In autumn 2009, my daughter Amy was a junior in the nursing program at Boston College. But that November 16th, she admitted she was a heroin addict. She voluntarily entered treatment, but five weeks later, just shy of her twenty-first birthday, she died of an overdose at the treatment facility. Nobody expected her to die. As our family followed Amy's coffin into the church upstairs for her funeral on New Year's Eve, it struck me — what an awful way for her father to walk our daughter down the aisle. How could the tragedy of heroin addiction have happened to MY daughter, who seemed to have everything going for her: she was bright, beautiful, athletic, had a loving family, and SO MANY wonderful friends.
We know that Amy started experimenting with marijuana the summer between 9th and 10th grades. She didn't think it was a big deal. But 1 in 6 teens who try marijuana — one in six — become addicted. How does a kid know whether they'll be one of the six? Amy tried other substances throughout high school, and as a sophomore was already using cocaine. I recently discovered in her journal after her junior year in high school, as she's realizing her experimenting is no longer benign: “Like, f—, its all coming clear now … what my parents were saying about pot being a gateway drug…” She tried heroin at 17, and going into senior year of high school, we wondered: should we be looking for colleges, or for rehab? But we hoped, and professionals reassured us, that once in college, her academics would prevail. Amy said she did some Oxycontin in college, which led to the cheaper heroin — an all too common story — after all, where we live an 80 mg. “Oxy” goes for $80 on the street, and a bag of heroin $3 – $5. So do the math: an $80/day pill habit multiplies to $560/week, or over $29K/yr.
The summer before she died, Amy took a three week microbiology course at Boston College – she earned an A, scoring 108 on the first test, and “only” 104 on the second. My husband and I looked at each other and reached the terrifying false conclusion “she can't be messing up THAT badly if she can earn those kinds of grades.” Wrong. She was what you call a high-performing addict. At first she had made some bad decisions, then the disease of addiction hijacked her brain chemistry, as she described it, “The disease has a stronghold – a white-knuckled fist, fingernails ripping through my skin, prying deeper and deeper into my body. I wonder what I can possibly do to break free from it’s [sic] grasp and remember the life I used to love and show up for.”
She wrote in her journal from detox, the day before her last Thanksgiving, “I know the real Amy is inside me somewhere and I need to get her back…I'm sick of leading a double life.” Further into treatment, she journaled “I feel like the drugs have taken over my soul. What happened to the strong, motivated young woman I was last spring? The impending doom sets in as I realize my disease has never been this bad. I stand today as heroin's puppet, feeling as if every fiber in my being is dull, responding only to the stimulation of potential drug use. But just like they say, you can't scare an addict.”
Addiction doesn't care where you live, or about your faith tradition,
… if your skin is dark naturally, or from tanning.
… if your eyes are earthy brown, or sky blue.
… if you're 15, or 50
… if you mother has a GED, or a Harvard MBA.
… or if you're flipping burgers at BK, or studying nursing at BC.
Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. Every day in my state, opiates — whether prescription or street drugs — kill almost 2 people, more than traffic fatalities. As one of my students said, “it's all fun and games until someone gets addicted.” And once addicted, the pain ravages families, and the outcome could be death. As Amy's best friend from high school said, “You're playing with your life.” Yet why was this friend able to draw the line on drugs, but Amy wasn't? That's part of what makes this disease so insidious — and even medical professionals aren't always able to recognize those in trouble — even in their own kids. Even more crazy-making, many of the signs of substance use are hard to tell apart from “normal” teenage behavior.
Melissa bravely shares her daughter's story on her Website. Please find more information on her book and Presentation Dates Here: http://www.amelibro.com/heroinspuppet/
(c) 2012 Melissa Weiksnar (Used with Permission)