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Almost 20 years ago, I went through the darkest time of my life. I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who made me feel isolated and weak. I wish I could explain why I loved him, or why I stayed, but as with most abusive relationships, it’s beyond words.

In the beginning, I didn’t realize he had a drug habit. By the time I put all the signs together, I was too invested to move on. He nagged me to try it, and out of desperation to fit into his life, I complied. Unfortunately, I liked it.

Thankfully, that relationship eventually ended. But just because the boyfriend was gone didn’t mean the addiction went away. I maintained the habit for a year on my own.

One day, I realized that I was putting my life, my job and my personal relationships at risk. I needed to come clean and get clean. I told my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Jim, the truth. He was supportive and responded with support and compassion.

I quit cold turkey.

It was the single hardest thing I have ever done. I was nauseous, lethargic and unmotivated. The temptation to fall back into the habit was constant and strong. But I was stronger, and I have never achieved something so momentous in my life. Regardless of the outcome of this election, or anything else I ever do, I doubt I will ever be as proud as I am to have fought through the sickness of addiction.

But with that pride comes the knowledge that I am privileged. The road to overcoming drug dependency is long, and it looks different for everyone. My story is not unique: 19.7 million Americans suffered from substance abuse in 2017.

Not everyone has the stability in their lives to “just quit.” Many people don’t have financial flexibility to miss work, health-care coverage to have regular check-ins with their doctor, or supportive spouses to fill in the gaps in life while they focus on recovery.

This experience is part of why I am running for the Palm Springs City Council.

Palm Springs is plagued with public-health and public-safety issues that intersect with each other.

  • We have one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in Riverside County.
  • Our homeless population is growing, and is disproportionately impacted by substance abuse.
  • The LGBT community is at a higher risk of substance abuse and mental-health issues due to increased violence and other stressors.
  • The Native American population is historically the single most-addiction-impacted population in the United States. What is Palm Springs doing to help our neighboring communities?

The truth is our mental-health services, like all our social services, are lacking, at best. This must change, and I will fight every single day until it does.

For me, it’s not political rhetoric. It’s not about making empty promises on the campaign trail or telling people what they want to hear. It’s about an opportunity to make a real difference on an issue that is hurting our communities.

This is me. This is my life. This is my experience.

I am ready to lead from a place of compassion, understanding and empathy. Because I’ve been there. I have felt the struggle. I have overcome the demons. And I am holding my hand out to pull the impacted people of Palm Springs up with me.

As a community, we can overcome anything.

Peter Maietta is a candidate for the District 2 seat on the Palm Springs City Council.

Published in Community Voices

First a spoiler alert: Among the multiple apocalyptic revelations in Ben Westhoff’s Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic is bad news for all hard-drug users, from casual weekend abusers to full-time cocaine cowboys. Putting questionable substances up your nose, in your veins or even on your tongue is highly discouraged from here on in.

“Any drug where it’s a powder or a pill, you just can’t trust it,” Westhoff said in an interview about his latest project. “There can be fentanyl in anything … (Home drug-testing kits) are getting very sophisticated, and there are websites you can consult, but in terms of going to a party and someone offering you some blow or something like that, it’s over.”

Of course, many will not see this book or heed such warnings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “among the more than 70,200 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (other synthetic narcotics), with more than 28,400 overdose deaths.” Fentanyl recently even made news on the sports pages, revealed as one of the culprits in the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

When he started writing this book just four years ago, Westhoff couldn’t have imagined those statistics: Fentanyl showed up and kicked the hinges off a prior psychedelic focus that turns up in trace amounts throughout the book but that is overshadowed by the eponymous grim reaper. Quoting a CDC report, Westhoff notes, “in 2013 the ‘third wave’ of the opioid epidemic began.” And “because of fentanyl, it is the most deadly one yet.” Focusing on urban Missouri in one especially harrowing chapter, he reports: “In 2012, St. Louis saw 92 opioid-related deaths, a number that rose to 123 in 2013 and up to 256 in 2017.”

