My son has been in solitary for 8 days now, for feeding the cravings of a DISEASE. No one cares. He was denied a clergy visit on Tuesday. He hasn’t met with any counsel. In his hearings they just berate & shame him for his actions. (His actions while operating in his reptile brain in which the drugs take over- leaving rational thinking & empathy by the wayside).
My Momma heart hurts & even in the Mom support group I still get “let him go”.
HE IS HUMAN. With a disease, just like a heart disease patient eating at McDonald’s or a diabetic at crispy kreme, but we would never shame them for trying to get what they crave, let alone arrest them.
I understand the law is the law, but it’s a hypocritical law. A society that glamorizes alcohol and even some drug use (like cocaine in movies); immediately does a 180 & looks down on those who can’t stop and becomes addicted.
"It's just a matter of wanting it bad enough"
It’s just not as simple as that, it takes time and for sure exiling them to isolation like Napoleon was- clearly isn’t working.
Yesterday I heard an inmate at the same facility my son is in, tell the judge that it’s really frustrating to be put in solitary just for handing a magazine to someone else. The judge proceeded to berate him by saying, “I get mad a hundred times a day and I don’t lash out at other people or I would get myself in a lot of trouble. You have to learn a better way”. So the solution is to isolate & shame them even more than addicts already are?
This is from the state of New York. I wish there was someone from my state to advocate for my son. I’m exhausted.
Testimony of Corey J. Brinson Policy Associate Legal Action Center New York City Council Before the Committee on Criminal Justice December 11, 2020
My name is Corey Brinson. I am a Policy Associate with the Legal Action Center. The Legal Action Center uses legal and policy strategies to fight discrimination, build health equity, and restore opportunity for people with arrest and conviction records, substance use disorders, and HIV or AIDS. I am testifying in favor of eliminating the practice of solitary confinement in New York City jails. I have endured difficult times in my lifetime. I have endured the high crime and violence of my inner-city neighborhood. I was stationed in Saudi Arabia with the United States Airforce on September 11, 2001, and I reacted to the alarms indicating that we were at war. But the most difficult experience I have endured is being held in solitary confinement for several days. That experience of living in a cell, which was the size of a large closet, with no clock, lights that went off at midnight, no privacy for sleeping, showering, and being feed through a slot in my cell door was psychological torture. You can tell a lot about a country by how it treats the people it incarcerates. Placing people in solitary confinement for any period of extended time is immoral, unethical, and it should be unlawful. People need meaningful social interactions with other people to maintain their mental health. People in prison are already isolated from society. They are already isolated from their communities and their families. And when they are placed in solitary confinement, they have been essentially buried alive. Placing people in solitary confinement says more about us as a society, as lawmakers, and as a community than what it says about the people behind those cold walls. I acknowledge that we have made strides to reduce the number of people being subjected to solitary confinement. The number of people who have been subjected to solitary confinement has reduced significantly. But one person in solitary confinement is one person too many. The laws in this state treat animals better than people in prison. Under New York Law § 356 “[a] person who, having impounded or confined any animal, refuses or neglects to supply to such animal during its confinement a sufficient supply of good and wholesome air… is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by both.” If an animal is worthy of good and wholesome air, then should not a human being, who is subjected to the confines and cruelty of living in a closet for extended periods of time, being granted the same freedoms as an animal? We cannot countenance a law that treats people worse than we treat animals. Solitary confinement does just that for too
Solitary confinement damages the mental health of the people subjected to its cruel and unusual punishment. When we damage the people in solitary confinement’s mental health, we damage their opportunities, we damage their families, and we therefore damage their communities. It should not go unnoticed that a disproportionate number of these people are Black and Latinx—evidence of the systemic racist criminal legal system. I ask that you pass this bill and begin providing relief to the scores of people suffering in solitary confinement as we speak. There is an argument that this bill is moving too fast through the legislative process. For the people who are cut off from any meaningful interactions with other people, this bill is already too late. The Legal Action Center encourages you to immediately end solitary confinement in New York City jails.
We’ve probably heard this phrase a million times throughout our lives, and yet we don’t see ourselves as a full bag of Sour Skittles or Hot Cheetos.
The reality is that what we eat largely dictates how we feel, and consequently, what we do.
In recovery especially, it is easy to cast aside what we put in our bodies when we have bigger battles to fight. This logic makes sense; however, what if what you ate impacted whether your recovery was long lasting? Well, it does. Experience and research in the field shows us that nutrition helps us feel better since nutrients strengthen the immune system, give the body energy, and help build and repair organs that may have been damaged.
