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Oct 26, 2017

Heroin diaries

Co-produced with PRX Logo

On this special episode of Reveal, reporter Jack Rodolico in partnership with New Hampshire Public Radio brings us an intimate look at the people affected by the opioid epidemic.

On May 22, 2015, Daniel Couzins died of a fentanyl overdose at 31. Couzins, an assistant manager at a New Hampshire bank, had started using heroin to quell his severe depression and anxiety – a feeling he likened to “a conference room of people yelling at each other” inside his head. Becoming addicted was never his plan. Things just ended up that way.

When Couzins died, he left behind a series of video diaries that his wife, Jennifer, discovered. The tapes offer a harrowing look at how opioid addiction can slowly take over – and end – a life.

“I need to watch them,” Jennifer says, “because I need to know.”

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

 

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.
On May 22nd 2015, Daniel [Couzins 00:00:11] died of fentanyl overdose. He was 31. Like a lot of people who overdose, he had switched from heroin to fentanyl, a cheaper, stronger, and much more dangerous, synthetic opioid. Dan was, originally from England, but he moved to Portsmouth, NH to be with his wife, Jennifer. He was a runner, a vegan who loved animals, and an assistant manager at a local bank.
Jennifer had confronted Dan many times about his drug use. Their marriage was under tremendous strain, and Jennifer was fighting to save his life. She lost that fight, but after he died, Jennifer found something he left behind. Dan had made a video diary on his phone.
Jennifer: The last month of his life, really, is what we have. A snapshot, a video snapshot, a video diary of the last month of Dan Couzins' life.
Al Letson: Eight months after her husbands death, Jennifer sat down with Dan's phone and started watching.
Jennifer: Okay. Am I recording? Yeah, I'm recording, okay. Here we go.
I'm sitting here in my bedroom in my house and I'm about to start watching some of the videos that Dan made on his phone. I refer to them as his heroin diaries. I'm nervous, I'm a little anxious. I don't know what he's going to say, but I need to watch them because I need to know.
Daniel Couzins: Hi. My name's Dan. I've tried keeping diaries before, but I've never been very good at them, so I thought I'd keep a video diary. I don't know how long it's going to last, but the reason why I'm keeping a video diary is, I was recently diagnosed with major depression and I, also, suffer from, well, of anxiety.
Jennifer: I still can't figure out how he made that jump. He didn't start with pot or any of the more mild drugs, if you can even call them that, he just started using heroin.
Daniel Couzins: All the time my brain is like this freaking conference room of people yelling at each other, all different things, and it's changing constantly, and you just know that there's something and it just going to silence it. You can just be yourself and smile, but, of course, I don't want to be a drug addict.
Jennifer: As soon as I started watching it, I could tell that he was under the influence, because his pupils were pinpoint.
Daniel Couzins: I mean, for many reasons, [crosstalk 00:02:54].

 

Where was I? Today's the 3rd of May 2015. It was a super nice day. Warm and sunny and my eyes are fucking pinpricks.

 

Jennifer: He goes from speaking ...

 

Daniel Couzins: Maybe, they're not ...

 

Jennifer: ... slowly, like he's really sleepy ...

 

Daniel Couzins: Isn't it the strangest thing? Anyway.

 

Jennifer: ... and then, he'll just have a burst of words ...

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:03:29] I want a gin and tonic, that should level me out a bit.

 

Jennifer: ... when he's under the influence, he drifts off ...

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:03:36] fuck. Oh, fuck.

 

Jennifer: ... but, he has conversations with himself ...

 

Daniel Couzins: Yeah, I agree with you.

 

Jennifer: ... and I wonder what that is.

 

Daniel Couzins: I think that's what all these clerk guys don't get, you're dead.

 

Jennifer: All these videos, so far, have been taken in the apartment and he's got Brady on his lap.

 

Daniel Couzins: Just got Brady. My cat, my little kitty cat. [inaudible 00:04:07] Brady! Brady. Smile for the camera. What a good boy. Goodnight.

 

I did three reasonable lines. I am feeling pretty freaking awesome.

 

Jennifer: I didn't know who to call. I told my mom. I called his doctor. I called a crisis line.

 

Daniel Couzins: I'm not a heroin addict, and I know I've been taking way too much, recently ...

 

Jennifer: He's straight up says he's not an addict, and at that point, is it even possible to be a casual heroin user? I mean, really?

 

Daniel Couzins: Freak them [crosstalk 00:04:43] guess. I don't know, I just cut back or I just stop taking it all together, but I don't really see a difference between heroin, or drinking, or smoking.

 

Jennifer: Seriously? Seriously? Seriously? I mean, come on. Dan, you're not an idiot. You ... I don't know, I'm getting ... I don't know. It's like I'm talking to him. It's heroin! It's heroin!

 

Daniel Couzins: I don't even know what the difference is. You know? [crosstalk 00:05:09] Minding my own business. It just helps me chill out, and right now, I'm very chilled out, so I'm going to eat my breakfast, drink my coffee, and stop making a fool out of myself on camera. Bye, bye.

 

Jennifer: I talked to him every day. I posted notes around the apartment telling him how much I loved him, and how dangerous this drug was, and how I would do anything that he needed me to do to help him get better, and quit, and get sober. Every day I asked him, "Are you ready to quit?" and he'd say, "No." I don't know, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like I've been punched in the gut. I feel like I've just had a megadose of Danny tonight, and I was just ... That was quite the video.