“Fentanyl completely changed the game,” one character, a former jam-band road dog who jumped from newfangled hallucinogens into the far more dangerous opioid scene, told Westhoff. Beyond the numbers, which are ugly but far from reliable in this nascent abusive honeymoon phase of the crisis, this is a story about people, and Fentanyl, Inc. features a roster of villains and victims who stray far from movie archetypes. From fast and furious nerdy bros brewing up alphabet soup in bunkers underneath the desert, to 20-something call-center employees who peddle poison by phone from the back offices of semilegal chemistry labs in China, their stories follow a theme reflected in all of Westhoff’s vignettes: Everything you think you know about drugs has changed. Even the people packing, slinging, sniffing and filling their vaults thanks to this garbage don’t know the half. Or the wrath. They mostly only care about the math.

“A lot of drug-dealing comes from people who have addictions of their own,” Westhoff said. “Painting the dark web or these people with a broad brush isn’t a good idea, because everyone has their own philosophies. A lot of people are in it for harm reduction; there’s a legitimate case to be made for getting a lot of these psychedelics and other potential medicines out to people they can potentially help. And then it gets a little harder when you get this guy who is selling nasal spray with fentanyl analogues and saying that he’s helping opioid addicts maintain their addictions in a more affordable way.”

Westhoff, a relatively early explorer into the unknowns of these notorious intoxicants, stresses the lack of common facts and figures in this post-medicine chest Wild West. “They used to say that touching fentanyl can make you overdose,” he said. Unsure of the verdict on the epidermal threat, the author nevertheless said some of his sources “were dealing (the extremely dangerous carfentanil) and breaking it up with their bare hands.

“This stuff is so new that there isn’t much agreement—there’s not even agreement about how to pronounce the word fentanyl. Half the country says, ‘fenta-nall’; the other half says, ‘fenta-nil.’ But nobody knows. It’s like a black box … a lack of information.”

As for the innumerable analogues available online and maybe at your local McDonalds, Westhoff said, “It evolves too quickly for people to even come up with a clever name for (new drug incarnations) … People don’t even realize what they’re taking—whether it’s heroin, or pills, or cocaine, or whatever.”

In his quest to source answers, Westhoff “consulted politicians, police, DEA agents, and international drug-policy makers, who would like to put these traffickers away forever,” as well as “counselors, doctors, activists and policy wonks, some of whom believe these drugs should be legal.” He even “corresponded with two infamous, now-imprisoned LSD kingpins who worked together out of an abandoned missile silo in Kansas.”

He writes: “The demise of their operation in 2000 may have inadvertently fueled the rise of a new hallucinogen whose effects are far worse than LSD.”

You may be wondering: Is this one of those stories about the real Walter White? You could say that, but there are thousands of them, wearing different hats on multiple continents, dealing on the web and in your backyard. Fentanyl, Inc. is like Breaking Bad meets Night of the Living Dead meets New Jack City, Gummo, Kids and Gremlins. With a cast from a lot of the places on President Donald Trump’s shithole list. As one candid former US State Department special agent explains: “Fentanyl can be produced anywhere a laboratory can be set up, such as a warehouse in an industrial park, a home in a residential area or a clandestine lab in the mountains.”

For Westhoff, the first taste of disaster came nearly a decade ago, in Los Angeles. He writes:

In 2010, 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez fatally overdosed at Electric Daisy Carnival at the L.A. Coliseum, reportedly from ecstasy. Local politicians revolted, and the event was forced to relocate to Las Vegas. A Plymouth State University student named Brittany Flannigan overdosed and died in late August 2013 after attending a Boston EDM concert featuring the popular DJ Zedd, and just days later, a University of Virginia student named Mary “Shelley” Goldsmith passed away as well. Both were 19, and reports said they had taken “Molly.”

“I had a friend who died from multiple fentanyl patches a while back, before I even knew what fentanyl was,” Westoff said. “My way in was through the rave scene in LA when I was the LA Weekly music editor. I had gone to raves a lot back in the day, and ecstasy was pure MDMA, and people weren’t dying … But at these raves, someone if not multiple people were dying at every one. I wanted to investigate that, and I found out about all of these ecstasy substitutes and learned that there were all these new drugs coming out of China. But then all that stuff was really just the tip of the iceberg, because by 2016, fentanyl was much worse than all of the others by far. So it’s a completely different project than I envisioned.”

