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The Ripple Effect of Heroin

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I used to cringe every May when I got a notification on Facebook about my friend David, cheerfully reminding me to wish him a happy birthday. His photo looked so vibrant, so alive. The trouble was, he was dead—from a heroin overdose. His family finally removed his profile from the website, easing the loss a bit. David and I had been friends since high school. We met on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md. He was a surfer dude who went to a prestigious private school. I was a surfer wannabe. We were never boyfriend-girlfriend, but our lives stayed connected as we dated and married others. I remember his early drug days. He made them sound exciting and cool—especially to someone like me, who pretty much followed the rules. Marijuana, acid, meth, then heroin. His life became a topsy-turvy, never-ending struggle to give up the dope. He would write me beautiful, sad poems about it.

David made it to his 50s, overdosing alone in a picturesque Southern town. It was days before his body was discovered. I couldn’t help but think of David when I read senior writer Mark Nardone’s heroin story in this month’s issue (page 62). Mark profiles recovering addicts, grieving parents and a local police chief bent on helping his struggling neighbors. David Norbut’s photography brings it all into focus. The Delaware heroin stats are alarming: “The state sees, on average, 15 fatal overdoses a month. In New Castle County alone, paramedics responded to about 700 heroin overdose calls in a 12-month period,” Mark reports. The drug is cheap and plentiful. But there is hope. “State officials predict that heroin use will level off,” Mark says. Or will it? David Simon, a former colleague and cop reporter at The Baltimore Sun, isn’t so sure. David, a really nice guy despite his tough-guy disposition, is probably best known for his HBO series, “The Wire,” a fictional telling of Baltimore’s drug culture through the eyes of drug dealers and law-enforcement officials.

In a 2011 interview with journalist Bill Moyer, David talks about the complexity of America’s drug problem. He says bluntly, “A guy coming out of addiction at 30, 35— because it often takes to that age—often got into addiction with a string of problems, some of which were interpersonal and personal, and some of which were systemic.” David then talks about public education—or lack of it, especially for inner-city youth—and its effect on the drug culture. “We pretend to educate the kids,” he says. “We pretend that we’re actually including them in the American ideal, but we’re not. And they’re not foolish. They get it. They understand that the only viable economic base in their neighborhoods is this multibillion-dollar drug trade.” The heroin issue is complicated. Our cities are fraught with multiple issues, whether it’s Baltimore or Wilmington. But I choose Mark’s idea of hope. I hope his story is a wake-up call to look at the bigger picture. There is a David in all our lives.

Executive Editor Suzanne Loudermilk

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