D’Anne Burwell’s smart, athletic son—raised in a loving and prosperous home—begins abusing OxyContin as a teenager, and within a year drops out of college, walks out of rehab, and lands homeless on the streets of Boulder.
Struggling with fear, guilt, and a desperate need to protect her son, D’Anne grapples with her husband’s anger and her daughter’s depression as the family disease of addiction impacts them all. She discovers the terrifying links between prescription-drug abuse and skyrocketing heroin use. And she comes to understand that to save her child she must step back and allow him to fight for his own soul.
Saving Jake gives voice to the devastation shared by the families of addicts, and provides vital hope. Above all, it is a powerful personal story of love and redemption.
D’Anne Burwell has written about her family’s experience in a profoundly revealing, quietly instructive memoir called SAVING JAKE: When Addiction Hits Home. As she explains, “Too few books have been written by parents battling the disease of addiction, while meanwhile an epidemic of prescription drug abuse leading to heroin in our youth rages on.” I will admit that I read much of this utterly harrowing, ultimately heartening book through tears. Tears of recognition. Tears of empathy. Tears that came simply from knowing, “This could be me.” I will also admit that once I started, I couldn’t put SAVING JAKE down. D’Anne Burwell writes with a novelist’s gift for dialogue and detail. The result is a riveting story that held me in its grip even as it changed many of my assumptions about addiction and recovery.
D’Anne Burwell confounds the stereotypes of opioid addiction being a problem of urban ghettos and mean streets. Unlike the 1960s and 1970s heroin epidemic, the most recent wave of addiction has a solid foothold in white, middle-class suburbia. The Burwell family, with two dedicated parents, two promising, intelligent teenage children, a good income and good health insurance may seem utterly unlikely to be ravaged by opioid addiction. But by showing how even a family blessed with psychological and economic resources is not insulated from the epidemic, Burwell highlights the extraordinary power of opioid addiction over human behavior.
Burwell captures vividly the maddening nature of being a parent of an addicted child, both the sadness at seeing your offspring suffer and the hurt and rage at being manipulated and lied to. She learns over time the hard lesson that she cannot control her son anymore than he can control his drug use. But because she learns faster than he does, she lives in terror of the phone call that could come at any time informing her that her son has died of an overdose. The book is commendably honest… It’s impossible for readers not to admire the Burwells’ grit. The way D’Anne, her husband and her daughter hang in with Jake through years of agony defines for me the word “family”. If you are looking for a candid, well-written account of the human experience of loving someone who is addicted to opioids, this quietly powerful book will stay with you for a long time.
-Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Burwell's story of her family's harrowing journey comes at a fortuitous time, with fatal drug overdoses, largely driven by heroin and prescription drugs, rising to 47,055 nationwide in 2014, double the rate from 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, as the New York Times noted in January, the skyrocketing abuse of prescription drugs and heroin is forcing everyone from health care leaders to presidential candidates to reassess our decades-long war on drugs.