Westhoff includes ample relevant history—from when “one could buy opium from the Sears, Roebuck catalog”; to a Boston dealer who unknowingly tipped off the DEA in 1992 about the nation’s first known leading source of black market fentanyl; and back to the industrial revolution and addiction in the United Kingdom, and how that nation attempted “to balance its trade deficit by using its British East India Company to ply opium in tremendous quantities to the Chinese, causing a pair of wars.” The latter is especially critical background, as fentanyl and other new drugs have not caught on there, spurring many to think that’s why China has been so lax about laws and exports.

“In May, (China) blanket-banned all fentanyl analogues, which has been proven to be effective,” Westhoff said. “When China actually bans stuff, it has an effect. At the same time, there are all these loopholes. China is shipping the fentanyl precursors by the boatload to Mexico, and they’re getting (government) incentives for it. … It’s a huge sprawling bureaucracy—there’s not this one person who has a plan and is manipulating everything. It’s just capitalism gone awry. On the other hand, how could they not know what they’re doing?”

In the words of one of Wethoff’s Chinese sources, a less-than-clandestine manufacturer: “We are afraid that a reporter come to our lab, to our country, to find out why we synthesize these chemicals, or why we sell these chemicals to your country. To let your people’s health down. To harm your country’s people.”

There is plenty of blame to go around. Some fingers can be pointed at former presidents of the United States, including but by no means limited to Barack Obama, whose 2012 Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act outlawed multiple kinds of synthetic cannabinoids, but which Wired magazine cracked, “was obsolete before the ink of his signature dried” thanks to “the speed of innovation in drugs culture.” More generally speaking, the culprit is every rank-and-file Greatest Generation prohibitionist who ignorantly warned us that our drugs could be laced with something deadly long before that was a thing that really happened.

Other formerly contrived tropes about the horrors of drugs have also become real, like the one in which dealers walk around offering free samples to teens. As one young woman from the Rust Belt told the author about a strip that doubles as a literal trap in her town: “They’ll come up to anybody who’s parking, getting gas, even getting cigarettes. They’ll drive up to you and ask if you mess around. They give it to you for free.”

“There’s one condition, however,” Westhoff writes. “You must have a working cell phone and give them your number.”

Of course, all of the yellow bricks lead back to governments and their complicit politicians. Those pining for the halcyon days when it seemingly couldn’t get worse than regionally concentrated crack, meth and heroin scourges may take aim at lazy and misguided attempts to throw a wrench in the cycle of supply and addiction, like with the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. After that law limited the amount of drug-store staples like Sudafed that you could buy and subsequently harvest to manufacture methamphetamine in your barn, Mexican cartels stepped in to fill the gaps, and we all know how that’s turned out.

To learn more about the source of so much mayhem, Westhoff “infiltrated a pair of Chinese drug operations, one a sophisticated laboratory operation distilling outsize quantities of the world’s most dangerous chemicals in industrial-size glassware, and the other an office of young, cheery salespeople, who sat in rows of cubicles and sold fentanyl ingredients to American dealers and Mexican cartels.” After demasking wizards in China and possibly learning more than any other American civilian has to date about the mechanics of that country’s fentanyl trade, Westhoff came to understand that the problem is bigger than the F-word and its awful analogues.

There are countless oddball drugs available on the black market. Take U-47700, for example; “originally created in the mid-1970s as a morphine alternative, it never received FDA approval.” Nevertheless, for one of Westhoff’s sources—and who knows how many others—U-47700 “was like an ‘antidepressant,’” making them feel “whole, confident, and happy, very little stress.” Also of note is that fake weed can kill you. “Even today,” writes Westhoff, “synthetic cannabinoids remain the fastest-growing class of drugs … Some are twice as potent as marijuana; some are 100 times as potent or more. And there is little formal testing; almost nobody knows how safe each blend is, not even the scientists who invented them.”

The alarming news keeps on coming. “Even more disturbingly,” the author reports, “fentanyl began to be being pressed into pills that look exactly like name-brand prescription tablets. Raids across the United States have turned up operations in houses and apartments that turn fentanyl powder into tablets using specialized presses. Both the drugs and the machines are bought from China. These operations can make thousands of pills per hour. They stamp pills with the OxyContin or Percocet logo, and they’re indistinguishable. … The dosages of these fake pills vary greatly. One might have 10 times as much fentanyl as the next. Investigators believe such counterfeit pills were responsible for the death of music star Prince; about 100 white pills found on his property looked exactly like Vicodin but actually contained fentanyl.”