It’s just a fact: when you eat better, you feel better. A poor diet results in:
Symptoms of depression
All of which can lead to the use of drugs or alcohol or even trigger a relapse. So, what you put in your body can very heavily impact what you choose to keep out of your body.
Nutrition highly impacts mood. Changes in your diet can:
Alter brain structure both chemically and physiologically
Influence your behavior
Increase production of key neurotransmitters like serotonin, which enhances mood
Often, those in treatment are so unfamiliar with the feeling of hunger, so it can get confused as a drug craving. This can be easily remedied by eating frequent healthy meals.
A common misconception that causes people to hit a wall is that a healthy diet is an expensive one. This is not entirely true. When you are on a tight budget in recovery and only have so much you can spend and so many places you can spend it, it is easy to feel limited and throw nutrition out the window. Read our post upcoming post on The $75 Diet for lists of healthy food options that won’t break the bank and will make that food card last just a little bit longer and your body and mind feeling that much better.
Nutrition is crucial to overall health, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Change in diet alone is not a substitute for other forms of treatment. If you’re struggling with symptoms of a mental health disorder or drug and alcohol abuse, reach out and seek relief from professionals who can help.
"Almost all sadness comes from thinking about the past, and all worry from thinking about the future - present mindedness is your only safe haven. Only in the present is your mind free to do what it does best - solve problems. The easiest way to leave the past behind is to remember that love does not live in the past, only memories - love lives in the present." Bryant McGill
How to Stay Present in Recovery: Mindfulness Techniques
“Being present” is a term you’ve likely heard thrown around in conversations or on the internet, whether you’re in recovery or not. But what does it mean to stay present, and how do you go about doing it, anyway? Perhaps, most importantly, why would one want to practice staying present in recovery?
Staying present in your life, also sometimes referred to as remaining “mindful”, through every distressing emotion, tumultuous situation, or overwhelming joy, is perhaps the easiest and hardest thing you’ll ever do (we know, it’s a total oxymoron). It is also arguably one of the best natural acts you can practice to improve your focus, decrease your stress levels, and manage overwhelming emotions.
Those in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, especially, might be able to benefit from mindfulness practices, grounding techniques, and other holistic practices – all of which tie into the concept of staying present. When you’re in recovery from substance abuse issues, it’s extremely common to have cravings for your drug of choice, overwhelming emotions, and sometimes reckless urges. Many mindfulness practices exist to manage these phenomena. Luckily, we’re here to give you some information on how to stay present while you’re in recovery from drugs or alcohol.
What Does it Mean to “Stay Present”?
Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating a state of awareness. It is rooted in eastern traditions and has been continually adapted to western medicine and psychology. Staying present, or remaining mindful in your daily life, is not one singular act. Instead, mindfulness involves various techniques and practices that exist for those looking to cultivate the act of remaining present in their daily life. It may be easiest to think of staying present as a practice, or a consistent chain of actions that revolve around mindfulness, rather than a single action.
Nonjudgmental acceptance of what someone is experiencing
Many people consider mindfulness to be a powerful and simple remedy for rumination, anxiety, chronic pain, anger issues, habitual multitasking, or simply living as a prisoner of your emotions. By using certain mental and physical tools, such as mindful breathing, meditation, and body scans (we’ll get into these later), you can devote your attention to the present moment. In turn, you may come to harvest inner stillness, compassion, patience, focus, self-control, discipline, and more.
When you’re present in your life, you are not thinking about the past, the future, or contemplating anything other than what is right in front of you. When you’re present, you face challenges head-on, you weather uncomfortable emotions, and you cope using healthy coping skills. Staying present in your life and making sure you’re grounded in this moment may sound simple but it’s often harder than you might think, especially when you’re in recovery from a mental health condition whose symptoms innately pull you out of the current moment, like anxiety or addiction.
Tips for Staying Present in Recovery
There are various ways that someone can practice mindfulness in their daily life – whether from the comfort of their own home, or through the guidance of a professional.
Mediation is a broad term that lends itself to hundreds, if not thousands of meanings. When we’re talking about meditation, we’re talking about grounding meditations, breathing meditation, visualization, and even yoga. Various mediation practices (such as guided meditations) focus on grounding yourself in the moment and dismissing thoughts about the past or future.
