When an individual becomes an addict, they aren’t who they once were. A formerly honest person will lie, cheat, or steal to get their next fix. As a society we must be aware of how desperate this chain of deception can be, and how we can become ensnared in its web, despite our good intentions.
For example, I was in a local drugstore when a seemingly frantic male approached me holding his cellphone in his hand. He told me that he had just spoken with his grandmother and was terribly embarrassed to ask, but he needed an additional $10 to buy a prescription for a loved one.
His request tugged at my heartstrings. The young man dressed in a plaid cowboy shirt could sense my ardent desire to help, but what he couldn’t sense is that my compassion was checked by a painful past experience.
Years ago, this same story had caused me to give another stranger $20 to buy medicine for a nonexistent sick child. I was a single mom back then, and that $20 was a large portion of our meager grocery budget. I found out later through a reputable source that my hard-earned money was used to buy drugs.
My intentions were right, because the Bible says, “If anyone has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
Still, I vowed to use greater wisdom.
That’s why I went to the pharmacy counter inquiring if there were a young man unable to pay for a prescription. I wanted to help anonymously, if the need was authentic. The drugstore clerk informed me that no one matching his description or situation had been there.
We have to use great caution continually, because headlines report fatal overdoses in area motel rooms, murders in nearby sleepy villages, and rampant crime everywhere. Most of it is heroin-related. Yet it’s easy to believe that heroin addiction will never affect someone you care about, until it does.
The trouble is that very few of us remain unscathed by this deadly epidemic. According to the most recent statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 5,927 deaths in 2012 compared to 8,260 in 2013. That’s an alarming 39 percent increase.
More than a decade ago, I experienced the loss of a close acquaintance to heroin. Back then, little was known about this cunning culprit. I was confused that its victim, a middle-aged mom who had spent much of her life as a professional woman, had been trapped in heroin’s clutches. Her funeral left many folks searching for answers.
It seemed shocking that she had pulled off a double life, but it was not a shock to those close to her. They had lived with the chaos, fear, and unpredictability that loving an addict creates. No one could have forecast this treacherous path strewn with tears and hopelessness. After all, no little girl or boy says, “When I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict.”
It must be a parent’s worst nightmare, and it’s definitely an extended family member and friend’s frustrating role. Often, we don’t speak of heroin addiction in our inner circle, lest we shame those already heaped with guilt. We are further silenced by our inability to provide answers.
That’s why I started reading everything I could about the subject. I even found myself studying the local obituaries of those whose deaths seem to be heroin-related. Of course, it can be difficult to tell.
A few months ago, I didn’t have to wonder if the young man with an engaging smile died of an overdose. His Sidney Daily News obituary read, “He was taken away from us far too soon after fighting a battle for his life against heroin addiction.”
My heart broke for his family, but it also swelled with pride that they had the courage to confront heroin head on. Not to bury the tragic truth with their loved one, instead to say that he fought valiantly, but lost the battle.
What that family did was of groundbreaking importance. They called the enemy out, and we need to have that same courage. To keep talking about the existence of heroin in our communities, and to be honest that as a relative, neighbor, churchgoer, or friend, our lives have probably already been personally impacted in some way. The first step in finding a solution is to accept that the problem is closer to home than we care to admit.