From Paisley Park to the park behind your apartment, no place seems to be immune.

“When you think of the opioid epidemic, you think of a lot of white middle-class people,” Westhoff said. “That certainly has been a big part of it, but there’s always been a huge African-American population using heroin, and now that fentanyl is in the mix, it’s causing massive casualties in places like L.A. and Chicago. This is not a death sentence for just one demographic. Just when the prescription pill deaths were finally falling, and just when the heroin deaths were finally falling, the deaths from fentanyl are going way up. And prescription pills are still abused at a very high rate, so if fentanyl really starts getting cut into pills, then this thing can balloon even worse than it already is.

“It just seems like with each drug epidemic, things keep getting worse.”

Toward the end of Fentanyl, Inc., Westhoff points to some solutions: “The crack epidemic, the meth epidemic—keep in mind people were blaming the user back then, so thankfully, we’re moving beyond that.” He also supports harm-reduction strategies like supervised injection facilities, which he argues “is really just a no-brainer.”

“We know from the failure of the War on Drugs that focusing on the supply side is not going to work,” Westhoff said. “Killing a drug kingpin from Colombia or capturing El Chapo doesn’t do anything—the drug supply is just getting worse. The drugs will find a way to get here; drug users will find a way to get their drugs; and all we can do is focus on the demand side.”

The shifting goal posts make the problem nearly impossible to smother; still, the author hopes his contribution can play an important role in navigating us out of this state of emergency.

“The inventor of fentanyl, Paul Janssen—there’s literally nothing written about him, and so I wanted to tell his story and that of the other people who brought these drugs to life. No one did it on purpose, really—these are all drugs taken from scientific literature.

“I tried to have it not just be about statistics, but about bigger trends. Even when this information is out of date, I think people are going to want to look back on how this fentanyl crisis got off the ground.”

Chris Faraone is the editor-in-chief of DigBoston and the editorial director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. This article was produced in collaboration with BINJ as part of its Film Intervening Getting High Team (F.I.G.H.T.) initiative.

Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic

By Ben Westhoff

Atlantic Monthly Press

356 pages, $27

Published in National/International

Addiction is a crippling disease that afflicts people from all backgrounds, across every economic status

But creativity and substance abuse have always gone hand in hand. Many of history’s most prolific and talented artists have dealt with some form of addiction, and within the music community of the Coachella Valley and High Desert, issues with addition, past and present, are well-known and shockingly common.

When I decided to write a piece about musicians and addiction, I quickly learned that many musicians don’t want to talk publicly about addiction. More than a handful of local musicians who are now in recovery declined—understandably—to talk on the record about their pasts, fearing consequences at their current jobs, or perhaps wanting to avoid flat-out embarrassment.

However, three individuals, all of whom are now in recovery, were courageous enough to share their stories. (It should be noted that even they asked that certain parts of their stories not be shared.)

Why? They all said they decided to speak out in the hopes that they might inspire others who are dealing with addiction to get help.

In a rather short amount of time, The Flusters have become one of the Coachella Valley’s most popular bands. The group was voted “Best Local Band” by Coachella Valley Independent readers in late 2015—even though the band had not yet existed for a whole year. The group has played numerous local shows, and was picked as one of the two local bands to play at Coachella in April.

However, it wasn’t long ago that frontman Douglas Van Sant was dealing with severe drug addiction. He’s been sober since Sept. 11, 2013.

“Back in my early 20s, painkillers and pill mills were on the rise,” Van Sant said at his home in Palm Desert. “You could go to four pain doctors in a day and get Oxycontin—and I’m talking the real deal, the higher doses of Oxycontin. This was in South New Jersey, which was 45 minutes from Camden, N.J., which is notorious for heroin. It was like the movie American Gangster, with the stamps on the bags and the ‘blue magic.’ Where I grew up, it was like an episode of The Wire. There were white neighborhoods, Mexican neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, Puerto Rican neighborhoods—and they all had their hands in it. It was easy to score.”

Van Sant said he used drugs for years.

