The quiet killer
After they found Philip Seymour Hoffman dead in Manhattan with a needle in his arm, Stu Walton figured the cops would arrest somebody within 24 hours.
“I was off by a day,” Stu Walton said, sitting at the desk at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., where he worked for 23 years.
We can forgive Stu Walton for being a bit cynical about all this, because nobody was ever arrested, let alone within 48 hours, after his daughter Carrie Ann died of a heroin overdose in Medford 12 years ago.
“To everybody, she was just a junkie,” Stu Walton was saying. “There was no investigation, no attempt to find out who sold her the heroin, whether what was being sold posed a threat to any other addict. Maybe if she was a big movie star, something might have happened. But she wasn’t. She was just my daughter.”
Stu Walton remembers the little girl who loved animals and loved to sing, who grew up and worked hard to get Jarrett Barrios elected to the legislature, the doting daughter who stumbled into addiction.
Don’t get Stu Walton wrong. He wasn’t and isn’t looking for every heroin dealer in America to be arrested, because he knows that’s unrealistic, just as unrealistic as locking up four people who may or may not have supplied the heroin that killed Philip Seymour Hoffman.
What bothers Stu Walton is that the overreaction to the sad news and the arrests that followed Hoffman’s death are no more enlightened than the official indifference that followed his daughter’s death in 2002, the societal apathy that has followed thousands of fatal heroin overdoses around here in the interim.
Twelve years after his unknown daughter died the same death as a well-known actor, Stu Walton knows nothing will change until addiction is treated first and foremost as a health problem, something that can’t be arrested away.
Carrie Ann Walton came to be an addict in a sad, but shockingly common way. She had some painful internal cysts, then had her gall bladder removed. Her doctor prescribed painkillers. She got hooked. She was 25 years old, and all she wanted was to feel the way she felt on those pills.
Stu Walton went to the pharmacies where she was dropping off prescriptions, trying to get to the bottom of it.
“She was doctor shopping,” he said. “They gave her anything she wanted.”
When the prescriptions finally ran dry, her craving for opiates led her inevitably to the nearest heroin dealer. And that dealer led her inevitably to the couch in her apartment where they found her dead, nine years after she became an addict.
“The coroner said she had 2,000 times the level of opiates in her system that you would in the normal course of taking heroin,” Stu Walton said.
Eight months after he buried his daughter, Stu Walton buried his 31-year-old, son Matthew, who died shortly after getting out of rehab. He put them in the same grave, in West Medford. And then he went on something of a one-man crusade, going to town meetings, school assemblies, anywhere they would let him talk about the scourge of heroin and other drugs.
He ran up against stigma as much as indifference. Nobody cares about junkies. And people whose loved ones become addicts are usually too ashamed to speak out.
“There’s no constituency for addicts,” he said. “Who’s going to go to the politicians and say, ‘Hey, don’t cut the rehab beds; don’t cut the treatment programs.’ People bury their kids and live with it. No one pays any attention until someone from Hollywood dies.”
Still, he empathizes with Hoffman’s family. He’s been there. He hopes Hoffman’s death changes things as much as he knows it won’t.
Stu Walton goes to St. Raphael’s in West Medford all the time, to sit and think. And when he does, he remembers he walked his daughter down the aisle of the church twice: on the day she was married and on the day she was buried.
Kevin Cullen is a columnist for The Boston Globe.