite the fact Lilleberg says he can't even imagine sleeping without having a shot first, he admits that he rarely gets a good sleep because he often wakes up sweating and shaking.
Næss agrees that some of the scenes are distressing but he argues they need to be shown.
"It was tough to see some of the material, but after a while I started thinking that this is his life and he has to see himself doing it, and we have to all see it to relate to him and his struggles," Næss says.
Was Næss worried at all about glorifying the drug, with shots of the film showing how Lilleberg injects himself? "When we edited it, we just felt we had to show his life. I think that it will affect people more positively than negatively," he saus. "I think people will relate with Lilleberg and realise that heroin is an awful drug that you shouldn't start doing."
Lilleberg is still an addict but he is now no longer living rough. He told The Independent that he "wanted to show people how my life is day to day, because lots of people they live in their own little social bubble and some people are surprised to find that there are homeless people in Oslo."
He said he still sells the magazine as his main job, with "any 9 to 5" work not on the horizon. He is now 35 and says that he used to work at a local radio station and on Oslo's tram lines. He tried heroin for the first time many years ago but didn't get hooked because he was in a good place. "The second round," he said, "it was part of my life when everything was going to hell, it was difficult. When you're like that, it's easy to get hooked."
The video was recently released on YouTube but was partially released in 2013. It premiered in Norway in the same year as well as some film festivals in 2014.
Independent News Service