What had happened to my baby brother? How did a tiny little pill shatter our family? When did we first begin losing Pat?These are the harrowing questions that plagued Erin Marie Daly after her youngest brother Pat, an OxyContin addict, was found dead of a heroin overdose at the age of twenty. In just a few short years, the powerful prescription painkiller had transformed him from a fun-loving ball of energy to a heroin addict hell-bent on getting his next fix. Erin set out on a painful personal journey, turning a journalistic eye on her brother’s addiction; in the process, she was startled to discover a new twist to the ongoing prescription drug epidemic. That kids are hooked on prescription drugs is nothing new; what is new is how a generation of young people playing around with today’s increasingly powerful opioids are finding themselves in the frightening grip of heroin.
With a new introduction and updated notes, Generation Rx explores what the opiate epidemic is doing to our youth, and just how inextricably tied OxyContin and Heroin really are.
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IT IS THAT time of year when days are short and nights are long, but on this particular day, the moon refuses to rise. I beg the sun to stop dragging its feet, so I can climb upstairs to my childhood bedroom and leave behind the madness. So I can shut the door and lock it. So I can fall into a dreamless sleep where things are as they should be, and my brother Pat is still alive.
The sun will not listen.
The sky is bitter and luminous through the muslin veils and wire mesh of the living room windows. My other brother, Brian, sits on the porch steps, waiting, and pulls his hoodie over his head. He is a statue, unmoving, protective. He faces the cold in silence as my sister Caitlin and I watch him from the inner folds of the house on Cedar Street. Cars trundle down the street, but not the one we are looking for. The house waits too.
We are waiting to tell our mother that Pat is dead.
I bite my nails and pace from the living room through the foyer to the dining room, where the windows look out onto the driveway. My car is there, and Mom will know when she sees it that something is wrong, because it's the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Brian is the messenger because with our father and Pat gone, he is the only man left in the family, and because he is brave. Shuttered in the house, we regard the back of his head, sheathed in his sweatshirt. From behind he looks like Pat, but taller.
Even before today, our childhood home felt ghostly to me. There were too many memories that floated through the hallways, tapping me on the shoulder. As children, we spent most of our time in the backyard. Back then, it was a gaping field of sour grass framed by a cottonwood tree that shed sticky pods in the springtime. There was a tiny playhouse painted beige and white, built by my father under a tree that produced a fruit too pungent to eat, the misguided marriage of orange and grapefruit. A rosebush on the side of the house, where my sister and I collected petals that we mixed with water and crushed into old mayonnaise jars to give to our mother as "perfume." And a rope swing on which Pat — the most athletic and also the most fearless of the four of us siblings — spent most of his time, using the high fence as a jumping-off point from which to hurl into the sky, grinning.
Today the vacant rope hangs from the tree in a manner so cruel that I want to strangle someone with it. But whom? Pat, whose addiction has consumed our lives these past few months? The psychiatrists and rehab counselors who failed to fix him? The kid who offered him his first cigarette back in fifth grade, which led to alcohol, which led to pot, which lead to cocaine, which led to prescription painkillers, which led to heroin?
In the end I settle on myself. I'll slip through the sliding glass door — it makes just a tiny squeak if you open it past the middle — and tiptoe up the little brick stairs, overgrown now with weeds. The sticky pods are just beginning to drop from the cottonwood tree; I'll have to tread carefully across the lawn because they smell like rotting herbs if you step on them. But I'll make it to the rope, and it will be rough and warm in my hands. The ladder Pat used to climb to get to the top of the fence still leans there. I'll climb up on it and loop the noose. Swallow one last time. Then go. To him. Away from this. Away from my homecoming mother, whose screams will soon fill the eerie absence of sound in a suburb in the cold springtime at noon.
* * *
BRIAN CALLS ME while I'm in a cab driving through San Francisco. When he tells me Pat has overdosed again, my first reaction is to curse.
My initial anger fades into a familiar mixture of fear and adrenaline. There is also a dull ache that settles brick-like in my innards, lower than my heart but higher than my stomach. It feels like homesickness, like missing something precious and far away.
