What Heroin and PillAddiction is Doing to American Families with Alicia Cook

United States


00:00:00Lucid moments with her are fewer and far between she is but I'm not forgetting who she used to be
00:00:08God tell me what to do when you lose a person who is still standing in front of you dear God please don't take her away from me there is still so much in life she has yet to see like true love nephews and nieces and things with time like old age creases
00:00:26dear God please allow her just one more turn to take back her life and learn that she is here for a reason that this cold weather is nothing but a passing season show her clear days could be found a head but none of this is possible if she is first found dead God you have shown me the devil lives in this powder and if you can't hear my plea I promise to pray louder
00:01:16welcome to episode 27 of unscripted I'm your host now daily psychotherapist journalist TV commentator and mother and you've just heard the voice of author and award-winning activist Alicia cook reading a poem she wrote about heroin addiction
00:01:36the best way for us to stay in touch with you is through social media so let's be friends come follow us over at nail daily on Instagram and Facebook and now given daily you can also email us at nail at the deli that's the Daly with feedback or show suggestions were totally open to that and we're also always looking for brand Partnerships that feel a line so if you are feeling called to work with us you can email Michael at the daily and he'll hook you up and answer all of your questions
00:02:09we've had a lot in the media about the heroin problem that's sweeping the United States for those of you who don't know much about it here is a little crash course when I was in college you didn't hear much about heroin you also didn't hear much about Xanax or things like Prozac it was still there was still actually how do I say this pretty big taboo against taking psychiatric medications for depression and anxiety at that time and that was the late 1990s but by the time I finish my clinical training and became a licensed psychotherapist which is about 6 years later we were actually being taught to diagnose and then most of the time recommend I forgot your console for medications for anything and everything under the sun PMS postpartum depression insomnia panic attacks chronic fatigue agoraphobia bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 you name it we tried to Medicated this snowballs and became a vicious vicious cycle big Pharma push the drugs to doctors and see
00:03:09advertising campaigns and doctors made tons of money prescribing these drugs in the town where I practice mostly which is New York City doctors were charging 500 plus an hour for sometimes just to be honest with you sometimes just even a half hour to 15 minute session and there were getting paid that kind of money
00:03:28I worried privately about the ethics of all of this but I was told over and over again there was science behind these drugs and that these drugs could help make people's lives better so why have them suffer needlessly when there was a little pill we could give them
00:03:43let me just give you a little example after 9/11 I remember a few patients coming to me asking if I thought that they should get a script for Klonopin for upcoming plane rides that seem reasonable to me most of us were afraid to fly after 9/11 especially if you were from New York or Washington at that point doctors were still just giving out one or two Klonopin at a time maybe a little Xanax just to get you to the flight a few years later I had patients coming to me and some very close friends were disclosing that they were taking Xanax twice a day when you question their usage they would say something like yeah but my doctor told me it was just a smallest dose so it doesn't really matter or a barely counts opiates were becoming a huge issue as well I heard Collies Whispering that too many people are addicted to a drug called Oxy Cotton which most of us have all heard about this point
00:04:35this became like a perfect storm
00:04:38let me make something perfectly clear these drugs were never study for long-term usage patients were never probably briefed on side effects and they were never fully worn about what's called the tapering effect
00:04:53I've seen patients always suffer more when they take the drugs getting them off which is called tapering is often scary to watch especially benzos and opiates
00:05:03here's another quick Stat one study found that using benzos for 6 months on a regular basis gives you a 40% more likelihood of early-onset Alzheimer's according to the CDC 91 American's die every day from opiate overdose the amount of prescription opiates soul to pharmacies hospitals and doctors offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010
00:05:30get there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported deaths from prescription opiates have more than quadrupled since 1999 so I just want to go back to the office timers, statistic really quickly many people complain that when they take these drugs like you know a Xanax or Klonopin that they are foggy and that definitely has to do with the fact that it causes some amount of memory loss
00:05:59another CDC study found that people who use prescription painkillers are 40% more likely to use heroin so there you go
00:06:09we used to say the pot with the gateway drug I don't know how many of you guys remember this but there was that famous slogan during the Reagan years now we know that pain medication are the gateway drug to heroin and psychiatric medications that also dull mood and pain are like this what I call second wave of drugs compounding the problem as one of my teachers Frances Weller says we're a culture that is obsessed with amnesia and anesthesia
00:06:36my guess today is Alicia cook a New Jersey native writer and activist she's going to tell us the story of her cousin Jessica who tragically died of a heroin overdose when Alicia was in college
00:06:50Alicia and Jessica story mirrors the stories of so many other American families a talented writer with an enormous heart and a huge amount of energy realize after her cousin had died but there wasn't really a voice out there for families struggling with Heroin addiction and she wanted to be that voice
00:07:10at this point over 1.2 million people have read her poetry and essays
00:07:16she covers so much of the human condition in her work not just a diction with me which makes it very compelling reading for anyone going through anything
