Robin Shellow Attorney | Heroin a survival guide
Learn how to survive a heroin addiction.
heroin, drug, addiction, rehabilitation, how to survive
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thoughts on current issues

The Heroin Holocaust (part 2)

Continued from Part One – 

Part Two: The Survival guide

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, arguably our greatest living musician, died of a Percocet overdose. Parodoxically, within days of Prince’s death, Anderson Cooper in an AC360 town hall meeting inexorably linked the rise in pain killer use to heroin abuse. The fastest way to get a drug to the brain is by smoking it. Much to the horror of all of my fellow foot soldiers, who have fought to bring crack cocaine penalties in line with powder cocaine, heroin is being “rocked” into a more easily smoked form in every urban city in America. When an inhalant like tobacco smoke is taken into the lungs, nicotine (the addictive chemical in tobacco) seeps into lung blood where it can quickly travel to the brain. This fast delivery is one reason smoking cigarettes is so addicting. Injecting a drug directly into a blood vessel is the second fastest way to get a drug to the brain, followed by snorting it through the nose. A slow mode of delivery is ingestion, such as drinking alcohol or swallowing pills. The effects of alcohol and pills take many minutes, rather than a few seconds, to cause behavioral and biological changes in the brain. So, in my practice, Prince would have fallen into the group of clients I call Supersized Addicts. 87 of them have crossed my threshold, yet are alive and well and crime free despite having consumed such massive quantities of drugs that their arrest was usually because they were discovered –in hotel rooms, dorm rooms, a friend’s house, or maybe a park bench across the street from a police precinct– next to a cartoonish amount of their drug of choice by medical personnel responding to their overdose. Promising students of Beloit College, Ripon College , or Lawrence College , who may have prepped at The University School or Marquette High school, found by an unsuspecting parent in the bedroom they grew up in and surreptitiously returned to under the cloud of expulsion. Presumably like Prince, these Supersized Addicts burn through discretionary income and trust accounts before selling their mothers’ 18 carat gold Cartier watch and their fathers’ Patek Philippe . After all, who amongst us hasn’t searched heaven and earth for a favorite bracelet that we think we lost while weeding, or which had maybe fallen in between the seats of our car, or simply slid off when changing out of exercise clothes. One would be amazed at how many times parents think they are having a senior moment and just can’t find the watch one has worn every day. If those same parents knew that the truth was their beloved son or daughter pawned their cherished possessions for drugs, my guess is that many would rather—and some I’m sure choose to—believe that it is encroaching senility.

For those who consume pills, the internet still remains the largest single source of all opiates with the exception of heroin. One doesn’t need to slither into the deep net or Silk Road to find everything other than heroin. So how does the naively suspecting parent, who can’t believe why her favorite Cartier Panther bracelet could have been lost within months of her wrist watch, figure out the source? Were the medicine chests the culprits, than Robern medicine chests that come with a breathtakingly elegant lock option that sit above the most extraordinary vanities would be outpacing mid-price Tesla automobiles A supersized Percocet addict consumes between 20 to 80 pills per day. The only tell-tale signs of the Percocet habit are why is my son buying so many suppositories for constipation, what does he need with his own P.O. Box and a confounding sense that perhaps he has bedbugs since how else to explain the incessant itching and scratching?

Why so many young and promising people are turning to heroin is a matter that this author believes may have some relationship to the proliferation of pain killer prescriptions. But, the real question all of us need to figure out is quantitative and one of degree. Why can Mary smoke two cigarettes at a party on the weekend and not even crave them during the week, while Tim quickly finds himself buying cartons of Marlboro Reds? I call it the addiction chip–regardless of whether it is nurture or nature, for those who have the “chip” it makes no difference whether it’s a Marlboro Red or China White. One answer may lie in some difficult to obtain and shaky statistics, but which bear a second look when asking questions such as “why has the ‘addiction chip’ been activated in so many promising young people? How did heroin become a gateway drug for teens who have never even smoked pot, and whose family does not have a relevant history of addiction?” Improbably, it seems as if heroin—the drug which killed jazz great Charlie Parker, who once said of it that “if God made anything better, he kept it for himself”—yes, that heroin, the drug which strikes fear in the hearts of even the most hardened drug users as the one thing they’ll never do; yes, that same heroin, which took out entire African-American communities upon finding its way back from Vietnam in the 1970’s; yes, that heroin is now being sought out and shot up by baby-faced high school sophomores in the gated communities of every affluent exurb across the country.

70 percent of grade-schoolers in Marin County in Northern California, and the 33 percent of grade-schoolers in Ozaukee County back here in Wisconsin, have developed with brains whose neural pathways are wired differently. This as a result of their brains having been bought and sold to Big Pharma—you know, the drug companies that manufacture Ritalin and Adderall and every other magical cure-all and rubber-stamped panacea whose ubiquitous sunny commercials interrupt every playoff game with their 30 second litany of insane side effects. Massive corporations who market to ever-younger generations of children, filling their coffers with untold billions (7.4 billion in ADHD medications alone in 2010, which could reasonably be extrapolated to far surpass 10 billion as of today), which they subsequently use to systematically subvert any attempt by the FDA to curb their misbegotten profits. Supersized Addicts don’t appear on a spreadsheet when those numbers are tallied, at best they may appear amidst a laundry list of complainants in a civil action suit destined to go nowhere, dead on arrival, and with no hope of ever addressing the true costs of the drugs to which they have been enslaved. Those names do appear, however, in the Pew Report, which as of this writing bears witness to the unprecedented percentage of our population currently imprisoned, a number undoubtedly swollen by the continued treatment of addicts as criminals.

