The little blue book

In Features, Non-fiction on May 4, 2015 at 7:35 pm

“WARNING: Reading this booklet can and will cause irreversible emotional, sexual and mental trauma and will lead to madness and suicidal behavior…” reads the inside cover of Max Edwins’ personal journal.  |  Photo by Alex Ashley

Third of four parts 

It was right there on the inside cover: “For the eyes of Max Edwins and police investigators (in the event of my death).”

In a little, blue 3-by-5 inch book, Max Edwins, 25, had the world figured out.

In ink – in chaotic, untidy scribbling – was a record of the things that made his world go round: journal entries, financial information, drug-dealing strategies; cartoons and comics, “how-to” suicide guides and prep lists, schedules and endless lists of “to do’s” and priorities.

And lastly, a hit list.

Next to a lewd “self-portrait” comic of a man with needles sticking out of his arm, a caption reads: “Meanwhile in the land of nodded-out junkies…”

A poem reads, in part:

“Why? Why? Why?

Why is everyone against me?

Why am I hated?

Why am I an addict?

Why am I alive?

Why are they alive?


Maxwell Alexander Edwins died Jan. 17, 11 days before his 26th birthday.

He hadn’t been feeling well, and after an argument with his mother, Shannon, he said he was going to his room to take a nap.

They locked eyes, and she promised she would try to be in a better mood when he woke up.

“I thought he was just tired,” she said, “but that’s the last time I saw my son Max alive.”

He shot up heroin in his room in their Mill Creek home, and overdosed.

She found him the next morning.

Max Edwins mother, Shannon, grips her son's journal as she recalls finding her son after his death.

Max Edwins mother, Shannon, grips her son’s journal as she recalls finding her son after his death.  |  Photo by Alex Ashley

Max Edwins is just one casualty on the proverbial battlefield, littered with fallen soldiers in the war on drugs – not just in Snohomish and Island counties, but nationwide.

Edwins, though, leaves behind something rare: his own story in his own words.

In his journal, a work he calls “a blasphemous scripture of antisocial ramblings and daily happenings written by the Mad Junkie…” Edwins tells the truth.

He paints a picture – in sporadic, sweeping strokes – of how dark and desolate the drug world really is.

He sheds a bright light on the long, winding path from drugs to death.

He leaves a map with which to trace his steps.

Edwins had big plans.  He had been drifting through life aimlessly. He had a job, but was directionless.  So, in an effort to do something meaningful with his life, he followed the pursuit of many young men: he joined the Army.

He writes in his journal: “The pay was good, plus there was a small war going on so I thought it would be cool to get to kill people.  I got through basic, got stationed and settled in and focused on my job at first.  But after a while I noticed we were never getting piss tested in our company like some others were…”

He and his Army buddies started using drugs – “especially oxycodone” – and before long were into harder drugs.

Anything they could get their hands on.

Anything their money could buy.

A couple months before his unit was scheduled to fly out to Iraq, a random urine test got Edwins and a bunch of his fellow soldiers dishonorably discharged.

From there, things took an even sharper turn for the worst.

“I was really reckless at this stage,” he writes, “driving around with preloaded syringes of cocaine under my seat to shoot up at stop lights.”

He overdosed on heroin in a Taco Bell, and woke up in a hospital.

He left the hospital a few days and a $60,000 hospital bill later.

A couple months after that, in a Jack in the Box, he overdosed again.  He shot up in the restroom, felt fine, ordered a bacon cheeseburger and sat down.

He woke up in an ambulance.

“I started cussing at myself for allowing this to happen,” he writes.

And, as he put it, this was the moment when he decided to quit drugs because, by this time, his car, money and job were all gone and his habit “was a real (expletive) to maintain.”

But quitting heroin “cold turkey” does atrocious things to the body.  Within six to 24 hours, symptoms of withdrawal start to set in: cold sweats, severe muscle and bone aching, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and involuntary spasms in the limbs (thought to be the origin of the term “kicking the habit.”)

Or, as some have called it: hell.

“I started getting blackout drunk on malt liquor everyday,” Edwins writes, “so I wouldn’t notice my withdrawals too much.  It worked, if I drank enough…”

Edwins, on life support after a near fatal heroin overdose.

Edwins, on life support after a near fatal heroin overdose.  |  Courtesy of family

It was a vicious cycle brought on by a savage, ruthless addiction.  But somewhere between journal entries like “heroin at 2ish p.m. on 12th” and “Sell, do not do…” Edwins began to manifest an ethical inner voice.

A step-by-step list entitled “Operation An Hero,” detailing a dramatic, drug-induced suicide, was replaced with a grocery list of favorite food items, and notes-to-self to “be calorically responsible” with his drinking.

A plan to lace the heroin he was planning to sell to an enemy with poison was replaced with a priority list on how to get his license and job back.

There are statistics on this sort of thing – on the opioid-related deaths in the county, state and nation; on how many arrests were made; and on mortality rates by sex, age and year.
It’s good to remember there’s a story behind every statistic.

“Suicide plan last week failed,” he writes in one entry.  “Shot two grams in Starbucks bathroom hoping to O.D. Passed out, woke up to someone banging on the door.  Walked home.  Puked all night.  Mom was worried.”

But, he said, “will hold off on next attempt now that life seems brighter.”

About two-thirds of heroin-related deaths in Snohomish County and Washington were males, according to a study released this year by the Snohomish Health District.

“After 2010, the county began to experience much higher death dates than was normal for Washington,” the report says.  “The increases seem to be driven by users’ desire to find a replacement for prescription opioid painkillers combined with the sudden availability of inexpensive, but potent, heroin.”

From 2011 forward, the report says, “these differences were statistically significant”

Especially significant is the enigmatic nature of opioid and heroin-related deaths.

Analyses conducted by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington found that in 84 percent of cases where the cause of death is recorded by a coroner or medical examiner as “morphine” or “other opioids,” heroin was the true culprit.

When the body metabolizes heroin, the resulting compounds are indistinguishable from those produced when the body metabolizes prescription morphine.

It takes special training to know the difference, and few medical examiners in the state are properly trained to distinguish heroin from other opioids, the report says.

As a result, the differing statistics – confirmed heroin deaths versus probable – can obscure the public’s understanding of how big the problem is.

“I buried my son 11 days before his 26th birthday,” his mother, Shannon, wept.  |  Courtesy of family

Max Edwins is another number, true, but a number with a voice.

If anything, Edwins’ words and story are a stark reminder – highlighted in vivid fluorescence – that there is a name behind every number, and a person behind every name.  A person, maybe, who is grappling with mental, emotional and physical maladies most do not understand.

Near the end of his journal, a while before he died, things were looking up for Edwins.

“Here I am,” he writes, “Alive, but 30 pounds heavier and with only a vague plan for the future.  The End.”

This story appeared in the Stanwood Camano News, April 5, 2015, as part of a four-part series on heroin addiction, entitled: “Unraveling the heroin dilemma.” 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: