Heroin Deaths in NYC
We've been traveling, but bad news about drug use not only travels but has a way of being there when we arrive.
Pete, Carrick's boyfriend, is watching the house and pets while we're gone. He called yesterday to tell us that the front page of the New York Post told the story of two 18-year-old girls who had fatally overdosed on heroin on the lower East Side, where Carrick lived and used for several years . One was a freshman at Hunter, Carrick's school, the other at NYU, which her cousin, Meghan, attends. The families of the dead girls, who met while attending St. Vincent Ferrer high school in Manhattan, said that they had never been in trouble but sources told the Post that cops had found needle tracks between the fingers of one of them.
Today, the Daily News said that as many as six deaths may have been caused over the past five days by "a deadly batch" of heroin that may be "fatally pure or altered with a poisonous additive."
The police are "taking steps" to arrest whoever is behind the bad dope, police commissioner Raymond Kelly is quoted as saying. But Kelly either didn't say, or the News did not report, the stamp (or brand name) of the suspect bags. Carrick and Deirdre are very upset about this. Publicizing this information could save lives.
We were in Asheville, North Carolina, yesterday and today. It's a prototypical college town — a little self-consciously hip, but teeming with ideas and alternative newspapers. One of them, the Asheville Global Report, ran a story about from the Inter Press Service (IPS) with the headline "'The South is going to explode,' warn Colombian activists." It relates how peasant framers from four provinces have created a civil movement to oppose Plan Patriot, a military offensive against FARC and other leftist guerillas, and Plan Colombia, the country's anti-drug strategy, both heavily funded by U.S. money. A spokesman said that security forces carrying out the strategies were themselves guilty of "arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, verbal abuse and extra-judicial executions."
Bottom line: The innocent peasants not only have to worry about the left and right wing political groups that fund themselves through drug trafficking, kidnap their children and seize their property, they also have to worry about the "peacemakers." In fact, the Jesuit Center for Popular research and Education released a report that held the state responsible for 579 cases of human rights abuses and FARC for 10 between Jan. 2004 and June 2005. I don't believe that the paramilitary forces are active in this area of Colombia.
Meanwhile, the Gannett-owned Asheville Citizen-Times reported that the city council had formed the Asheville Drug Commission with representatives from law enforcement. the courts, education, housing, religious groups, social services and the business community. It will meet monthly to discuss the proper balance between law enforcement, prevention and treatment in addressing the impact of drug use in Asheville. According to the vice mayor, drug use is a factor in 80% of the crimes committed in Asheville, and plays a part in other social ills such as child abuse and neglect. If it's not just a bunch of people talking at each other, this sounds like something every community in America should be doing.
Insurance parity is surely one of the key battles to be fought — I say "to be" because the effort has been feeble thus far — by recovery advocates.
The insurance lobby won one recently, and lost one.
Let's start with the good news. A bill that was signed by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week requires insurers to cover addiction and mental illness on par with other diseases effective Jan. 1, 2007.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. George Pataki, who has presidential ambitions, vetoed legislation that would have required New York insurers to pay for treating people who were injured automobile crashes while driving under the influence of alcohol. It is a poorly kept secret that many doctors in New York emergency rooms will not test patients for alcohol use for fear that the costs will not be reimbursed. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups argue that the law prevents effective drug testing, screening, and referral.
If you are interested in parity for mental illness and substance abuse in New York State, I recommend that you visit the Timothy's Law website.
Identify who said the following:
"We can do all the enforcement we want, but if we don't help people find work, find affordable housing, get treatment, we'll just keep doing what we're doing, locking the same people up."
a.) a social worker
b.) a cop
c.) a minister
d.) a bleeding heart
e.) a dad
The answers are b and d.
James Hamm, the police commissioner of Baltimore, has instituted a program called "Get Out of the Game" in which community affairs officers "patrol some of Baltimore's toughest streets in search of addicts and low-level dealers — not to arrest them, but to help them find treatment, job training, counseling and other social services," according to a front page article in today's New York Times (free registration required).
Hamm's 36-year-old stepdaughter Nicole, according to the lead paragraph, "sells her body to buy heroin, living from trick to trick and fix to fix while dodging police officers who chase her from the street corners she haunts ..." The former star athlete first snorted coke at 17, and has been through the all-too-familiar cycle of recovery and relapse.
