The opioid crisis in the US is well known as depicted on Dopesick, a popular TV series and Empire of Pain, a bestselling non-fiction book by Patrick Radden Keefe. But what is not so apparent is that opioids - class A drugs - are available as NHS prescriptions for pain relief and are sold on the internet as painkillers here in the UK. According to the Priory website, 50 million prescriptions for opioids were written last year and overdoses have increased by 87%.
My second novel Song for Ria, which will be published by Red Door Press on the 16th June, necessitated research into opioids.
In Heath Ledger’s interviews, as a fledgling actor, he came across as handsome both inside and out but as his career progressed, I was struck by the pressure he must have been under; at one major film festival he was promoting not one but three films. Professionally, he always seemed to be in competition with himself, taking on more and more complex roles and playing them to perfection. It is not surprising that he suffered from insomnia and anxiety. How many glass ceilings can a person break through? How high can you go before experiencing the fall? In his final interview, he was slurring, not quite on the ball, not quite so well turned out. Abusing prescription drugs was his way of trying to remain in control whilst losing it more and more in the process, finally along with his life.
In a rare interview, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As, revealed himself as a very different character. He came across as enigmatic and serene. He tried to brush off the depth of hurt he suffered when his record company took complete ownership of all his creative works. It led him to relinquish his name because he believed it anchored him to worldliness, and instead wanted to be known as a symbol that he felt represented his connection to God. Prince got into prescription drugs to deal with the pain caused by physical accidents where the wounds obviously never healed enough. He died from an overdose in April 2016.
In a way, putting the spotlight on these high profile characters creates a mirror image for everything we, more private individuals, face in our own lives. Our stresses mirror their stresses. Their problems mirror ours. Addiction to fast-track stress and pain relief is deeply imbedded in our culture and for that, too many of us pay a very heavy price.
Song for Ria is not about a superstar who lost her life via an escalating addiction to prescription drugs, but about a mother, Alison, whose daughter took that route. Two years after the tragedy, Alison is still unable to write music or climb out of her grief and her marriage is at risk of falling apart. The journey she undertakes to discover the circumstances that led to Ria’s demise, turns out to be a positive prescription for continuing her own life.