During meditation, one may practice sustaining their attention on their current experience, and gently guiding the mind back towards their present experience if it wanders. Although many people think of yoga as purely a physical exercise, many types of yoga actually place more emphasis on the mind than the body.
Someone may practice mindfulness through meditation, for example. In various studies, mindfulness and meditation, in particular, have shown a positive correlation with higher levels of self-compassion and wellbeing, as well as significantly lower levels of rumination, fear of emotions, and difficulty regulating emotions.
Ways to Stay Present in Recovery:
Reverse the order of your daily routine. Usually brush your hair, and then your teeth? Try to take care of your dental hygiene first. It may seem like a small act, but the accumulation of small and intentional acts tends to add up to pretty significant changes in thinking, acting, and being.
Turn your focus to your breathing; either by counting to a certain number as you breath in, or visualizing breathing in light, etc. Or, simply remind yourself to take a deep breath in moments of calm, moments of stress, and everything in between.
Perform a body scan, or a practice of paying attention to certain areas of your body and identifying any sensations that these areas may feel. Usually, people begin by focusing their attention to their head and working their way down to their toes.
Download apps that provide guided meditations such as Calm, Headspace, Aura, and more.
Work out – mindfully. Instead of heading to the gym and jumping into your typical leg day routine, try mixing it up and starting with a new exercise. Not only will it shock your body into its next gear, but it’ll also keep you mentally fresh. Be sure to also pay great attention
Why Work on Staying Present in Recovery?
Mindfulness is thought to alter the brain’s functioning in astonishingly positive ways. Studies suggest that, in people who suffer from depression, those that learn to meditate experience changes in the brain that last long after they stop meditating.
The effects of staying mindful on our psychological health are staggering and have proven highly beneficial. When you use drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or even gambling to feel something – anything – other than what you’re feeling in the moment, that is the opposite of staying grounded in the present moment. It’s acting on autopilot.
Recovery from substance abuse issues and other mental health conditions tends to involve the implementation of new, healthy coping skills to manage uncomfortable emotions and cravings. Mindfulness techniques and daily intentions to remain grounded in the present moment may be one of the best natural coping skills someone can employ.
One true irony in mindfulness practices and the art of staying present is that, by grounding yourself and lending yourself to only what is happening in the here and now, you can also experience healthy detachment from negative stimuli.
Yesterday while visiting Texas, my husband and I were caught in a violent thunderstorm and flash flood. It hit suddenly and without warning. We tried to forge through our fear and discomfort by first going it alone, ( courage disguised as denial ) then seeking cover behind a large semi. ( shame & secrecy ). The water was too high for our light vehicle and we were at risk for sliding off the road many times, so we pulled up onto a ranch road and waited it out. ( Patience )
Even the oil tanker trucks were barely moving due to visibility. The pickup trucks seemed used to it and trudged along steadily.
It sounds crazy now that I’m safe, but I really thought I was going to be those people you see on extreme weather shows who are gliding down the fast-moving water with everyone saying, “oh, they should have stayed home or shouldn’t have tried to cross”. Or being struck by lightning or have a huge power line fall on us.
It was sunny when we left, we didn’t have a reason to check the radar. We got in over our head quickly……
Once it passed we headed out cautiously & upon seeing how low the road dipped, it confirmed that we wouldn’t have made it through.
Even as the sun peeked out, and no clouds in site, we came upon this road completely flooded.
After deciding we couldn’t risk the rental car being damaged we turned around and headed a different direction. As we were driving hopefully free & clear down the Texas highway, this beauty appeared.
A complete rainbow🌈.
Whatever the meaning, whatever the significance. I was at peace in it’s beauty. One minute sending my kids a ‘goodbye I luv you’ to now being grateful for being alive.
This post by Sean Whalen fit perfectly with my day.
"IT WILL PASS.
