Editor’s note: RDN received this letter from a father expressing remorse over the loss of his son to an opioid overdose. Mr. Miller, his wife and family are not alone in his grief for a loved one lost to this epidemic. We print this, hoping it might help others in some way.
It has been a year since we got that phone call in the middle of the night from a Bradenton, Florida detective, who said, "Mr. and Mrs. Miller, I regret to inform that" ... blah, blah, blah. Not sure your mother heard the rest. She was on the floor in a heap, your sister on the floor in a heap beside her. As it turns out you died from an accidental overdose. Opiate abuse seems to be the bane of your entire generation. Yeah, times in the-late-2000-teens are bad, but times have always been bad, or bad enough.
Both your mom and I were born in the 60's. We survived near misses with Communist Russia, the assassination of President Kennedy and the Vietnam War. There was civil unrest and racial tension over the war and school desegregation. Times were very uncertain. People died, your momma was there during the riots as a 7 year old student in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In the 70’s, the war in Vietnam was still raging, there was political unrest, our government confiscated the gold from it's citizens, inflation ran rampant and with the completion of the new I-75, drugs started to pour into my hometown, Bradenton. Times were very uncertain. People died, men my father worked with in the commercial fishing industry were found floating face down in Tampa Bay, victims of the darkest side of the drug trade. Overnight, gas went from .60 cents to $1.06 a gallon and cars were lined up for blocks at every gas station. You could not go anywhere without seeing the uncertainty of the times. Heroin was big in the rock music scene which I suppose "glamorized" opiates (drug use in general) for every generation to follow. I mean, disco. That had to be drug induced because no rational, sentient person would ever... (sigh)
We had AIDS and the Cold War in the 80's when tensions again ran high with Russia. I mean the very thought of the mutual destruction of the two strongest nations on earth and the "fallout" that would follow had grown men wringing their hands. Times were rough. Then there were actual engaged wars in the 90's in Croatia and Kuwait/Iraq. Naturally, more people died. Joey, there has never been a time without turmoil. There were stock market crashes in the early 2000's that crippled and stalled our economy, and the second phase of Iraq. Due to government over-regulation and taxation, US corporations began moving off-shore taking millions of jobs with them. Imagine, perfectly capable, well educated adults not being able to find a job in the greatest nation on earth? People were in despair, thousands died, some by their own hand.
I can barely remember what was going on in the early 2000's because your mom and I had just moved the family from your hometown on the Florida Gulf coast to rural south-central Salem, Missouri in order to raise you and your 6 siblings in the country where we were busy building a home and a new life on 62 acres. You were a vital part in the success of that project even at a young age. In fact it was you and I who built the cabin for visiting guests when you were what, 12-13 years old? And you helped build the barn when you were only 8.
It was terrible growing up reading in the newspapers in "real time" the number of people every decade who died as a direct or indirect result of the turmoil of their times. But this time, it was not someone else's son, someone from another country, from another state, or another family. It was my son....it was you. Which brings us to today. There are a hundred questions that I might ask you if I could, but boil them all down to one and it would be this. Just what was so bad about these times that merited your untimely death a year ago and the countless, untold deaths JUST like yours all over this country? Joey, you were special to us, you had possibilities, but everything you were to us and everything you could have been is lost in a tidal wave of senseless opioid deaths. To everyone but your family, you have become a number. A statistic.
And that ticks me off.
I know you know this story—you lived it. You were our second foster child. As a newborn, you were taken from a home of generational drug abuse among other sordid things. You were spared the indignities suffered by some of your older siblings, but seemingly inherited every bad habit of your biological parents. You had a normal childhood 1,000 miles away from them. You climbed trees, wrecked bikes, had snow-ball fights, rode horses all over this side of the county, and argued with your siblings (now numbering 8 as two more foster children had been adopted). You were bright intellectually, but struggled academically. Even though you were left-handed, I taught you the basics and you learned how to play my right-handed guitar, and you were very talented. You hunted and fished. You bought and wrecked your first car. You went through the same learning curve as have hundreds of generations before you. The turning point for you was when you fell in love at 15, got her pregnant at 16, then had your heart broken when she left, leaving your son with us while you were away at welding school trying to learn a trade so you could support your small family.