Hamm is quoted as saying that she hasn't reached the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. That reminded me of another quote in today's Times by New York Yankee outfielder Gary Sheffield regarding his uncle, former pitching star Dwight Gooden.
"I've done pretty much everything you could possibly do," Sheffield said. "It just comes to a point where you have to let him go through what he's got to go through. Sometimes, it is God's plan for us to back off and let him do it, because the family has tried everything."
Gooden, who has been through several well-publicized rehabs, refused a roadside sobriety test in Tampa the other day, and then drove off after handing his license to officers. Police, in the interest of safety, did not pursue his vehicle. Gooden has not surfaced yet.
It's certainly a positive sign to see enlightened police in Tampa and Baltimore. Perhaps their lead will lend some backbone to politicians, who think that rhetoric about locking up addicts is the ticket to winning elections. Baltimore's mayor, in fact, refused to comment on Hamm's "Get Out of the Game" program, no doubt fearful that he'll appear "soft on crime."
We've got to let our legislators know that treatment for addicts and low-level dealers is more effective than locking them up time and again. To do that, they have to get the message that being compassionate about addiction is not the same as being soft on criminals.
"We're going to deal with crime," Hamm told the Times. "This is not a feel-good, touchy-feely, give-you-a-break thing."
It's more like a common-sense thing: Fix the addicts and you'll stop the crime. And recognize that, as with any disease, relapses happen and need to be treated again. And again.
Macbeth at Untermeyer
We got back from the opening of Piper Theatre Productions' "apprentice" production of Macbeth in Untermeyer Park in Yonkers a little while ago.
If you click here, you'll see Duncan's picture at the top of the page. He played Macduff, Hecate and a murderer, and was featured in the posters for the show, which are hanging in storefronts and stapled to telephone poles around Hastings and neighboring towns. I asked him earlier tonight how it felt to see his face plastered everywhere. He just laughed. But when a young lady he didn't know came to the play tonight wearing a T-shirt with his face on it, I think it's fair to say that he was duly blown away — much more so than seeing himself on national TV last week.
I thought the performance was masterful. Director John McEneny is not only a creative genius, but also is able to push kids right to their limits. This was only the thirteenth day that the cast was together. They all delivered their lines beautifully, from leads Andrew Yee and Dana O'Brien straight through to 8-year-old Olivia Winter, who plays a child of Macduff (Duncan), who is stabbed by a murderer (also Duncan, but that's what suspension of disbelief is all about). The staging and choreography — utilizing the boulders, trees, walls, and parapets that dot the landscape — seemed as smooth as a professional production. John used four different areas of Untermeyer, which the audience walked to between scenes.
Untermeyer is one of the grand estates that was built along the Hudson in the Nineteenth Century. It is gradually being restored by the City of Yonkers. In the 1970s, though, it was the run-down gathering spot for the demonic cult to which Samuel Berkowitz, the notorius "Son of Sam" killer, belonged. It was also a hangout for Carrick and some of her drug-using friends five years ago. I also spent a long day searching for her there the first time she ran away from home for more than a few hours.
It was interesting to listen to Duncan talk about the show develop on our car rides home from rehearsal, which started July 19.
"John thinks we're professional actors," he said more than once, "and we're just a bunch of kids."
But in the three years he's worked with John, Duncan and the other returning cast members have developed a trust that is impossible to quantify. And everything that they thought would be impossible to pull off just a few days ago was executed seamlessly tonight.
Not everything we do has a drug angle, but sure enough, there's one here. All of the kids sign contracts promising not to use drugs or alcohol. If Duncan, or any of the key cast members, violated that agreement and a suitable replacement could not be found in time, the McEnenys would not have hesitated to pull the plug on the run despite all the advance publicity and the heartbreak it would cause.
"We are an educational program first," Rachel told us when there was an unfounded rumor that some kids might have violated the contract. "Some things just can't be compromised."
I've heard about star athletes who violate their codes of conduct getting special treatment at various schools across the country, and I wonder what message that sends not only to them but also to everyone who sees what's happening. In Hastings, over the years, some athletes or "peer leaders" who have signed pledges to not drink alcohol have been the leaders of the keg parties in the woods.
It's not only takes a stiff backbone to enforce rules like these, it takes a love for children that goes beyond transitory gains like an athletic victory, or keeping parents happy. I will be the first admit that I would have been devastated if tonight's performance was cancelled because Duncan or another kid popped some pills or had a few beers. But it would have been the right decision, and knowing that the McEnenys would have made it gives me insight into the trust that the kids feel for John.
