Chris Arnade Offers Another Harrowing Look at Heroin Addiction

Latest "Addiction in America" piece for The Guardian profiles two moms who have lost sons.

Chris Arnade’s latest piece for The Guardian is another brutal reminder of the toll being inflicted on American families by the ravages of heroin addiction. The Bronx-based photographer-writer and longtime former trader has been periodically traveling to various corners of the country to share snapshots of an epidemic that has grown well beyond big cities.

The focus of his April 11 missive is a pair of mothers in Binghamton, N.Y. Under the lead photo, the caption reads:

Penny Stringfield at her church: ‘I raised Johny four blocks from this church. He went to Sunday school, sang in the choir in this church, and then I buried him in this church.’

Arnade’s lede treads similarly devastating territory:

Penny Stringfield sits in the church where she buried her son Johny, recounting his death from a heroin overdose. She is composed, doesn’t raise her voice and doesn’t break down. She has told this story many times in the year since his death, and she is determined to tell it many more. “We need to end the stigma and shame of addiction,” she says.

For Johny, an active athlete in high school, it started with painkillers prescribed for a serious knee injury. From there, he moved on to marijuana, OxyContin, pills and finally heroin.

The second mother in the piece, Alexis Pleus, lost her son Jeff to heroin addiction two years ago. It’s shockingly almost the exact same story: he was a “good kid” until a football injury led him to prescribed painkillers and a downward, fatal spiral.

Pleus has already answered one insightful commenter from the U.K. Another reader makes this point:

peter nelson: In my 6 decades on this planet I’ve had countless injuries and surgeries where I’ve taken prescription opiate painkillers. I’ve never had any problem stopping them, and on the longer prescriptions I tapered off them at an appropriate rate to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

I’ve never been tempted to abuse them, use them recreationally, or use them out of boredom, anxiety or existential angst. This whole article makes it seem like these two guys were hapless victims of forces beyond their control. But in fact they made very specific CHOICES to use powerful, addictive drugs inappropriately, and they and their families suffered the consequences.

Arnade’s other articles in this excellent series can be found here.