00:07:28her work is what she likes to call a mixtape and I would agree with that without further Ado the open-hearted and brave Alicia cook
00:07:58Alicia it's so wonderful to have you on the show today thank you so much for joining me thank you I'm excited can you tell me about your story how you came to work in the area of addiction recovery centers around heroin
00:08:26sure what I've learned since being in it is that nearly everyone that is involved in recovery addiction treatment advocacy has been touched by addiction personally and and that's that's my story I lost my cousin Jessica cook when we were very young she was 19 and I had just turned 20 she died from a drug overdose and one of our last conversations revolves around her situation and how how dire it had become and she really didn't think that she was going to to make it out of her addiction and we were both very artistic growing up and she was a writer as well love she actually got me into poetry when we were younger and
00:09:13so she said if this can't all be for nothing if I don't make it out of it can you can you write about it at 20 years old I was still laying even I said you're going to make it out this is ridiculous conversation you're not going anywhere and sadly 6 weeks later she died and about six years to the day of her death I began blogging about addiction so you grew up with this cousin in Suburban New Jersey
00:09:46yeah she she lived in Morris County and I grew up between Essex and Ocean County in New Jersey and how did she start to use heroin she obviously was in high school when she started using heroin yes we we discovered that she she was using
00:10:07she was probably definitely 17 if not a little before that it started with pills it started with her hanging around older people that were experimenting with pills and subsequently harder drugs and she very quickly moved on to heroin from only discovered her addiction to when she passed away it was about an 18-month spend so it was it was pretty quick and it was she in a relationship with someone who introduced her to heroin do you know how she got involved in the pills in it in the heroine yes she she started hanging around a group of older
00:10:55people I guess back then they were in their early twenties or so and she was about 17 so she started dating someone that I don't like to talk about because I don't like to give him any kind of recognition or anything like that but he did introduce her to drugs and they they both were basically on this crazy downward spiral she overdosed and died and from what I understand he's been in and out of jail is still alive and has procreated now has a child
00:11:32did did was heroin when you were growing up I know you are and you're how old now 30 now you're 10 years younger than I am with Heroin on your radar screen it all when you were growing up is this is this sort of like a drug that cuz it was 10 years ago now was this a drug that you knew kids were doing or was it still sort of hidden in the shadows was still still had a much thicker I like to say stigma attached to it however my generation back 10 years ago we were 19 and 20 I was pills were very prevalent and what kind of pills did you see kids using Percocets Roxy's Oxys
00:12:19Xanax which are chemical cousins to heroin we have since realized course and Sochi as many I hear many patients start to use many patients that iPad has started to use heroin and drugs because of their involved in interpersonal relationship where they get introduced to them in the drug use gets wrapped up into that relationship and yeah I think teenagers in particular are susceptible to that as we all know right then this is incredible to me having a journalist in art degree in my background as well besides being a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist you are the creative and so your cousin passes away tell me where were you when you found out she passed away how did you find out what was your initial response to her death
00:13:19I was in my Shakespeare
00:13:24by Shakespeare to class at the end of May in college and so poetic at this point right when I think back because for a very long time it didn't discuss
00:13:36it was 10 years her 10-year anniversary of her death just passed in September and that was when I finally told my family my aunt and uncle which her parents even about our last conversation and I always kept that to myself because I felt like they needed hope you know I wasn't going to run when she was alive and tell them Jessica thinks she's not going to make it out what are we doing I didn't want to take that hook from them and I kind of just kept it to myself I didn't I didn't tell anyone but my own mother so then we're sitting I'm sitting in my Shakespeare to class and back then you had flip phones and my cell phone kept ringing and also back then you only use your cell phone to communicate text or phone call and I had seen that my father was calling me and he called me twice and even to this day my father very rarely calls me
00:14:29and I just had a weird feeling but I didn't think anything about Jessica honestly because last I had heard she was in rehab for a very long time and then the program was working and she was doing well so she was in rehab
00:14:45up until 24 hours before she died and anyway I get a call from my dad I finally take it and he said Jess is gone and I had it I just assimilated that with her running away so I thought she may be ran away from the rehab or something because she had disappeared a couple times do you mean she ran away what's going on he said no Alicia she's gone and his emphasis on the word gone the way he said it I knew he meant that she was she passed away and then I hung up the phone he told me to drive safe I hung up the phone and I went back into class and I finished the class right I'm sure in a State of Shock at that point I got I got physically ill once I left class by my car outside
00:15:37and then I drove home and for 5 days to follow where
00:15:45very very hard to to Bear witness to not even for my own pain but what I what I saw my aunt and uncle go through in those for 5 days with something that I can't unsee how old were you at that point you and I was I was freshly 20 Jess was 19 we were born 10 months apart and now I'm 10 years older than her which is something that has been weighing on me lately the fact that I'm a Whole Decade older than her now and then she didn't she what you're saying is that she stopped aging at that point in her life because she passed and you continued on a polarizing at times parallel to my aunt and uncle because we were so close and had so many similarities and and now I've I've just I continued on my trajectory and especially in the beginning I know it was very hard for my definitely my aunt to
