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  • Trish MacEnulty

H is for Heroin; H is for Hate


My journalism students and I were talking about what brought them to college the other day when I asked them what has happened to their peers who didn’t go to college. One of my student said that her cousins inspired her to go to college because they were the perfect examples of what not to do with your life. Both of them had already had their first child before they were twenty. Two of my other students said that drugs had destroyed a good chunk of their cohort.

Meth? I asked.

Heroin, they replied. Apparently there had been five deaths by heroin overdose in one student’s graduating class. Oh yeah,the other added. Three kids he went to elementary school with are now dead from heroin. And he couldn’t count the kids who weren’t dead but whose lives had been derailed by heroin addiction.

I’d read about the heroin epidemic seizing the country, but looking into my students’ faces I could see the impact it had on them. They were sad and helpless in the face of this thing that had infiltrated their communities. It was a feeling I knew well — from both sides.

I am one of the survivors of the 1970s fascination with heroin that captured a subset of middle class kids in my town, including me. My best friend killed herself by overdosing on pills and vodka. A boyfriend — a smart, good-looking guy — moved to California and overdosed on heroin after serving time for possession. One of my best buddies from high school also overdosed on heroin and died after getting kicked out of rehab. Others took a slower route to death but by the time of my 40th high school reunion most of them were gone, too. There was only one guy, my friend Glenn, and me left from our high school dopers clique.

I have often pondered what drove me and so many of my peers to leap into the abyss the way we did. Sure, a lot of us came from broken homes, but we had moms who loved us and did right by us. We had access to education. We could have had bright futures. And yet it was such a struggle to embrace a healthy, happy life. Was it self-loathing? Was there some poison in the culture that affected us?

I’m not looking for excuses. I’m looking for reasons — and for similarities between my generation and this one. In the mid-70s, we were just coming out of the Vietnam war. Women were still second-class citizens to a certain degree, and an African-American president was unthinkable. As for gays, it was a given that they were targets of ridicule and violence. There was a sense that we were a corrupt and dirty nation. We were a generation damaged both by the war and by fighting against the war.

Today, we have dragged our asses partway out of another unfinished war. The lies that were told to get us there in the first place have soured us. At home, the game is obviously rigged. Your only path to success is also a sure route to decades of debt. We’re bloated from consumerism. The things that promised happiness — a home and a family — are out of reach for many in this generation. What does their culture tell them is important? Followers. Hits. Going viral.

The only way to obscure the emptiness is to numb it. Which is why heroin, the greatest numbing agent of all, may be on the rise while the popularity of meth decreases.

Is there a solution? Of course. It’s love. It’s loving ourselves as individuals, but it’s also loving ourselves as a society: enough to demand change, enough to make sure opportunities for growth exist for everyone, enough to put down our screens long enough to face each other, enough to hold the rich and powerful accountable, enough to uplift the poor and the powerless.

The powers that be think that a “war on drugs” will solve this problem. It won’t. We’re all connected. The children who are killing themselves with shots of heroin are just the canaries in the coal mine. As long as we promulgate the toxic atmosphere of hatred, there will be victims. And they may be the people we love the most.

My novel The Pink House is available for pre-order now!

My journalism students and I were talking about what brought them to college the other day when I asked them what has happened to their peers who didn’t go to college. One of my students, Shay, said that her cousins inspired her to go to college because they were the perfect examples of what not to do with your life. Both of them had already had their first child before they were twenty. Two of my other students, Mark and Jason, said that drugs had destroyed a good chunk of their cohort.

Meth? I asked.

Heroin, they replied. Apparently there had been five deaths by heroin overdose in Mark’s graduating class. Oh yeah, Jason added. Three kids he went to elementary school with are now dead from heroin. And he couldn’t count the kids who weren’t dead but whose lives had been derailed by heroin addiction.

I’d read about the heroin epidemic seizing the country, but looking into my students’ faces I could see the impact it had on them. They were sad and helpless in the face of this thing that had infiltrated their communities. It was a feeling I knew well — from both sides.

I am one of the survivors of the 1970s fascination with heroin that captured a subset of middle class kids in my town, including me. My best friend killed herself by overdosing on pills and vodka. A boyfriend — a smart, good-looking guy — moved to California and overdosed on heroin after serving time for possession. One of my best buddies from high school also overdosed on heroin and died after getting kicked out of rehab. Others took a slower route to death but by the time of my 40th high school reunion most of them were gone, too. There was only one guy and me left from our high school dopers clique. And we both had done time.*

I have often pondered what drove me and so many of my peers to leap into the abyss the way we did. Sure, a lot of us came from broken homes, but we had moms who loved us and did right by us. We had access to education. We could have had bright futures. And yet it was such a struggle to embrace a healthy, happy life. Was it self-loathing? Was there some poison in the culture that affected us?

I’m not looking for excuses. I’m looking for reasons — and for similarities between my generation and this one. In the mid-70s, we were just coming out of the Vietnam war. Women were still second-class citizens to a certain degree, and an African-American president was unthinkable. As for gays, it was a given that they were targets of ridicule and violence. There was a sense that we were a corrupt and dirty nation. We were a generation damaged both by the war and by fighting against the war.

Today, we have dragged our asses partway out of another unfinished war. The lies that were told to get us there in the first place have soured us. At home, the game is obviously rigged. Your only path to success is also a sure route to decades of debt. We’re bloated from consumerism. The things that promised happiness — a home and a family — are out of reach for many in this generation. What does their culture tell them is important? Followers. Hits. Going viral.

The only way to obscure the emptiness is to numb it. Which is why heroin, the greatest numbing agent of all, may be on the rise while the popularity of meth decreases.

Is there a solution? Of course. It’s love. It’s loving ourselves as individuals, but it’s also loving ourselves as a society: enough to demand change, enough to make sure opportunities for growth exist for everyone, enough to put down our screens long enough to face each other, enough to hold the rich and powerful accountable, enough to uplift the poor and the powerless.

The powers that be think that a “war on drugs” will solve this problem. It won’t. We’re all connected. The children who are killing themselves with shots of heroin are just the canaries in the coal mine. As long as we promulgate the toxic atmosphere of hatred, there will be victims. And they may be the people we love the most.

*My novel, The Pink House, is available for pre-order now. http://amzn.to/1qlkR2r


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