Originally Posted August 2015 and featured in Culture 73 Magazine.
If you haven’t been living in a cave the past few months, then you’ve heard of the young heiress who was found face-down in her bathtub. Though it has not been confirmed, reports on the incident have all hinted that drugs played a major role. Lucky for me, Facebook kept the news as a trending topic, so my feed was flooded with links posted by some of my more affluent friends who told stories of hanging out (read partying) with her famous father or my elderly female friends posting fond memories of her mother’s musical heyday.
The police department of the town we both live in posted a picture of her 3 story townhouse with crime scene tape sprawled around the lawn and suddenly I realized that this woman lived less than 2 miles from me. As I read through post after post, looking through the comments, there was one common thread: Pray for her, pity her, empathize with her because it’s so hard to grow up in the spotlight. What an absolute load of bullshit.
The out-pour of support for this woman, and I emphasize woman because she is 21 years old, sickened me to the core. No, I don’t have secret knowledge that she was some kind of horrible person in real life, for all I know she was a nice young lady. The reason I was so irritated is the relative absence of similar empathy for the millions of other people struggling with addiction every day. What makes this chick worthy of prayers and understanding when others with similar struggles are met with scorn and judgment? She did this to herself.
I have been exposed to addicts from all walks of life—there’s the kid who got hooked experimenting, the person who experienced some horrible trauma that they were unable to cope with, the recreational user who used one too many times, the mentally ill person looking to silence their inner demons, and yes the poor bastards like this heiress who learned to abuse by watching their parents. Twenty-five million Americans are addicted to drugs and/ or alcohol. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Addicts come from all walks of life and it’s estimated that 80% of Americans have or will experiment with drugs in their lifetime, depending on the drug, 15-30% of people who experiment will get addicted.
It’s safe to say that anyone reading this knows at least one person who is struggling with addiction. We’ve all heard the stories, or at least seen an after school special or two depicting the desperate measures an addict will take to get a fix…but what about to get clean? To what extent do people struggling with addiction go to break their addictions? I have never met an addict who hadn’t tried to quit at least a half dozen times.
I have one ex-friend, a heroin addict, who locked himself in a closet for 2 days to try to kick the habit cold turkey. He ended up in the hospital near death due to withdrawals. In case you’re wondering, withdrawals of any drug are the opposite of the drug itself. Heroin/opiate withdrawal is the most painful thing anyone can experience. Heroin depresses nerves that send the brain pain signals. It also slows the intestines leading to severe constipation.
When you stop taking it the pain receptors in your body go haywire, they make your brain feel like you are literally bathing in needles while being beaten with hammers… and you shit/puke yourself uncontrollably and can die. Given addiction to prescription opiate narcotics is the number 1 addiction in the US right now… that’s a lot of people risking death, a pain equal to having someone hit you the Cruciatus curse (thumbs up for the Harry Potter reference), and a whole lot of stained undies from people trying to quit on their own.
Needless to say, addiction treatment is essential for recovery. Yet, of all the people trying to kick an addiction, only 11% taking the extra step to actually seek treatment for help for their addiction. The major reason most addicts looking to quit don’t pursue this route? Rehab is expensive as fuck! Most insurance doesn’t cover it and the vast majority of people struggling with addiction don’t have the kind of jobs that offer the kind of high-end insurance that would.
Now, you wouldn’t be a horrible person to think to yourself right about now that if a person would suck a dick to get money for drugs, then why not do it to get money for rehab. That is an honest response. Drugs are expensive too, right? Well, the typical cost for outpatient addiction treatment is $10,000 and residential alcohol and drug rehab ranges between $20,000 to $32,000… That’s a lot of dicks even for a high priced heroin call girl much less the crackhead on the corner offering handskies for the cost of a few shards of meth (that’s about $5-10 dollars a pop by the way).
What is also expensive is the therapy to address the many demons that a person who has reached a desperate level of addiction/abuse will have to cope with if they get clean. The stigma from their family and friends who have been burned so badly by the recovering addict that they can’t help but pass judgment alone is enough to drive some people back to abuse. For example, last night, I received a call from one of my ex foster sisters. She called me seeking help for one of her sisters who had earlier in the evening phoned her crying with nowhere to go and an infant in tow because the family whom she was renting a room from kicked her out (they were tired of the sounds of her infant crying).
