Death in the time of Covid-19: The Body Bags

During the first few years of writing Opiate Nation, the working title was Saying Goodbye Through a Body Bag. As I got closer to publication, friends suggested I look for another title, saying it was off-putting and gave a depressing visual image. It took me a while to adjust to the idea of another title because it was the experience of doing just that – saying goodbye to my son through a thick black body bag in the hot August sun – that pushed me through my grief and on to writing about what my husband and I had experienced and what we hoped could be a warning for others.

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CAN MONEY REALLY COMPENSATE ?

CNN reported this week that Mallinckrodt, a large opioid manufacturer, has reached a settlement agreement in principle worth $1.6 billion with attorneys general for 47 states and US territories. Mallinckrodt announced that the proposed deal will resolve all opioid-related claims against the company and its subsidiaries if it moves forward. Plaintiffs (states) would receive payments over an eight-year period to cover the costs of opioid-addiction treatments and other needs.

Compensation: recompense given for loss injury, or harm suffered. Are the settlements that are being levied against Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, TEVA, Mallinckrodt, McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., AmerisourceBergen Corp. really compensation for the millions of lives ruined by opioid addiction? Or for all the lives lost in the past 20 years?

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AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY?

When I was growing up, this metaphor was commonly espoused: “Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.” That is, you shouldn’t reveal things from your private life that people usually don’t want others to know and they don’t want to hear anyway. Things like inappropriate confessions and unpleasant family secrets. Everyone will be embarrassed and people will feel ashamed.

Now we are more likely to hear someone respond with “TMI – Too much information” when someone goes beyond the bounds of information that no one wants to hear – either too creepy or medical or personal. Totally understandable.

But is it airing dirty laundry for us to speak openly about conditions or situations that are of a communal nature? Topics such as physical or sexual abuse, or complicity and criminal behavior by politicians or leaders, or suicide, or addiction? Of course, there are some details about issues that plague us as a community that do not need to be  part of the public discussion in certain situations. But that is different than bringing an issue into the light of day so that it can be discussed in order to work towards a solution.

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Handwriting on the Wall

The other day I was thinking about our son and his struggles with drugs and alcohol and all that we know and understand now compared to what we knew and understood in the early 2000’s right up until his death in 2014. I saw myself, as if I were standing out in an open field, turning, looking back over my shoulder. That’s what I do when something unexpected or disturbing happens. I look back and try to figure out what I missed, what I could have done differently.

My next thought was: Why couldn’t my husband and I see the handwriting on the wall? Why didn’t we realize how dire the situation was at every new juncture with our son as the years went by? But, I realized that it wasn’t that we couldn’t see the handwriting on the wall. It was that we didn’t understand what it meant.

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Where the Buck Stops and Where It's Hiding

Arizona brought a case to the Supreme Court that sought to stop the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma, from transferring billions of dollars from the company in an attempt to avoid paying the claims made against them concerning flooding communities with the prescription opioid painkiller Oxycontin. The Court said they would not hear the case – the justices like to hear rulings from lower courts first.


One of the places the Sackler’s have hidden their money is in an estate in England. A recent article* states: “A complex web of companies and trusts are controlled by the family, and an examination reveals links between far-flung holdings…The estate is proof of the great wealth belonging to the family accused of playing a key role in triggering the US opioid epidemic. But there’s little evidence of that connection. On paper, the land is owned by a handful of companies, most based in Bermuda, all controlled by an offshore trust.” Read the rest of the article which cites the Associated Press’ findings of the deceptive and convoluted practices of a family dynasty that has lived like kings and queens off the misery and deaths of millions of people world-wide. Our son was one of them.

An estimated 10.3 million Americans aged 12 and older misused opioids in 2018. These estimates are likely too low. How many people who are taking opioid Rx’s for pain that could be relieved by physical therapy or a change in lifestyle actually report they are “mis-using” them? My next blog will delve further into this aspect of a country that has become averse to pain…

Continue reading “Where the Buck Stops and Where It's Hiding”

Benefits of Public Dialogue

John and I live in Melbourne, Australia with our daughter and her family several months of the year. Since our son’s death by overdose from heroin 5 years ago, we have become interested in and involved with some of the Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) programs there. We also receive news reports on current trends etc.