If you're in the area, Macbeth will be at Untermeyer Park Friday, August 5 and Saturday, August 6 at 7:30 PM, and at the Yonkers Public Library at 2:00 PM Saturday. Directions to both venues can be found at the Piper Theatre site.
I got a call from Racheal less than an hour ago. She came across 'Saving Carrick" on the MSNBC website and was so inspired by it that she wanted to talk to one of us.
Racheal is clean and sober for 20 months, and works in a police department's Addiction Recovery Unit in Oregon. She was elated because she had just been able to place someone in need of treatment in a facility in another city. Victories like this are tough to come by, she says. She often finds herself calling fruitlessly around the state to find a bed for an indigent or homeless person who wants to get clean.
I suggested that Racheal visit our website and add her story to those that Deirdre has started to collect via email to take to Washington next month.
"My story is nothing special," she said.
I've been thinking about that. In a sense, there's "nothing special" about any of our stories. The impact of addiction on ourselves and our loved ones is fairly predictable. What's special is that we're no longer afraid to tell our stories in public so that others realize that they are not alone.
We all bring unique difficulties, insights and learnings to the "wheel of life," of course. The more stories that Deirdre can collect, the greater the impact we all will have as friends and voices of recovery.
I just clicked through to the Advocate discussion to check the link I made above. Rachael has already posted her letter. We hope this is just the first of dozens, hundreds, thousands to come.
When my friend Jacques told me a couple of weeks ago about the seizure of Colombian children by right- and left-wing military groups, I wondered why I hadn't read more about the issue. Today, the disappearance of "sons, fathers, mothers, brothers" in Colombia is front-page news in the New York Times.
"Colombia Unearthing Plight of Its 'Disappeared'" focuses on the scores of bodies being dug up in cattle country close to the Caribbean. The article says that right-wing paramilitary groups were responsible for these deaths, particularly a group called "Heroes of the Maria Mountains." Colombian authorities claim that the "Heroes" were de facto drug traffickers who paid off local officials and seized poor farmer's land to control the territory, which is used to move cocaine northwards.
"With dozens of people coming forward in recent months to complain of missing relatives, government and military officials now estimate that hundreds of poor farmers may have been killed and secretly buried in a terror campaign that began in the late 1990's," the Times reports.
This is slightly different than the enslavement of teens that Jacques told me about, but it's all cut from the same cloth. I spoke to my friend Carlos, who maintains close ties to his large family in Colombia, about this phenomena late last week. He said that it was his understanding that FARC, the largest of the "left-wing" guerilla groups, was more actively engaged in seizing children than the "right-wing" groups. He promised to point me to more information on the subject when he returns from vacation.
The nominal political orientation of those responsible is irrelevant to the families of the victims, of course. The missing and dead are innocent bystanders of a war that at this point has as much to do with internal Colombian politics as a shootout over who gets to sell crack on a particular street corner in the south Bronx.
A couple of hours ago, Charlie Murray, 29, was standing below a cherry picker, where an electrician was changing a light bulb on the Warburton Ave. Bridge in our village. Charlie evidently touched a live 120-volt wire in the box in the light stanchion and, sweaty in the heat, touched the metal handrail on the bridge and was electrocuted. (See correction below)
Charlie was always working, it seemed. He put in a full day for the Department of Public Works, smiling and waving from what ever vehicle he was driving at the time — snowplow, dump truck, garbage truck. In the evening, he'd water the plants that hang from the downtown light poles with some equipment he rigged up in the back of his own pick-up. I guess he had a contract with the village. His dog — I think his name is Buster — would hang his head out the front window, panting gleefully and following Charlie's every move.
Charlie also had a landscaping business. A couple of years ago, a usually mild-mannered neighbor of mine barked at him for operating a leaf blower around dinner time. I apologized to Charlie on behalf of my friend. I later told my friend that while I empathized with his desire to eat in peace, Charlie was one leaf-blower who, in my book, deserved a break. He was just too damn nice, and he worked too damn hard. I'd heard that his goal was to make a million by 30, and retire.
Charlie's mom, Betsy, was Carrick's fourth-grade teacher. It is the last grade — perhaps the only grade until college — in which Deirdre and I felt that Carrick did well from both an academic and emotional standpoint. Mrs. Murray was stern but concerned, firm but understanding. She set standards, but realized that everyone achieves differently.
