Back in my misspent youth, I was a registered nurse for a brief nanosecond of time. Then I realized that real nurses had something I didn’t have… a desire to be a nurse. So I got out of the profession. But before I did, I spent more than my fair share of nights in the emergency room of Long Island College Hospital, a hospital that handled some of the meaner streets of Brooklyn. Overdoses were pretty much a daily routine. On the weekends, overdoses became something close to a marathon. You could hardly push some Narcan into one overdose before the next was carried in. Narcan (the brand name for naloxone) is an instant cure. Within moments of injection the almost dead overdosed person is sitting up and mad at you for dumping the rest of their stash while he or she was out.
Yeah, that was the sucky part of the job. These addicts didn’t wake up and say thank you. No, they woke up and wanted to know what you did with the rest of their stuff. And when you explained that you disposed of it so that they would neither get arrested for possession nor manage to actually die with the next injection, they were not amused. Heroin is like that. It makes life with it seem more attractive than life without it. Better to die in the ecstasy of a high than to live in the dull, monotone world of sobriety.
Now that heroin is resurging here in Alaska, everyone is sitting up and taking notice of just how horrible it can be. Heroin is an equal opportunity drug. It strikes the poor, the middle class and the rich with equal ferocity. Kids raised with all the love and support they would ever need to succeed in life make the mistake of trying it once and suddenly a bright future is snuffed in a haze of heroin. Some people can take a hit of heroin and never take a second one. It’s like Russian roulette, there may only be one bullet in the gun but is it wise to take the chance that this time the bullet won’t be in the chamber. Is it wise to hope that you aren’t the person who will become addicted?
Because teens are not especially known for logical follow through on parental advice, and because teens tend to be much more prone to peer pressure than ever before in their lives, the appearance of heroin at a party might strike them as just something to do to be part of the crowd. And no matter how much great parenting you’ve done, when the pedal hits the metal, you can only hope that your kids will remember what you taught them and not be overwhelmed by the desire to fit in.
Unlike a parent burying a child who died of natural causes, a parent burying a child who died of a heroin overdose, or any overdose on an addictive drug, is burying a child who voluntarily chose to use that drug. At least, it was voluntary at first. Then, one day, it is no longer a voluntary impulse but what your child has to do to get through the day. Then one day it simply kills them. Your heart breaks knowing they chose the method of their death the day they did their first hit.
With Narcan, your child has a chance to wake up from an overdose and maybe, just maybe, reconsider what they are doing with their life. Without Narcan nearby and ready for instant use, you may never have a chance to know what choice your child might have made. But for all the times that Narcan can save them, the day will inevitably come when Narcan will be too late. So the only answer is to keep fighting for that lost child because that kid can no long make reasoned decisions. He will probably wake up from his overdose angry that you threw the rest of his stash out.
We need to do all we can to help those in our midst who have been taken prisoner by an addiction most of us can only dimly comprehend. But let’s keep that cure nearby so we at least have a fighting chance of giving them a fighting chance to change their path.