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Sunday, November 12, 2017

One Heroin Overdose

Dear Students,

Hi, this is optional reading. The material in this document will not appear on any exam.

The emerald cockroach wasp lives in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. It is less than an inch long and bright blue-green. The female emerald cockroach wasp approaches large cockroaches and stings them. The female wasp's stinger enters the cockroach brain and paralyzes the cockroach's front legs. The wasp then stings the cockroach in a different region of its brain. This second sting paralyzes the roach's urge to escape from danger. The roach, still very much alive, just sits there as the wasp further invades and controls the roach's body.

The wasp then grasps the roach's antenna. Using that antenna as a leash, the wasp "walks" the roach back to the wasp's burrow, the way that a human walks a dog on a leash. In the burrow, the wasp lays an egg on the roach's abdomen.

The wasp egg hatches and the newborn baby wasp chews its way into the roach's body. The wasp larva eats the still-living roach from the inside. The larva eats the cockroach's internal organs in a chronological order that is most likely to keep the roach alive. That is, the wasp larva eats the least essential internal organs first, saving the heart for last. Once mature, the fully-grown wasp flies away, leaving the hollowed-out shell of the dead cockroach's body.

I recently was told that one of my former students died from a heroin overdose in 2015.

This student was in my class in 2010. We have not been in touch since. Even so, this news caused me to cry and become very upset. I had nightmares. I wondered if I had failed to do something that might have helped him. I did not know he was an addict.

I read the few brief mentions I made of this student in my diary. On October 6, 2010, he and the other students in his group presented a "FABULOUS" presentation on voodoo possession – this group earned a very rare check plus plus plus grade. On November 22, 2010, he slept through my lecture about Heinrich Schliemann. He received check plus grades on every writing assignment, from the very first assignment to the last, all of which he handed in on time. Very few students achieve such a feat.

I read his online obituary, and a Facebook page dedicated to him.

I learned that he became depressed after the death of a loved one. He "self-medicated" with marijuana and then moved on to harder drugs, and eventually heroin. When he overdosed and died, he was twenty-something years old.

He was a handsome, loved, successful, economically comfortable, athletic young man. In online photos, he is smiling, fishing from a row boat, and hugging his younger brother. It's clear from the online tributes to him that his death broke many hearts.

When heroin started coming back in the news in recent years, I was astounded.

Heroin was big in the 1960s, when I was a kid. All sane people recognized heroin as a one-way ticket to Hell. Corey, one of my brother's friends, fought an ugly battle with heroin. He was placed in Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, a tough place to be. He died of a heroin overdose when he was just a teenager.

My friend "Tom" became a male prostitute. Though he was a heterosexual, he had sex with strange men on the streets of New York so he could support his heroin addiction. He contracted hepatitis and was hospitalized. None of the people he thought of as friends came to visit him. Tom hated his own life.

There was an alcoholic in my family, so I lived with addiction. We often went hungry – it was more important to the alcoholic to buy booze than to put food on the table. We went without guidance. It was more important to spend all night drinking than to spend time with the children.

I know that the alcoholic in my family hated being addicted. This alcoholic was haunted by guilt.

I witnessed people trade their selfhood for a chemical. That's it. Nothing more than a chemical.

Addiction is like those parasitic wasps that take over the bodies of cockroaches.

Who benefits from heroin? Not addicts. Heroin marketers benefit.

Drug Kingpins like David Price benefit. Price wore a $35,000 watch. Who put that watch on his wrist? Addicts like my friend, who allowed himself to be sodomized by strangers so he could get together enough cash to shoot heroin into his veins.

Drug cartels torture innocents and destroy entire villages. They use chainsaws to behead victims. They burn people alive and boil people alive. Every time someone buys an illegal drug, that buyer is putting cash into the hands of monsters who have turned swaths of Asia and Central America into hellholes for helpless peasants.

The Taliban, the men who poison girl students in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the men who blow up girls' schools, the men who shot Malala Yousafzai at point-blank range, get their money from the drug trade. Every time someone buys an illegal drug, that person is putting money into the pockets of the Taliban, and making it possible for them to torture more women.

Low-level drug dealers don't benefit. An economist followed street drug dealers. He calculated how many hours they spend on the street and how much money they make. Being a street level drug dealer is a minimum-wage job. When it comes to income, street-level drug dealers might as well be working at McDonald's. Long-term street dealers risk a 1-in-4 chance of getting killed. All illegal drugs are smeared with invisible human blood.

One of my former students was a street-level drug dealer. He had no idea who his own father was. His mother was absent much of the time. He knew, as a young black male, how important family is. And yet he sold drugs, he told me, to pregnant black women, and black women with young children, thus damning another generation to the same misery he had grown up with. All illegal drugs are part of a system that destroys entire communities.