She’s roughly 6-8 months clean, but the behavior associated with her previous drug abuse (theft/domestic violence) kept nearly every member of her family from lifting a finger to help her. What they offered up instead was a lot of trash talk about her and a lot of straight-up anger at me for even considering helping her. By the time I’d gotten off the phone with them, I was dying for a cigarette. Good thing I never got into the stronger stuff or they would have caused me to relapse!
Her family had every right to not want to help. She’d burned a lot of bridges over the years and they are not alone in responding this way. Time and time again I have heard people tell me how an addict just “don’t want to get clean”, “did this to themselves”, or my favorite, “aint gonna stop until they’re dead or in jail.” And sadly, that is exactly what happens. More than half of the people in prison are there due to drug-related offenses and 40,000 people die of drug-related deaths every year in the US alone.
That said, addiction may not discriminate, but the penal system does. An overwhelming amount of addicts who are sent to prison for drug-related charges are poor or impoverished (and ethnic minorities). Given the high cost of rehab, sending addicts without the means to pay for it to the drunk-tank and “sober em’ up” should be a good thing right? Wrong. Sadly, prison/jail is not where a person goes to get clean. If you don’t believe me, go ahead; take 5 minutes and google prison drug trade. I’ll wait…..see what I mean!!!
So what is left for all these people who want to get clean but don’t have the resources to afford to get help?
At this point, given everything I have mentioned, you’re probably wondering why…why if addiction is so clearly hard to beat…why would the overwhelming support shown for the heiress found in her bathtub irritate me so much? Simple, because it reflects the biggest problem with how our society handles addiction. The wealthy and famous…they make mistakes. The poor, well, well they’re just junkies who should have known better. A wonderful example of this lays in the reporting and the comments of the high priced call girl who is currently accused of killing the google exec. The story is that the two were shooting up, she injected him (common among drug abusers with shaky hands, by the way) and he overdosed.
He watched her prep the dose, he told her how much to prep, she shot him up. Whether or not that is murder is beyond the scope of this article… But the reporting of the story refers to the two as the heroin hooker and the family man, the junkie and the Google exec, the call girl and the father of 5. In yet another example of media bias towards the wealthy which is as blatantly disgusting as reporting of young black men as thugs and young white killers as ‘aloof loaners’ the media failed to address reality: Two addicts were shooting up and one of them died. In not one article I read did they call him an addict. He was a victim who suffered.
He made mistakes. She… well she was just a hooker, a junkie, a vile beast who must have tricked him cause why else would he let her inject him with drugs. He was, after all, a GOOGLE executive! Some of the comments noted the hypocrisy of it all, but for the most part, people fed right into the narrative that a wonderful person with potential died at the hands of trash.
In the case of the heiress, there wasn’t even a mixed response. The comments on every article consisted of an overwhelming out-pour of support for her and her struggles. The same is true for the 3-named Hunger Games actor recently found dead, the heiress’s mother who died before him, and the pop-king who died before her. When these people died, all of a sudden the entire world was an expert on addiction and the struggles these poor unfortunate souls must have faced. They analyzed their lives; hell they even arrested the pop-kings dealer and charged him with murder. After all, someone had to pay for the tragic lost life (fat chance ever getting a drug dealer arrested for selling to your family member that overdosed, by the way).
Analysts combed through their lives looking for signs and ways that the situations could have been prevented and ways these poor unfortunate souls could have been helped before their tragic fates. If the average person was given the level of care, tolerance, and support, the rates of relapse and overdose, especially among the poor, would plummet. If instead of penalizing addiction, our nation looked at addiction for what it really is, a disease of biology and environment, then we would work like so many other countries have already begun doing, to treat and cure this disease rather than punish those affected with it.
Until then, I am going to have to save my pity, my prayers, my empathy, and any of the general fucks that I have to give for people without 20 million dollar fortunes with which they could have sought all the help in the world; people without entourages who they chose to fill with “yes-men” and enablers; and people who fight the vicious battle with addiction with no one in their corner but their own demons. Call me heartless. But none of the people (who I have chosen to refrain from listing by name) are any better than the nameless addict in tech-wood (a Georgia ghetto) who gets up every night, smokes her some crack, and belts out “I will Always Love You” with a pitch so perfect it’d make the heiress’s mom jealous. I just wish the rest of the country could see that.