By the end of the 90's heroin usage and overdoses had skyrocketed from its earlier levels
and claimed the lives of countless youth. This is the generation of Trainspotting, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon and Bradley Nowell of Sublime. Many of us who grew up in this era have our own friends and family who have been lost to the war with opiates. We lived by the mantra that we would prefer to live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.
One of my high school friends lost her little sister at the age of 14 to a heroin overdose
. I can still remember her tiny innocent smile. She just got in with the wrong boyfriend, in that early adolescent rebellion, and lost her life. I was also friends with her parents, and I remember they seemed so hollow after that, like the best part of their lives was over. They were just the living dead, existing but only in a state of pain and loss. I would see them at a Starbucks, or pass them in a grocery store, but all they could see when our eyes met was the memory of their dead daughter's friend. It was to much to bear.
This is when I saw the first signs that opiates were becoming an even bigger problem. I remember a programmer friend of mine, who had just landed a huge gig with a dot com startup. Got his own place in San Francisco, was making serious money, yet when we had coffee and talked about our possible future dot com conquests, he offered me a little white pill. I was surprised, and I turned it down, said it wasn't my thing. But to see him using morphine to "take the edge off" and "make you feel warm" seemed a bit extreme to me at the time.
Later, after the dot com crash, it was in a friend's bathroom that I saw the real problem. She was going to a "pain specialist" who was giving her all kinds of pain meds
for illnesses and diseases she didn't really have. At least, I never believed she had any of them. To her credit I am not sure she was an opiate addict, but one day she invited a friend and I over to take some pills from her medicine cabinet. It was OxyContin. Thousands of oxies. If a heroin addict had access to these, they would have been worth a small fortune. When I realized how many her doctors were prescribing, and that she was stockpiling, I knew that the pill mills were in full swing.
I could never have known how big the problem was going to get, and how the future of opiates would kill to many more.
Then one day while I was sitting in a Barnes and Noble reading a book, I had my second encounter that told me the pill mills were on the rise.
A high school acquaintance walked up to me out of the blue. He had a terrible case of the shakes and he started telling me, in a not-so-quiet voice, that his grandmother's pills were no longer available and he just needed to get in touch with a new connection and asked if I knew anyone.
I didn't want to be a jerk, so I said, "Maybe let me think about it," and walked off. I thought it was disturbing this guy was asking me for a drug connection in the middle of a bookstore, loud enough for everyone in the place to hear it. Meanwhile, I wasn't even someone he knew to have ever used.
As I was walking out, he grabbed me from behind and pleaded with me. He said he just needed something, some pills, just anything I could get ahold of, and that I had to help him.
I apologized and left him there in the parking lot. I wonder what I would do today if I had the same experience? Try and get him into treatment? Introduce him to someone in recovery? I don't know. Someone surely loved him, and i hope he found help and got himself out of the lifestyle and into recovery
As someone growing up in California, during my teenage years and early 20s, heroin profoundly changed my life. Not because I ever used it. I never did, not once. It changed my life because so many people that shaped my life had been changed by it. So many of my friends were in recovery, and so many of them did find hope for a future. This is why the new epidemic is so different. How many of those friends would have lived long enough to find hope or find recovery if the overdose rates were at their current rate of climb?
How many more friends would be buried or in prison if I had been born just a decade later? Where is the Trainspotting generation today? What happened to those old-school, hardcore heroin addicts who lived in trashed houses and did unspeakable things to get their next fix?
They are in the news every day now. The lethality of the heroin on the streets now is staggering, and all those old heroin addicts are dropping left and right. Until you choose to seek a way out, and find hope, if you use heroin you are on a road to death or prison, or both.