00:16:38to see that because it's almost like the question that keeps coming up as well why did this happen to have to happen to her
00:16:46as you continue to your progressing through your life stages and they don't have their daughter anymore to do that with and
00:16:57no she doesn't my aunt doesn't go to bridal showers my uncle cannot stay in weddings during the father-daughter dances just it's 10 years and it just it's still never gets easier especially I can't even imagine her parents so the Genesis of my work is I speak about my cousin in the beginning of it is right about her but I realize once such a warm reception happens to my work on my writing on Jessica I realize like I need to speak about what the families who love someone struggling with addiction go through because there was an invoice for that so you gave voice to their pain so can you tell the listeners what you did did you get in creatively in terms of your process did you start writing a lot of people heal through writing a lot of people journal and that's the way they work out there feeling incredibly healthy thing to do as a creative person did you turn to the your pen and paper to process when it happened or for some artists that kind of trauma stops US
00:17:57from creating anything for a while
00:18:01no pain fuels my work on whether I'm writing about addiction or not much to my father's upsetness sometimes but why cuz he wishes you would reveal so much on the page we all know I mean my family I've been riding since I was 8 years old my family knows that everything's father and I am I'm respectful like I understand I just it's understood what I could write about and can't write about but just like if I write about relationships or something like that my father always says I wish you would write something happy right now it said it but writers Live Twice they they they live when they actually experience the moment they live it again when they write about it again I love that phrase that we really are people who live life twice over those of us who write so you took you took this experience and you started writing about it right away
00:18:50privately I wrote about it right away I kept journals back then I had an old like an older laptop and she passed away in 2006 I journaled probably the rest of college and I did write one poem almost within a couple months of her death that that my college poetry magazine published at the time and then and then I started writing I guess in 07 I started just blogging to myself almost like in that style and I saved everything I didn't publish any of it to this day it's still not publish and I wrote about 75,000 unpublish words on my cousin just to work out what was happening
00:19:39and then and that's amazing and then so prolific and then when did you start actually putting your work out there
00:19:472014 and what was your medium to get it out there what did you first start using a log
00:19:56I use the blog and then Thought Catalog Elite Daily and local news New Jersey newspapers started running it especially in my state it started the epidemic really started snowballing I guess in 2013 2014 which also fueled my desire to put maybe put some of my words out there because I had experience and I wanted to try to create some hope or create some change for families that were in it at that moment and it went to you and your opinion sort of a constellation of events that occurred that heightens the epidemic in 2013 2014 in the state of New Jersey that you know about in my opinion it is 20 years the bad mistakes and bad choices 20 years of failures caught up to us around that time and answer in terms of what in terms of policy drug policy
00:20:56yes big Pharma capping prescriptions they were running rampant are on the southern border just is funneling in heroin left and right but I always argue that the only reason it's funneling and how it how it is because we gave them the market because the pills are made her in our country they're here so I'll just all though it was not big Pharma when I was growing up and again I'm 10 years old and I think it's important for every one of our listeners to understand this I spent most of the beginning of my career convincing people to not feel ashamed of their mental illness because we have these drugs now on the market that would quote on quote care your depression in your anxiety so we medicated feelings constantly and now get over the last couple of years I'll spend the rest of my my career unraveling that and saying oh my god what have we done that we prescribed all of these pills to all of these people
00:21:56other massively addicted they became gateway drugs into people using much heavier things and then creating massive epidemics around the country especially with young people
00:22:07Yes actually a new CDC study showed that users of prescription drugs are 40 times more likely to use heroin than others and that figure pretty much cements commonly prescribed medication is a threshold for I-25 heroin addicts did use pills first so so here we have it 2013 2014 you start blogging and is that blog still exist now or did you get my created at all to my series which by series kicked off in October
00:22:472015 into that series and tell us what you mean by Siri so all the listeners understand what you're talking about once my writing start getting a response from from families I realize that there was a need to keep writing about it maybe even open a window and let families reach out to me if they wanted me to share their stories and narrative form and that's what I did and it's still happening so I started the series and I called it the other side of addiction because I want it families to understand that so you aren't addicted you're so you're you're in this addiction world you're just on the other side of it experiencing different things but still things that are maybe just as painful
00:23:32and it says it's an essay series and for the most part now it's on the Huffington Post but on my website I migrate all my Publications
