‘Hope & Heart­break’ of­fers glimpses into the alien logic of ad­dic­tion

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Read - BY RICH LORD Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette

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

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