Whoever is reading this right now who can’t breathe, who feels the weight of the world on their shoulders, who’s buried under some not so favorable decisions, who feels like they can’t live without that human they feel so connected to. . Whoever is reading this who can’t seem to find the light or the hope or the drive to get up and get after it, PLEASE HEAR ME. . What you feel WILL PASS. . What you FEAR you will soon APPRECIATE. . What seems like an impossibly and insurmountable mountain will soon be your greatest teacher. . 12 years ago I put a 9mm in my mouth and almost ended my life. I saw no light. I felt pain that I thought would break me. I literally felt like I was suffocating. I was filled with FEAR and ANGER and DESPAIR. It was one of the darkest moments of my life, so much so I said to myself “IT WOULD BE BETTER IF I WAS GONE, IT WOULD BE BETTER FOR MY KIDS IF I WASN’T IN THE PICTURE.” I wanted to die vs keep going. . I woke up the next morning with that pistol next to my head and a clear voice in my head I DO NOT WANT TO DIE, and I reached out for help and guidance. . I want you to hear something from me right now that I guarantee you and do so on my life… . THE PAIN YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW WILL END. I FUCKING PROMISE YOU. YOU MAY SEE NO LIGHT AND HAVE NO HOPE, BUT I PROMISE YOU AS LONG AS YOU KEEP MOVING, THE STORM WILL END. . They always do. They ALWAYS do! . So if you’re reading this right now and are in the middle of that storm, know that I know exactly where you are. It’s fine to be angry. It’s fine to be sad. It’s fine to feel the darkness! FEEL ALL THAT WILD SHIT! . JUST. KEEP. MOVING. . DO NOT STOP. DO NOT FUCKING STOP. . Go walk around the block. Literally, move your feet and walk. Call someone. Call everyone. Write. Record videos. Go to the park and play with a puppy. Tell someone you love them. Go give someone a buck. Go sit at a coffee shop. . KEEP FUCKING MOVING AND I PROMISE YOU THE STORM WILL END AND YOU WILL LOOK BACK AT THIS PAIN AND SMILE. . THIS WILL NOT BREAK YOU. NOTHING CAN BREAK YOU. GOD GAVE YOU THE EYES TO READ THIS MESSAGE SO GET YOUR ASS UP AND JUST TAKE A STEP, THEN ANOTHER STEP. . I SEE YOU FRIEND. 👊🏼"-Sean Whalen
61 years ago, Clara Wuest from New Braunfels, Texas might have stood on this very spot where I took this picture today and asked God to help her raise her 2 little boys alone. It was her ranch where her & husband raised goats & cattle.
As stated in this article: Every family goes through trying times, and the Wuests have had their share. In 1956, Grandfather Hilmar Wuest died when his prickly pear burner exploded. He’d been burning thorns off cacti that he was feeding his cattle during the drought. The accident left his wife, Clara, on her own to raise their two children and run the ranch.
But just a few years later, the family’s fortune would change.
In March of 1960, four college students from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio discovered the Caverns after receiving permission from the family to explore what was thought to be a small cave. Clara Wuest Heidemann took the gamble of her life and risked all the family had to secure a loan to develop the cavern passages into the attraction that it is today.
So, what if she would have given up when standing right above her families future for generations to come?
As I went through these amazing natural caves today, I saw the huge dome ceiling that took millions of years to form. At one point over several 1000 years or more, an earthquake caused the ceiling to collapse, making the way for the stalagmites and stalactites to form. Before that, water-filled the caves for millions of years. If you had witnessed the water or the earthquakes, you would think all is lost, that nothing good could possibly come from those catastrophes. But amazingly beautiful natural wonders grew from those disasters.
How many times have we said we are done with something? That it’s too hard, too much work? Or the big one:
"Nothing I'm doing is working."
How do you know it’s not? What could have been around the next corner or the next tunnel? Clara’s family were not cave people, they were farmers. But they soon adjusted! Adjust your sails.
We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
It’s true, if we are miserable, something must change. It’s up to us to find that power inside us to bring about places and spaces that serve us well.
Our limited view of time is nothing, compared to eternity’s view of time. We have to be patient, find our peace, and love 💕 love 💕 love those around us.
Our pristine clear emerald water is waiting. Our beautiful hidden tortured soul waiting to bloom. The depth and breadth of the expansion of our character to reach up in love like these stalagmites as they are fed by slow drips of water & the right mixture of oxygen.
Our treasure might be right beneath us, waiting…..waiting for just the right conditions to break out. Everyone’s treasure is different. It might not look like you imagined. For some it might be personal peace. For others it might be an awakening in their loved one or a “cure”. Others it might be an understanding of the process of time & respect for someone else journey. Or a re-uniting with a fellow hurt family member who’s views & attitude seemed unreachable.
Whatever your miracle, keep reaching UP like the stalagmites. Drink from your water of hope.
Who would think a bat cave would hold so much wisdom?
