I didn’t know his name until he died. He was Finn on “Glee” and that was it. He was just another handsome, talented actor who played a character I liked.
Now he’s dead and the whole world knows his name. It’s online and on TV and in the tabloids and on people’s lips — Cory Monteith — isn’t it tragic? And though I’m not a teenage girl mourning the loss of a star I loved, I am mourning the loss of this one gifted human being.
He had everything anyone would want: Youth. Talent. Money. Good looks.
He also had an addiction.
I think back to the scene in the 2000 film “Traffic” in which a pretty, young teenager, from a well-heeled family, takes her first hit of something. And that something becomes everything to her. Nothing else matters — not her parents, not her friends, not school, not even herself.
You watch her devolve. You see her disappear and the drugs take over. It’s fake. It’s only acting. But it is harrowing.
Every day, awful things happen to people all over the world. They’re shot, stabbed, kidnapped, burned, tortured, blown up by bombs. They lose limbs. They get cancer and brain tumors and Alzheimer’s and ALS.
And still they fight to live.
A friend just finished his 18th round of chemotherapy. He didn’t do anything to get cancer. He just got it. All the people killed and injured at the Boston Marathon. They were innocent bystanders.
Addiction isn’t like this. It isn’t cancer or a bullet or a virus or bomb. It’s a choice.
But once chosen, it isn’t anymore. It becomes a disease.
Cory Monteith was working at what he loved. He had friends. He had a girlfriend. He was making a lot of money. He had a life most of us would envy. But this wasn’t enough. He needed whatever it was the drugs were giving him.
I don’t understand the physiology or psychology of this. But what I do understand and what frightens me is that if someone like Cory Monteith couldn’t break the cycle, if interventions and drug programs and the love of friends and strangers couldn’t get the monkey off his privileged back, if a guy with everything can’t beat it, how hard must it be to beat?
And what does this mean for all the millions of people with an addiction who don’t have money or a job or a drug program they can enter or a promising future?
“Try it. Just this once. It won’t hurt you.” Some people try and are fine, and some people try and are never fine again.
They end up on the street. Or in jail. Or dead.
Americans have the highest rate of illegal drug consumption among 17 countries studied, according to the World Health Organization.
We also have the world’s highest incarceration rate. Half the inmates in federal prisons are behind bars on a drug charge, according to the Sentencing Project. And “the number of drug offenders in state prisons has increased thirteen-fold since 1980.”
This despite a 40-year-long “war on drugs.”
Two years ago, a 19-member global commission, which included former US official George Shultz, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, businessman Sir Richard Branson and then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, declared the war lost and recommended coming at drug addiction from a health perspective instead of a criminal one.
If Cory Monteith’s death shows us nothing else, it’s that addiction is a sickness and not a crime.
Beverly Beckham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.