Less than two months ago, there was a similar call from Brian telling me of an overdose so severe that Pat had nearly died. I was walking the dog in the windswept hills near the park by my apartment and had hung up the phone, trembling. Looking toward the bay, I saw freight ships cutting lines through the opalescent waters. Looking toward the park, I saw a homeless man. He lurched toward the bushes on the other side of the street and vomited. I turned away, envying him. If only I could have expunged that ache. Pat nearly died.
Today's phone call brings on the same ache. As furious as I have been with Pat, I love him and can imagine nothing worse than losing him.
As the taxi picks up speed, it occurs to me that Brian is telling me gently — with just the slightest bit of hesitation in his voice, as if maybe it weren't quite true — that this time Pat is dead. He doesn't say that exactly, but rather that the paramedics are at the scene, and they are prepared to pronounce that Pat is unable to be resuscitated. The ache explodes, choking me with shards of terror. I say it first.
Pat is dead?
Pat is dead.
The world stops.
Everything goes black. I am nowhere. There is nothing. The spongy cushions cradle me, and though they are musty and smell of sweat, I want to wrap them around me. I lean my head between my knees and whisper to myself. It is not true. We have not lost Pat.
Suddenly I am home, back at the apartment I share with my fiancé, Ben. I hand money to the driver without asking for change and stumble up the creaky Victorian steps to our third-floor flat. The dog assails me at the door, jumping nearly sideways in his excitement. I sink to the floor. He licks my face wildly. I cannot move.
After a few minutes, panic sets in. Frenzied, I call Ben's cell phone: no answer. I call again. I call twenty times. I finally call the switchboard operator of the hospital where he works and ask her to page him. Doubting the operator's competence, I call a friend who works with Ben. The sound of her voice — a familiar voice, the comforting voice of someone who knows me — sends me into hysterics. I scream that my brother is dead. I need Ben. Through the buzzing in my ears, I hear her say that she will find him.
Feeling as though I am moving through water, I dial my sister's number. She lives just a few minutes away, but I don't want her driving once she hears the news: I will call a cab or have Ben bring her to me. This urge not to have her drive suddenly feels like the most crucial order I have ever been given. As the oldest sister, I should be calm and in control; I should protect her. I must protect her. But when she answers, the innocence in her voice — the slightly surprised hey of a random weekday morning phone call, the normalcy of her world about to be shattered — makes me lose my grasp again. My words come out in a high-pitched gasp, somewhere between a shriek and a moan, and she cries out in shock.
Pat is dead?
Pat is dead.
* * *
I lurch into the bathroom, grabbing onto the side of the clawfoot tub. The porcelain gape of the toilet bowl is cold and hard against my forehead. I vomit. The ache won't come up. I curl up on the floor and stare at the dog, who is standing in the doorway, dejected and confused. His tail wags slowly, hopefully, but he keeps his distance. Dogs can smell fear; I wonder if he can smell the ache that has lodged itself inside of me. My eyes close.
* * *
MY SISTER IS on the bed. We hold each other, our arms trembling, our fingers clutching. We are crying and we cannot stop. Her blue eyes are pinched at the edges, her eyebrows arched upward in disbelief. Our tears and snot drip down into our laps. We look at each other and I want to say something to make it better or maybe I will just scream instead because I cannot fix this, I cannot bring him back, we have lost our baby brother and now what?
* * *
BEN IS DRIVING the car, hastily packed with overnight bags stuffed with mismatched outfits and toothbrushes. In the backseat, I lean my head on my sister's shoulder and wish for Ben's strength, watching the slope of his neck as we head toward our family home in San Carlos, about half an hour away from San Francisco. Brian and his girlfriend, Elise, are meeting us there, along with our mom's friends Betty and Tom. Mom is still at the preschool where she works; we want her to hear the news at home, surrounded by us.
All these months, Mom was at the eye of the storm with Pat. Parenting him was always a challenge — he was headstrong, wildly energetic, the only one to struggle in school — but never more so than recently. His addiction complicated their ability to communicate, and her efforts to intervene often ended in fights, including three weeks ago when he graduated from his courtordered outpatient rehab program and refused to move back in with her. He had left straight from the graduation ceremony to board a train to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend — with whom he frequently did drugs — was living with her mother and stepfather. Mom had pleaded with the rest of us to try and convince him of what he would not believe coming from her: if he moved back to southern California, where he had been living for most of his addiction, she feared he would not return.