My eldest son, sits in solitary confinement for the second week now, because he is unable to manage his brain disease and the system STILL believes that more isolation and punishment will “Cure” him. So yes, I’m going to compare him to Napoleon, because to me- he is a warrior.
Napoleon was exiled to die alone stating these words as he was sent away:
The Emperor Napoleon After his defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, Napoleon retreated to Paris where (due to a lack of support from his military marshals) he was forced to renounce his throne in April 1814. The European powers exiled him to the island of Elba in the Mediterranean. Within eleven months, however, Napoleon was back on the European continent at the head of a hastily-raised army intent on restoring Napoleon to the throne of France. Napoleon’s defeat came in June 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo.
This time, the European powers were not going to take any chances on Napoleon’s possible return. They exiled him to the island of St. Helena – a barren, wind-swept rock located in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The Fall of an Emperor
Among the small entourage that accompanied the deposed Emperor into exile was the Comte de Las Cases who kept a diary of his experience:
This day we cleared the Channel. We had now entered upon the dreary unknown course to which fate had doomed us. Again my agonies were renewed; again the dear connections I had abandoned resumed their sway over my heart… Meanwhile we advanced in our course and were soon to be out of Europe. Thus, in less than six weeks, had the emperor abdicated his throne and placed himself in the hands of the English, who were now hurrying him to a barren rock in the midst of a vast ocean. This is certainly no ordinary instance of the chances of fortune, and no common trial of firmness of mind.
The Emperor Napoleon, who lately possessed such boundless power and disposed of so many crowns, now occupies a wretched hovel, a few feet square, which is perched upon a rock, unprovided with furniture, and without either shutters or curtains to the windows. This place must serve him for bedchamber, dressing room, dining room, study, and sitting room; and he is obliged to go out when it is necessary to have this one apartment cleaned. His meals, consisting of a few wretched dishes, are brought to him from a distance, as though he were a criminal in a dungeon. He is absolutely in want of the necessaries of life: the bread and wine are not only not such as he has been accustomed to, but are so bad that we loathe to touch them; water, coffee, butter, oil, and other articles are either not to be procured or are scarcely fit for use…
St. Helena Island We were all assembled around the emperor, and he was recapitulating these facts with warmth: ‘For what infamous treatment are we reserved!’ he exclaimed. This is the anguish of death. To injustice and violence, they now add insult and protracted torment. If I were so hateful to them, why did they not get rid of me? A few musket balls in my heart or my head would have done the business, and there would at least have been some energy in the crime. Were it not for you, and above all for your wives, I would receive nothing from them but the pay of a private soldier. How can the monarchs of Europe permit the sacred character of sovereignty to be violated in my person? Do they not see that they are, with their own hands, working their own destruction at St. Helena?’
‘I entered their capitals victorious and, had I cherished such sentiments, what would have become of them? They styled me their brother, and I had become so by the choice of the people, the sanction of victory, the character of religion, and the alliances of their policy and their blood. Do they imagine that the good sense of nations is blind to their conduct? And what do they expect from it? At all events, make your complaints, gentlemen; let indignant Europe hear them. Complaints from me would be beneath my dignity and character; I must either command or be silent.'”
"Either command or be silent".
My son always says: he’s either all in or all out… Which I think is similar….
I’m not comparing leading a country & fighting & losing a war to an addict’s journey…….butttttt if the shoe fits……
“treatment works better when cut off from all these legal threats and penalties.”
As my son remains locked in isolation today; for the crime of possession, for a disease that he’s unable to manage; I wonder what good shame, isolation & more punishment does. He’s been isolated for over a year from family, he’s lost everything he worked for and cared about. His internal punishment is manifested in his continual self-abuse with substances and the almost homeless lifestyle. So to force someone to suddenly want to change seems like it would work, but most statistics show it just doesn’t.
"We are not going to arrest our way out of this crisis"
Editor’s Note: High-Clip is following the format of WebMD articles in an effort to distill the findings of two studies that compare rock climbers to substance users. This format is used to present these findings in an easily readable manner. Rock climbing addiction will be used to refer to climbers’ experiences discussed in the studies, not an actual condition.
What is rock climbing addiction* (RCA)?
Rock climbing addiction is when a person becomes addicted to climbing like a drug user becomes addicted to a drug. These similarities to substance users are present while climbing and while not climbing; climbers can experience positive and negative reinforcement while climbing and climbers can experience withdrawal while not climbing. With a rock climbing addiction, a person’s withdrawal symptoms may worsen with exposure to climbing media and be more extreme in more experienced climbers.
