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As a student, Sarah Dessen was my idol. We were both from North Carolina and lived in neighboring cities when I was growing up. It was easy for me to imagine the neighborhoods their characters grew up in and the schools they went to because they were similar to mine. While books like That Summer were fiction, they always felt real to me.
When I saw a few years ago that she was going to be at my favorite indie bookstore for a writer’s talk on the rest of the story, I knew I had to see her, even though I was way older than her target audience.
I bought the book before they talked and expected it to be another coming-of-age novel set in the suburbs. I thought a signed copy would be a nice gift for my teenage sister.
But then Dessen started to speak. While I can’t remember what she said verbatim, I do remember: She wrote the rest of the story because she was inspired by years of obituaries. She had noticed that more and more young people were dying. Her obituaries all seemed to glaze over the cause of death. Whose began to wonder why.
Over time, some of the parents became more open. Too often, the opioid epidemic has been the common denominator. Whose felt the weight of it and decided to write a book that spoke openly about addiction. The rest of the story was the result. The protagonist Emma Saylor lost her mother to an opioid overdose.
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Then I quickly realized that I would keep the book to myself.
I couldn’t read it right away. Like Dessen’s other novels, it would feel too real. Do you remember how our schools and neighborhoods always felt the same? Well, in my world, people lost their lives to drugs too.
This March, a family member lost his life to heroin. He was only 28 years old, just a little younger than the boyfriend I lost to an overdose last year. His obituary wasn’t directly about drugs or addiction, but his service did.
After the funeral, I finally picked up the book I had put off.
The opioid epidemic in fiction
In The Rest of The Story, Emma vividly remembers the last time she saw her mother. The crisp white Keds she wore to Thanksgiving dinner, the way she made everyone laugh, the plans she made for a future night. Your “healthy look after the treatment”. The little details that somehow added up to something hopeful.
She also recalls that just weeks later, her mother made a wrong decision that she couldn’t come back from:
… My mother skipped their nightly meeting and went to a bar with some friends. There she had a few beers, met a man, and went back to his house where they pooled their money to buy heroin to keep the party going hold. She had previously overdosed twice, each of which led to another rehab stay and a clean start. Not this time.
Page 20, The rest of Sarah Dessen’s story
If you’ve ever lost someone you love, maybe that is as familiar to you as it is to me: the impossible act, what you thought you knew about someone’s bright future, consistent with the abrupt end of their life bring to.
Other things hit me with the same blow as the way Emma’s mother discovered opioids after being prescribed for an injury. It’s one thing to know that this is what happens when you read about it in the headings. Reading a novel that is a character that reflects the experiences of the people you have loved and lost is a different thing.
An expert meddles on opioid addiction during the pandemic
I reached out to Nidhi Sachdeva to learn more about how the pandemic is affecting addiction. She is a public health expert at Duke University, focusing on harm reduction and the opioid epidemic. I had to wonder what a book on opioid use would look like when it was written in mid-2020.
Sachdeva pointed out that the answer was complex and complex. One problem was the unintended consequences of social distancing. “AA meetings and recovery groups are not in person. People’s support systems have been disrupted, ”she said. Other consequences can be fatal. “People who use opioids are currently more isolated, which means they are more likely to overdose. There is no one to answer with naloxone or to call for help if necessary. “
Money was another problem. The more people are on vacation or for money, the more stress and pressure they are exposed to. “It can be difficult to maintain recovery during all of this.”
The pandemic has also created a problem in the supply chain. “Customers may not be able to access their dealers as often now as they do regularly, which disrupts the trustworthy relationship with their supplier. They do not know what is in their drugs or what the potency is. They can’t get their drugs at the frequency they’re used to, so they back off and are desperate, or their tolerance is up and down. “
The opioid epidemic in the media
I asked Sachdeva what she wished more people knew about addiction than an expert on the subject. “Addiction is often portrayed in the media in a really terrible way – very sensational – and that does a disservice to all of us. All this hard love thing is not helping. It’s harmful. People who use drugs are people. They are our friends, families, people we love. “
I think that’s why I loved the rest of the story so much. It’s a story about an overdose, but it’s also a story about a daughter who started seeing her mother for everything else she was when you took the drugs off. The book doesn’t shy away from talking about the hurtful things that happened as a result of drug use, but it also distracts from demonizing a woman who’s had problems. It sums up what so many of us have experienced – loss and love.