“Know your enemy” is a phrase that repeatedly returns to my mind when I am looking back on the years of our children’s adolescence. Regrettably, what we have learned is too late for our son, but not for millions of other sons and daughters. I believe that we are at war with an enemy that, as it is taking the lives of our children, it is also taking the future of our nation and our world.

If you know the enemy and know yourself,

         you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

If you know yourself but not the enemy,

         for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.

If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,

          you will succumb in every battle.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Chinese military strategist, 5th century BC)

The wisdom from Sun Tzu holds such significance for all of us at this point in the battle against opioids. Knowing ourselves includes knowing and understanding our children well, and knowing their friends and their families. Knowing our enemy is knowing what our culture currently believes and how our society is battling our mutual challenges––as all other parents through the ages had to know in order to survive.

It is well-known that during adolescence when the brain experiences dramatic developmental changes, it is more vulnerable and primed for risk. Add the normal lack of defense for dangerous experimentation to families like ours – and perhaps yours? – who are drawn to risk and you have double jeopardy. Experts believe that the time when “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is during pre-adolescence. We need to inform parents when their children are in late grade school, 5th and 6th grade, before their children are exposed to alcohol, pot, and pills in middle school – yes, middle school. All the statistics confirm that is the age when my child, your child, my grandchildren and your grandchildren are being presented with life-threatening substances by their peers at school and at their peers homes.

What advice I can offer?  Know your children’s friends and families – well.

Get informed. Listen. Read. My top recommended books are:

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

The BEST comprehensive overview and detailed story of how America got to the point we are at now with opioids (synthetic derivatives from the opium poppy) and opiates (direct derivatives such as morphine and heroin). A MUST READ.

Woman of Substances: A Journey Into Drugs, Alcohol, and Treatment by Jenny Valentish

Not just a great book for young women since it highlights the ways in which studies on, and treatments for, addiction have been based mainly on men. A very informative narrative for everyone based on current research while also sharing Jenny’s personal experiences with addiction and recovery.

Fentanyl & Breathing Under Water


I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
I built it of rock.

A strong house
by a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbors.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of sand.
Always, the fence of sand our barrier, always, the sand between.

And then one day,
-and I still don’t know how it happened –
the sea came.
Without warning.

Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till it reached my door.

And I knew, then, there was neither flight, nor death, nor drowning.
That when the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors,
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance neighbors,
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.

(Sr. Carol Bieleck, RSCJ, from an unpublished work)

I first heard this poem as it was read at our son’s memorial by the director of a recovery program we had attended with JL in Tucson. It is full of spiritual metaphors and allusions to addictive behaviors. It came back to me this week as I received the latest information on fentanyl deaths in a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), summarized by CNN.
Fentanyl deaths skyrocketed more than 1,000% over six years in the US.
By Nadia Kounang, CNN, 03/21/2019

While the report is startling, it only confirms what we have heard. In 2011, there were under 2,000 deaths per year from fentanyl. Beginning in 2014, fentanyl related deaths began to double, from 4,223 to 8,251 in 2015, to 18,335 in 2016. Men are dying at a rate three times the rate of women, and the largest increases were among younger adults between the ages of 15 and 34.

Although heroin has been on a consistent climb as the leading drug for overdose deaths, fentanyl pushed past heroin for the first time in 2016. It’s no wonder. It is cheap to produce Non-Pharmaceutical Fentanyl (NPF) in illicit labs in China and Mexico compared to growing poppies and processing them. The synthetic drug is so potent that a slight error in the process can result in a bad batch that can kill multiple users almost instantly. Reports from around the country confirm mass overdoses becoming increasingly common.

Lethal amounts of fentanyl in heroin and other drugs is causing active drug users the greatest risk of dying. And because the fine white crystals are so potent, drug dealers can add undetectable amounts of fentanyl to heroin, cand ocaine to create more desirable products with higher highs and steeper price tags. The vast majority of deaths are the result of fentanyl mixed with heroin or combined with an inert white powder and sold as heroin.

But it’s not just those who have been addicted to heroin and opioids who are dying from fentanyl. Reports from the US and Australia indicate that fentanyl is being made into look-alike Xanax, ecstasy, cocaine, OxyContin, resulting in young people taking a drug for the first time at a party or music festival and dying.

Do drug cartels and dealers want to kill their customers? The evidence says they do not, rather, their production is inconsistent. And other than the minority who use fentanyl, active drug users are fearful of fentanyl-laced products.

Drug distributors are experimenting with how to make synthetic drugs, and unsophisticated local dealers are often sloppy when mixing fentanyl with other substances. That’s expected to change as the business of fentanyl trafficking matures. But Customs and Border Protection says that even if drug traffickers become more sophisticated and stop killing so many of their customers, that won’t necessarily decrease the overall number of U.S. overdose fatalities, since the number of users of fentanyl is expected to grow, not shrink. For the first time since 1918 life expectancy has dropped due to drug overdoses and suicides.

After reading these reports, I wonder: Is there any hope?

At international mail terminals, parcels are X-rayed to identify those that might contain fentanyl and other illicit drugs. They also use dogs, trained to sniff packages and alert agents when they detect fentanyl. Even when agents find a white powder they think is fentanyl, it can take days to confirm because dealers continuously change the chemical formulas to elude law enforcement.

“When the sea comes calling, you stop being neighbors…
And you give your house for a coral castle, and you learn to breathe underwater.”

The sea has come, like the flow of blood. We all––as a community, young and old alike––need to learn “to breathe under water,” to learn new skills, become educated about subjects we never had to learn previously, in order to survive and to leave a posterity, a future generation who are not destined for ruined lives but ones that are rewarding because they are purposeful.