Sunday, October 12, 2008

Unimaginable: A day in the life of my family.

Be warned - this post is unpleasant. The faint of heart need not apply.

I mentioned in passing recently that there was yet another tragedy in the clan last week. The story goes something like this.

My grandmother ran a foster home, into which my father was adopted. Aside from foster children and adopted children, that grandma also had two biological children. One of them managed to turn out fairly normal, despite tumultuous home life. The other shows the wholly unnatural stresses that adolescence wrought upon him, the details of which I'll not go into here. We'll call him D.

D was a brother to my father, and for all intents and purposes they are blood. Together they witnessed the death of their father. Together they slept in a cramped bed for ten years.

D cracked young and cracked hard, but it didn't stop him from wanting to do things right: from wanting to get married and have a family of his own, and so to finally have the home life that was absent to him in childhood. As a partner he found someone equally damaged and unfit for parenthood; to them were born three children.

The eldest, a girl, shares my name but little else. The details of her life are fuzzy to me, but I believe she managed to have a bastard child in her teen years. Nevertheless, her life is relatively stable. The youngest of the three, whose namesake quite directly is my father, watched the mistakes of the other two and chose to bow out. Led a quiet life, and is doing alright now.

But the middle child, oh, the woe he has brought to his parents and to the world. He is my age. By his teens he had managed to get involved in gang activity (Bloods orCrips ? This was never clear in the family), become addicted to heroin, and oh yes, have a child. And he's been plodding along, and somehow has had the same partner all these years - apparently she's a junkie too. They've had a second child, fifteen months ago now, a younger sibling for the fourteen year old son. Apparently the couple fights, though, enough so that recently she was moved to phone the police and tell a fib that he was "drunk and disorderly".

Well, the police looked up the name, and whether he was drunk or not, he sure did have a warrant out for his arrest - seems that there was some community service he'd been assigned to somewhere along the way that had never gotten served. A warrant is a warrant, and away to Orleans Parish Prison he went. Having been prescribed Methadone for the past 11 years, he was placed in the hospital wing.

This is where the story gets fuzzy.

The ending is always the same though. My cousin is dead.

The report that was given to his parents (by the coroner when he went to their house) was this: that my cousin had hung himself. With a towel. Now, immediately many questions spring to mind. One: is it even possible to hang one's self with a towel? He wasn't a huge guy, but he wasn't slight; a towel is not exactly built to hold weight. Two: if it even is possible, wouldn't it take a minute to set up? Or like, many many minutes? So, like, was there any kind of supervision whatsoever that would have noticed something like, say, a guy trying to rig a towel-noose from the pipes on the ceiling?

One way or another he was in Methadone withdrawal; whether this is because he was trying to kick it himself or because they wouldn't give it to him in the hospital is unclear. Either way, it is well established that Methadone withdrawal is wildly unpleasant - much worse, in fact, than withdrawal from heroin, the addiction that it is meant to cure.

Which brings me to my angriest point. There is some doctor, doctor!, in Louisiana, who took this at most 19 year old kid who was on junk. And instead of just throwing him in a room for a week and making him sweat it out and then placing him in a program where he'd be carefully watched, he assigned to that kid a lifelong, detrimental, extremely expensive (and therefore extremely profitable) addiction to supplement the one he already had. Why do I say supplement? Find me a Methadone addict who doesn't still also push heroin, and I'll give you twenty dollars. I have it on good authority -indubitable authority, in fact - that my cousin was no exception.

Methadone is not a cure; they've known that since the 70's if not for longer. So why, in the name of god, was my cousin put on this shit in 1997? And kept on it for more than a decade? Yes, I'm angry. This isn't medicine. This is doctors, doctors!, putting money directly into the pockets of pharmaceutical companies, and risking lives in the process.

My learning of this incident, or what we know of it anyway, began in the form of a voicemail. It was from my father; he sounded shattered. Said little. "Hey babe. You should give us a call. We have something to tell you." That was it. And my heart fell into my stomach, because my father never sounds like that. And my first thought, the one that persisted for the six minute walk before me and threw me into a fairly violent panic attack that made it difficult to function, was that my sister was dead.

I got to a place where I could be inside and sit down and I made the call, and of course quickly found out that the matter wasn't related to my sister. Immediately I was relieved, and shortly thereafter realized that there are, at this moment, both an older sister and a younger brother living the reality that I was so terrified to potentially face. What I thought might be for six minutes, they will live with that absolute truth heavily leaning upon their hearts for the rest of their lives.

They've long known that their brother was on the wrong path, but did they ever stop hoping that he would find his way? Of course they didn't. Did they fear getting this phone call each and every day? Of course they did. For the things he's done, it's impossible not to. And can any of that dull the pain of losing a sibling at 30 years old? Not one bit.

We have not been close; I haven't seen any of them in years. That family has always been difficult - makes mine look like a cake walk behind a white picket fence, with cherries. But they are my family, and I remember Christmases and Thanksgivings and Easters and St. Patrick's days with them. I remember basketball games in front of the old shed out back, and climbing the fence to get a peek into the neighbor's yard - that neighbor being David Duke, believe it or not. I remember him before innocence was lost.

I am not the praying kind, but if you are, my cousin's is as lost a soul as any there ever was, and he can use all of the prayers that mouths and hearts can say.


Anonymous said...

I'm real sorry to hear about your brother--that is terribly sad. Perhaps he should not have been on methadone at his age. But please know that it is a treatment that has saved countless lives--mine is one of them. I do not "sell heroin on the side"--in fact I have not touched an illicit drug or alcohol since my first day at the clinic 4 years ago. Methadone is not meant to be a "cure". Addiction is incurable. Putting him in a room for a week and letting him "sweat it out" does nothing but detox him--it does not cure the addiction. That is why the relapse rate for abstinence based treatment is so sky high. That is why they developed methadone treatment in the first place--because the typical approach was not working for the vast majority of opiate addicts.

Methadone withdrawals can indeed last longer than heroin withdrawals--but if the patient is given a proper, slow taper there is no need for any suffering. The suffering occurs when people either jump off their dose with out a taper or get pulled off it against their will (in jail, etc). But even with a slow, safe taper, 90% relapse within a year of stopping treatment. A good many patients will need lifelong treatment, due to the permanent chemical changes that can occur in the brain of a long term opiate addict. Your brother may not have required that yet--he likely should have been put on Suboxone instead and then tapered off once his life had stabilized to see how he would do.

Anyhow, again I am sorry to hear what happened. I just wanted to let you know that there are many people for whom methadone treatment has been a blessing and has restored them to a normal life--and many paople who do not use other drugs with methadone.


melissa bastian. said...

Dear anonymous,
first one clarification: cousin, not brother. Second, I'm glad that you feel methadone has been helpful for you, but from everything I've seen, heard, and read, you seem to be the exception. I've been around drugs and drug users for my entire life, and this just does not strike me as an answer. Granted, detoxing wouldn't cure him, which is why he would have needed a carefully monitored program and a major lifestyle change as a followup. But this is exactly why methadone doesn't work either: it doesn't cure the addiction. It might cure some of the physical aspects, but it doesn't touch the mental ones. Maybe it makes the drugs less effective if/when you do try to use them, but it doesn't make you stop wanting the high. Some people end up doing more heroin than they did before because it's so much harder to feel the high.

You are obviously a success story, and I wouldn't take that away from you for the world. I hope that you continue to flourish and grow in strength. But I still do not believe that methadone is a good replacement for the supervision and lifestyle change that is really necessary, especially for addicts that are in reality just children.