An Untold Story From 9/11

methadone dosing during 9/11-on

When the first airplane hit the Twin Towers, I was thirteen years old. It was still early in Seattle, and I was getting ready for school. I heard about it on The End, the local angsty rocker radio station. It was still new, the events were still unfolding, and information was patchy. They said New York had been bombed.

I have family in New York, and in bordering parts of New Jersey. Several aunts, and my Abuelita, at the time. So when I heard New York was being bombed, they were the first people I feared for. When the records were corrected, when I learned airplanes had crashed into one targeted area, far from my family, I was relieved. That was the first emotion I felt in response to 9/11. Others would come, but relief and gratitude were my first.

A lot of people lost loves ones during these attacks. Every Muslim-American lost rights and dignities that day for which they still struggle. I don’t know exactly what happened that day. Was it a terrorist attack? Did the government do it? Or if the Bush administration didn’t actually plan the attacks, did they allow the terrorists in? We know for certain that they ignored intel that could have helped prevent or ameliorate the devastation caused. In the end, whatever happened, a lot of families were left irreparably broken, and our country lost the easy hubris upon which we’d built our empire.

Those stories belong to other people. I didn’t lose anyone to the 9/11 attacks. My city wasn’t directly affected; my skyline wasn’t shattered. I was too young to fully feel the impact on the nation, at least at first. The stories of loss and pain and heartbreak are not mine to tell, but while I was researching my recent article on dosing during disasters, Joycelyn Woods, executive director for National Alliance for Medication Assisted Recovery and long time New Yorker, told me a different kind of 9/11 story, which I’d like to share with you today.

According to Woods, By 10am on September 11, 2001, when many methadone patients were still coming in to dose, the World Trade Center collapse led to several train closures. An entire clinic would be lost that day, though she believes it had already been evacuated and there weren’t related fatalities.

Patients who couldn’t get to their regular clinics started migrating to courtesy dose at nearby clinics. Woods cites Einstein as one program, comprised of seven clinics around NYC, that took in around 1,000 patients from other programs. Phone lines were down or busy. The city was a mess. Back then, without a comprehensive network in place, staff could not verify many of these courtesy patients’ doses.

There was a crisis unfolding in the city of New York. People were fighting for their lives. Others were witnessing the horrors happening at Ground Zero. The city was blanketed with ash, and the country was adjusting to a new sense of fear. Methadone patients were not the priority–and yet, these were New Yorkers just like everyone else. Some of them had likely lost loved ones in the attack. All of them were experiencing the same stress, fear, and uncertainty that was creeping across all of New York-and the United States-as more information about the attacks became available. These were people in recovery from the illness of addiction. They were in enough stress; they did not need added worries about going into withdrawal.

There came a point when these programs needed to make a decision. Either turn these patients away, leaving them to compromise their sobriety or go into withdrawal, or trust them. Einstein chose to trust them. It was unprecedented, and completely violated the spirit of the stringent methadone regulations, but they’d been advised to do it by the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and they decided to give it a try. They asked the new patients what their dose was, and dosed them according to their word. This included several take-home doses.

Later, once the city had settled into its new normal, and clinics were re-opened, or for patients from the clinic that had been destroyed they had been re-located, the written take-homes and records were checked against patient history.

Woods reports that every single patient told the truth about his or her dose. All except one, she adds, who stated 10mgs too low.

There will be a lot of tributes today. Stories of grief, heartbreak, and heroism. From the Muslim community, we will be hearing about injustices leveled against them for no better reasons than fear and bigotry. We need to respect these stories, but I think the story Joycelyn Woods told me matters too. We are so used to thinking of people who are battling addiction as being heartless, self-serving monsters, the kinds of people who will do anything for an extra buck or one last high.

This 9/11 story is unconfirmed. It could be all lies, or hyperbolic, but I believe it. Not only because Joycelyn is a respected member of the addiction recovery community, but also because I know that methadone patients, on average, are just people who are trying to heal themselves. They are human too; affected by the same tragedies as the rest of us. They hurt, they suffer, they love, just as everyone does. Those of us in recovery, and even those of us in active addiction–we’re part of your community too.

2 thoughts on “An Untold Story From 9/11

  1. Have to say that moved me to tears. Addiction is this so called nasty family member who is not to be trusted and is useless and only in it for themselves. Nice to hear that in these possessed bodies, the voices of the true occupants came through. They had a need but were also cognizant of others and were affected by the buildings falling down. We have to change our ideas about how we deal with addiction. These people are not evil, though at times they are driven by their addictions to do things that might be harmful to others. Until you’ve gone through it you don’t understand the journey. Thanks for the great story.

    • Thank you Steve. I completely agree–active addiction is crazy-making and can drive people to do selfish and even sometimes terrible things, but that doesn’t make people inhuman. And those who are in recovery are no longer in active addiction and often behave like everyday people. Why shouldn’t we be treated like everyone else? Thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

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