Tag Archives: addiction

Taking Up Smoking at the End of the World

John Sherman | Longreads | September 2017 | 9 minutes (2,250 words)

 

I started smoking this year. In Berlin, where I lived before recently returning to New York, almost everyone seems to smoke, almost everywhere, almost all the time. It’s like a 1970s game show, but in German and with better hair.

It wasn’t the ubiquity of smoking that sold me as much as the opportunity to become excellent at rolling cigarettes — a simple task that is wildly impressive when done well. The most practiced rollers can assemble a factory-grade filtered cigarette in about ten seconds, packing it casually against a thumbnail while your own attempt looks like a slightly crumpled, pregnant snake, leaking tobacco from both ends.

I’ve watched Berliners roll cigarettes walking, standing up in a moving subway car, and even once while biking through traffic on Karl-Marx-Straße. A German friend claimed her father could roll a cigarette inside his pants pocket, which, bullshit or not, puts the bar for trick-rolling higher than I can even imagine.

Aside from being a cheap way to smoke — about €5 for a bag of decent rolling tobacco, plus €1 each for filters and rolling paper — it’s an excellent sideline for fidgeters, people like me who can’t help but curl straw wrappers into intricate fiddleheads, or peel the label off their beer bottle to fold origami fortune tellers. Cigarette rolling is a mini-craft project unto itself, repeatable and perfectible. I probably enjoy rolling cigarettes even more than I enjoy smoking them.

***

I don’t mean to be flip about the health hazards of smoking, which are illustrated in full color on every side of every tobacco product I’ve ever purchased, and rattled off by every serious smoker I’ve ever talked to about it. I was born in America in 1989; the only thing I know about smoking is that it’s bad for me.

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West Virginia: Still High on Hope

At The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot reports on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. There, the overdose rate is the highest in the United States and many are fighting to help loved ones, friends, neighbors, and sometimes complete strangers get healthy: An emergency paramedic who routinely sees multiple overdoses a day, sometimes the same people on repeat. A team of moms called “The Hope Dealers” who drive addicts hours away to get the treatment they need. A 71-year-old doctor offering free public classes on how to administer Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of these now-commonplace overdose. All this in an opioid epidemic fueled by cheap highs and small-town despair over limited prospects.

We were driving away from Hedgesville when the third overdose call of the day came, for a twenty-nine-year-old male. Inside a nicely kept house in a modern subdivision, the man was lying unconscious on the bathroom floor, taking intermittent gasps. He was pale, though not yet the blue-tinged gray that people turn when they’ve been breathing poorly for a while. Opioid overdoses usually kill people by inhibiting respiration: breathing slows and starts to sound labored, then stops altogether.

As we drove away, Barrett predicted that the man would check himself out of the hospital as soon as he could; most O.D. patients refused further treatment. Even a brush with death was rarely a turning point for an addict. “It’s kind of hard to feel good about it,” Barrett said of the intervention. “Though he did say, ‘Thanks for waking me up.’ Well, that’s our job. But do you feel like you’re really making a difference? Ninety-nine per cent of the time, no.” The next week, Barrett’s crew was called back to the same house repeatedly. The man overdosed three times; his girlfriend, once.

But a larger factor, it seems, was the despair of white people in struggling small towns. Judith Feinberg, a professor at West Virginia University who studies drug addiction, described opioids as “the ultimate escape drugs.” She told me, “Boredom and a sense of uselessness and inadequacy—these are human failings that lead you to just want to withdraw. On heroin, you curl up in a corner and blank out the world. It’s an extremely seductive drug for dead-end towns, because it makes the world’s problems go away. Much more so than coke or meth, where you want to run around and do things—you get aggressive, razzed and jazzed.”

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Nyet to Harm Reduction: Russia’s HIV Epidemic

At Gizmodo, Josephine Hüetlin (writing under the pseudonym Emma Lantreev) reports on how Russia’s aversion to harm reduction as a strategy to combat drug addiction has led to an HIV epidemic. In Yekaterinburg — the fourth largest city in Russia, with a population of 1.5 million people — one in 50 are HIV positive. In Russia, addiction is considered a “moral sickness” and methadone is illegal, “a despised ‘narcoliberal’ idea.” The country has gone so far as to assert that drug addiction and homosexuality are notions imported from the West in a bid to corrupt ‘Russia’s “conservative ideology and traditional values.”’ For those who are suffering, the prospects are grim.

The government’s primary strategy for dealing with people struggling with addiction is “making them feel miserable,” Sarang says. “As if the social pressure will make them stop using drugs.”

In a country with the largest population of injection drug users, methadone therapy is illegal. Methadone distribution is punishable with up to 20 years in prison. Heroin addicts— “anti-social elements,” as they’re called—are expected to quit cold-turkey, perhaps in one of the jail-like “treatment” centers.

Those suffering from both addiction and HIV complications face a torturous dead end. According to several reports by the Rylkov Foundation, doctors have often refused to treat HIV patients who use heroin, on the grounds that they won’t be able to follow their treatment regime.

