Heroin nightmare: 'He decided not to be'

Parents struggle with sons' disease of addiction


FALMOUTH, Maine – Four years ago, hooked and broke from spending his restaurant salary on drugs, David called his mother and told her he had no place to live.

He and his old high school girlfriend had broken up. Would Anne take him in? Mother and son hadn't lived together for nearly a decade. She brought him home.

"It was so painful to see him, not because of drugs, but because he was so directionless," said Anne, a small redhead with a New Yorker's metabolism. "I didn't know what to talk to David about. He was into rap and didn't read a lot of books. The TV was always on BET. I knew nothing about his life, really. I just worried about him, constantly."


From the countryside of New England to the cities of the Midwest, the most deadly epidemic of heroin use in half a century is tearing at the fabric of American life.

Part 1: David McCarthy's story

Part 2: 'The angel of death'

Part 3: Starting with Oxys

Part 4: 'He decided not to be'

Part 5: Enabling and denial

Part 6: Michael's story

Part 7: No more secrets

David wore his hoodie up when he was around his mother. He looked gaunt, worn.

"He was this spectral presence," she said. She took his salary and put him on an allowance. She thought he'd been spending his money on pot. He stole from her, nearly $1,000 that she'd hidden where she kept her best jewelry.

One day, she came downstairs to find a jar of yellow liquid on the kitchen counter.

"He had pissed in a jar," she said. "He just lost all sense of decorum, appropriateness. He didn't care."

She told him he could not live with her anymore. He sent her an angry e-mail laced with curse words.

Last year, about six months before David died, he called his friend John: He had shot up, and later awakened to find that an entire side of his body had gone numb. John arranged for David to be taken to a hospital, where he was told he had suffered a minor stroke.

Kevin had it out with his son. "I'm done — you lied to me, you've taken advantage of everything we've tried to do for you," the father told his boy. And he cut him off — no more money, no more living in the family's ski place.

John had long urged David to get help.

"He's going to die," John told David's friends. "I was saying it, but I wasn't doing anything about it."

David thought he could get off the drug by himself. He told friends that heroin wasn't fun anymore and that he wanted to quit. He'd been through detox programs and short-term rehab, but they hadn't worked. He had too much pride to ask his parents for the $30,000 he'd need for a long-term rehab stay. Somehow, his father said, he managed "to put together six or seven months of sobriety, doing it on his own."

HOW DAVID DIED: Read part 5 of the series

By last summer, his parents said, David seemed to have found his way forward. He looked better, clean-shaven. He was running six miles a day.

"He finally seemed like a man," Anne said. "So alert, so in the world. And then he decided not to be."


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