“The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” — Victor Hugo, novelist and dramatist (1802-1885)
When tragedy strikes close to home, statistics become meaningless.
Last week my nephew died of an overdose, at a very tender age; just into his 30s. The ongoing body-twisting pain inside me tells me this was not supposed to happen.
My nephew was a person, he had a name, he had family he loved and who loved him deeply. He had broken dreams and he lived in a broken system that failed him and his family. His name was Devin.
Remembering Devin before mental illness and addiction robbed him of a full life is pleasurable. He was a very kind youngster who would shepherd flies and bugs out of the house rather than swat them dead with a newspaper. He was part of a tribe and he belonged.
He had charm and was the older cousin to my three boys. He was an older brother and oldest son to his family. He had unlimited potential; he was smart, a reader, a person who was always studying something.
When mental illness and addiction hit him, wires crossed and he lost his way. His tribe began to disappear as his family tried to stay close, not knowing exactly what to do next.
Medication dulled his illness, but didn’t evaporate it the way drugs and heroin did.
When you are at the funeral home consoling each other, and watching the immediate family in front of a casket, the reality comes to roost. You try and make sense of a senseless situation; that is the pure definition of insanity, because you can’t. It simply doesn’t add up and trying to make it add up is an exercise in futility.
Solving the problem is where we need to go. To solve the problem we need to look first at what is the problem. The problem wasn’t Devin, the problem was the way society confronted him.
They didn’t see the little boy who had dreams and charisma. They didn’t see the young man who loved his parents and grandparents, his brother, his cousins, his friends, and his aunts and uncles.
They saw only a statistic. They judged him. It wasn’t that nobody wanted to help him; it seemed more like nobody knew how, had the time, or wanted to take it on themselves to be “the answer.”
Starting at the beginning is the commonsense approach. Understanding that Devin (he was from Massachusetts) and the predicted 378 deaths in Maine this year from overdoses, up 50 percent over 2015, is not the problem; it is the start of finding a solution. Understanding that, like Devin, those hundreds have names; they were someone’s brother or sister, daughter or son, husband or wife, friend or co-worker.
They were people.
Let’s start with the prevention piece, and then go to the recovery, and finally to getting drugs off the streets while creating accountability for the dealers and suppliers.
Once we get to experience the pure sadness that comes from the reality of a drug overdose and the understanding that mental illness is a disease, we can start to look at a path called “solutions.”
Begin with the premise that drug addicts and people with mental illness want a way out. They have not chosen this; it has chosen them. Ending addiction is easier said than done.
You can tell a lot about a society by how they treat their elderly, their handicapped, and their mentally ill and challenged citizens. In our country, we might get a passing grade but we certainly don’t get the “A” we should. With all the resources we have available, we should do better.
Our country needs to begin by creating awareness. You can stifle the influx of drugs with simple “supply and demand” economics. Drugs are a commodity and if they are not in high demand, the smuggling will dwindle in proportion to the demand.
Next, recovery programs with no judgment. When people get cancer, they are not judged to be weak or looked at as “less than.” Drug addicts and the mentally ill need a hand up, not a system that judges them or looks the other way, ignoring them, as can be the normal practice.
Devin’s parents are upset because the system let them down; they did not get what they needed for their son and the caliber of the social agencies they dealt with sounded less than average. Social workers who did not want to be there, did not want to help, and shifted them to other agencies, once even telling them to call a phone number that turned out to be disconnected. They got an overall general feeling that nobody cares. We need to fix that. We need to care. We need to realize that Devin is not a statistic; he was a beautiful human being who added to the world.
Finally, we do need to get drugs and drug dealers off the streets. Let’s start with the accountability for the man or woman who sold Devin this deadly dose. That is where some serious jail time should be dealt out; not to the penny-ante criminals who fill our penal system jails because they are poor or minorities unable to work the system.
Get these dealers and their suppliers into a cell and begin the process of redemption and restorative justice; getting them off the streets is crucial, but it is not the only thing. We need a well-thought-out battle plan that saves lives and turns people’s lives around.
This is about helping people. I don’t want Devin remembered as a statistic; rather as a kind young man whose life ended too abruptly and perhaps unnecessarily.
We have our memories of Devin to hold on to. We would like a legacy to go with them.
Reade Brower – September 8, 2016