Monday, August 11, 2014

I Hate Drugs

When I started teaching, I wanted to help change the lives of my students.  Be a positive role model for young women, open doors of opportunity in the same way that they had been opened for me--through books.  It never occurred to me that part of the job would be watching kids suffer from terminal illnesses, losing students in car accidents, or knowing that they are struggling with drug addiction.  I wasn't prepared to deal with these emotional hardships.  Many of my colleagues don't.  They hear the news, they recognize the sadness, they attend a service or send a card, and then they go on with their lives.  I wish I could do the same.  Instead, I get in way too deep.  It's almost an addiction.

Yes, I'm a high school English teacher, so it is no surprise that when I finish a book, I have a hard time closing the cover on the characters.  They stay with me, and we continue to visit with each other in dreams or moments of contemplation.  Theo Decker, the narrator and protagonist in The Goldfinch, still stalks the hallways of my mind mostly because I so deeply empathized with his emotional turmoil, which helped me to understand his drug addiction. You can imagine that if it is this difficult for me to move on from a fictional character, it is nearly impossible for me to forget about the real human beings I know and love.

That's why I hate drugs.  More than anything, I hate heroin.  Let's look at the year in review so far.  In early February, the public conversation about heroin began to shift in the aftermath of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death.  Only a month later, there is an explosion of news stories about the rise in overdoses across the nation.  By April, many news headlines lead with the astounding number of overdoses in the most unsuspecting of places--small town suburbs across Massachusetts (where I live) and the nation are on high alert.  In April, Governor Patrick declares a public health emergency.  July rolls around, and still the number of overdoses continue to rise.  Now we are into August, two-thirds of the way through the year, and Worcester, Massachusetts is making the news.  Vacation destinations like Cape Cod are issuing warnings to vacationers because the number of discarded needles found on beaches is becoming a problem.

This scares the ever-loving shit out of me.  First, I have had several (no, not one or two, but SEVERAL) students who either died, ended up in jail, or really screwed up their lives because of heroin.  I teach in a pretty affluent, predominantly white community where no one would suspect kids are doing heroin.  But they are.  They were ten years ago when OC's led them down a deadly path, and there are still kids in EVERY town who are getting hooked.

Thankfully, some have successfully recovered and are living healthy and happy lives now, but those stories are not the norm, and I think accessibility is to blame.  The drugs are easy to access and heroin is cheap, but finding a bed for recovery is nearly impossible and a recovery center is outrageously expensive.  One former student who spent nine months at a facility in Utah said the treatment center cost upwards of $35,000.  Fortunately, his family could afford it and he's been clean for 2 years now, but his story is more the anomaly than the norm.

The stories of recovery, and the work of Chris Herren and The Herren Project, give me hope and a desire to do more, and then I remember the ones who have died and I fear that this war on drugs is impossible to win.
I think the game has changed, and heroin addiction isn't what it used to be.  It's children.  Sons.  Daughters.  Mothers.  Fathers.  Sisters.  Brothers.  Cousins.  Uncles.  Aunts.  Friends.  And I fear more than anything that one day it could end up destroying the life of one of my babies.  I can't say "that will never happen to me."  I wish I could, but I know the good families that have been impacted by heroin, and I know the amazing parents who provided healthy and happy lives for their children only to see them messed up in this deadly shit.

These people need help.  When I read the stories and listen to the interviews, I believe that these addicts don't want to continue to hurt themselves or their families, but the addiction is so powerful that they are lost beneath the drugs.

Maybe instead of dumping buckets of ice water on our heads, we could all donate the $1.99 it costs to buy a bag of ice to The Herren Project or some other recovery center to help save a life.  That way, the donation to ALS isn't compromised or reduced, even though all of the Facebook posts will be.  Maybe you won't get the 25 likes from your friends who watch your video, but you will know that the friend or cousin or uncle or sister or brother who is in trouble can *maybe* get the help s/he needs before it's too late.

And yes, I put my money where my mouth is, and I just made a donation.  I hope it helps.

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