I walked to the village to do some chores this morning, and saw a yellow police line across the bridge and the DPW's cherry picker in the middle. I just figured the police were stopping traffic for a quick repair. I then headed west to the library to return some books and check in with librarian Sue Feir, a sage confident.
When I got there, Sue and Betsy Murray were talking. Betsy has volunteered at the library since her retirement a couple of years ago. The two were discussing one of those nettlesome small-town problems that's right out of Gooberville. The library set up a "take one, leave one" bookshelf in the commuter train station a few month ago. It appears that someone is coming in and taking all of the books for resale. My contribution to the conversation was a suggestion that they check with the station master, Pete, to see if he'd seen anything. Sue later told me that she and Betsy also had been talking about Charlie. Sue jokingly said that she was shocked to hear that Charlie had actually taken a day off to boat on the Hudson River yesterday, a favorite activity of his.
Just before we received word that the police had found Betsy at the library and escorted her out with grim faces, Sue and I compared notes on our weekends. I told her that we had received some harrowing e-mails that made our story seem like Easy St. We are wrestling with what to say to people who feel that they have tried everything and have nowhere else to turn.
Of course, nobody's story is really "better" or "worse" than anybody else's when you know that your loved one is teetering between life and death. Charlie's death drives home once again how relative the word teeter can be, and how much grief one can feel for people who have touched our lives even tangentially.
An autopsy subsequently determined that Charlie had a congenital heart condition.
One of the most harrowing figures about the failure of our drug policy is contained in a story about "Saving Carrick" on the website of Anchorage's KTUU, Channel 2. More than 15,000 people are addicted to opiates in Alaska but there are only about 100 beds available for treatment.
The local NBC affiliate covered the staff of the Anchorage Narcotic Drug and Treatment Center watching the show. One dad had to leave the room. Three months ago, his son was finally ready to commit himself to recovery but he could not get into a program. He's still on a waiting list.
“All we can do is just keep hoping he’ll hit bottom before that bottom is six feet under,” the dad said.
What kind of a war are we fighting when we leave our casualties limping on the battlefield?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information held one of the dozens of FAVOR-inspired "house parties" across the country during the airing of "Saving Carrick."
NCADI put together a short video (Windows Media Player) about the experience.
Deirdre wrote to FAVOR director Pat Taylor:
Pat responded that "what you saw in the video was happening in homes and other places all over the country — the conversations were incredible."
Reactions like this make the inevitable barbs very easy to accept.
One of my closest friends, a person I've confided in for more than ten years, is a woman I've met in person only once, when we grabbed a quick lunch a few years ago when I was on assignment in Michigan. We talked on the phone once, too, but otherwise have gotten to know each other entirely in what used to be known as cyberspace.
I met Pat via Profnet when she became a source for a story I was writing in the mid 1990s about the coming millennium. We have emailed each other since then, though family triumphs and sorrows, diseases, deaths and small joys. Pat writes with extraordinary precision and eloquence.
I just did a search of my e-mails to and from Pat, and the first one that popped up illustrates the type of relationship we have. I wrote it on Sept. 11, 2002 and, at the risk of giving away some of the story line of Our Odyssey, here it is in its entirety.
I'm sitting on the book for now. The agent told me I was trying to write two books in one, and of course she was right. I know the one I have to write, but it is still so raw, as you pointed out in different words, that I'm just taking notes.
There are many joyful events, too, of course. About a month ago, my cousin Michael and I had a delightful lunch with our Aunt Patricia. What's so unusual about that, you ask? Well, we didn't know we had an Aunt Patricia. Evidently my grandfather (Thomas H., Sr.), who had five boys, of which my father was the eldest, also had a 12-year affair with Patricia's mom, who was a columnist at one of his papers. She's had an interesting life, and is warm and smart and earthy. It was a joy to get to know her. She lives in Denmark, where her second husband (of three) is from -- he's a renowned industrial designer with works in MOMA. Her three kids are in Denmark, too.
I just got back from the park next to the library where I watched the towers collapse. Landscapers just today seeded the slopes after a renovation project that I, in effect, oversaw as president of the library board. A memorial stone we're having put in a wall that overlooks the Hudson is a couple of weeks late, but it will read:
September 11, 2001
At this vista
We came together
In grief and solidarity
Our perspective forever changed
It's poker night. Got to run. Life's routines must go on. But it was very good hearing from you. I think of you often, and hope all's well.