Was it mother's instinct, something animalistic and unmistakable that none of the rest of us could sense? Will she know, when she sees all our cars in her driveway on a random Tuesday at midday, that he is gone?
The Cedar Street house is drafty and sickeningly silent when we all arrive. We hug numbly. Pat's sudden absence is garish, wrong. Elise lights a fire. Betty and Tom rub our backs and retreat into the back of the house to give us space, knowing we need to face our mother alone.
* * *
WHEN HER CAR finally pulls up, Brian rises from the porch and walks quickly across the manicured lawn. From the house, my sister and I cannot hear what he says, but her throat makes a sound loud enough to pierce the walls. We run outside as she crumples into Brian's arms. Her eyes are wide and wild; though she's tiny, it takes all three of us to carry her back to the house.
Inside, we lay her down and surround her. I cradle her in my arms from behind, brushing the damp blond wisps from her forehead and feeling the shudders of her sobs through my body like a series of volcanic explosions.
She screams for what seems like hours.
Pat is dead.CHAPTER 2
JUST LET ME FORGET
LUKE TELLS ME it is the rush that draws you in. It makes you forget the darkness.
He flicks a lighter under a spoonful of syrupy brown liquid and says he is ready to die. Fumes rise from the potion, filling the room with the scent of vinegar. It is sickly and sweet at the same time.
We are sitting side by side, Luke and I, on his unmade bed in a sober living house in San Juan Capistrano, a seaside town in southern California where I am reporting a story on the epidemic of pill and heroin abuse. We have just met, but he lets me in, lets me close to the poison that has taken over his life since he became hooked on prescription painkillers eleven years ago, at age fourteen. And he's right: there is a rush. There is something exhilarating about the poison in his hands, just in its presence, the way that it swirls and bubbles in the spoon. I wonder about the strange seduction of these little bits of crystallized black tar swimming around in circles. I wonder what my brother felt like as he stared down at them three years ago.
Since Pat's death, I am like a madwoman crazed with the silence he has left behind, the questions I should have asked of him years ago. I now seek those answers from others like Pat. But not the Pat I knew — a different Pat, a stranger, someone compelled by the darkness and at the same time repelled by it, but unable to leave it behind. Someone like Luke.
Luke binds his arm with a belt and cinches the noose with his teeth before plunging the fluid into his vein. It is his own form of death, a temporary suicide he commits every few hours.
Nothing will steal your soul like heroin, he tells me.
"Heroin will take your heart," he says. "It will take your looks first, it'll take your possessions, it'll take the people around you that you love, and after it can't take anything else, it'll take your life, man. It'll fucking take your life."
Luke says this as he releases the belt. His eyes roll back in his head and he flops backward onto the sheets beside me, nodding off. The palm trees outside his window nestle their leaves against the panes of glass, making a swishing sound that lulls him to sleep, riding the waves of morphine, escaping from the light. I sit motionless, a sanctioned spy, but wanting so badly to have sat like this with my brother. If he had let me in like Luke, perhaps I could have changed the outcome, spoken the magic words that would have reversed fate.
When Luke wakes up a few minutes later, he tells me again that he is ready to die. He's not suicidal exactly, but when you've been doing heroin for so long, you're ready, he says.
The only fun time is when you're about to get high, he adds, but then he takes it back.
"No man, it's just not fun anymore," he says, slurring heavily. "It's just to get well. It's just not to feel the feelings that you feel, because they suck, man. The feelings suck."
I ask him if he really wants to die, and he blinks hard and rapidly, as if trying to understand.
"No, I don't want to die, no," he says.
"Let's just put it this way," he says. "If I had a chain on, a gold chain on, and someone put a gun to my head and said give me the chain or else I'm going to pull the trigger, honest to God I'd be saying do it, you'll be doing me a fucking favor. Fucking shoot me."
