Tagged: Heroin

Crowdsourced Playlist: Loss (Actual or Almost)

Each week, I host a “crowdsourced playlist.” I give the theme (and three examples) and the crowd throws in their suggestions. Check out the progress on this week’s playlist below, or head over to Facebook to follow me and contribute.

In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, I’ve been seeing comments about how strong people survive addiction and it kills the weak.

Several years ago, I was working at a gritty coffee shop directly across the street from Tompkins Sq. I was also volunteering at a drop-in center for young homeless people, where one of the services was training on how to recognize a heroin overdose and administer an opiate-blocker, Narcan.

The drop-in center was particularly quiet one day, and the coffee shop where I worked had a long history of heroin ODs, so I took the training and got my Narcan kit.

A couple of weeks later, I was sitting in Tompkins Sq. when I saw a street kid who was clearly not doing well. I asked his friends if he needed Narcan and they said if I had some that would be great. By the time I gave it to him, he had stopped breathing and his lips were blue. I injected him with two doses, which was enough to get him snoring. In most cases, two doses would have woken him up, but he was that far gone. The paramedics showed up and I slipped away. I talked to another street kid a couple of days later and asked if he knew “Horse,” the kid I gave the Narcan to, and he said he did and Horse was fine.

A couple of weeks later, I was working and someone came in, used the restroom, and went into an OD from the drugs he had apparently injected right before he came in. It took me about 10 minutes to notice he had been in the restroom for a long time, and by the time I knocked on the restroom door and then got it open, he was gone. Paramedics worked on him for 20 minutes and got a heartbeat back, but he never regained consciousness and he was taken off life support 11 days later.

Here’s the thing: if I hadn’t be volunteering at the drop-in center; if there hadn’t been a slow day at the center; if I had decided to use that time to talk to other staff instead of getting a training; if I hadn’t happened to carry the Narcan with me; if I hadn’t sat in a particular spot in the park; if I had just ignored the situation with the kids for a few more minutes; if the heroin he had taken had been just a little stronger; if if if, Horse would have died.

If the coffee shop hadn’t been so busy a couple of weeks later; if I had checked on that guy a few minutes earlier; if I had injected him with Narcan faster, the other guy might have lived.

I don’t know what ever became of Horse. He might be dead now; he might be living in a starter house in Newark where he and his wife are raising their first child. The point is, he never would have had the chance to survive if not for a huge set of factors, many of them impossible to predict and none within his control. That guy in the restroom? Maybe he would have gone sober the next day if he could have just lived one more day.

We never know who might have gone to their first NA meeting tomorrow if they hadn’t ODed today; we never know who would have ODed tomorrow if they hadn’t checked into rehab today. The difference between surviving addiction and not, between being lost and being saved, is often just a matter of timing and luck (followed by lots and lots of hard work).

All of which is to say, this week’s playlist theme: Loss (actual or almost)