(Seventh in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
When public health is at risk, one can only wonder about the motives behind politicians’ decisions – our “public servants” as they used to be referred to – regardless of what they may say. But we don’t have to guess their motives because actions speak louder than words and the actions of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) this week regarding Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family are unconscionable. This deal is not justice for the victims and their families for this pervasive and criminal corporate greed.
On the surface, the announcement of an $8.3 billion settlement sounds great. The company that aggressively started the opioid crisis and purposefully continued it in order to profit from it for two decades should have to pay until it hurts. They filed for bankruptcy last year – how can we squeeze more blood out of this turnip? But it’s what the DOJ isn’t saying that is important for we – the parents and families – whose loved ones were swept up into deadly addictions and those who are continuing their life or death struggle with opioids. Take a moment to consider some of the highlights of this deal: although they admitted to multiple felonies, neither the Sackler family, who own Purdue, nor company officials, will serve prison time in reality, Purdue and the Sackler’s will each only pay out $225 million since they are in bankruptcy the company will operate as a public trust under government control, continuing to manufacture opioid medications in order to give the Sackler’s a family legacy 25 state attorneys general urged the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company” – and to not make this deal, but to no avail the personal assets of members of the Sackler family could be protected from future liability for their role in the opioid crisis – their personal fortunes are estimated at $13 BILLION the DOJ requested the judge to protect Purdue and the Sackler’s by keeping secret certain disclosures that Purdue made about company activities parents’ w/children killed by OxyContin wrote to Attorney General Barr asking for one hour to meet with his lawyers investigating Purdue and the Sackler’s. The DOJ never replied.
Why are we protecting this criminal enterprise? This secrecy is eerily similar to a deal the DOJ made with Purdue the first time they were prosecuted in 2007. That settlement was a slap on the hand with about $650 million in fines over illegal opioid marketing practices but with no criminal charges. Purdue paid up and then continued on their merry way with the same targeted marketing of OxyContin along with other addictive meds. This went on for another 10 years raking in billions of dollars for the Sackler family, while young people like my son became irreversibly hooked on Oxy’s and then – due to the high cost of having to buy them on the street – switched to heroin. The rest is history, our history, hundreds of thousands of other family’s histories.
(Sixth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
I have always loved Star Trek. From the early 1960’s shows with the corny scripts and goofy hairdos to the 21st century high-tech and high-stakes extravaganzas. Science fiction envisions the future for us and pushes inventions and technology from getting “beamed-up” in a flash to having a force field to deflect foreign objects.
The concept of a force field would be an incredible tool to have at our disposal – to be able to switch it on and off at will. And I can think of no better time to employ an emotional force field than during the early days and weeks after a sudden death. When it takes all your energy just to exist, to wake up and to face the next moment. An invisible barrier for self-protection.
(Fifth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
After many years of not having a dog, we decided to adopt one from our local shelter. We found a beautiful German-shepherd/wolf mix who was 18 months old. Bella was docile, sweet and quiet. The next day, as I headed out to the grocery store, I gave her a hug and saw her watch me through the window as I got into the car.
When I returned an hour later, I was met with a shock. I found her, panting rapidly and pacing nervously in our bedroom where our wooden shutters were open and had bite marks. She had tried to escape while I was gone. I had no idea why. I immediately called the shelter. “She is having separation anxiety: she needed to escape being left alone.” We found out that she had been with two families previously when she was dumped at the shelter because she continued to try to escape when she was left alone for hours on end. They gave us the name of a dog behaviorist and we started down the long road of helping Bella manage her fear when we had to leave her at home.
Children and adults can experience separation anxiety when someone they are attached to leaves them. They can have recurrent and excessive distress just anticipating being separated from loved ones and the anxiety can be so intense that it is hard to function in everyday life. Panic attacks and physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches can occur. For me and my husband, on the morning of our son’s death from overdose, standing over our son in that body bag we experienced the ultimate separation anxiety. The overriding emotion we felt was fear: fear of the unknown future we were facing. We couldn’t visualize how we would survive without our son as part of our lives and the future we thought we all had together. He had not only been an integral part of our lives for 25 years but he was literally a part of us–the combination of our DNA that formed him as a particular and unique human being. To say that it was like having part of you taken away doesn’t describe it. This was having our hearts torn out.
We would never embrace or kiss or stroke the cheek of our son again. We were facing an existential crisis, shaken to the core, questioning our reason for living. Regardless of our strong faith that had seen us through many other deaths in our families, this separation seemed incomprehensible and cruel. It was only by falling down on our faces and waiting for Mercy to gradually pick us up that we were able to survive this traumatic separation from our son and move forward again in life.
(Fourth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
Distress, disbelief, shock. These are the normal, and actually healthy, responses to sudden traumatic experiences: natural disasters, an accident, assault or death of someone close. Even the risk of a situation that could harm us or someone else can bring fear and the sense of helplessness, which in turn brings on stress. According to the intensity of the event, even these powerful feelings can resolve themselves over time. But what if they don’t? And what if the event is actual, not threatened, and cataclysmic?
(Third in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
Chapter 1: The Letter
Most of us have felt like we were “in over our head” at some point in our lives. Maybe it was in a job, or a class, or a relationship. Perhaps in the ocean, or on a steep mountain trail or having made a commitment to an event or project that turns out to be more involved and time consuming than we thought. When we finally realize there are more problems than we can handle or a difficulty that we just can’t surmount, what do we do?
I remember one time when John and I were in Morocco and the friends we were traveling with were gone for the day. We decided to explore a lighthouse we saw ahead. As we walked through an opening in a wall that surrounded it, we started to feel we might not be in a safe place. We felt fearful as we saw trashed looking apartments and expensive cars with black tinted windows. What made us turn and literally run was the sound of mean dogs barking. As we ran back through the opening, several came in view with their spiked collars and bared teeth. Thankfully, as we hit the main street, their owners called them off.
(Second in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right. If you feel this blog is important, please repost to your social media using the buttons below. Thank You!)
When our 25 yr old son died of a heroin overdose in 2014, the statistics for the average life-span of a heroin addict was 5 years. Five years. Not very long if you are 15 or 20 or even 30, the age when most young adults’ nowadays are just getting in gear with their career, a long-term relationship, and planning a family. To have your life swept away before you have a chance to experience some of the most wonderful years of living on this earth is painful to consider.
(Today begins a series of topical blogs based on excerpts from Opiate Nation, chapter by chapter, that will run for 28 weeks. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
It’s a bit ironic that as I begin blogging through Opiate Nation we are in the midst of a pandemic. Ironic in several significant ways.
Opiate Nationwas written because of the opioid epidemic – which, in reality, is a pandemic. Every industrialized nation, and many emerging and third-world nations too, are dealing with the results from the ease of availability of opioids, whether natural and home-grown, or synthetic and imported. Or both, as is the case in America.
And like the Coronavirus pandemic that crept up on us so gradually that it’s deadliness caught us by surprise and mostly unprepared as nations, the opioid epidemic crept up on us too. In both cases, certain international players were unscrupulous for various reasons, causing delays in awareness when there might have been a chance for all of us to not be caught off balance.
The “inoculation” that should have happened, especially in the United States, by way of accurate scientific information disseminated by responsible leaders, didn’t happen. Instead, false information fueled by political agendas and financial motivation created a scenario that so crippled a timely public health response that, for many nations, it became too little too late.
Today is the 20th year of International Overdose Awareness Day with thousands of events now being held in 39 countries. It was started in Melbourne, Australia – our home many months of the year where our daughter and family live. Johanna is our only living child since August 2, 2014 when our son JL died of a heroin overdose.
This day is set aside to commemorate the millions of lives lost to drug overdoses around the world – individuals we all know who have lost their lives. Every time we are asked how many children we have and we share about our son’s death from overdose, we are met with another story about another family member or friend who has lost their battle with addiction and/or alcoholism or who is still struggling.
And remember: these individuals did not want to be addicted, to have their lives controlled by a never-satisfied appetite, replacing all normal joy and satisfaction from life and those they loved. But once their brains and bodies sampled the relief or joy or pleasure or peace that their substance offered, they were hooked.
Let’s all do what we can to bring awareness to the deadly game of drug experimentation and use, especially to our children and young people. Let them not be ashamed of talking to us about their temptations and failures so that we can guide them to early and successful recovery.
Our part of this effort was to write our family’s story in OPIATE NATION. For one week, the eBook will be on sale for $9.99 USD on all platforms worldwide. Our desire is to make it as affordable as possible so that the things we learned and wished we had known might prevent other families from the pain of losing a loved one to overdose.
We are a global community – like it or not. We are connected down to the minutia of life, from what we breathe, to what we eat, to what we think, to what infects us. And right now, the world, our world is in a life-or-death struggle with a microscopic enemy that seems to keep gaining the upper hand. The result in just one area is massive unemployment and the subsequent loss of access and funding for public and private support services.
I don’t want to get in to the politics of whether economies should be opened up regardless of Covid-19 and suffer the consequences in lives lost, verses lives ruined by no work and massive personal and societal debt. What I am concerned about are the consequences of what so many millions of people are facing from having lost their means of livelihood, and in particular, those whose lives were already balanced on a knife edge on a daily basis.
It has been said that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is connection – to others, to a community. The Coronavirus pandemic has brought disconnection and magnified loneliness and stress for people the world over due to social isolation, economic instability, reduced access to spiritual communities, and overall national anxiety and fear of the future. “We certainly have data from years of multiple studies showing that social isolation and social stress plays a significant role in relapse…and relapsing to drug use can play a role in overdose.” Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director NIDA.
The acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, is used in Alcoholics Anonymous and most recovery programs. It is a simple reminder that when our basic human needs are not met, one is susceptible to toxic thoughts and self-destructive behaviors including relapse and suicide.