(Translation into most languages at tab to right)
As I was driving home in 105-degree heat last week, I noticed a young man carrying a plastic bag stumble to a bus stop bench and sit down. It was clear he was homeless and it was equally clear that he was on drugs. I felt compelled to pull over. I rolled down the window and asked, “Are you ok?” He said, “No.” I asked if he needed help, and he wept and said “Yes.” When he came over to the truck, I asked if he was on drugs, and he said “No.” I said “I think you are on drugs and you don’t need to be ashamed.” He said he was, so I asked if I could sit with him and talk.
As we sat on the bench in the heat I asked what drug Julian (not his real name) was using. Fentanyl in the form of street Oxy’s that sell for $2 and come from Mexico. He is homeless, has never known his father, his mother is out of state and done with him. He is 23 years old and has been struggling with alcohol and addiction for 5 years – fentanyl for the past 1½ years. I told him about my son and said Julian was on the same path to the morgue unless he could get clean. He had gone to rehab in March with a predictably miserable 5-day detox and then was supposed to go to a sober home, but said they never got him there – probably not true. I offered to take Julian for something to eat and to try to connect him with a program to help him. While I drove and he nodded off, I called a few of the directors I knew from programs our son went to, but had to leave messages. I decided to take him home for a shower and a rest as we tried to find him a place.
My husband John prayed with this sweet and troubled young man and encouraged him to know there was hope and that he wasn’t a bad person, or less-than, but had a powerful war waging in his brain that needed medical help and emotional support. We drove him to the public behavioral health service, where he had gone in March, and got him signed in. It was an hour wait for him to go through intake again, so we left him with our names and phone numbers to give as his contacts for help so that we could follow up on how he was doing.
When we tried to follow up the next day, we found he had done a runner and never went through the intake. I would guess the fear of excruciating withdrawal was stronger than the fear of a potential or eventual death. This is so common, especially for those who have tried many times to get clean. Addiction specialist, Dr. Richard Whitney said, “Once people get addicted, they really lose the power of choice.” (1) Even with medication, the drugs need to be out of your system first. On average, it takes 4-5 recovery attempts and 8 years to achieve one year of sobriety. After another 5 years in recovery, the relapse rate drops to 15%.(2)That is 13 years to try to undo what most commonly started as trying something fun as a young person. The chemistry in our brains needs more time to recover than a few weeks or months from the damage done by opiates.
In 2015, Sam Quinones released his award-winning book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic documenting how Purdue Pharma – with a monopoly on the market on pain in the 1990’s with its new highly addictive drug, Oxycontin – deceptively promoted it as a non-addictive solution for every ache and pain. Then, with the lure of easy money, young men in Mexico, independent of the drug cartels, trafficked black-tar heroin to neighborhoods in America as a cheap alternative to Oxy’s. Its powerful long-lasting high then became the go-to drug for millions of young people who could heat and smoke it – our son included. Quinones states that the perfect storm was created when the pursuit of prosperity, pain avoidance, and the breakdown of close-knit family and community life, beginning in the 1960’s, created the void that those easily available opiates filled.
Quinones has recently released The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. It is the second most important book written on addiction and American society. In my next blog, I will delve into this new book and discuss where we are in the drug epidemic and where we can go from here. I personally need some hope as I see the thousands of homeless young people on the streets of my city and struggle with the tension of wanting to help prevent one more life from a literal “dead end” and feeling frustrated with the lack of effective programs to help these addicted individuals get the long-term recovery care they need. This – in a country where the majority of people seem to think that health care is a privilege for those who can afford it instead of a basic service for all Americans, including the least of us.
- Dreamland, pg 328
- John Kelly, PhD – https://www.recoveryanswers.org/
3 thoughts on “The Least of Us, Part One: Julian￼”
Jude and John, your actions were compassionate and realistic. I am glad to know that you realize you can’t save the world but if the message got through to Julian even a little, you have helped him toward sobriety. Bless you both.
Thank you Aldine, once again, for your encouraging words. Every time is see a young person caught up i addiction it just breaks my heart….I hope that even a little love will help him be more prepared for recovery.
Sadly, many of the chronically addicted don’t really care if they overdose and never wake up. Still, I believe that it’s not that they necessarily want to die; it’s that they want their pointless corporeal hell to cease and desist. And I don’t think I’m just splitting hairs with that point. …
Regardless, neglecting people dealing with debilitating drug addiction should never have been an acceptable or preferable political option. But the callous politics typically involved with addiction funding/services likely reflect conservative electorate opposition, however irrational, towards making proper treatment available to low- and no-income addicts.
Though I have not been personally affected by the opioid addiction/overdose crisis, I myself have suffered enough unrelenting ACE-related hyper-anxiety to have known, enjoyed and appreciated the great release upon consuming alcohol and/or THC. … Often societally overlooked is that intense addiction usually does not originate from a bout of boredom, where a person repeatedly consumed recreationally but became heavily hooked — and homeless, soon after — on an unregulated often-deadly chemical that eventually destroyed their life and even those of loved-ones.
Tragically, it’s as though some people, however precious their souls, can be considered disposable. Even to an otherwise democratic and relatively civilized nation, their worth(lessness) is measured basically by their sober ‘productivity’ or lack thereof. Those people may then begin perceiving themselves as worthless and accordingly live their daily lives more haphazardly.
Albeit perhaps on a subconscious level, a somewhat similar inhuman(e) devaluation is observable in external [typically the Western world] attitudes toward the daily civilian lives lost in devastatingly long-drawn-out war zones and famine-stricken nations. The value of such life can be based upon its overabundance and/or the protracted conditions under which it suffers. Thus, those people can eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page of the First World’s daily news.