Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Tragedy of Drug Abuse

Being a cop means getting used to all of the worst parts of people’s lives. We resolve problems for the good guys, put the bad guys in jail, and comfort people who have suffered the inevitable tragedies of life.

As a patrol officer, street crimes cop, and detective, I have seen the results of murder, suicide, accidental death, and natural death. When it is someone you don’t have a connection with, it’s sad enough. Sometimes, though, the person is someone you have known before, however briefly.

I grew up in Central Florida, so I am always running into someone I haven’t seen for thirty or more years. When that happens, we are polite to each other, even though we don’t look anything like we did when we were in high school. Okay, we’re old, for crying out loud.

It is a much more sobering experience to have known someone as a youngster only to have them die from a drug overdose in the city where I am a cop. Such an incident happened to me recently when a man died alone in his apartment. One of his brothers was my age.

I wasn't the primary officer on this call, so I learned his name as I helped the medical examiner load his body into a van. Although we weren’t close friends in our youth, it was still difficult to realize that his life was over and that it ended in such a wasted manner. It was sad for him, tragic for his family and friends, and eye-opening for those who knew him over the many decades of his life. It isn’t easy to see someone throw their lives away when they had so much opportunity.

I once stopped a beat-up old car filled with personal belongings. When the man handed me his driver’s license, I saw a disheveled individual with a scraggly beard. Here was a guy who was barely surviving. Then I looked at the name on the license. I was flabbergasted.

It was a professional I had known a few years before. We had even done some business together. He had his own successful company, and his name appeared frequently in the society columns. Now he looked like he was one step above living under an overpass.

When I asked him what had happened, he sighed and said, “Crack.” I couldn’t believe that this intelligent college graduate had actually fallen prey to crack cocaine.

“My God, man,” I asked him. “How could you even touch that stuff?”

He looked at me through eyes that were old before their time. “It was always there,” he said softly. “The cocktail parties, the high society functions. I thought I could handle it just like I thought I could handle everything. It took over my life the first time I used it.”

This wealthy, successful man had lost his wife, his children, his home, his business, and everything he owned was in the back of this car.

I tried to encourage him to seek help. He said, “Thanks, but I’ll take care of it.” It was a polite way to tell me to mind my own business.

I let him go without a ticket, but I got a phone call from him a couple of months later. He had a new job, and he wanted to meet me for lunch. After we met at a McDonald’s, he took me to see his new office where he had a sales job. He was dressed nicely in a shirt and tie, and his attitude was positive.

I told him to stay in touch and let me know how things went for him. He said he would call me and tell me how many sales he was making.

I never heard from him again.

Charles M. Grist


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