‘My Heart Was Broken’

Friends remember Philipstown author David Poses

After Alex Colyer lost her best friend to addiction in January 2020, she found David Poses. It was Poses’ book, The Weight of Air: A Story of the Lies About Addiction and the Truth About Recovery, she read after launching the Albertus Project, a nonprofit formed to help addicts in honor of her friend. Soon, she was inviting Poses to be a guest on the organization’s podcast and befriending the Philipstown author.

David Poses

David Poses (Photo by Caroline Kaye)

Together, they spent the afternoon of Feb. 15 on the phone with an aide to U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, lobbying for the congressman’s support of proposed legislation to expand access to methadone amid a continued spike in overdoses, said Colyer.

“To me, that synopsizes exactly who David was,” she said. “He just spent all that time trying to help other people.”

Other witnesses to his generosity have also been pouring out similar tributes on Facebook and on Twitter, where the author and activist had built a following of 13,000, in response to his sudden death on Feb. 16, less than eight months after his book’s release. He was 45 and is survived by his wife and two children; a Go Fund Me campaign for the family has been created at bit.ly/david-poses.

In The Weight of Air, Poses detailed how the federally approved addiction medication, buprenorphine, led to his recovery from the abuse of heroin, which he started using at age 16 as an antidote to depression. He also used its pages to criticize tight federal restrictions on the dispensing of buprenorphine and other addiction medications.

It was a crusade Poses also waged on television, and in newspaper op-eds and radio and podcast interviews, on social media and in conversations with The Current. He used those platforms to advocate harm-reduction-based addiction strategies — a menu that includes needle exchanges, safe-injection sites and addiction medications — instead of the traditional focus on complete abstinence.

The Weight of AirHe was also a founding board member of the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub in Cold Spring, which helps people access addiction and mental health resources.

“I don’t think he realized how many people he was helping with his story,” said Sandra Jonas, his Colorado-based publisher. “People are, understandably, very, very upset.”

In 2017, when The Current asked for ideas about what should be done to counter the opioid addiction crisis, Poses submitted a response about his own experience with the disease (see below). Two years later, he wrote an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times that he later called his national “coming out party.”

“As the opioid crisis started to be a thing that was in newspapers, I saw so much misinformation,” he said. “I realized my silence was sabotaging what I was trying to accomplish.”

Poses wrote a draft of The Weight of Air and said he expected wholesale rejection. But Jonas said she was “intrigued” by his story when he contacted her in late 2020.

“Number one, he’s a really good writer and, also, he had a different take on things,” she said. “He wanted to raise awareness about the connection between mental health and addiction, and even before the book came out, he was helping people.”

Jennifer Hornak is one of those people.

She met Poses on Twitter and found support after her son, Quincie Berry, died of an overdose on July 23, 2020. Quincie returned to using fentanyl after a halfway house refused to admit him unless he stopped taking buprenorphine, said Hornak, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

Poses told her “we’ll do whatever we can do to get this out there,” she said. Although never meeting in person, they talked often, sometimes several times a week, said Hornak. It was a senior editor for Vice News, who interviewed Hornak for a story about federal restrictions on buprenorphine, who broke the news of Poses’ death, she said.

“I cried as hard as I cried when my son died of an overdose,” said Hornak, who is among the people Poses acknowledged in The Weight of Air. “My heart was broken.”

The book was released on July 6, with a launch five days later at Split Rock Books in Cold Spring. Poses, initially wary of how his book would be received, said he found the positive reactions “extraordinary.”

Colyer said that Poses’ book taught her “so much about the truths of addiction” as she sought information following her friend’s death. On Monday (Feb. 28), the Albertus Project (albertusproject.org) is hosting a vigil on Instagram at 5 p.m., she said. People are invited to share something about Poses or read an excerpt from his book.

“It’s just absolutely heartbreaking,” she said.

What Must Be Done?

In 2017, for a series on the opioid crisis, we asked for ideas about what should take priority. Below is David Poses’ response:

Unless you’ve experienced addiction first-hand, it doesn’t make sense. No junkie wants to be a junkie, but there’s a terrifying chasm between “will” and “way”: a hopelessness. In that regard, addiction is a disease, a terminal one. It is infectious and contagious, and no amount of guilt/shame/blame/denial/prayer will make it go away.

I started using heroin at age 16. I was in pain. Heroin didn’t make me happy, but it sure as hell made me forget how miserable I was. That’s what it does. It kills pain — and so much more.

At 19, I went through the conventional recovery process (rehab, halfway house, support groups). Though I don’t begrudge the potency and potential of any of these programs, none worked for me. I spent the next decade lying to my friends and family, telling them I was clean. Even after long stretches of sobriety, I kept going back because the hole in my heart still needed to be filled.

Whatever pain heroin kills, it saves all that shit up and throws it back at you when you stop using. While I understand how some people might not be sympathetic to a junkie in withdrawal, the agony is no less real. The word craving is often misused to describe what a recovering addict experiences. Craving is what you feel on a hot summer day when you’re in line at Moo Moo’s. With dope, it’s more need than want, like a bodily urge. It’s an emergency, a feeling like you’re going to suffocate if you don’t get dope in your system right now.

