Author Erin Marie Daly On The Opiate Crisis
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Author Erin Marie Daly On The Opiate Crisis


gen rx reviewLast week, the heartbreaking and informative book Generation Rx was released. This week, we have the first part of an interview with its author, Erin Marie Daly, on her brother’s heroin overdose, what can be done to help addicts and how her family has recovered from their grief after five years.

This book is extremely timely, coming out as the crisis of painkiller addiction seems to be getting more attention in the media than ever before. Your book does a good job assessing the problem at hand. What are some broad stroke ideas that you think could help to reduce the number of people dying from overdose?

First and foremost, people need to understand that drug addiction is something to be treated with compassion, not contempt. It’s easy to dismiss addicts as lazy or immoral or weak-willed. I used to feel that way too. But addiction is so much more complicated than the behaviors it entails. I remember telling my brother Pat to just stop doing drugs, thinking that it was literally that easy—and being so hurt when he couldn’t. I often wonder if my anger forced him farther into his shame, and made him want to use more. I’m not saying I caused him to use, but I just think that if I’d approached the situation with a different touch, maybe he would have felt less alone, or more comfortable asking me for help. And I think that if more people felt more compassionately towards active drug users, this might result in addicts being exposed to more avenues for potentially getting help, and therefore less overdoses. The precursor to compassion is education and awareness, so I believe that the more we start talking about how widespread painkiller and heroin abuse is, the better.

If you want to talk about concrete terms of reducing overdose death rates—at least when it comes to opiates—it’s clear that Naloxone is the answer. Naloxone literally reverses the effects of an overdose of heroin or other opioids; it brings the person back to life. It has no abuse potential and can be administered with basic training. One of my biggest regrets, besides not knowing that addiction is a disease of the brain, is that I didn’t know about Naloxone when my brother was still alive. It could have changed the conversation around his drug addiction; I would have told him that I didn’t want him to do drugs, but more than that, I didn’t want him to die. I think it might have opened up our communication in a different, and potentially better way.

You write in the book about how you handled the warning signs your younger brother Pat displayed while he was still alive. What specific advice would you have for someone that suspects a family member may be struggling with substance abuse?

Don’t let your love for the person allow you to make excuses. I loved Pat so much—all of us in our family and community did. And because of our love for him, we were willing to believe a story that wasn’t true. No one wanted to believe that sweet Pat—the fun kid with the huge grin who did backflips out of trees and was kind to those who were different and made us homemade presents using duct tape and mayonnaise jars—was an IV heroin user. And even when we started to suspect that he was on a bad path, we were more than willing to believe that it was just a phase, or that he could be totally cured by a 30-day outpatient rehab program. It’s human nature to want to believe the best of those you love, and we wanted to believe the best about Pat. I feel like I took a pretty hard line with him; I remember feeling like I was the mean one in the family because of the times I yelled at him to stop hurting us, to grow up and just stop using drugs. In these times, he was so complacent, so downtrodden, so full of remorse. He’d swear he was done, and I’d snap it up, totally believing him. But he wasn’t done; he had no resources to be done. I thought he could be “done” in the blink of an eye, and that wasn’t the case. So, I hate to sound like a cynic, but my advice to family members would be to give it up and get help. Believe the worst, not the best, and seek help accordingly—professional help. I wish we had done that earlier.

Second, whoever it is you’re worried about, shower them in love. I don’t care how much they’ve hurt you. The whole reason you’re so upset is because you love them and don’t want them to die—so tell them exactly that. It won’t save them, but it might stick in their head. I know my brother knew I loved him, but now that he’s gone, I wish I’d been more explicit about how important he was to me, and how much I wanted him to live. Addicts know all about the hurt they’ve caused; they don’t always know how loved they are.

Finally, seek personal help. And by that I mean find someone in your life that you trust, and be honest with them about what is happening to you. Addiction is astoundingly common, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Since coming forward with my brother’s story, I’ve been amazed at how many people have reached out to me saying how they’ve experienced something similar. If you know someone struggling with substance abuse, start talking about how it is affecting your life. Bring it out into the open. As hard as it has been to go public with my own story, I have to believe this is better than keeping it hidden.

This the first of a two-part interview. See the second part here

Photo courtesy of ErinMarieDaly; used with permission.

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About Author

Jared Mazzaschi is a writer and producer living in LA. He blogs at