Have you been prescribed bupropion? Was your brain betraying you, tricking you, and were you depressed to the point of hopelessness, even suicide? It took every last fragment of who you are to drag yourself to the psychiatrist, where the p-doc says, “Let’s start you off with bupropion. This is a good med that works for a lot of people with depression.”

You agree to the prescription; you tell yourself “What do I have to lose?”; you tell yourself “I hope it doesn’t have any of the crappy side effects I’ve heard about”; you’re scared of everything, including taking psych meds for the first time; you feel some hope that the bupropion will work because the p-doc is a medical profession and knows what he’s doing; you’re getting ready to head out the door and hit up Walgreen’s for your first ever psych med.

And then the p-doc says:

“It will take about two weeks for you to really feel the effects of bupropion. Then we’ll know if it’s going to work for you.”

WTF????? Two weeks????? I feel horrible right here, right now, or what would I be doing in your office? And you’re telling me it takes two weeks to find out if it’ll even work????? Two more weeks of suicidal ideation and right here, right now worthlessness, and there’s no guarantee it’ll even work???????????

This is the peer experience. I keep using the term “peer experience” because this is what I went through, and this is such a similar story I’ve heard time and again from friends at DBSA Albuquerque support groups, peer focus groups, and peer councils. It’s so often how a peer starts their medical treatment. And it sucks.

For me, I went through this trial and error treatment with zero noticeable positive results for years, and I was saturated in side effects like severe weight gain, sleeping too much, sleeping to little, fuzzy eyesight, headaches, lack of muscle control, incontinence (I had to put a rubber sheet over my mattress), lack of motivation, crippling lethargy, isolation for fear of being recognized looking like Rosie O’Donnell had swallowed a baby humpback whale whole, tardive dyskenisia (fortunately temporary – once I was off the med, it went away – not all peers are so lucky)… here are meds intended to make me feel better, and sure, the symptoms might be suppressed by being way over-medicated, but I looked in the mirror and hated what I saw… and the meds weren’t working. I didn’t feel better. In fact, I felt worse.

I did this for four years. I kept at it, though. I have a son, and I didn’t want to lose him to his Queen of the Harpies mom (her preferred form of communication is screaming). So my kid was my incentive to stay with it. I did, and in 2012 I finally got it together to a place of sustainability. I found meds that worked, I loved exercising again (hiking, biking, rockclimbing, running, chasing cats out of my yard with a flaming sword), and I was able to feel joy again.

This is the peer experience. At DBSA Albuquerque support groups, you’d be hard-pressed to find a peer who says, “I took bupropion and it worked perfectly the first time!” I’d wager you’d have better luck winning the lottery for six straight decades than finding a peer of this ilk.

Knowing this, it’s not amazing or surprising at all that many peers turn to illicit drugs. Crack. Meth. Pot. Coke. Heroin. Alcohol. These are medications as well, right? Because they make you feel “better”, they are medications by the strict concept of why you take prescription meds. They’re all meds and pot makes me feel better in less than two weeks. Meth improves my mood immediately. Heroin mellows things out within the first few days.

Bogus, dude. Totally bogus. In getting to know co-occurring peers who have cycled through Kaseman, Turquoise Lodge, and UNM Psych inpatient, the street drugs and booze don’t make them feel “better.” They make them feel DIFFERENT, and it’s immediate, and feeling something different is better than feeling crappy all the time. Especially if the p-doc keeps switching your meds for months if not years, and every time you take a new med, the p-doc says, “Remember, give it two weeks before we try something else. This time, though, let’s give it four weeks.”

Let me share a part of me that’s tough to visit. I loved a great gal. I still do love her. She was my best gal, and we were talking permanence, that we’d work towards a long future. It’s the first time I felt safe enough since my disastrous marriage to trust a girl enough to think beyond the default “I wonder when this relationship is going implode.”

She had a thing for petrified wood. Don’t go there. Too late. you went there.