“I had been addicted to substances mentally and physically for 10 years,” he said. “It was one thing, onto another thing, back on another thing, and being addicted to a few things at once. I was in alleys in the rain with toothless hookers doing drugs. I wandered around a campground in Ohio in leather pants and eyeliner, out of my mind. I was wandering the streets of South Philadelphia and Seattle all strung out. It was tough times—very tough times. In Seattle, I didn’t have parents to manipulate, and I was disconnected. I was in Seattle straight out of rehab, living with my cousin, and I started getting in trouble there and living in a drug house.”

Van Sant showed me a scar on his hand. He said it was created when he shielded himself from a board with a nail sticking out of it during drug deal gone wrong.

“It’s real; it’s not sensationalized.” Van Sant said about the nasty side of addiction. “Anything in the media, they don’t sensationalize it enough. It’s bad; it’s dirty; it’s grimy; and it’s dangerous. People in that world don’t fuck around at all. They get what they need to get one way or another. You always think about the next high, and you don’t really ponder your mortality.

“I was in my parents’ basement on a diet of chicken broth and oranges, trying to kick drugs, and banging my head on the door, trying to knock myself out to go to sleep. I’ve been so sick, I couldn’t move. The last time, I was really suicidal and deeply depressed. … It was bad, and in the end, I got to a really deep place and had to stop.”

Herb Lienau is known today as the spooky organist Herbert, but he has been part of the local music scene since the early ’80s. He’s played in bands with Mario Lalli of Fatso Jetson, Scott Reeder of Kyuss, Sean Wheeler of Throw Rag, and many others. Lienau was interviewed in the recently released documentary Desert Age; one of the subjects discussed was drug use in the early desert-rock scene.

Lienau talked to me at his Cathedral City home about his addiction to crystal methamphetamine.

“I was always kind of a mellow person and needed more energy. When I smoked pot, I’d just want to eat and go to sleep—and that’s it,” Lienau said with a laugh. “With speed, I enjoyed being awake and having energy to do stuff. Physically, for me, I didn’t have any teeth fall out, or anything like that. But you do lose a lot of weight.

“It all started with speed around 1984. When I was in high school, there wasn’t any crystal meth. You could get speed in pill forms. Crystal was a whole different thing. The first time I did it was with Mario Lalli. Mario was playing music with some bikers at one point, and I think that’s how he got exposed to it. I came down and visited, and we were hanging out at Mario’s parents’ house, and that’s when I first tried it. I was in love with it instantly. With cocaine, it’s over in 20 minutes, and you feel like killing yourself afterward or getting more. With crystal meth, you felt like you got your money’s worth: It lasted for hours and hours.

Lienau said drug use was simply part of the scene back then.

“We all partied really hard, and it wasn’t considered addiction,” Lienau said. “It doesn’t become addiction until it’s an issue. It was an issue for me around 1985. We all did everything and anything as much as we possibly could—and unashamedly so. That’s right when speed started happening, and no one knew anything about speed and the long-term effects. They didn’t even know you could get addicted to it.”

Lienau said the drugs were fun at first—but he started noticing the negative side effects fairly quickly.

“People started changing,” he said. “They were doing bad stuff; scandalous things started to happen; and bad relationship stuff happened. Being up for days at a time isn’t the best thing, either. It gets its hooks in you, and it’s hard to quit. It really changes you, and you get weird, and you start hallucinating.”

During the ’80s, there were not yet any regulations or restrictions on the ingredients used to make crystal methamphetamine.

“There were a handful of people locally who were selling it back then, and it was easy to get. It just happened, and it was the new thing,” he said.

Lienau went to rehab for the first time in the mid-1980s.

“I don’t know if I decided or someone decided for me,” Lienau said. “… I think I was the first one out of all of us back then who went to rehab. I went to either The Ranch or the Betty Ford Center. … I have been to The Ranch a couple of times, the Betty Ford Center once, the ABC (Recovery Center), Cedar House in Bloomington, and a couple of detox centers. But that’s nothing compared to a lot of people.”

Lienau said he’s been sober for five years now.

“My M.O. has been get a year, get a couple of years, and then go back, and go off for a year or two, and go on and off. Right now, I have five years clean—so I have to really be careful, because right around this time, I have to be aware what’s going on.

“I’m hopefully done for good. Every time is worse than the time before. I’m older now, too, so I don’t really have a desire to do it anymore.”

Rick Chaffee (right; photo by Guillermo Prieto), who plays in the band Gutter Candy, is one of the best guitarists in the valley. Gutter Candy takes all the things about late-’70s punk and ’80s glam metal—and makes them funny and entertaining.

