Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Drug Overdoses Caught on Video

This is a devastating, heart-wrenching piece, at the New York Times, "How Do You Recover After Millions Have Watched You Overdose?" (Via Althouse, "'In October 2016, Ron Hiers and his wife, Carla, feeling despondent after years of addiction, had made a suicide pact to get high until they were dead, and ended up passed out by a bus stop in Memphis'.")

Like Althouse, I'm not embedding videos --- for me, they're just too sad and they seem like things that shouldn't be watched.

From the article:

In Lawrence, Mass., a former mill town at the heart of New England’s opioid crisis, the police chief released a particularly gut-wrenching video. It showed a mother who had collapsed from a fentanyl overdose sprawled out in the toy aisle of a Family Dollar while her sobbing 2-year-old daughter tugged at her arm.

“It’s heartbreaking,” James Fitzpatrick, who was the Lawrence police chief at the time, told reporters in September 2016. “This is definitely evidence that shows what addiction can do to someone.”

Mandy McGowan, 38, knows that. She was the mother unconscious in that video, the woman who became known as the “Dollar Store Junkie.” But she said the video showed only a few terrible frames of a complicated life.

As a child, she said, she was sexually molested. She survived relationships with men who beat her. She barely graduated from high school.

She said her addiction to opioids began after she had neck surgery in 2006 for a condition that causes spasms and intense pain. Her neurologist prescribed a menu of strong painkillers including OxyContin, Percocet and fentanyl patches.

As a teenager, Ms. McGowan had smoked marijuana and taken mushrooms and ecstasy. But she always steered clear of heroin, she said, thinking it was for junkies, for people living in alleys. But her friends were using it, and over the last decade, she sometimes joined them.

She tried to break her habit by buying Suboxone — a medication used to treat addiction — on the street. But the Suboxone often ran out, and she turned to heroin to tide her over.

On Sept. 18, 2016, a friend came to Ms. McGowan’s house in Salem, N.H., and offered her a hit of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin. They sniffed a line and drove to the Family Dollar across the state line in Lawrence, where Ms. McGowan collapsed with her daughter beside her. At least two people in the store recorded the scene on their cellphones.

Medics revived her and took her to the hospital, where child welfare officials took custody of her daughter, and the police charged Ms. McGowan with child neglect and endangerment. (She eventually pleaded guilty to both and was sentenced to probation.) Two days later, the video of her overdose was published by The Eagle-Tribune and was also released by the Lawrence police.

The video played in a loop on the local news, and vaulted onto CNN and Fox News, ricocheting across the web.

“For someone already dealing with her own demons, she now has to deal with public opinion, too,” said Matt Ganem, the executive director of the Banyan Treatment Center, about 15 miles north of Boston, which gave Ms. McGowan six months of free treatment after being contacted by intermediaries. “You’re a spectacle. Everyone is watching.”

Ms. McGowan had only seen snippets of the video on the news. But two months later, she watched the whole thing. She felt sick with regret.

“I see it, and I’m like, I was a piece of freaking [expletive],” she said. “That was me in active use. It’s not who I am today.”

But she also wondered: Why didn’t anyone help her daughter? She was furious that bystanders seemed to feel they had license to gawk and record instead of comforting her screaming child.

“I know what I did, and I can’t change it,” she said. “I live with that guilt every single day. But it’s also wrong to take video and not help.”

Nobody recorded the chaos that unfolded next. After Ms. McGowan was released from treatment, the father of her daughter died of an overdose. Two months later, that man’s 19-year-old son also died of an overdose.

Reeling, Ms. McGowan had a night of relapse with alcohol. She checked herself into treatment the next day. But at the same time, she had stopped reporting to her probation officer, a violation of parole that led to 64 days in jail. She was kicked out of a halfway house and stayed briefly at a shelter. She said she was raped this year. She checked herself into a hospital psychiatric ward for five weeks.

Ms. McGowan finally felt ready to start actively rebuilding her life. This spring, she moved to a halfway house in Boston, where her days were packed with appointments with counselors and clinicians, and meetings of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. She had weighed just 90 pounds when she overdosed; now she was happily above 140.

Just after Thanksgiving she moved in with relatives, and now hopes to find a place of her own. Her treatment continues. If she stays sober and shows progress, the charges against her will be dropped in April.

She spends part of her day doing volunteer outreach along the open-air drug market in Boston known as Methadone Mile. One recent drizzly afternoon, as she made her way down the sidewalk, she hugged old friends, asked them whether they had eaten, if they were O.K. On her rounds, she picks up hundreds of used needles that carpet the streets...

This whole epidemic makes me very sad, and fine-grained stories like this are frankly out-of-this-world to me.

There but for the grace of God I go...


commoncents said...
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