Fossils. Tree fossils from the late Cretaceous. She loved exploring, and she loved the geology stuff. I loved her easy grin and easier smile. And her caledonite-blue eyes that smiled just as easily.

She is a marvelous, generous, gorgeous human presence… there was only love, caring, understanding… and it did implode. My best gal has bipolar, and she lived next door to a guy who went by the name “Coda” but in actuality his name is Lynn Hudson. And he got to my best gal and said, “Yeah, I know those script meds suck. Why do you try some of my wares?”

What are Hudson’s wares? Pot. Bricks of it. And he gave my best gal nearly a full brick “for free.” And it made her feel different. She wasn’t crying all the time, and she could get out into public barely, maybe even to go back to work as the manager of a national health product retail store.

She seemed different. Maybe it was working. Maybe her joy and zest would return.

It didn’t. She didn’t see what I saw, the stranger she became. If she wasn’t stoned literally from waking to passing out later that day, she uncontrollably sobbed (not crying… sobbing) until she was stoned again. Different. Not better.

Hudson gave her a huge Ziploc bag of pot for free. I showed up at her apartment, and I see her holding this bag which must have had a half pound of pot.

I was… gobsmacked to complete numbness. I didn’t know what to feel. Anger? Fear? Disappointment? I’ll tell you the emotion that surfaced: Panic.

My best gal could go to prison for having that much pot on her and in her apartment. I knew that I could go to prison for just being in the apartment regularly, often staying the night. That both of us could busted to a long stint in prison for the amount of pot she had on her sent me into an overwhelming panic, a magnitude of panic I’d never felt before.

Words came out of my mouth. I said, “You can’t have that here! Take it back!” Those were the only words.

Her reply: “Coda says the only way to buy pot is in bulk. Otherwise, you’re paying too much for a small bag.”

It was our worst argument ever. After about five minutes of heated shouting, she stormed out with the Ziploc bag (in broad daylight, with kids playing on the lawn right in front of her apartment), and when she returned she said, “Coda has it now. I’ll go over there when I need to smoke. Are you happy with yourself?”

Um… not really the emotion I’d identify with this moment. Happy? Nope. I was deflated, because I knew that was the beginning of an inevitable implosion. It was only two months later and I was in Kamp Kaseman. I called her before taking myself in. I told her we were done and I can’t be with her any longer. I love you. Don’t call, don’t come over. I must do this for me. We’re done.

I loved her, and I still love her. Lynn “Coda” Hudson is a predator. He finds peers who are exhausted with script meds that don’t seem to work, and he gives them “free pot” just to see if it helps. He is a predator, and he is not the only drug pusher in Albuquerque who preys upon the dejected reality of peers taking script meds.

Why didn’t I turn him in? Because I loved her, and I didn’t want to see her go down with him. I was in Hudson’s apartment only once, and he had five bricks of pot on the floor next to his couch. He bragged to me that because drug dealing was a “cash business”, he didn’t report it to Social Security, so he was still getting his SSDI benefits for lupus. This pissed me off so much I blasted out of there and didn’t visit my best gal for a week. Do you know how many peers at DBSA Albuquerque fight with Social Security to get their SSDI? And here this arsehole was bragging about abusing the system.

I didn’t call the cops on Hudson. Now, I feel a great amount of shame because if Hudson was preying upon my best gal with bipolar, Hudson was preying upon other peers. Hudson knew the symptoms of depression and bipolar. Hudson knew the right words to say. Hudson used a sociopathic charisma to hook peers and get them dependent on his “product.”

Hudson was clever. He opened a Facebook group called “Coda’s Cauldron” to advertise his product. He held Wicca parties in city parks after the parks were closed, and he got word out into the city to come to his parties… where he met more peers for sure. He had more prey to hook on his product.