The afternoon light wanes as Luke lights a cigarette, filling the small room with smoke that now smells oddly dry and crisp after the pungent sweetness. He falls back against the pillows again, inhaling and exhaling sluggishly, like a marionette in slow motion. His friend Anna is coming over, and he needs to be coherent enough to convince her that he's all right: she got clean a few months ago, and she hates it when he's high. She worries about him. But she gets mad too, and when she's mad, she doesn't want to be around Luke, and right now he needs someone to be around him, or the loneliness will kill him.
He tells me he feels beaten down. He wants to stop doing it, but he can't. He does it because he doesn't want to feel.
The first time he got high on pills, he thought, This is what's going to help me not think about everything that has happened.
The feelings are what make you want to start. The feelings are what make you want to forget.
* * *
WE GO TO sit outside at a patio table under the palm trees that frame Luke's window. The house manager waves as he gets out of his car but doesn't come over. Luke tells me his name is Jack and he used to be a doctor, before he lost his medical license.
"He sold pills," he says quietly, so Jack can't hear.
I've heard of sober houses that aren't really sober; this is clearly one of them, and the reporter in me has the urge to dig. But right now I'm more interested in Luke, the way his fingers tap on his knees, a thin line of grime tracing the half-moons of his uncut fingernails. He has a baby daughter, and though he rarely sees her since his ex-girlfriend moved to the East Coast, his arms are fatherly: strong and protective. He faces me head-on, resolute, with eyes deadened and pupils as small as pinpoints.
I ask him if he feels desperate, if he's anxious about getting his next fix.
"What time is it?" he asks.
I tell him it's 7:15.
"Then no," he says. "I'll sleep it off and wake up tomorrow morning sick, but I know I got more, so I'll get high. Then I'll start the wild goose chase. I'll do whatever I gotta do to get money. Commit some crimes."
When I ask him if he wants to get clean, he sits up earnestly.
"Yeah, I do wanna get clean so bad, so bad, real bad, I wanna get clean," he says. "But it's just so hard. When you're full-fledged kicking, it is unbearable, un-fucking-bearable."
He lists the symptoms for me: Your stomach hurts. You can't go to the bathroom because you have a buildup of shit. You can't get it out because there's too much, so you have to take a laxative. You get the chills; you're always cold. Your bones hurt. You're excruciatingly uncomfortable in your own bones. You get cramps, aches. You start burning, so you take a cold shower, you take four showers because that's the only time you feel a little normal. But as soon as you get out, the feeling comes back.
But, he tells me, the physical withdrawal is nothing compared to what happens inside of your head.
"The dope sickness, that is nothing, that is 10 percent of the problem," he says. "I mean it fucking hurts and it's horrible, but the feelings that you feel, man, that's what gets you. That is what fucking takes you down. The guilt, the shame. The guilt will fucking kill you, man."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Generation Rx"
Copyright © 2014 Erin Marie Daly.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Denial
1 Waiting 21
2 Just Let Me Forget 27
3 Two Saturdays 32
4 Remembering 39
5 The Fall 45
6 Run Like Hell 47
7 Choosing To Believe 55
8 Buying Time 61
9 Saying Nothing 67
10 Come Back 73
11 Losing Faith 81
Part II Anger
12 Untrue 91
13 Stranger Than Fiction 97
14 Wax 105
15 signs 111
16 Digging for Bones 115
17 Overtaken 121
18 Where Are You? 129
19 Sixteen Days 137
20 Tranquilidad 143
Part III Bargaining
21 The Talisman 153
22 Letting Go 163
23 Broken 171
24 Secrets 177
25 Make It Not So 183
26 Too Late 191
27 The Boo Story 199
Part IV Depression
28 Black Tears 207
29 You without Me 211
30 Little Bird 219
31 Imprisoned 227
32 Haunted 235
33 Atonement 243
34 Despair without Hope 353
35 Blindsided 259
36 Falling Apart 265
Part V Acceptance
37 Terrible Truth 275
38 See You 283
39 Another Life 291
40 Take Him Home 299
41 Roses and Weeds 305
42 Walking with the Devil 315
43 When You Were Free 321
44 The Promise 326
45 Awake 331