The City Without Drugs organization is still active, as is their YouTube channel. It features hundreds of videos of drug addicts being dragged half-conscious through the street, their faces not blurred, or confessing their alleged worthlessness, their hopelessness, their shame.

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Pills and Thrills and Daffodils

Eva Tenuto | Longreads | April 2017 | 9 minutes (2,181 words)

 

It was the summer of 1997. For my 24th birthday, Rachel, one of my best friends, bought me the best present I could imagine receiving: a ticket to see Prince at Jones Beach Theater—on my birthday, July 23rd, no less. A full-on Prince fanatic, I was out-of-my-mind thrilled.

The plan was for me to drive down from Rosendale, where I was managing a bed and breakfast that had just opened, and meet Rachel and her boyfriend Andre there.

Rachel and I had become best friends in high school drama club, then both moved to New York City to study acting, eventually sharing an apartment on Avenue A between 9th and 10th Streets, across from Tompkins Square Park.

But after a few years, I decided to move back upstate, where I’m from, and take the job at the new bed and breakfast. I had been partying too much in the city. In fact, because of our out-of-control debauchery, once I decided to leave, Rachel wasn’t able to renew our lease.

Prince’s latest album, Emancipation, played a role: after nights of heavy drinking, Rachel and I would stumble up the four flights and blast our favorite song on the three-disc compilation set, an eight-minute track called Sleep Around. We would crank it at top volume and have a two-person dance-off right there in our living room. What we loved about the song was the build and the crescendo. Around minute five there’s a fierce drum solo that never failed to throw us over the edge, inspiring Rachel to bust out her bongo drums. Obviously, this was not something our neighbors appreciated at 4 a.m.

I thought relocation to the country would help calm me down. Maybe there, living in the middle of the forest, it would be easy for me to switch to from shots of tequila and cheap beer to fresh green juices and herbal tea.

But the bed and breakfast didn’t draw much business. With no guests, and many bottles of wine in the cellar, I was left to my own devices, and I partied, well, like it was 1999. Read more…

‘Smoking freebase has pretty much been my job for the past year.’

Writer Cat Marnell speaking on a panel in 2012

In the New Yorker, Naomi Fry writes about Cat Marnell’s new memoir, How to Murder Your Life. Fry’s piece is part review, part analysis of women’s addiction stories.

In the familiar eschatology of addiction memoirs—David Carr’s “The Night of the Gun,” say, or Bill Clegg’s “Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man”—an ambitious protagonist is bested by the wearying force of substances, only to later conquer his dependency and return, relatively unscathed, to the more wholesome business of achievement and success. But both “You’ll Never Eat Lunch” and “How to Murder Your Life” are remarkably honest in foregrounding the invidious parallelism of their subjects’ multifarious drives. It turns out that, for some addicts, drug use doesn’t just subvert ambition—it also mimics it. For Phillips, the deal-making stops, but the same desires that fuelled her career trajectory continue to animate her addiction. “Smoking freebase has pretty much been my job for the past year,” she writes of a particularly extreme period. And even after she quits cocaine, she begins exercising compulsively so as not to become a “fat tub of goo.” “Had she figured out a new and exciting addiction?” she wonders after injuring herself working out, describing the pain in a swollen ankle as “little jolts all along the way . . . painumb, painumb, painumb,” beating rhythmically like so many ticks on a never-ending workday clock.

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Moved by Kim

Seth Davis Branitz | Longreads | March, 2017 | 16 minutes (4,085 words)

 

My parents had said it aloud many times, and I had shushed them.

I was guilty of sometimes thinking it.

“Just kill yourself, or get killed quickly, and end all the mayhem.”

My older brother had been barely surviving on a destructive path for so long that sometimes I wished he would just finish it off already.

Really. It just sometimes seemed the easier way for him, and for all of us.

I had no idea how much worse his death would actually make things—how alone his death would leave me, as it hastened the additional deaths that would leave me the only remaining member of my family. Read more…

Peanut Butter and Jelly: The NBA’s Secret Addiction

At ESPN, Baxter Holmes reports on how the lowly peanut butter and jelly sandwich fueled the 2007-08 Boston Celtics to an NBA title, becoming the sweet and salty stuff of superstitious sport legend that has spread like an addiction across the league.

But as the Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen Celtics steamrolled to a 66-win season and an NBA title, the secret to their success, so cleverly disguised between two pieces of white bread, was eventually leaked.

At the time, Doo notes, the Celtics not only didn’t provide lavish pregame spreads, they didn’t offer much food at all. But he soon found himself slapping together 20 PB&J’s about three hours before every tip-off, the finished products placed in bags and labeled with Sharpie in a secret code: “S” for strawberry, “G” for grape, “C” for crunchy. Of vital import: Garnett was an “S” man, and woe unto he who did not deliver him two S’s before every game. “If Kevin didn’t get his routine down, he’d be pissed,” Doo says. “Even if he didn’t eat them, he needed them to be there.”

The Trail Blazers offer 20 crustless, halved PB&J’s pregame — 10 of them toasted, a mandate ever since an opposing arena prepared them as such and Blazers guard Damian Lillard approved. They’re composed of organic fixings, save for white bread, which Portland’s assistant performance coach Ben Kenyon notes is a high-glycemic carb that easily digests to provide a quick energy jolt. Typically, all 20 vanish well before tip-off; sometimes the Blazers double their order.

