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Kevin Cullen

Chronicling a heroin addict’s life

It was class presentation day in Stephen Mott’s sociology class at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, and a young woman named Jamie was first up, standing nervously before her classmates.

Jamie told them that she decided to do a case study on heroin, because of the recent attention paid to overdoses and because she wants to become an addiction counselor. Her case study involved someone she called Jonathan.

Jonathan grew up in a Boston suburb and began playing hockey as a 4-year-old after seeing “The Mighty Ducks” movie. He became a terrific player. He hung out with a core group of 10 friends, most of them also jocks.


At 12, Jonathan smoked his first cigarette and took his first drink. By the time he was a sophomore, he was a star on his high school team and was getting drunk almost every night.

His parents grounded him when they caught him drinking.

By 17, Jonathan started doing lines of cocaine. It let him stay up later and drink more. He went to college, made the hockey team as a freshman and started doing Percocet.

One night, Jonathan’s friend emerged from a house, one where they usually scored Percocet, with heroin. At first Jonathan castigated his friend. Then he sniffed the heroin.

Jonathan became a functioning addict. He didn’t look like a junkie. His sister had a baby. and he couldn’t wait for the boy to get old enough so he could teach him to play hockey.

After his sophomore year in college, Jonathan left school and began selling Percocet. He decided to enroll at a different university. Then one from that core of 10 neighborhood buddies died from a heroin overdose.

“Everyone handles loss in different ways,” Jamie told her classmates. “Some people choose to honor those they lose by living their life positively and being the best person they can. Addicts typically use the loss as another excuse to use, and that is exactly what Jonathan did.”


By the end of his junior year, Jonathan was popping eight Percocet pills a day. He flunked out and ran headlong toward the next high.

Jonathan’s parents and sister convinced him to go to detox. The withdrawal was hell, and Jonathan said he never wanted to go through anything like that again. But he relapsed, again and again. Eventually he started doing something he vowed he never would: inject heroin.

Of his group of 10 friends, one was dead, one was in prison, and seven others were addicts. Eventually, Jonathan ended up on the phone, begging his one clean friend to let him stay at his place. His friend refused to enable him and told him to go get help.

Instead, Jonathan robbed anyone and anything for the next fix. He went to rinks and stole wallets from the locker rooms while other guys were playing hockey. He snuck into his sister’s house and stole the piggy bank of the nephew he taught to play hockey.

His mother got a court order to put him into treatment. He made the 30 days, then went right back to the needle. His father had him arrested and sent back for treatment. He broke out of a facility, then called his sister, alone and afraid. She persuaded him to turn himself in.

He’s been in treatment in Texas and Nevada, and now he’s home.


As she wrapped up her paper, Jamie said, “Less than 36 hours after this case study was completed, Jonathan, my little brother, relapsed again.”

Her classmates sat there, stunned.

“So,” a classmate asked, “he’s your brother?”

“Yes,” Jamie replied.

Stephen Mott has been teaching for 40 years.

“In all that time,” he said, “I have never read a better, sadder paper.”

He gave Jamie an A.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.