 

I remember the last week of his life. It was Sunday night ...

 

Daniel Couzins: It is Sunday, 17th of May, 11:55 PM.

 

Jennifer: I just casually asked him, "Are you still using?" and he's like, "Yeah. Oh yeah. Man. I'm using this stuff called China White," and the way he said it to me, it was almost like he would expect me to know what China White was.

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:06:35] I drove to Boston and I scored. I got some China White.

 

Jennifer: I was like, "What is that?" and he said, "Oh, it's heroin and fentanyl together. It's awesome." He was saying how great it was.

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:06:54] Why doesn't everyone do this all the time?

 

Jennifer: Like heroin, itself, yeah bad. Heroin and fentanyl, all the red flags and everything were going off.

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:07:07] There goes the vision. I just took some more China White. I took a bit too much earlier. What they call a minor overdose. It was ... I had to concentrate on my breathing. I went into the bedroom, passed out on the bed, woke up, Brady's licking my forehead, I'm like drenched-

 

Jennifer: He was going to overdose. It was going to kill him. I just knew.

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:07:36] Oh my God. I'm thinking I could overdose and die. I don't really give a fuck. I really don't.

 

Okay, so here we are. Tuesday, May 19th at eight-something. I'm driving to work. I've only had a few sips of coffee so far this morning.

 

Jennifer: Then the very last video that he made was May 19th, so the next morning around 8:45, and he's in his car driving to work ...

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:08:07] I suppose, I just wanted to remind myself that I'm a guy in a suit with a professional job getting up early and driving to work, because I appreciate the last few entries I made last night, were of me stoned and looking like some kind of junkie.

 

Jennifer: ... and then, he starts talking about he looks fat and old ...

 

Daniel Couzins: Fat and old, which is weird, because I know that I've put on a little bit of weight, but old? Like, old? I've never really looked at myself ... I'm 31 years old, I've never really looked at myself and thought, "You're old," then I start to see things like little lines, or just ... I don't know ... oldness, and I'm not looking ...

 

Jennifer: He definitely aged a lot the last few months of his life, because, I think, of his drug use and the stress, of course, I still thought he was super handsome.

 

Daniel Couzins: [crosstalk 00:08:59] anyway, I better [inaudible 00:09:14] and chat later. Bye, bye.

 

Jennifer: That was the last video that he made, the 19th. I saw him for the last time on the 21st. We had some supper. I made him tacos, and then he died that night.

 

Dispatch: 9-1-1, what is your emergency?

 

Jennifer: My husband's dead.

 

Dispatch: Okay, they're-

 

Jennifer: He's laying on the couch and he's cold and he's dead.

 

Dispatch: Okay, are you with him now?

 

Jennifer: Yes!

 

Dispatch: Is he awake?

 

Jennifer: No!

 

Dispatch: Is he breathing?

 

Jennifer: I'm a nurse! I'm a nurse! I know, no, he's not breathing! He's got vomit in his mouth.

 

Dispatch: Okay, ma'am, I'm sending for the Portsmouth police and ambulance to help you, now. Stay on the line, I'll tell you exactly what to do next.

 

Jennifer: Oh my God! No! No!

 

Speaker 5: Portsmouth Fire [inaudible 00:10:28] Thank you, dispatch.

 

Dispatch: 901 agent 127 with a request for police and ambulance, this would be at 42 ...

 

Jennifer: Oh my God, there's so much stuff. I just realized one day, "Yeah, okay, I'm ready to look at this stuff. I'm ready to go through it." His clothing ... he has a lot of clothes, and they've all just been in bags in my front bedroom. You walk in the room, and you can smell him, because it's his clothing, so it was kind of strange. I noticed the cats like to sleep on the bags.

 

Want some food? Want some treats? All right, Brady, usually, he's really cute. He can stand on his back feet. Come on! He'll just kind of take it from you.

 

I'm scared. I don't want to erase him. He's always a part of me, and I'm always going to have some things to remember him by, but I, also, don't want my house to become a giant shrine to Danny, you know?

 

Today is Monday, May 22nd 2017, and today is two years that Danny's been gone. I'm here to visit this place that he loved a lot, the Great Bay Wildlife Refuge. We both would visit a lot. We'd come together, probably, once a week. I haven't been here since he died, and I'm here to come and visit, and be in nature, and, also, to sprinkle a very small amount of his ashes. I'm going to find a good spot.

 

Lots of little baby trees. [inaudible 00:12:30] new growth. That's nice. Everything's so green. I don't know, no place is good enough. I feel like no place is good enough. He looked to look at the water here. I think this is a good spot to leave a tiny little bit of Danny. I think he would like it here.

 

Oh, Danny. I really miss you. There. Okay, I know that was a tiny amount, but I want to hold on to the rest of him ... for now.

 

Speaker 5: Dan Couzins was one of more than 52,000 Americans who died from overdoses in 2015, and the numbers are going up. We, recently, released a documentary looking at how the city of Huntington, West Virginia is dealing with this epidemic. The film, called Heroin(e), was directed by Elaine MccMillion Sheldon. It's now streaming on Netflix. You should check it out.

 

Today's show was produced by Jack Rodolico in collaboration with New Hampshire Public Radio. Laura Starecheski and Deb George were our editors. WHYY Philadelphia provided production support. Our lead sound designer and engineer is Jim Briggs. We had help this week from Catherine Raymondo and Cat [Shugnite 00:14:21]. Amy Pyle's our editor and chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.