Heroin is a chemical. That's all it is. Heroin isn't peace or love or joy. Heroin is not warmth. Heroin is not a party. Heroin is not anyone's friend. Heroin is not God. Heroin is just a chemical: Diacetylmorphine. It was invented in 1874 by Charles Romley Alder Wright, an English chemist.

Heroin is just like those chemicals the wasp injects into the cockroach. The chemicals control the addict. Heroin changes how the brain functions. It hijacks the addict brain. It forces the addict to think of nothing, to care about nothing, to focus on nothing, but getting more heroin. The chemical takes over and drives the car.

Think of something you enjoy, like playing sports, accomplishing a high grade on campus, being praised by someone you admire, eating a delicious pizza, watching a gorgeous sunset into the Atlantic Ocean, hanging out with family and friends, kissing your boyfriend or girlfriend.

Now imagine doing any of those things, and thinking, seeing, feeling, concentrating on, only one thing: I need more heroin. Not your boyfriend's face. Not the food you are eating. Not your dog or the beach or the playing field. Just one thing: I need more heroin.

That's what heroin does. It makes it impossible for you to experience anything else except the craving for more heroin.

Heroin turns the addict into a machine that funnels more cash to monsters. Drug kingpins become rich because of what heroin does to the addict's brain.

Heroin addicts, in one study, were seen to have much shorter lifespans than non-drug addicts. That's why people offer you heroin. For the drug kingpins to make money, they need more addicts, to replace the ones that die off.

You can read a description of how addiction changes the brain here:

There are YouTube videos of mothers passed out from heroin as their babies and toddlers cry nearby. In the YouTube video linked below, Mandy McGowan of Salem, New Hampshire, is lying on the floor of a dollar store. Her two-year-old daughter, wearing "Frozen" footie pajamas, but no shoes, is crying and tries to wake her up. That child is now being raised by others and McGowan has been charged with child endangerment.  

There are also videos of people passed out on the street from drugs. Here you can see a video of Ronald and Carla Hiers of Memphis unable to move as passersby mock them.

Recently NPR did a piece about female heroin addicts repeatedly being raped. They become too drugged to defend themselves. But they still get high, and they still get raped. You can hear the NPR piece here:

The Guardian ran a piece where many heroin addicts talk about what it's like to be addicted to heroin. You can read that here:

Sometimes we feel pain. Drugs promise escape from that pain. All too often, that promise is a lie. You get five minutes of relief from your pain followed by a lifetime of regret. I've known many addicts, and a couple of dealers. One thing you hear again and again: "I wish I never started. I wish I could turn back time and change the past. I wish I had never first taken drugs."

Please. If you've never taken drugs, don't start. Addicts live in a Hell they wish they had never entered. If you are not using drugs now, you don't have to enter that Hell. Cherish that.  

What if you are already taking drugs?

Ask for help.

Talk to a clergy member, a teacher, a counselor, a doctor, a nurse, the receptionist at a hospital, a police officer. Contact Twelve Step. Visit the Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous websites:,

If you ask someone for help, and that person doesn't help you, ask the next person. And the next. Don't give up.

Never forget that you matter. The Talmud, the ancient book of Jewish wisdom, tells us that we should all regard ourselves as if God created the universe *just for us.* That's right. God created the universe *just for you.* Don't waste yourself. Don't hurt yourself. Don't hand yourself over to a chemical that isn't love, that isn't success, that isn't accomplishment, but is just …  a chemical. Just like the chemical that the wasp injects into the cockroach brain.

What to do then when you are in pain and when you are overwhelmed?

There are many ways to cope with pain other than drugs. Remember – most people don't use drugs. Most people get hurt and find other ways to cope.

Discover what you believe about life's big questions.

What do you think about death? What do you think about suffering? Why do you think we are here?

Do you believe in God? Are you an atheist? Do you believe in Heaven and Hell?

Do some serious reading. Find a tradition that you can work with. Read about the heroes, teachers, and saints of that tradition. Discover what they can teach you about coping day to day. Try prayer, meditation, exercise, sports, dance, art, cooking, doing good deeds, nature, discovery, accomplishment, love, solitude, talking, silence. There are as many ways to cope as there are people. There is a way to cope that will work for you, and you will be happy to find it.

I wasn't close to my student who died of a heroin overdose, and he was in my class several years ago. But he matters to me. We matter to each other. We humans are all in this together. Remember that, and take care of yourself. You matter. God created the universe *just for you.*


  1. Very well said professor, its really sad to see another victim to this senseless drug.

  2. What you have said is absolutely correct - thank you for saying this.