However, there was a time when there was little that was funny about Rick Chaffee’s life.

“I started drinking and smoking weed at 15 or 16,” Chaffee said during a recent phone interview. “But then when I was 25, I ended up getting hooked on heroin. From 25 to 35, I was a heroin addict.”

He said heroin back then was simply part the Orange County musician’s lifestyle.

“I can’t really say if I hadn’t been hanging out with those people that I wouldn’t have tried it somewhere else and at another time,” he said. “… It was that and cocaine. I didn’t do it every day.”

Chaffee said he’s always been an addict.

“I was always smoking weed and drinking all the time before heroin,” he said. “I had an addictive personality. I can’t say my upbringing was a root, but my parents drank, and I grew up with divorced parents. I was unsupervised as a kid growing up, and that may have had something to do with it, too. I was roaming the streets at 14 and 15 and always seemed to fall into the wrong crowd. I was playing music when I was 16 and hanging out with other guitar-players and harmonica-players doing Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash.”

Chaffee’s life was imperiled by his drug use.

“I hit bottom when I was in and out of jail,” he said. “My relationships always seemed to fail. I also didn’t have a steady place to live. I wasn’t really on the street, but I did a lot of couch-surfing during those years. The last relationship I was in back then—she’s the mother of my son, and she’s been through it with me on and off.

“My family turned their back on me, and everyone else turned their back on me and said, ‘We’re not helping you anymore, and we’re done with you.’”

Van Sant, Lienau and Chaffee are currently clean—although they all know that could change if they aren’t careful.

One motivation to stay clean is the rehabilitation process, which Van Sant said is simply awful.

“They medicate you. You have to go through a medical detox, and you’re not just going in there to get your life together,” Van Sant said. “The 24-hour suicide-watch detox … you are in psychosis at that point. You sleep a lot, or you sleep not at all. You can’t eat, and you can’t do anything. You get to the point where you can’t function. For drug addicts, it’s like Chinese water torture—it’s slow; it’s long; and it’s annoying. You can’t get any rest, either. In rehab, they keep you busy. I knew I was done, and I needed to be done. I needed to stop and couldn’t do it anymore. It was so exhausting mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Lienau explained that crystal methamphetamine addicts often go through rehab many, many times.

“Studies have shown that it doesn’t stick. There’s a very low success rate,” Lienau said. “To get to that point where you’re not using—it takes what it takes. Some people can do it the first try, no problem, but others like me, I was a serial-relapse case. I was the earliest of our group to get sober the first time, or even to start, and I just wasn’t ready.

“Having a kid and being a parent helped me try to not be a fuck-up, but even that didn’t stop me, and there were even a few relapses after that.”

Through all of his relapses over the years, Lienau said he’s survived because he sticks to the mantra of “one day at a time.”

“You’re full of remorse, self-loathing and all that stuff—especially after it’s a repeated thing. But it’s one day at a time, and I hope I don’t do it again,” he said. “I’ve been through this whole thing long enough to know nothing is for sure. You have to take it one day at a time. I know better than to say ‘no more’ forever. It’s one day at a time. I hope I never do it again, but I’ve done this long enough to know that nothing is for sure.”

Unlike Van Sant and Lienau, Chaffee has been clean and sober for decades.

“At 35, I got clean and sober. I’ve been clean and sober ever since—and this September will be 25 years,” Chaffee said. “I ended up getting clean because my life was just getting more difficult, and I was in and out of jail. I needed some help and tried to quit for the last three years of my using on my own, and then I started going to 12-step meetings. That’s what’s helped.”

Chaffee said being in jail while addicted is hard—and can be deadly.

“I’ve kicked heroin in jail before. They don’t give you any special treatment, and they don’t send you into the infirmary or any medical environment to help you deal with it,” he said. “You have to kick it on your own. That’s scary.”

Chaffee has put the lessons he learned to good use: While Chaffee rocks out in Gutter Candy at night, he’s a certified drug-counselor by day.

“In 1996, I had five years clean. A friend of mine said there was an opening at a treatment center in Palm Springs, and I ended up going there and was the night tech guy,” he said. “I went to school to get certified, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s been almost 20 years of working in the field.”