If I had to pick one area to prioritize in the opioid crisis, it’d be to treat the problem on an individual level at every stage — from the preventative messages we teach our children, to the recovery options we consider when an addict is ready to get help, to the resources we provide to parents, families and spouses. In this day and age, where every cup of coffee at Starbucks is custom-tailored, it makes sense to have an individualized approach to addiction.

Everyone in my life missed every red flag because there are no universal warning signs. A self-medicating addict like me will behave differently than an “escape artist” user. Because the allure of dope varies from person to person, no template for recovery is going to work for everyone. Many addicts would have a much better chance at recovery if treated as an individual, especially during the most vulnerable time, which is withdrawal and the stages immediately following.

As a country, we’re in a reactive stance. We’re scared and we’re angry and we want solutions, but we don’t know where to start. We’re warming up to the idea that incarcerating addicts doesn’t deal with the underlying problem, but we fear that treating addiction as a disease takes the onus off the user.

Public perception has changed. When I first started using, heroin was considered taboo and a major leap from “gateway” drugs. Oxycontin didn’t exist. As opioid pain pills became more mainstream, casual users came to understand that heroin is to Vicodin as beer is to whisky — that is, branding and potency are the variables.

Unlike alcohol, however, which is legal and regulated, you never know what you’re getting when you buy an illegal drug. You’re never going to buy a can of beer with 4.2 percent alcohol content printed on the label and get grain alcohol. With heroin, there’s no consistency, and no quality assurance. What barely got you high yesterday can kill you today. And you have no way of knowing. That kind of information would be helpful to a curious kid who hears “Just say no” and asks, “But why?”

If we truly want addicts to get well, our laws must reflect that desire and we must make more resources available.

In my experience, Suboxone was a lifesaver. I was lucky. Many addicts are unaware it exists. Many who do know don’t have access to it. A partial opiate antagonist, Suboxone comes in form of a film you place on your tongue. The drug “sits” on your opiate receptors, tricking your brain into believing it has a steady supply of dope. You’re not high, but you’re not needing heroin, either.

Under federal law, Suboxone (buprenorphine) is a Schedule III controlled substance with high abuse potential. But it can’t be abused. (I tried.) Suboxone has a ceiling. It also contains naloxone, which blocks opioids entirely.

The federal government limits the number of doctors who can prescribe Suboxone, and it limits the number of patients they can treat. Because of these restrictions, there is a black market for the drug. We need to eliminate the barriers to accessand addicts would learn first-hand that it won’t get you high.

A tremendous amount of inertia must be overcome for an addict to take the first step toward recovery. In addition to the stigma of addiction, every addict has to contend with feelings of guilt and shame. If someone is making the effort to get clean, a safe, supportive, understanding family is going to yield better results than telling the addict how disappointed you are.

Everything above contributed to my recovery and continues to be vital in my ongoing effort to stay clean. Today, my life is beyond anything I could have imagined when I was on dope. I’m married to the most amazing woman in the world. We have two children whom I love in ways I never knew existed until I became a parent. I have a successful career. I’m happy; fulfilled. Mindful. Grateful. Not the kind of person you’d look at and imagine as a junkie. But I’ve been to hell and back. I’m not saying I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is wrong. I’m saying this needs to be a conversation, not a template.

Click to hear this post.

3 thoughts on “‘My Heart Was Broken’

  1. This is a very tough time for all who knew David. In the past couple of years, David touched many people through his impassioned advocacy on behalf of those suffering from depression and addiction, and through his searingly well-written book, and because of his sympathy and generosity with the people he met through this work, whom he appreciated enormously.

    This work was important, but David was so much more than a cause he championed. He was a unique, quirky, witty, delightful, intense, charming, hilarious, conspiratorial, big-hearted, culturally sophisticated, multitalented dynamo with hugely eclectic interests who will be remembered for making the lives of those who knew him sillier, spicier, kinder and more fun.

    • He was all of those things. Thank you for articulating that. He was hilarious and intense, and making him laugh was a personal challenge that I loved winning. So gratifying. I feel grateful to have known him, and I’m heartbroken that he’s gone. Love to you and the rest.

  2. David was my oldest friend. We met when we were 3 years old. He was kind, smart and had a sense of humor you wouldn’t realize you needed to be exposed to until the joke dropped. David was special. His ability to memorize baseball data, his passion for batman graphic novels, his appreciation of music and his fine collection of stereo equipment, his knowledge of music, incessantly creating top 100 albums of all time, singles, artists, while we were supposed to be reading silently in class, it was just so him. He was different.

    As I said, David was special. David — we were just reconnecting and I was so happy to have one of my dearest friends back in my life. Your book was brilliant. And sad. I and our other old friends, we wish we had known the depths of your pain. We would have done anything for you. I know that those that you have recently touched, and additionally your book, will carry your message of love, and your insights I believe will become part of the new approach to what you were so desperately trying to accomplish for those suffering, including yourself. We love you David forever and ever and you will always be in our hearts. You live on through everyone you have touched. I was so hoping to laugh with you for the next 40 years. I’ll just have to wait for that. We are all blessed to have had you for the time that we did. I just wish that last hug lasted a little bit longer. I love you David. Godspeed my friend.