Rock Climbing Addiction Symptoms
With RCA, a person may have symptoms including:
feeling a rush/high while climbing
lessened interest in other, even previously pleasurable, activities, especially while not climbing
strong urges or imperatives to climb
structuring their schedule and lifestyle around climbing
feel angry, agitated, restless, or just wrong while away from climbing
using climbing as a stress reliever or other coping mechanism
dramatic mood improvement while climbing
may need to climb more dangerous things over time
decreased positive relationships while away from climbing
Evidence suggests that people can develop a RCA over long exposure to rock climbing, as symptoms tend to worsen in more experienced climbers. Addictive behaviors (non-drug activities like shopping, gambling, etc.) have been found to activate similar regions of the brain as substance use. Extreme sports tend to make the brain release chemicals like dopamine and glutamate.
High sensation seeking traits and heightened impulsivity are found in rock climbers. Thus, people may rely on climbing to satisfy their sensation seeking traits. Similarly, people may use climbing to manage negative feelings, causing a reliance on climbing.
The research on RCA and addiction with other extreme sports is still relatively new. Consider reading the studies to see where you may experience sensations similar to those of a substance user.
Withdrawal symptoms were less severe when the climber felt that they had control over the situation. This means that it was easier to stay away from climbing by choice rather than something like an injury.
Rock climbing may be a treatment for drug addiction. In the future, there may be research that indicates how drug users may use climbing as a therapy. Because of the similarities of physical and mental experiences between climbers and substance users, climbing may have real potential to replace drugs in addicts’ lives. Likewise, researchers may be able to use climbers to study addiction in order to help substance and behavior addicts.
Rock climbing is a dangerous sport. People can develop minor to serious (even fatal) injuries through accidents, negligence, or overuse. Using safe practices and maintaining personal health will go a long way in preventing complications, but there is always inherent risk with climbing.
*Addiction is used in this article less literally with regards to climbing. This is because not only is climbing legal/socially acceptable, but it allows people to learn new skills, grow, connect with others, and travel to new places.
Please feel free to drop more article links in the comments! Here are sources 1 and 2.
The use of words like “symptom” and “worsen” are not to indicate that RCA needs to be treated; rather, they are used to help draw parallels between RCA and drug addiction.
This article is not meant to discuss the merits/consequences of substance abuse and rock climbing, but merely to discuss the similarities between the two based on current research.
Listen to our podcast to hear a story of how climbing can replace drug use! Meet our guest here.
As always, please stay safe out there!
Heirene, Robert M et al. “Addiction in Extreme Sports: An Exploration of Withdrawal States in Rock Climbers.” Journal of behavioral addictions vol. 5,2 (2016): 332-41. doi:10.1556/2006.5.2016.039
Roderique-Davies, Gareth, et al. “Development and Initial Validation of a Rock Climbing Craving Questionnaire (RCCQ).” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 9, 2018, p. 204., doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00204.
I can hardly stand to say the word, let alone type it….but here we are…it’s a part of my daily turmoil and fear. How can I learn to accept and embrace what impact drugs have had on my life? One way that I’ve only recently realized, is what odds my son was up against in his life. I won’t go into them here but what if heroin actually saved his life all those years ago? What if “something worse” had happened? And yes there are worse things. Maybe heroin was both a blessing and a curse. Regardless, it is in the past. Moving forward by understanding the pasts’ struggles.
Here I share 2 celebrities’ addiction stories that I once ignored as “Oh dang, that’s too bad.” Even though I loved Tom Petty, it still was something that happened to other people.
“The road and the studio are the only places I’ve ever felt completely OK,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone last summer, explaining why he was launching one last grueling tour to mark his 40th anniversary with the Heartbreakers. But the roadwork wasn’t easy for him. Petty spent the entire 53-date tour struggling with severe pain from a fracture in his left hip. He got through it with painkillers and used a golf cart to move around backstage. “Tom was ill,” said his friend Stevie Nicks. “And he fought his way through that tour. He should have canceled and gone home and gone to the hospital, but not Tom. He was going to go down that river.”