The pressure on promising young people to go full out and succeed and excel just a little more is extremely apparent at America’s prep schools and colleges. At least 50 percent of the Supersized Addicts I have represented had big shoes to fill, and big expectations to meet. When a drug activates their chip, the chip has indiscriminate hunger, whether it be a quart of vodka, an ounce of cocaine, an ounce of heroin or 80 Percocet. The addiction chip just keeps broadcasting “feed me, feed me, feed me or I will starve”. Since we can’t turn the chip off once it has been activated, the brain, the person, the heart of our sons and daughters need help.

It’s been known for some time that the root of withdrawal misery is a lack of dopamine in the brain, which researchers have been able to demonstrate occurs as a defensive posture. Too much dopamine is actually damaging to synapses, encouraging oxidation. This is the specific sort of neurotoxicity served by methamphetamine and its relatives (Dopamine goes from being a feel-good friend to a thing literally tearing neurons apart. The neurotoxic effects of meth are so severe that a group of researchers is proposing its use in animals to model Parkinson’s disease.

The brain is good at self-preservation, however, and in order to prevent further damage, it turns off the dopamine tap by producing a protein called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which arrests dopamine production. The problem is that it overcompensates, according to a study from researchers at Brigham Young University. Rather than turn the switch back on after the dopamine flood recedes, the brain leaves it off, potentially for a very long time and hence diabolically awful withdrawal ensues—whether one is conscious of it or not. After a chemically-induced, unnaturally-large flood of dopamine, mechanisms in addiction sufferers begin to withhold the chemical from their brains, leaving neurons “dry.” The result is pain of every sort: panic attacks, nausea, anxiety, sickness—just collect all the things you might consider “bad feelings” and imagine them packaged together and shoved up your spinal column. It’s a model that views addiction and withdrawal as much the same thing, two sides intertwined on a strange neurochemical loop.

After the one’s son or daughter loses control of the on/off switch, treatment centers make neuro-cognitive adjustments so that the brain thinks it is managing the on/off switch on the addiction chip. It may not be, but vigilance in maintaining sobriety requires suspension of belief, and faith in drugs that reduce the volume of the brain’s voice which is now wired to scream “FEED ME!” There is a huge divide in the treatment community about whether to use medication to treat addictions. At the heart of this debate is a drug named Suboxone. . Those against the use of a drug to treat a drug addiction cite For those whose lives have been reconstructed through the use of the entire pharmacopeia as well as long term residential treatment to adapt and make amends for the destruction they have wrought, the failure to give medicine that works for a disease that kills is nothing short of cruelty. Of the Supersized Addicts whose paths have led them to, the bias in the treatment community can be the difference between a prison sentence that ameliorates the devastating consequences that come with a felony conviction. Suboxone is used by engineers, company executives, and Ivy League graduates every day of their lives. For an inexperienced opiate addict, it can cause death. For those who live in the “feed me or I will die” prison, this drug has saved tens of thousands of lives and, contrary to the myths of many respected treatment providers, does not make its users high and prevents the onset of the withdrawal symptoms that derail so many attempts at sobriety. A dose of Suboxone costs 4 times more on the campuses of the Dalton School, Phillips Exeter, or New Trier just 5 hours south of us, than 5 doses of heroin or Oxycontin. Like any good dealer, Big Pharma gets its money coming and going.

With so many powerful forces, both within and without, arrayed against the sobriety of the opioid abuser or heroin addict, it can very easily begin to seem as if nothing will ever work. As saccharine as it may sound, it is no mere platitude when I say that, if you wake up to a new day, then there is still hope. This piece began—several thousand words ago—with some anecdotal reflection on the life of an addict, David Kennedy (see Part One), so perhaps it is fitting to leave you with some words from another Kennedy, David’s uncle Teddy, whose words in his concession speech at the 1980 Democratic National Convention ring particularly true, and which I offer as a closing benediction to all those out there struggling with addiction. “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Here Is What Works:

Long term residential treatment works.

Medication works. Acamprosate:




Doctors and therapists work.

Mindfulness works.

HeartMath works.

Recovering addicts who work really, really hard are not going to prison. So, WORK works.

Post-Script: In Part One of this piece I made anecdotal reference to dinner guests rummaging through the lovely Robern medicine chests to pilfer the prescription pills of their hosts. I also included a link to the company website. Well, the good folks at Robern not only saw it, but to their credit as a conscientious company who is concerned about just such things, they reached out and sent us a link to a model of a medicine cabinet they produce which is specifically designed to dissuade addicts from gaining access to prescriptions that are not theirs. We need more people like this in the fight against addiction.

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