The Rockets make sure the PB&J is available in their kitchen at all times, in all varieties — white and wheat bread, toasted, untoasted, Smucker’s strawberry and grape, Jif creamy and chunky — and offer 12 to 15 sandwiches pregame, with PB&J reinforcements provided at halftime and on postgame flights.

The Bucks might boast the NBA’s most elaborate PB&J operation: a pregame buffet featuring smooth, crunchy and almond butters, an assortment of jellies (raspberry, strawberry, grape, blueberry, apricot), three breads from a local bakery (white, wheat and gluten-free) and Nutella. The team scarfs 20 to 30 PB&J’s per game and travels with the ingredients, which rookies prepare on the plane and in visiting locker rooms.

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A Slice of Cake and a Tip Lead to a Portrait of Addiction in Ohio

New York Times reporter Jack Healy was sitting in a diner in Newtownsville, OH enjoying a piece of German chocolate cake when he received a tip about a father in nearby town who had lost two of his three adult children to opioid overdoses. On Twitter, Healy detailed how he approached the family with only an address in hand that he had looked up on Google. The result of his reporting, “2 of a Farmer’s 3 Children Overdosed. What of the Third—and the Land?” is an incredible portrait of a national addiction on a personal scale.

The younger Mr. Winemiller said that being back in the farmhouse had helped save his life by yanking him away from old patterns and temptations.

He started working on the farm when he was 12, driving tractors even though his father had to attach pieces of wood to the pedals so his legs would reach.

“I want to get back to it. That’s the whole idea,” he said. “It’s in my blood. It’s the family name. I’ve done enough to disgrace our name. I want to do everything I can to mend it.”

Death has pulled the men closer, but at home, arguments erupt over whether each understands what the other is going through. The son says he is grieving just as much as his father. The father says he is in recovery just as much as his son.

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Drug Addicted and Autistic: A More Common Combination Than You Think

Addicted and autistic? At Spectrum, Maia Szalavitz explores the unexpected biological and psychological commonalities of addiction and autism, and some new science that suggests that combination may be more common than you think.

Shane Stoner’s addiction began in 2008. He lost a factory job, his parents divorced, his father died — and then a relative introduced him to heroin. “I felt like heroin gave me confidence,” Stoner says. “I could get out of bed in the morning and do the day. No matter what happened, it made me feel like it was going to be all right.” It erased his constant anxiety.

Stoner, now 44, eventually entered detox in 2013 after he was arrested for stealing copper from an abandoned house. It was obvious at that point that he was addicted to heroin. But it would take several more years for him to get the diagnosis that truly helped him understand himself: autism.

The new label came as a relief. It explained Stoner’s sensitivity to things such as tags on his T-shirts, and his succession of obsessive interests. It clarified why he had such a difficult time fitting in as a child, his problems with roommates in college — and why he continued to struggle with social connections as an adult. “I can’t believe nobody ever mentioned it before, because I started thinking back and there’s pictures of me, like, 3 years old, and I’m honestly flapping my hands.”

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The Needle and the Damage Done: ‘What kind of a childhood is that?’

At The Washington Post, Eli Saslow profiles Zaine, Arianna, and Zoie Pulliam — three kids 17 and under deemed “opiate orphans.” The Pulliam kids exemplify a generation of children whose parents have died of drug overdoses as a result of the opioid epidemic.

Nearly everyone in Zaine’s life had been anxiously monitoring that line for the past year and a half, ever since both of his parents died of heroin overdoses in April 2015. His parents had become two of the record 33,091 people to die of opioid overdoses that year in a national crisis that has been worst of all in rural West Virginia, where health officials estimate that overdose rates are now eight to 10 times higher than the national average. Middle-aged white men in this part of the country have lost a full year of life expectancy during the past two decades. Middle-aged white women have lost more than two years. The opiate epidemic has essentially wiped out an entire generation of health advances, and now West Virginia has begun to focus more of its resources on prevention and preservation among the next generation entering into the void.

These children are sometimes referred to by health officials here as opiate orphans, and three of the most recent ones live in a small house in South Charleston: Zoie, 10, who believed that her parents had died in their sleep; Arianna, 13, who was just starting to wear her mother’s old makeup; and Zaine, 17, who had been the one to discover his parents that morning on their bedroom floor, and whose grades had begun to drop ever since.

Madie, 53, had retired from her maintenance job at the public schools and moved into the house to help take care of the children after the overdoses. “Mah-maw,” they called her, and she told salty jokes, cooked their breakfast and slept in Zoie’s bedroom when she had nightmares.

But, on some nights, it was Madie who couldn’t sleep, when neither her doctor-prescribed antidepressants nor her occasional swallows of Fireball whiskey could quiet her grief or her rising anxiety. She had once struggled with addiction herself before getting clean. She had raised a daughter who had become an addict. Now she was responsible for three more children in a place where that same disease had officially been classified as a “widespread, progressive and fatal epidemic.”

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