I had met Sandy only in passing at the Dunkin’ Donuts when she dropped off Patrick for our interview, but she was clearly at her wit’s end, having been enmeshed in his addiction for so long.
As a reporter, I was struck not only by her pain but also by her willingness to be identified. So often, people whose loved ones are addicted are ashamed and afraid of being stigmatized. When someone decides to go public, it is a godsend, as it helps combat accusations of “fake news” and shows that, as Sandy said in the article, “we are your neighbors.”
From there, the family drama of coping with addiction overtook the original story about New Hampshire. The Times assigned the photographer Todd Heisler to work with me, and the family allowed us to witness their grueling intervention with Patrick in July.
Several people have asked how that worked. Journalists often worry that their mere presence will change people’s behavior and render it inauthentic. In this case, the family members, all of whom were in extremis, were so focused on their own difficulties that they hardly noticed us. And we were discreet. No klieg lights. No microphones. We blended into the background and kept our mouths shut.
The reaction by readers has been overwhelmingly compassionate toward the Griffins. Many felt we had captured the tortured dynamics of their own families. In a shower of emails and postings on social media, they told their own stories of how continuing battles with addiction had destroyed the lives of loved ones.
“Overdoses and hospitals and rehabs and AA meetings and medications and arrests and pleading and interventions and court dates and driving to pick him up in the middle of the night from the most horrific holes,” a colleague wrote of a close friend, adding, “I finally had to cut him out of my life entirely two years ago.”
A tiny fraction of readers thought taxpayers should not spend a dime trying to help people like Patrick. “No one is forcing him to shoot up,” one wrote, asking whether the money spent to save him might “have been better spent on someone that actually CONTRIBUTES something to society?”
A handful complained that the media never lavished such attention on black families when they were the main ones caught up in drug scourges.
But the vast majority thanked the Griffins for their “bravery” in going public. Total strangers offered to help by paying for rehab for Patrick or offering him a free place in their treatment programs.
The Griffins were overwhelmed. Like many families in their circumstance, they had allowed their silence about Patrick’s addiction to isolate them. After the family told their story publicly, many people who had been close to them sought to reconnect. “I had no idea what you guys were going through until I read that article,” a long-estranged niece wrote to Sandy.
Another estranged niece also wrote a supportive note, concluding, “I love you all and so proud and grateful to call you my family.”