As devastated as we all were about this, what you did to console yourself, to ease your pain was even more devastating, and that's on you and no one else. Heroin! Joey, really?
That ticks me off!
I got my heart broken by Sherri Huggins when I was 15. Only took me about 10 years to fully recover, to get my mojo back. Initially, I cried myself to sleep, then I slowly withdrew from friends and family. I did not let myself enjoy family or school outings. I hurt—and I felt it. Every. Single. Pang. Had I not endured, overcome, I would not be who I am today. I am alive, and I have the physical and emotional scars to prove it. When the going gets tough, the tough...stick a needle in their arm. Said by no one. Ever.
And, while it destroys me to say it publicly, you are not alive today and all you have to show for your mere 23 years on this earth are the track marks. An entire third of your life, lost in a dark void of depression, drugs and self-loathing. You hated what you are doing, said you could quit any time, but were powerless to overcome it, and everyone knew it.
When you were a young teen working for neighbors to earn spending money, you learned that Rose, our neighbor at the end of the road, had actually tied her meth-addicted son to a tree in back of their place in order to dry him out, to break the evil, wretched spell of the drugs. It seemed as if you actually respected her for what she did as you later shared this story with us over supper.
Years later, when you were scooped up in a house raid, when asked under interrogation, you admitted to stealing $5,000 worth of jewelry which we had reported stolen from your mothers jewelry box. We were missing multiple rings, chains, necklaces and bracelets from your brothers and sisters, as well as own mother, whom you adored. When the alleged drugs in the house all turned out to be diet pills, all the charges were dropped. Everybody walked, except you. We taught you to be honest. You could have lied about the jewelry heist, but you didn't. So you did your first stint in jail where you were forced to dry out, just like Rose's son.
Joey, we taught you to be honest. And we always taught you that you would never be punished for telling the truth. I guess we unintentionally lied to you. I'm not sure how to feel about that.
We found out later that we could have bailed you out right away, but because you had stolen from us (we were the plaintiff, and you ended up being the defendant) we thought we couldn't. So you were left in jail for a few months. When we learned that we could spring your for bail, we did.
You broke our hearts when you told us of your own horrible withdrawal in jail, without the beneficial assistance of any of the medical treatments that are available to drug addicts on the street. But unlike Rose's son, you turned back to the drugs.
To add insult to injury, you followed your older brother down the garden path of drug abuse. He's still here, but if things don't change, who knows. And, thankfully, you will never know the rest of the story. As devastating as your death was to the entire family, your own little sister has slid in and out of drug abuse. Joey, what you did was stupid. It was stupid, senseless and selfish. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing twice, and expecting different results. Apparently stupidity breeds insanity. How on earth did several children from a normal American household come to the same cross-roads, only to choose the wrong path when they were taught right from wrong?
Ok, I get it. I think. It has nothing to do with what you were or were not taught or how bad things are, it was about hope. Or rather the lack of it. The issue, as I see it now, is what does this mean for us, your parents, your siblings, your son, and everyone else in general? In order for Millennials to have so drastically lost hope, that means that Baby Boomers and Gen X'ers have really screwed things up.
How I wish that rebellion and disillusionment still meant a pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in a T-shirt sleeve, sulking and driving too fast. But where did that get James Dean? He died at 24.
Joey, I'm sorry. I know it wasn't exactly my fault that you stuck a needle in your arm. But the condition of the world you were born into is the responsibility of the adults who came before you, and that includes me. So even though mom and I thought to adopt you, offer you a future you otherwise may not have had, loved you, home schooled and protected you, loved you, taught you right from wrong, gave you a spiritual foundation, loved you, taught you a good work ethic by giving you chores on the farm, provided your every need growing up, and loved you some more, we apparently did NOT provide you with hope. Nor did we insulate you enough from a world that has spun so "hopelessly" out of control.
And I will never get the opportunity to tell you or admit just how sorry I am. (Double entendre intended)
You were sweet and challenging, helpful and trouble, beautiful and thoughtless, carefree and careless, intelligent and naïve, daring yet fearful, among many, many other things. After re-reading that, it would appear that either one or the other of us was bi-polar, but I digress. You were full of contradictions so this final one is fitting: You were so very alive, and now dead.
