‘Hope & Heartbreak’ offers glimpses into the alien logic of addiction
The drugs — pills, heroin, fentanyl — are pretty similar wherever you go, but each region seems to have its own particular opioid narrative. Sam Quinones captured Ohio’s opioid economy in full throttle in 2015’s “Dreamland.” Beth Macy’s “Dopesick,” published last year, chronicled Appalachian Virginia’s reeling survivors and groundbreaking prosecutors as finger pointing over the epidemic moved to courtrooms. And the recent “Hope & Heartbreak: Beyond the Numbers of the Opioid Epidemic” focuses largely on the pained parents and ragged recoveries of Westmoreland County.
It comes as southwestern Pennsylvania tentatively leads the way toward what may be the epidemic’s slow denouement. Overdose deaths are down steeply here. Addiction, relapse and mourning, though, still seem to be near historic highs. This is the eighth book for Scott Brown, of Greensburg, and it is distinct from the rest of the opioid canon because of the title’s first word: hope.
The book is strongest when it spends some time with a single character, such as Carmen Capozzi, the grieving father who founded Sage’s Army and marched on policymakers from here to the nation’s capital but shrinks from TV shows about grandparents because he’ll never be one. Or when it lingers on Dona Cardiff, a 70year-old woman with custody of two great granddaughters, who slowly won their trust by repeating, “I love you with all my heart, to the moooon and back.”
Brown also brings us glimpses into the alien logic of addiction and recovery. We meet a mother who took her son to buy heroin and then watched him shoot up. Why? Because it seemed a better option than seeing him suffer withdrawal and go on the lam while they waited for a rehab bed to open up.
Then there’s this observation, from a preacher: “One of the things I love about heroin addicts is that in many ways, they understand what our relationship with God is supposed to be like better than anyone else. They love their god, heroin, with all their heart, soul and mind. … When those people find a way to step back from that addiction and turn that same commitment and devotion toward God, it tends to be very effective.”
Hope & Heartbreak: Beyond the Numbers of the Opioid Epidemic
By Scott Brown, Red Mark Publishing, 220 pages, $16.95