Petty’s overdose in many ways mirrored Prince’s a year and a half earlier. Prince was also taking the drug while dealing with a hip injury, probably stemming from decades of punishing live performances. Over the past decade, fentanyl was also a leading factor in the fatal overdoses of former Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett, 3 Doors Down guitarist Matt Roberts and Slipknot bassist Paul Gray. In November, rising rapper Lil Peep died at 21 after taking a combination of fentanyl and Xanax. “It is so crazy-strong,” says Petty’s daughter Adria, who is planning a campaign against fentanyl. “We really don’t want this to happen to anyone else. We learned this is the worst feeling you can have: to lose someone you love for no good reason.”
Beyond the music industry, fentanyl has emerged as the most dangerous new drug in a generation. Of the nearly 65,000 fatal opioid overdoses in the U.S. in 2016 (the most recent survey), one-third were fentanyl-related, double the amount from the year before. The drug has surpassed heroin as the leading cause of overdose deaths, and new data shows that fentanyl overdose deaths jumped 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017.
Fentanyl was invented in 1959 to help cancer patients cope with intense post-surgical pain. These days, it’s prescribed as a lollipop or a patch, which slowly releases the dosage through the skin, typically used for a few days after a major surgery. Though illegal in pill form, black-market fentanyl pills have become common in the past decade. This happened after doctors cut back on prescribing OxyContin in 2007, when the government sued its manufacturer for misleading the public about the drug’s addictive risks. Opioid users had to look elsewhere, and turned to heroin, which dealers started mixing with fentanyl for a faster-acting, more euphoric and addictive high. A fatal fentanyl overdose can happen in barely one minute. “The dose you require is minuscule, like a grain of salt,” says Volkow. “A tiny difference in your content can mean someone dying. You need a very sophisticated lab in order to measure a concentration that would be safe.”
The drug’s potency can pose a chilling new threat for users: In a previous era, “someone would OD and you’d have time to soak them in a bath or keep them moving until they got to the ER,” says Gene Bowen, a former road manager and founder of Road Recovery, a nonprofit that teams entertainment-industry pros who have overcome personal struggles (like addiction) with at-risk youth for concert events and studio recording projects. “It’s not the case now. In 20 minutes they can be dead.”
Opioids have gripped the music business for decades – codeine and Percodan were among the drugs found in Elvis Presley’s body when he died in 1977. But fentanyl’s rise in music may be rooted in deeper trends. Artists are touring more than ever before. “The stress of the road is very difficult, but that’s where the money is,” says Harold Owens, senior director of MusiCares, the Recording Academy’s charitable assistance program. “So they go on these long tours, and physically it’s horrible. They’re not eating right or taking care of themselves.”
Many of those hard-touring acts – at or near what would be retirement age in other professions – are dealing with the long-term effects of life on the road. “We’re all older, and people are starting to have carpal tunnel and injuries from playing,” says Bonnie Raitt, a recovering addict herself, who was forced to cancel an upcoming tour with James Taylor due to health problems. “It’s very difficult to not take pain meds.” David Crosby, 76, says he tours out of necessity, “or else I will not be able to keep my home. I don’t have any savings.” He avoids taking pain pills for his bad shoulders for fear of relapse: “I carry [painkillers]. I have some with me. But I’ve had the same bottle for three years. That’s how seldom I hit it.”
“We’re all older, and people are starting to have carpal tunnel and injuries from playing,” says Bonnie Raitt. “It’s very difficult to not take pain meds.”
Prince reportedly became addicted to Percocet after hip surgery in 2010. “Jumping off those pianos and speakers, that doesn’t bode well for anybody,” says keyboardist Morris Hayes, Prince’s musical director from 1992 to 2012. “But it’s not something he would talk about. If his head was on fire, he’d put a hat on it and keep moving.” Prince’s friend Sheila E. added, “He was in pain all the time, but he was a performer. . . . You think about all the years he was jumping off those risers.” After Prince was found dead in an elevator at his Paisley Park home in Minnesota in 2016, tests revealed an inordinately high amount of fentanyl in his liver and stomach. He had no prescription in his name for the drug, but thought he was taking Vicodin. While searching his home, investigators discovered a bottle with 49 black-market pills that tested as part fentanyl.
