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Addiction's House of Horrors

When we discuss substance abuse, we shouldn't flinch from acknowledging how horrific the results can be. Here are 10 harrowing examples. (Warning: Readers may find some images disturbing.)

  • James Brown (cocaine)

    It’s no secret that cocaine can damage your nasal passages. But one British millionaire managed to do so much coke after his early retirement that his nose literally collapsed. James Brown, a highly successful property developer, retired to Portugal at the age of 36. Less than a decade later, he was sentenced to five years in prison after police found over $286,000 worth of the drug hidden in the air vents and folding roof of his luxury Bentley. They also discovered a cache of illegal weapons and ammunition in his hotel room. The weapons were a direct result of the extreme paranoia prompted by his cocaine use—which also led to heart problems and the obvious deformity of his nose, as the drug ate away the cartilage of his septum. Brown's attorney said the cash to fuel his client's habit came from "legitimate means," but clarified that "he'll never return to that form of lifestyle again."

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  • Freddy Sharp (bath salts)

    When Miami "Zombie” Rudy Eugene ate the face of Ronald Poppo before being shot by police last May, it was widely speculated that bath salts fueled the attack. Although this theory eventually proved untrue, bath salts continued to make news—partly thanks to a disturbing video of Freddy Sharp overdosing earlier this year. Sharp had been hooked on the varied compounds for nearly 14 years, after first experimenting at the age of 13. He said he enjoyed feeling “like you’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and you actually no feel pain.” But his on-camera trip involved hallucinations that he was in a mental hospital and that he was possessed by Jason Voorhees—the infamous masked serial killer from the Friday the 13th movies. "I'd never experienced anything like that... It really actually scared me pretty bad...It felt like the darkest, evilest thing imaginable,” he said. The video also shows Sharp writhing and singing to himself as paramedics strap him down. He hasn't touched bath salts again, and now encourages others to steer clear.

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  • Brigitte Nielsen (alcohol)

    Married to Sylvester Stallone back in the '80s, Brigitte Nielsen developed an A-list movie career, starring alongside Sly in Rocky IV and Cobra, and with Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop II. But when her marriage ended in 1987, her problems with the bottle increased. She became a reality star, hooking up with Flavor Flav on The Surreal Life and eating turkey testicles on Germany's version of I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here. In 2008 she checked into the Pasadena Recovery Center to address her alcoholism on the first season of Celebrity Rehab, and seemed to be one of the few cast members motivated to get better. She reportedly then stayed sober for several years. But photos surfaced last August of Nielsen drunk, disheveled and haggard in an LA park. The former beauty queen stumbled around with a vodka bottle, vomited and fell asleep on the grass. Nielsen publicly acknowledged her relapse and said she continues to go to AA meetings. “I’m committed to my sobriety, and I’m not going to let this momentary relapse define me,” she said. “I’m not perfect and I’m battling a disease, and yes, there will be setbacks, but I know what I need to do in order to be healthy.”

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  • Heather Raybon (meth)

    You might think that having your face horribly disfigured by a meth explosion would scare you away from the drug for good. But addiction doesn't necessarily work that way—and it didn't work that way with Heather Raybon. The Florida native suffered third-degree facial burns after being caught in a meth lab blast in 2004, undergoing numerous surgeries in the attempt to repair the damage over the next several years. But she still continued to use and manufacture crystal meth, having been arrested on several occasions for drug possession. Last November, police raided her trailer, arrested the 31-year-old once again, and charged her with trafficking methamphetamine, possession of drug equipment and possession of listed chemicals to manufacture meth.

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  • Roger Pion (marijuana)

    Whatever happened to pot mellowing people out? Vermont farmer Roger Pion was arrested by Orleans police for possession of marijuana this past July. Apparently he really, really didn’t like that: just over a week later, Pion ran over seven parked police cars with his tractor. The vehicles constituted the entire fleet of the Orleans police department: “We had nothing to pursue him with,” said Chief Deputy Phillip Brooks. Police in the nearby city of Newport were called in, who eventually caught up with Pion in his slow-moving tractor and arrested him. The tractor attack had essentially totaled all of the vehicles, causing over $300,000 of damage.

