Before going to the office tonight, I just finished watching a program on A&E called "The Junkie Next Door." It showed the lives of various heroin addicts and people closely associated with them--families, friends, etc.

    That brought me back to 1993, the year I buried my best friend to heroin addiction. His story is a perfect example of how insidious addiction is, and how many people it can touch beyond the addict himself.

    David was a 41 year old father, a recovering addict who, like me, was in college studying to be an alcohol and drug counselor. He did not fit the typical stereotype of a heroin addict--he came from a very wealthy family, though he had squandered his share of the wealth through addiction and was now living in an apartment with two roommates.

    Dave and I would spend hours talking about addiction-related subjects--war stories, friends and family, people we were close to who were currently suffering from alcoholism, treatment methods, theories, everything. Often we would lose track of time and I would either end up sleeping on his couch or driving back home half asleep hoping I didn't get pulled over on the way (I did a couple times).

    I cannot say for sure when Dave started using again or what triggered his relapse. I have my theories--he had been given some codeine for a headache by a friend shortly before his relapse. All I know for sure is that I was riding in the car with him one time when he nodded off behind the wheel. I had to reach over and steer the car to the shoulder and step on the brake from the passengers seat. When I asked him about it, he claimed to have had problems with blood pressure medication.

    Dave celebrated an AA Birthday a few weeks later, claiming he was still clean and sober. I had suspected otherwise--I had seen him nod a couple times, and his eyes appeared glassed over at times. Others questioned him as well. Still, whenever anyone brought it up, he denied it vehemently.

    Finally, one afternoon, he admitted to me that he was chipping again, using heroin in small doses. I advised him to check into treatment immediately, telling him that with his addiction history it would only be a matter of time before he was back into a full-scale addiction and straight down the road to death. He was too proud, however, and felt he could not inform anyone else that he was no longer clean and sober.

    A week later, the school term was over, and I headed back home, 1200 miles away, for three months. He called me a couple days after I got home, but said he still hadn't gone into treatment. He did not call me again.

    When I got back to school in the fall, I immediately called him. The phone was disconnected. I figured he had moved, as he had several times over the last couple years, and so I called his parents to get his new number.

    I knew immediately something was wrong. His parents knew well who I was--I had attended his brothers wedding, helped him move twice, and had been invited to a couple family functions as my closest family was 800 miles away. Still, they tried first to inform me of the whereabouts of Dave Jr., the grandson, as though that had been who I was asking about. When I clarified who I was and who I was trying to locate, they finally informed me he was in the hospital. I could get no more real information.

    Finally, I called his roommate and got the info on what had happened. As best as I can place it, about three days after I had last talked to him, he had suffered a stroke as a result of some bad heroin--his roommate saw him dragging a leg. As they rushed him to the hospital he suffered a second stroke which blinded him. A third one a few hours later put him in a coma, where he remained.

    In October, after four months in the coma, his brain activity ceased and he died. 41 years old, leaving an 18 year old son, as well as brothers, sisters, and both parents.

    I attended his funeral, one of only a couple of people outside his immediate family. Neither of his roommates made it. Nobody could deal with it.

    One thing I noticed at the funeral was his son. He was wearing a body cast, the result of a drunk driving accident suffered three days after his father went into the hospital.

    And a few weeks later, his sister started attending open meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. She was neither alcoholic nor addict. She simply wanted to try to understand the life and death of her brother.

Brian Waterman

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