And Hudson was hooking new customers with great regularity (it was a parade of strangers going to his apartment at all hours who stayed for about ten minutes), but not with strictly illegal marijuana. I was able to pinch a sample of my best gal’s pot, and I gave it to a bioengineering pal of mine at Sandia. I told him it wasn’t just pot. My best gal was pinching at zits that didn’t exist, all over her body. She began doing the same to me in the shower. And, her teeth were going a rotten brown, and fast. I knew it wasn’t just pot. My pal confirmed it. The pot was laced with crystal meth. What an excellent way to hook peers on his product!

I’m ashamed of myself. To protect my best gal, I allowed Hudson to continue for sure preying upon more and more peers. When I finally got the courage to call 911 about seven months later, it was already too late. He had moved on and I didn’t know where he moved. I heard he was still in Albuquerque, but that’s it. To protect my best gal, I allowed a predator to hook more and more peers. Can you understand my personal shame?

Now, I’ll talk openly about Lynn “Coda” Hudson. I’ll also talk about the drug dealer my son was living with across from Roosevelt Park. My kid was tipped off by a mutual friend while we were in California for Christmas that his roommate Mike was dealing drugs out of their house. I had my close friend Mat organize moving my kid’s stuff to my garage. Explaining that he could be busted for his roommates crimes out of “knowing complacence”, my kid agreed he needed to get out of that house before we got back to Albuquerque in two weeks.

Mike is the name of his roommate. And how did he hook peers? Weekly, he gave three individuals experiencing homelessness backpacks filled with illegal drugs to take Downtown to sells to others experiencing homelessness. So many people living on the streets are peers not receiving services, and most likely never diagnosed. Mike is a predator, and he was having others preying upon peers by proxy, never getting his evil hands dirty.

Drug dealers are predators, whether they’re hooking peers or not. They are the worst kind of people who capitalize on real people with real problems, and Hudson and Mike do this willing, knowingly, and financially. They profit from others’ weakest and lowest points. They steal the trust of others with false promises and a crocodile smile. They are predators akin to rapists, pedophiles, wife-beaters, and embezzlers. Drug dealers are predators.

Moving past my continued shame of inaction with Hudson, there is another reason for my obvious moral outrage when it comes to these predators. They are completely undermining what I’m trying to accomplish, and that’s moving peers from dependency (co-occurring is what DSM-V calls mental and substance issues together) to sustainable services. Sadly, most medical professionals will not prescribe psych meds unless the peer is sober and moving beyond dependency. It makes sense. A p-doc needs to know if the meds he’s prescribing are working, and if illegal drugs are being used, there is no way to tell. It’s responsible yet heartbreaking.

These predators are directly pushing back against those of us who care about peers and their place in our communities. They are the enemies of our cause and caring. And I believe so strongly that these predators be removed from our communities as quickly and permanently as possible.

There are special considerations in criminal sentencing that add additional punishments (usually longer prison incarceration) for what are deemed “hate crimes.” These are crimes of racism, discrimination, and purposeful targeting of people because of preconceptions of the worthlessness of people who worship God differently than the predator, people who have different color skin or different shape of eyes or different gender or any number of mindless, deplorable prejudices.

I believe “hate crime” punishments must be applied to drug dealers who knowingly prey upon peers in their moments of weakness. What they do is hateful because the good people they prey upon are destroyed by their willing, deceitful actions. They show no respect and compassion to a specific group of people: Peers with mental health issues. And they do so with 100% prescience, and they seek out peers with mental health issues to harm specifically. It is a hate crime.

There are so many causes to champion in peer advocacy and peer empowerment. I’m not naive thinking a bippity boppity boo wave of a wand will magically transport us to a reality where the infrastructure to target, remove, and properly punish these predators already exists.

Like everything deserving change in our community, it begins with awareness. Let this be one initial kernel of awareness.

And yes, I continue to protect my former best gal by not stating her name here. Four years later and I can’t get over wanting to protect her from herself. That’s my issue, though.