00:23:42to all this one page on my web page where people could click off and read different things they want to read and yeah it's I'm books right now with interviews through through March so it hasn't slowed down family is family still want their story to be heard because they know what can make a difference creative spin on it and produce back and nonfiction essay about what happened to that particular family with words is certainly your you are adapt and have a gorgeous way with words and so I want to make sure that we tell our listeners where they can find all of your work because it's incredible which leads me to obviously the next set of questions which is what your work actually also does besides helping ease pain and help us put a perspective
00:24:42into this epidemic around our country that so many families are dealing with but let's just go back really quickly so the other side of addiction is your website and then how I found you was through Instagram someone said when they found out I was doing a piece on heroin they said you know you really need to check out this girl's Instagram account and so your Instagram account is incredible because it has Snippets of all of your work and that's impossible my poetry and then the headlines of all my my addiction series and did you is that your largest social media following is on your Instagram account or is it did you have more people visiting your website where do you find most of your following going to
00:25:24it's it's definitely my my busy social my busy social media platform is my Instagram but 1.2 million people have read my essay Series in one way or another that's amazing amazing yes yes it's so weird that you said that so beautifully before we started recording this call he said the irony of all of my work is that I wish I almost didn't have to do it basically because there's a bittersweetness around it as much as it's something beautiful is centered around something incredibly painful for people which is this this experience so you wrote a book of poetry and you self-publish it and you sold it to all of the people out there who read your work and get so much from it
00:26:12how do you find a time as an artist to be this prolific when you're actually working full-time as well jumping track of all of this I don't sleep my drive is literally sometimes my only I guess like my only push is the fact that my my drive has not slowed down because there's so much more I know we need to do as a community and nationally to even get ahead of this epidemic and and yeah I just I sleep when I can but the causes my my main mission at this point I think I also want to make clear a lot of the shows that I've done already for the podcast talk to people who feel as if they're in service to something greater than themselves and it's huge I didn't have a calling a year ago I mean I was a social worker so my calling was always to help people but I didn't have that
00:27:11I would look at activist there's a difference between being in helping profession in real Actavis social activist and they run on this product this energy that just seems otherworldly to me and you think how did they do this like what is the motivation and when I started getting closer to those people personally there was a moment there I thought oh God I don't want to call him I don't want to hear it I don't want I don't want to be in service because I know I would never sleep again right because once you get your teeth into that mission and you feel like it's your Soul's purpose and it's in your bones everything else hurts to fall away and that becomes such a singular Focus but you you can accomplish so much and it don't you drive so much pleasure from it even if it comes from a painful place it it it still such a need in your life that it's a pretty incredible thing to experience and I always hope and pray now for people to to be called to service whatever that service is but it sounds
00:28:11like you heard you're calling and whether you wanted to or not whether it comes from a place of pain or not and your heating to it almost as if you have no choice as an artist
00:28:20I think that is so true I never really looked at it that way but I I absolutely feel like this is what I was meant to do I always knew I wanted to be a writer I always knew you know Eva Mae Young age my mother said you always knew what to say how to say it how to express yourself verbally end and in the written word and when all this started happening I just hate to think that families are losing their children their loved ones in vain and when I lost my cousin I went on a crazy Quest I guess for understanding of why this had to happen to Jessica why she came from a good family she came from my she's my own blood why why did this happen and back then I couldn't find any resources that spoke honestly about what the family goes through and I said not usually I said I'll be that voice I remember I went home and told my mother I'm going to start writing about it
00:29:20and I said I'll be the voice for families and and the Restless is a crazy concoction of timing and and Talon and Anna passion in a true belief that that these people that suffer from addiction is not a moral failing they are sick and families need to heal no matter what happens well I don't think I don't think I mean to have your voice in the dark out there his is an Incredible Gift to so many already and I have a feeling that your career has just begun as a writer as well that you're going to have a long long road ahead of you in terms of how much beautiful work you're going to channel
00:30:10into this world and as much as I hate to say to patients who are in pain or anyone has gone through this kind of experience if there is a silver lining to it all week I think that that can be a really hard thing to hear obviously there's probably one person and not listening to this podcast saying if there is one silver line to your cousin's passing through heroin it's your crusade to change the perception around the drug and to help others not fall into fall into the cracks so to speak so if we want to again find your work we go to your Instagram account which is the Alicia cook which I love awesome name and we can also go to the other side of addiction
00:31:21thank you so much for joining us on and Skip to today please again follow is over at Instagram and now they lay on Facebook at Nell Gibbon Daly we are creating a really cool tribe over there and if you have any questions about this episode or any past episode where there's about addiction or love or health in any regard don't hesitate to email us at Nell n e l l at the deli. Com I'm still checking as always everyone May The Light in Me Shine to the light in you namaste

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