What is interesting to me is the contrast between the Australian approach to AOD use and the American approach. Australians accept that there will be drug and alcohol abuse in their society and therefore speak openly and candidly about it. A recent newsletter (Dec. 13, 2019) from VAADA (Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association) is a perfect example of their approach. It was an alert about “ increasing numbers of reports about very strong heroin in Melbourne, which has resulted in an increase in accidental overdoses.”

The alert asks providers in the AOD sector to alert their clients (heroin users) to this problem and to be careful and look out for their fellow users. They also urge providers to share specific harm reduction information to help reduce the risk of overdose, such as: get naloxone and keep it handy; try not to mix drugs (there is a lot of methamphetamine use mixed with heroin/opioid use); be smart about your tolerance, knowing it can change if you haven’t used for even a few days; and try not to use alone or in an unfamiliar place where you wouldn’t get help if you do overdose (which was the case for our son).

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GLOBAL DRUG SURVEY 2020

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) runs the largest drug – which includes alcohol – survey in the world. The GDS is now it is ninth year and is translated into 16 languages and partners with over 30 countries. Their international team is committed to helping make drug use safer regardless of the legal status of the drug and promoting honest conversations about drug use across the world.

How we wish we had been able to have more open conversations with our son while he was struggling during a relapse or actively using. Had he not feared some punitive measure we could impose on him in an attempt to force him to be squeaky clean, he would have felt less shame and the feeling of being a failure. He could have felt that we were partners with him in his battle against the overwhelming enemy that was within. Continue reading “GLOBAL DRUG SURVEY 2020”

America’s Love Affair with Opioids

Andrew Sullivan’s 2018 article for the NY Magazine entitled “The Poison We Pick”, wrote: “…For millennia, the Opium Poppy has salved pain, suspended grief, and seduced humans with its intimations of the divine. It was a medicine before there was such a thing as medicine. Every attempt to banish it, destroy it, or prohibit it has failed…This nation pioneered modern life. Now epic numbers of Americans are killing themselves with opioids to escape it…According to the best estimates, opioids will kill up to half a million Americans in the next decade.

“Most of the ways we come to terms with this wave of mass death…miss a deeper American story. It is a story of pain and the search for an end to it. It is a story of how the most ancient painkiller known to humanity has emerged to numb the agonies of the world’s most highly evolved liberal democracy. Continue reading “America’s Love Affair with Opioids”

Offering Recovery Options

One of the most recurring regrets John and I deal with is wishing that we had known about some type of long-lasting recovery option for our son, JL. He was becoming recovery resistant after so many cycles of detox and recovery programs and relapse. As the opioid epidemic sped up with mounting deaths by overdose, we now have statistics that make it clear that it usually takes many recovery/relapse cycles before a person can maintain long-term sobriety – especially for the main victims of this epidemic – those who started using opioids at a young age. Like our son. It’s not that he didn’t want to be clean and sober. He did, with all his heart. But opioids don’t let go easily or quickly. Continue reading “Offering Recovery Options”

American Pain

From my earliest memories, I have had leg aches. They come on fairly suddenly for no apparent reason. It wasn’t until my 20’s when I figured out they related to the weather and changes in barometric pressure. I know, it sounds like folk-magic. But it’s true . As I was growing up, my parents would wrap my knees in stretch bandages and rub my legs with witch hazel. One thing they never did was offer me a pill for my pain. Never. In the pre-1980’s world, pain was part of life and mostly bearable.

My how things have changed. America­­­–with 5% of the world’s population–went from consuming less than 5% of the world’s prescription opioids in the 1960’s to now consuming some of the highest percentages of prescription opioids such as oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, etc.

In 2015, John Temple,  an investigative journalist and journalism professor, wrote American Pain. It was one of three key books released that year in response to our opioid epidemic, the other two being Dreamland and The Big Fix. The title is taken from the “king” of the Florida pill mills, American Pain, a mega-clinic expressly created to serve addicts posing as patients. From a fortress-like former bank building with security guards, American Pain’s five doctors distributed massive quantities of oxycodone to hundreds of customers a day, mostly traffickers and those addicted, who came by the van load. Former strippers operated the pharmacy, counting out pills and stashing cash in garbage bags. Under their lab coats, the doctors carried guns. Continue reading “American Pain”