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  • Leah Betts (ecstasy)

    A grim poster-girl for the dangers of drug use in the UK, 18-year-old Leah Betts died in 1995 after taking an ecstasy tab and drinking seven liters of water within a 90-minute period. Four hours later, she collapsed into a coma. She was taken off life support after five days. Police believed that her pill had been contaminated. But her death was determined not to be caused by this, nor solely by MDMA consumption, but rather by water intoxication from the sheer volume of liquid she consumed—the resulting swelling of her brain caused irreparable damage. This disturbing photo of her in a coma ran prominently in British papers after her death, while a poster campaign around the country depicted her smiling, with the slogan, "Sorted: Just one ecstasy tablet took Leah Betts." The campaign was controversial: many objected to the way water intoxication as her ultimate cause of death went unmentioned. The ‘90s one-hit wonder band Chumbawumba produced their own poster in response, which read, “Distorted: You are just as likely to die from eating a bay leaf as from an ecstasy tablet.”

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  • Unidentified girl (LSD)

    A caught-on-tape moment that initially seems like part of an acting class turns out to be an unidentified girl in the midst of a nightmare acid trip in a tent. The film shows her screaming, speaking incoherently and waving her hands at inanimate objects. Her two male friends, one of whom is behind the camera, try to calm her down, while also expressing concern that the noise she's making could attract the attention of the police. After five minutes of sheer terror—which could seem like five hours if you’re on acid—a third friend finally enters the tent in an attempt to comfort her. It remains unclear how the trip ended.

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  • Jagget Washington (PCP)

    Jersey City resident and PCP user Jagget Washington recently developed a taste for flesh—his own. Washington was being held at Hudson County Jail for an incident in which he stripped naked in the middle of a busy intersection, screamed incoherently, pounded his fists on passing cars and tried to pull a passing driver out of his vehicle. When cops arrived, Washington tried to attack them. He was restrained to the Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC). When first released by the hospital, he spat at a police officer and tried to eat his medical bracelet. After a second visit to and release from the hospital, his cravings progressed to his own body: he tried unsuccessfully to gnaw off his wrist before succeeding in biting off and swallowing his finger. He returned JCMC for a third, far longer stay, and now faces numerous charges including carjacking, throwing bodily fluids at law enforcement officers and being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.

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  • Rachael Keogh (heroin)

    At just 27, Irish addict Rachael Keogh was in serious danger of having both of her arms amputated: her veins had collapsed and the flesh on her arms had been eaten away by necrosis, a form of cell damage, caused by over a decade of heroin abuse. But despite dire warnings from doctors, she was unable to stop using, and engaged in prostitution and shoplifting to continue supporting her habit. “I’m not a scumbag. I’m a good person, my family instilled a lot of goodness in me,” she said. “But when it comes to drugs, all my morals go out the window.” After finally getting into a rehab—following several unsuccessful attempts—Keogh amazingly found a happy ending: she kicked her addiction and has been clean and sober for over five years. She met a fellow recovering addict and had a child with him, and is now attending college. She told her story in a memoir, Dying to Survive.

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  • Ruben Arzu (steroids)

    Don’t let the baby face fool you. Ruben Arzu was responsible for one of the more savage (and bizarre) crimes of 2011, allegedly driven by “roid rage.” A California couple came home late one night to find the 300-pound bodybuilder entirely naked and attempting to break into their home. The wife ran inside to call 911, while the husband directly confronted Arzu—which was clearly a bad idea. Arzu beat him up, causing severe head injuries, and then bodyslammed his wife to the ground. Several neighbors joined forces to corner the rampaging giant until the police arrived—the cops needed four sets of handcuffs and two stun gun attacks to finally subdue him. Arzu was charged with attempted homicide and aggravated mayhem; his mother claimed that mental illness, not steroid abuse, was behind the attack.

    McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Time Out New York, The Huffington Post, and He is a frequent contributor to The Fix

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By McCarton Ackerman 10/30/12

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