Chaffee said as a drug counselor, he knows all about the frequent trips to rehab some people, like Lienau, have endured.

“Does it miss the mark? I believe if you’re ready for treatment and you go into treatment, it’ll help,” Chaffee said. “A lot of people are so full of denial and blame others, and they’re not accountable for themselves or taking the responsibilities of it being their problem. If people are done and want to be done with it, it’ll help. I only had to go once, and it worked for me because I was done. I was 35, and I was young, but a lot of people think when they’re young that they can handle it, manage it—and, ‘If it wasn’t for Mom or Dad or this and that, then I wouldn’t be addicted, and it’s their fault.’ If you have people enabling you, that keeps people stuck in the addiction lifestyle as well.”

While some artists claim they’re at their best when using drugs, Van Sant said it’s downright liberating for him to play music as a sober person.

“It felt incredible to know I could actually do it,” Van Sant said. “I thought that you had to be a Joplin, a Cobain or a Hendrix to be an artist—a certifiable wacko, and live in that insanity all the time. I thought that’s what truth meant. What I found is that it doesn’t need to be your story; your story is your own story. Find your own truth. To know I could write and create without drugs or alcohol is such a big part of my sobriety, and it still is. I’m actually a more vibrant artist when I’m sober. It was one of the most freeing experiences I ever felt in my life.

“Lately, I’ve become industrious about music to where I think I might be too industrious. I’m there to work and get my thing done; my social experiences aren’t at gigs. I’m there to think about my music and play. That’s such a weird concept to me, because it used to be the opposite. It was always, ‘FUCK YEAH! WE’RE GOING TO GO PLAY A GIG! IT’S PARTY TIME! IT’S NOT GIG TIME; IT’S JUST A PART OF PARTY TIME!’ Now it’s, ‘It’s gig time, and nothing else is a part of it.’ I’m there to talk to the people who came to see us, talk about music, make future plans, make future connections, and do whatever I can for the music.

“That’s my addiction now. I love it. It’s really exhilarating and fun. I manage the band well, and I manage it well because I’m focused.”

Lienau pondered the link between addiction and music.

“Maybe it’s the creativity—wanting to try new things and experiment,” he said. “A lot of artists are fucked-up to begin with, and that’s why they’re making art; it’s their outlet. They might think it helps expand their horizons or whatever. All I know is when I used to do speed, I would want to play guitar forever—but it didn’t take long to where if I was on it, I couldn’t touch a guitar. I didn’t want anything to do with it. It’s weird, but the whole thing sort of changed over time for me.”

Chaffee said he does not know why music and addiction often go hand in hand.

“I think maybe the artist or musician is a little bit more sensitive using the creative part of the brain and are more in tune to feelings, moods and emotions,” he said. “For me, the lifestyle of a musician being there in the ’80s and ’90s—it was all about partying, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

Van Sant and Lienau both admit they aren’t certain what the future holds.

“One of the smartest things I ever heard is, ‘There are things that we know, and things we’re aware we don’t know,’” Van Sant said. “There’s also this whole other category of things we don’t know we don’t know. My sobriety has been a constant exploration. … I’m living life differently and attracting a different person than I was before.”

Lienau said he’s learned honesty with oneself is the best way to address addiction.

“When you’re in denial, nothing is going to happen,” he said. “When you’re honest with yourself and accept that you have a problem, you can start addressing it. Until that happens, it won’t happen. I would say (to an addict who wants help): Go to a meeting. Find someone to talk to, and take direction from people who have done it, have been around for a while and have put in some years clean and sober. Someone who has done it before proves it can work, and that’s where you have to take instruction from. It’s too hard to do it alone, especially flying blind.”

Chaffee agreed that addicts almost never get clean without assistance.

“Seek help. You can’t live in both worlds,” he said. “Once you cross that line of moderation, you can’t go back. If you feel your life is out of control, seek some help.”

Below: Herb Lienau (top right) started doing speed back in 1984. “When I was in high school, there wasn’t any crystal meth. You could get speed in pill forms. Crystal was a whole different thing.” Today, Lienau (pictured in the second photo with Brant Bjork) has been sober for five years. “I’m hopefully done for good,” he said. “Every time is worse than the time before. I’m older now, too, so I don’t really have a desire to do it anymore.” Photos by Jordan Schwartz.