01 Jun 2017

Turning Point: Addiction’s Impact

by Melissa Weiksnar (MBA 1982)


image by Jeffrey Decoster

I was blindsided when my daughter told me, “I’m a heroin addict.” It was November 16, 2009, at a meeting with her drug counselor at Boston College. After I uttered a profanity and slammed my keys on the table, Amy said that she wanted to take a medical leave of absence to go to treatment. “You only have a few weeks left in the semester,” I said. “Can’t you tough it out?” Her counselor shot back, “If your daughter just told you she had stage 3 cancer, would you ask if she could tough it out? No. You’d get her to Dana-Farber as fast as you possibly could.” That was the proverbial “two-by-four whack upside the head” that made me realize we were dealing with a disease.

Amy started treatment; soon after, on December 26, she died of an overdose at the facility. Going through the plastic trash bags of her belongings to find her favorite pair of jeans for her burial, I came across a brown, leather-bound journal. I opened it and found passages from the weeks before she died. When I showed the journal to a neighbor (who happened to be an addiction psychiatrist) he said, “You have to find a way to have this published. I have never seen such articulate and eloquent writing by an addict about the conflict they go through in treatment.” I kept finding more notebooks. They were hard to read, but helped me better understand the six tumultuous years she was sick and her underlying emotional pain.

I knew Amy had used drugs: When she was in 10th grade she was caught showing up high for cross country practice. When she was a junior in high school I found a Vicodin in her purse—I had no idea what a big red flag that was. We all had plenty of counseling, yet after her death, it was hard to wrap my head around how clueless I had really been. Amy’s bucket list from weeks before she died included: make a completely unique contribution to the world; touch someone’s heart; make a difference. Publishing the journals could fulfill her list.

In an address I heard Dean Nohria give in 2010, I was struck by one phrase in particular: “the ideas needed for the most important problems of our time.” The opioid epidemic is devastating our country and undermining our economic competitiveness, from the streets to the C-suites. It is a scourge whose complexities span the geopolitical to the intricacies of family life. Sharing my daughter’s story through writing, speaking, and advocacy work has helped some, but as a Harvard MBA, I remain frustrated that making a bigger positive difference remains so elusive.

In 2012, Melissa Weiksnar published Heroin’s Puppet: Amy (and her disease) and in 2014 It’s Not Gunna Be an Addiction: The Adolescent Journals of Amelia F.W. Caruso.

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1982, Section B

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