Louisville Magazine

AUG 2015

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/544853

Contents of this Issue


Page 56 of 140

54 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 54 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.15 1950s, Eastern Kentucky coal jobs plum- meted by more than half, and families fed for factory jobs in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. "Austin was as far as they could get on one tank of gas," goes the joke. Te man loops his lesson to present day. Te addiction, that's Appalachian too. Moonshine in the mountains, drugs here, a curse that crossed state lines. Many life- long Austin residents echoed this theory to me. But other communities incubate similar environments. Te last town to experience an HIV outbreak sim- ilar to Austin was Belle Glade, Florida. Between 1982 and 1986, 62 people contracted HIV and ultimately AIDS through IV drug use and sexual contact. Most were black and poor. A 1985 New York Times article described Belle Glade as a "farm community long locked in penury and squalor. . . . Diseases of overcrowding, poor san- itation and malnutrition have long been docu- mented." (Te area continues to have high HIV rates.) In Austin, families discovered a cheap place to relocate just of the interstate. Relatives followed grandparents and uncles who managed life through relatively stable factory work or a government check. Blood brought a big part of Austin together. W hitney and David Richie live on Austin's west side, another trou- bled neighborhood. On the front door of their rental home, they've posted a sign in red ink: No knocking 9-10. Te nighttime hour is "when most of the junkies are out," David explains as he rolls his own cigarettes on a cookie sheet in their wood-paneled front room. It's a dark, busy space — a Confederate fag on one wall, more than a dozen framed family photos, including one of Whitney and David cheek-to-cheek in a car, mid road trip. Above David's head, a poster of a couple kissing on the beach sits next to a street sign: "S. High St." Longtime drug users, the couple says Dec. 21 was the last day they injected Opanas. Both have quit with the help of Suboxone, a drug that blocks opiate receptors, shutting down cravings. It's considered safer than methadone (which can become addictive) and is now more widely used. David pulls out a packet to show the medication that looks like a breath-mint strip. "She don't get out of bed until I have her strip open for her," David says, referring to Whitney. Whitney's Suboxone prescription is running out. After that, it's up in the air. "Take a chance or die, I guess," she says. "Or relapse." Her current doctor won't accept the health insurance plan she got through the state. A few others she has contacted demand cash (not uncommon nationwide because of low insurance reimburse- ments for the ofce visit), and she can't aford that. Many physicians won't prescribe Suboxone, one reason being that it sells on the street for about $25 a strip, often to people trying to sober up on their own. Dr. William Cooke, Austin's sole physician, ofers Vivitrol, a monthly injection that suppresses cravings. But Vivitrol doesn't have the hint of opiate that Suboxone does. So patients experience withdrawal. David was 14 when his dad, a "biker," sat him down and "put a pound of weed down in front of me and told me, 'Learn how to bag your own bags; have my mon- ey by Friday.'" "A lot of families are like that," Whit- ney chimes in. Her last school photo from the sixth grade — of her smiling and holding a basketball — stares from a perch on their television. She says she has "no good memories" from growing up in Austin. Her parents battled addiction. Electricity was periodically shut of. She dropped out of school barely past the ele- mentary years. "And that's how I grew up," David says. "I quit school. I'm a waste. I'm very intelligent. I could sit down in front of a computer . . . take it apart and put it all back together." Te 39-year-old looks hardened, a bandana often tied around his head. Tattoos cascading down fesh — spider webs on his forearm, a Harley-Da- vidson symbol with his mom's name on his hand, a mad scientist on his leg and two Voodoo dolls (one for each ex-wife) on his thighs. Whitney and David talk about their lives for hours. Tey're among the few in Austin who invite media in. Maybe their story can help others, they say. For weeks, the photographer for this story and I have been introduced to others strug- gling with addiction. Most shy away or vanish. On a hot June afternoon the pho- tographer and I go with Whitney and David to a Scottsburg food pantry, a maze of cheery yellow walls and green shelves. Whitney pushes the cart through narrow aisles. Her long brown hair is pulled up. She wears sparkly sunglasses, jean shorts and a swipe of cherry Chap- Stick. Twenty-seven years old, she still hasn't outgrown childlike, plump cheeks. David hugs his petite wife's shoulders, hanging on as they walk in step. Te two are like magnets, always close. Nine years ago, about the time they got married, David tattooed "Whitney + David" on Whitney's left hand. On the way to the pantry, David and Whitney giggle recounting their love story. David started crushing on Whit- ney when she was just 13. Te saga veers Merle Haggard: David goes to prison, his then-wife winds up with Whitney's boyfriend. Tey marry soon after Whit- ney's 18th birthday. A pantry volunteer pulls chicken noo- dle soup, melon, frozen vegetables and a red velvet cake from shelves, stacking all of it in the cart. Without this place, gro- ceries would be hard to aford. Te two briefy worked at the same auto-parts factory a few years ago, but Whitney says her painful sciatic nerve problems and eczema couldn't handle the hot, laborious job. David can't get hired full time anywhere. When companies do the background check, they fnd his criminal record, including drug possession and a conviction in the late '90s for child molestation. Tey rely on Whitney's disability check and an informal pawn operation they run out of their house for money. Until six months ago, David says, he also cooked meth and dealt drugs. But that lifestyle soured their love. David was accusing Whitney of prostituting. Fights exploded. Tey considered signing up for inpatient treatment. (After the HIV outbreak, Turning Point in Jefersonville gave priority to folks from Austin, re- ducing wait times for one of the 18 beds in half.) But that would've meant being apart for 30 or more days. "I can't be away from him," Whitney says. David pulls out a packet to show the medication Suboxone, which looks like a breath-mint strip. "She don't get out of bed until I have her strip open for her," David says, referring to Whitney. Continued on page 132

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Louisville Magazine - AUG 2015