Experts say Prince probably didn’t know what he was taking. “I guarantee you that Prince wasn’t saying, ‘I’m taking fentanyl,’ ” says Scott Bienenfeld, an addiction psychiatrist who works with musicians. “The majority of my patients are pain patients, and someone gave them fentanyl as an add-on: ‘You’ve taken OxyContin, now take this.’ Most of these musicians, trust me, don’t know it’s laced with fentanyl.” These kinds of pills are cranked out in labs in China and Mexico and can be easily ordered online and shipped to the U.S. Pills with fentanyl compounds – sold on the street with names like Apache, Goodfella, Jackpot and Murder 8 – can be as cheap as $10. “The drugs look exactly like legit pills or drugs that aren’t cut with anything,” says Adria Petty. “Victims have no idea they are ingesting fentanyl at all, or extremely high doses of synthetic fentanyl, 50 to 100 times stronger than legally prescribed fentanyl, which is almost guaranteed to be deadly.”
In April, after a two-year investigation, Minnesota authorities announced no one would be charged in the death of Prince. “There is no reliable evidence showing how Prince obtained the counterfeit Vicodin containing fentanyl,” said Mark Metz, an attorney for the state. “The bottom line is that we simply do not have sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime related to Prince’s death.” Prince’s family has launched a lawsuit against a hospital in Moline, Illinois, for failing to properly diagnose another overdose Prince suffered six days before his death, on what were likely the same pills that killed him. But at least one heir, Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson, says she is not concerned that the state of Minnesota didn’t arrest anyone for the fentanyl found in her brother’s body: “I thought, ‘Let’s move on,’ ” she says. “You can charge 20,000 people and toss them in jail. Will that bring my brother back? It’s not. It didn’t matter if it was a knife or a gun or fentayl. If it doesn’t bring back my brother, it didn’t matter.”
“You can charge 20,000 people and toss them in jail – will that bring my brother back?” says Prince’s sister Tyka. “If it doesn’t bring back my brother, it doesn’t matter.”
To date, prosecuting fentanyl deaths has been an uphill battle. According to Darrell Roberts, father of Matt from 3 Doors Down, his son suffered from back pain and anxiety and had surgery on his hand a decade ago; prescribed fentanyl in 2010, he quietly took the drug for six years. Before a trip to Wisconsin to play for veterans, the guitarist, co-writer of their 2000 hit “Kryptonite,” picked up a 30-day supply of 75-microgram fentanyl patches from a CVS near his home in Alabama.
“I didn’t even know what fentanyl was, but I knew Matt had taken something,” says Roberts, who accompanied his son on the trip. “His demeanor had begun to slow down. He was real slow walking and looking down.” A few hours later, his son was found dead in the hallway outside their adjacent hotel rooms. One fentanyl patch was discovered on his body. “Matt had some pain, but nothing to a level that would rise to fentanyl,” says attorney Joey Dumas, who is representing the Roberts family in a civil suit against the guitarist’s doctor for wrongful death. The doctor was found not guilty in a previous criminal case after a jury could not determine how much fentanyl in Roberts’ system was prescribed and how much was illegal. “We were disappointed – Matt’s father wants accountability,” says Dumas. Similar questions surround Lil Peep, who died on his tour bus before an Arizona show last year after overdosing on Xanax pills that he was likely unaware were laced with fentanyl. The Arizona division of the DEA is investigating the origins of his fentanyl supply.
Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell struggled with opioid issues before he died last year. His death – by asphyxiation related to a prescription for Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug – has prompted his wife, Vicky, to rally heavily against strong opioids. “The only way to address this is that doctors need to take an active part,” she says. “It needs to be part of medical training. How are they getting it? In the case of musicians, they don’t even have to buy street drugs. Too many doctors want to be ‘rock docs’ and be ‘in’ and make people happy.”
Cornell has started the Addiction Resource Center, a website dedicated to her late husband that aims to help substance abusers. The Petty family is working on plans, to be announced soon, to offer guidance to families and addicts. “We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” says Adria. “We want to reach people struggling with chronic pain, opioid addiction and recovery, and create awareness about the strength of these drugs.”
In the meantime, musicians are learning to identify – and avoid – fentanyl. Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, who has been sober since the mid 1980s, advocates for close monitoring by trusted members of artists’ teams. About a decade ago, he had knee-replacement surgery and, to ensure he didn’t relapse on painkillers, had an aide chronicle his usage. “You have to have somebody hold it for you,” he says. “You’ve got to not have it in your hands.”
On tour in Florida a few years ago, singer-songwriter Todd Snider was looking for OxyContin to help with shoulder and back pain. The dealer didn’t have any, but did give him a fentanyl patch and lollipop. Snider immediately felt the difference. “All the other drugs wake me up,” he says, “but this one knocked me out.” He vowed to never use it again. “I really did get lucky,” he says. “I dodged that one.”