When Carrick was attending RedCliff Ascent in the winter of 2000-2001 (she was primarily smoking pot back then), I ended a letter to my daughter with some thoughts that Pat had emailed.
“You did what you had to do for Carrick, Thom, so please hold tight to that conviction. Probably the most difficult thing we do as parents is to release control when we desperately want to maintain it. Then, once we let go we find that control was a tissue-thin illusion in the first place. There is every reason for hope, not the least of which is that she's seen her parents break the back of these problems for themselves.”
I also want to quote you the final words she wrote to me before she went into surgery about a month ago, with the understanding that she might not come out at all. I immediately printed these simple words out and taped them to the wall in front of me at work:
"Take Care. Be happy. Love life. It's good."
We love you.
Pat wrote today and asked if things didn't feel a bit anticlimatic around our house.
I replied no, we all really feel that our work is just beginning.
I had a conversation this morning with Betty, whose son got into trouble with some other young men in a few incidents about a year ago. Some marijuana was involved but there were other issues that I won't go into here that led to more serious charges being filed.
Betty had heard about "Saving Carrick," but she said she was not able to watch it. The wounds from her own experience with the police, high school administrators and neighbors are still too raw. Her son was held in custody for more than eight hours before she could see him; then was paraded into the courtroom in shackles. A compassionate judge, seeing a scared boy before him, demanded that they be removed immediately.
Betty experienced people looking the other way when she walked down the street. One neighbor expressed his amazement that the family had not moved out of town, verbalizing what she feels was probably on the minds of others. Her son was "blackballed." Everyone acted as if it could never have happened in their households. Only one friend lent a sympathetic shoulder, and the whole experience left Betty reeling.
Our conversation reminded me of an exchange of posts in the Discussion area last night between Linnea and Mary Kennedy. Although they were directly addressing heroin addiction, their points ring true to me on a larger scale. Why are we so unwilling to discuss our loved one's missteps with the same candor we show toward their winning fifth place in the second-grade potato sack race? Making mistakes are just as much a part of the human condition as small triumphs.
"...It's clear most of us have gone beyond the self-imposed shame-game of a loved one's addiction," Linnea wrote. "The lifestyle that addiction ultimately leads to is what gets most of the press and attention, and the Carricks of the world (along with our own very beautiful sons and daughters) have remained faceless, with only their criminal behaviors being the source of information, judgment and decision-making."
Mary responded: "I pray for the day when we "auxiliaries" in this mess can stand together IN PUBLIC and declare that little battle on drugs that continues to be called a WAR, is a very bad joke. "
I urged Betty to come to this site, and to watch "Saving Carrick." I told her, as I've told others who have told me that they don't want to be "voyeuristic" by watching Dateline's report, that the whole reason we did the show was so that people would watch it and talk about it, whatever their opinions, and stop sweeping these issues under the rug.
There are many sides to a story like Betty's, of course. The police, the school, and neighbors no doubt see things differently. But when we don't talk openly about what's happening on our Main Streets, all we get is half-baked rumors, distortions, denial, and more of the same in the future.
Betty is well aware that her son did something wrong. So is he. Her son is doing very well, she says. Although his legal troubles are far from over, he's remorseful, excelling in college, and wonders who that kid was who acted so stupidly. But the heavy-handed process of accountability did nothing to help him, or the family, or their community to address the larger issues that, like it or not, involve every family in America.
Hazards of Blogging
So we were at the train station an hour ago buying Carrick's monthly commutation pass when I realized that her 21st birthday was just four days away.
"Listen, with all the hullaballoo these last few weeks, I forgot to ask you what you wanted for your birthday," I said. "Has mom talked to you?"
"No, but please tell her to not buy any clothes for me. Just give me the money and I'll get the clothes."
Ouch. But I've been there. I think I still have some cranberry Haggar slacks buried somewhere in a drawer.
"Well, I do have a surprise planned."
"Yep," I said, beaming.
"It wouldn't be an iPod, would it?"
"How did you know," I screeched.
"Because I read about it on the website," she said.
Hmmm. I'm so used to this story being in the drawer, so to speak, that I forget that people other than The Editors Who Say No Thanks are reading it.