I want to believe that if you could do it all over again that you would not do it all over again. Does that make sense? If anyone can understand that statement, you could. The only problem I see now is that while you are dead, the demons that drove you to extinction are alive and well and are still on a blood thirsty binge, taking the lives of a huge number of Millennials.
And that hacks me off. And one year later, I still don't have any answers, and apparently, no one else does either.
Some are calling this an epidemic, others a disease, and this is not just a problem in the good ol' US of A. Europe, South and Central America, Asia, Australia, nearly every continent is reeling from drug abuse and staggering under the number of drug related deaths. Rich or poor, black or white, blue or white collar, male or female, metro or rural—it does not seem to matter. It appears that the only demographic not deeply affected are Muslims. And whether you agree or disagree with Islam, there are two things that prevent the same rampant drug use from pervading this sector of humanity: their faith and the fear of punishment. Hmm, wonder if there is a connection. Yeah, I know, they cut off the arms of thieves and publicly kill drug dealers (and I'm talking about the good, decent law abiding Muslim countries). And while that may seem shocking or inhumane, Joey, might I ask how your death was humane?
You died because some farmer purposefully grew poppy flowers, another person bought the raw opium. Someone else boiled it down and refined it. Someone cut, bundled, and transported it. Someone else brought it into this country illegally. Someone else perhaps cut it again or diluted it to increase their profits. Someone along the way laced it with Fentanyl, peddled it, and then someone else sold it to you. That chain still exists. Maybe with different links, but the links never break; they just break the law and continue to flaunt the law, while you rot in the ground. How is that justifiable? How is that excusable?
This hacks me off! How can we let this continue?
The war on drugs is not working. It never has worked. Because just like Vietnam, where our soldiers were not allowed to win, law enforcement is not allowed to win the war on drugs. It seems that drug czars have the same civil rights and protections that you had Joey, as well as better lawyers. The same freedoms that allowed you to stick a needle in your arm apparently permits drug lords to continue to peddle their wares, unabated. I mean, we wouldn't want to hurt their little feelings by actually putting any teeth in the current laws. That would be inhumane. It would put thousands of people in the drug trade of out work. And save millions of lives perhaps, but that is irrelevant. Right?
Which should hack off every living person on this earth.
Then there are the teens selling/transporting opiate drugs for a living because they cannot find a job (because there aren't any). Then there are the middle-aged or retirees selling their opiate prescription because they can't afford groceries or other more necessary medications.
Joey, Prince (the musician entertainer) died about 3 weeks before you did, having the exact same cause of death. But it gave you no pause. So, if Prince jumped off a bridge, are you gonna jump off too? "No, dad. That's stupid. I can think for myself," you would have said. The world sat on the edge of their seat for maybe three days waiting for the autopsy results. We had to wait 3 months.
I read this in a RealTruth.org article on Drug Abuse. "A few days later, local police enter the young woman’s apartment after receiving a report of a missing person. Her lifeless body is sprawled across the floor, a needle by her side. She leaves behind a family that will mourn the loss of a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, but who will also feel a strange sense of relief that her long, painful battle is over." And as difficult as it is to admit it, I completely understand.
Which hacks me off again! No parent should ever have to even try to comprehend such a horrific statement!
What was one of the sayings we taught you while growing up? If you forget history, you are ... "doomed to repeat it. Yeah, I know dad." I can still hear your voice as I write this. The problem seems to be a collective forgetfulness, chronic ignorance and/or complete apathy in Millennials. Or worse yet, complete apathy toward your generation by mine. It is difficult for me to fathom either one.
Well, history may not remember your generation; there may not be many of you left in a few years if the powers-that-be don’t wake up to this atrocity. But we still remember and miss you. To us you are...(sigh) were our son, Joseph Lee Miller—“Bucky" to your momma. Regrettably, you might be a stupid statistic in the grand scheme of things, but you were a lot more than a number to us. A whole lot more.
I was sad a year ago. Now, I'm mad.