For months now I have attempted to write a essay on heroin and the overdose crisis. I live in New Hampsire, the epicenter of this epidemic, and it’s bad. Over the last couple years too many people have died, and too many of them were too close to me.
The whole thing has been eating me alive. I start the essays, and by the end of the day I delete them. A week or two later I try again because it needs to be written, but each post ends up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting in a spin cycle. It’s impossible for me to gain any clarity. Every time the problem I face is the same… I need the post to make a difference! I want to be able to say that something that keeps others from having to go through the pain.
The problem is so multifaceted that it’s impossible to hone in on one precise target. I end up trying to address addiction, and drug laws, and the damage to families. I write about overdoses, and death, and Narcan, and recovery. I try to encompass relapse, and guilt, and stigma, and hope. I talk about public policy, and education, berate fearful politicians, and praise frustrated doctors. I try to look at other countries and what they’ve done right, then back at America and how stubborn we still are. I want to educate and appeal to emotions. And then, just as suddenly as I’ve started the essay, I’m stuck. I get lost in a quagmire of words and I’ve painted myself into a corner. And no one is saved, and I’ve written nothing useful again.
Last night I figured out why it’s so hard, why it’s so elusive. It’s because it’s too close to me. Or that is to say, I’m too close to it. Last night I spent the evening in the ER with a man who had been dead an hour earlier. But thanks to the miracle/curse that is Narcan, he was alive again. And when I say again, I mean this was the second time he died this week. The previous time he was so far gone that it took 5 shots of Narcan as well as CPR to revive him. The damage to his body from all of that efforts to revive, coupled with the overdose, left him in pretty rough shape, so they kept him for a few days. When they let him out yesterday morning he was still attached to a bag or two to keep him functioning. A few hours later he did it again. And around we go.
The thing is, it’s not stupidity. It’s not even suicidal. In the end it’s just people who are just trying to get high and after a while they can only go in the deep end of the pool. The kiddie pool lost its charm years ago. Now they’re either blindly stepping off the cliff like The Fool, or they just don’t want to be dope sick. They’re using just so they don’t feel so bad they can’t function, or even worse, so they just don’t feel anything. Because, you see, opiates are pain killers. But they kill emotional pain way better than physical pain. And that kind of escape is hard to resist. And it’s heroin’s ability to cleanly and simply sever you from your emotions that makes it okay for a junkie to steal from their sick grandmother without a backwards glance. And if the regret surfaces later, just tamp it down again with another bag.
After two hours of talking with this guy, of working the phones and calling contacts, we were able to line up someone to help us. A total stranger was going to meet us late at night, to help this guy make it through until morning without dying. And when I explained the plan to the patient he looked me in the face and said “No. I’m sorry, but I’m not going. I know you want to help, but I can’t do it.”
That was it. Nothing was left to say, and so I left. I went home, put in my headphones and took my dog for a long walk in the dark. And I realized I would never be able to write the post I really want to write about heroin. And I probably never will say the right thing, because it doesn’t exist. It’s a dark lonely room they’re in, the doorknob is only on the inside and it only turns for them. You can shout all the encouragement you want, but until they’re willing to search for the handle, they’re never coming out. All we can do is keep reminding them what it’s like on the outside.