Drug death profiles inform and, with luck, may save a life
"If you're married, you can divorce your wife / But when you're married to "H," then you're married for life / You're married to "H" and you're married for life."
-Savoy Brown, 1970
"These drug stories," my wife says, thumping a folded page with the back of her palm. "At some point, I have to wonder why you're doing them. They're all so..."
I look for words to finish her thought. Similar? Frustrating? Scary? She is thinking more along the lines of "depressing" and "hopeless."
It is Sunday morning, and she has just finished David Orrick's profile of Steve Renauer, a kid who seemed to have everything going for him, even nearly three years of drug sobriety, until a relapse showed him who is the boss of the family when you and heroin get hitched. Renauer had worked with heroin addicts. He had spoken to church and youth groups about the horrors of life on the drug.
"If this guy can't shake it..." my wife begins. Her voice trails away. The pause is a kind of metaphor. It is so like society's reaction in general to the dilemma of drug addiction. We all want to do something.
The Daily Herald's contribution has been to do the one thing we know best. To tell stories.
Our report on Renauer was another in a series of in-depth profiles of young people who find that a dance with club drugs or heroin is a lifetime commitment, and often, a miserably short one. A father of three young boys, I have read each story with particular distress. I scour them for signs that will distinguish my family and my sons from those we have chronicled. I see only similarities.
I look for bored childhoods, youngsters with nothing to do. I see kids with distinct interests and success at school. I look for "loners" who don't fit in. I see kids with vibrant personalities and loving friends. I look for parents who don't care. I look for parents who refuse to think it could happen to them. I look for parents who care too much. I see parents who do more, and who endure more, than I can imagine.
It is easy to understand my wife's frustration. News stories are supposed to help us sort these things out, after all, aren't they?
An angry reader wrote us last week with the issues clearly sorted. Why, he asked, are we wasting space with heart-rending tales about people who are "worthless to society."
Almost simultaneously, another reader answered the question. This reader has been in 23 treatment programs and attended nearly 700 meetings. Yes, he's served time in prison. But he's "clean now," he says. He's trying.
He didn't sound "worthless" to me. Nor to projects editor Madeleine Doubek, who has overseen these stories.
"Every single one of those kids had potential," she says, "Why are we doing this? To save one of them. To make all of us wake up and search for new solutions. To help those ... who are struggling."
Doubek points out that our commitment has gone beyond telling tragic stories. Among many other facets, it includes information under the "Hidden Scourge" section of our Web site where you can find meaningful help in your local community if you or someone you know is addicted. It also will include stories about people who are managing to stay clean.
Sadly, though, as this series continues, we still will have tragedies to report. Even now, various Daily Herald reporters are working on specific stories as part of our commitment to recount the lives and struggles of young people who die because of drugs this year.
Perhaps among all these approaches, the tragedies as well as the tentative triumphs, you will find a "key," some distinguishing point that will help your family avoid the disaster that others could not. I hope so. More likely, though, you will see more evidence that there is no one key, more proof of how frighteningly permanent the relationship is when one weds his life to addictive drugs. I suppose that theme may sound repetitive. In this case, it may also be that the primary value is in the repetition.
Many stories. Many lifestyles. Many cultures. Many personalities. Many trials. Many "solutions." Only two common denominators: death and drugs. Can such a theme really be repeated too often?