Six Questions: An interview with Mindy McGinnis, author of Heroine

Another day, another author interview! This one is with Mindy McGinnis, author of Heroine, a YA book which deals with a main character who becomes addicted to opioids. Here’s the summary:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month! A captivating and powerful exploration of the opioid crisis—the deadliest drug epidemic in American history—through the eyes of a college-bound softball star. Edgar Award-winning author Mindy McGinnis delivers a visceral and necessary novel about addiction, family, friendship, and hope.

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Again, I love these interviews and the insight they provide. I wrote Redemption to help people understand mental health challenges from a personal perspective – and it seems like that’s what Heroine does for addiction.

Anyway, here’s the interview.

1) Do you think that personal experience with mental illness or addiction is necessary to write a book which deals with mental health or addiction?

I think a measure of it is useful, of course. And – if we’re being honest – pretty much all of is have that, either in our own experience or through loved ones. Having never been an addict myself (to substances, anyway), I wanted to be sure that I knew what I was talking about when I wrote this book. Research involved reading thousands upon thousands of pages about addiction, but also talking to counselors and addicts. The best compliments I’ve had for HEROINE is when a recovered addict tells me I got it right.

2) It’s clear that society is facing a massive addiction crisis, particularly when it comes to heroin. How much was your book inspired by that ongoing issue?

I got the idea for writing HEROINE after visiting a school district that had been particularly hard hit by the opioid crisis in southern Ohio. That, combined with my own experiences as a school librarian for fourteen years (and an intense love of softball + respect for female athletes) were the two sticks that struck together to create the spark for the story.

3) More often then not, when we’re dealing with books about young adult and sports, it’s written as a male character; yours obviously has a female lead. Why do you think that is?

I was a YA librarian for 14 years in a public school system. I could count on one hand books that featured female athletes, and needed both hands to count off male authors who only wrote about male athletes. As a former high school athlete who was also a reader, I had to wonder – why the disparity? There’s no real reason. So I set out to plug that hole.

4) I noticed that a few of the reviews noted that the book made readers uncomfortable because of the subject matter. Is that level of discomfort a basic requirement when dealing with a topic this heavy?

It depends entirely on the reader. I’ve written books where people get set on fire, or nine year olds are shooting someone to protect their water source. I don’t pull punches and I don’t shy from rough topics. I show teens using drugs – and liking it – in this book. I’m sure it will make some people uncomfortable. That’s reality. It’s not pretty or nice or kind or comfortable.

5) Your book comes with a trigger warning about how has “realistic descriptions” of opioid use, and there has been a good amount of debate over the subject of trigger warnings in recent years. I’d love to hear your thoughts about why you included one and what your thoughts are on the subject generally.

I’ve never used trigger warnings in any of my books, regardless of the fact they all do feature pretty intense content. For this one, I chose to include a trigger warning because of the honest depictions of drug use. It’s not an after school special with people doing drugs and immediately hating themselves or puking. They do drugs and love how it makes them feel. I didn’t want a recovered addict to read a realistic description of the high of heroin, and miss it enough to relapse.

6) If you could do it again – anything you’d do differently with the book?

Too early to say. I can point to things in my older releases that I would do differently because I have some distance and time has passed since I wrote them. HEROINE is still too fresh to have that perspective.

The danger of Benzodiazepians

If you’ve suffered from any sort of mental health disorder, odds are good you are familiar with Benzodiazepians (aka Benzos). Benzos are a class of drugs which are used to treat anxiety and a slew of other conditions, including insomnia, seizures and more. In the short-term, they can be very helpful in getting people through panic attacks. Personally, I’ve used them in the past for rip-roaring anxiety attacks, and they can be helpful in getting through the worst of these condition. When taken in conjunction with therapy or other long-term medication strategies, they are a useful tool in treating mental illness.

Use of benzos has dramatically increased. From 1996-2013, the amount of adults prescribed benzos increased 67%, going from 8.1 million to 13.5 million. Those increases are also seen among individuals who have been prescribed opioids – and that has led to overdose issues.

According to government research, over 30% of opioid overdoses also involve benzos:

Line graph showing causes of death from opioids, benzodiazepines and opioids, and opioids without benzodiazepines between 1999 and 2015

 

Meanwhile, overdose deaths from Benzos have shown frightening increases of late:

Number of Deaths Involving Benzodiazepines

There is also evidence of late that shows that Benzo prescriptions for those with PTSD may increase suicide risk, and that use of Benzos may be tied to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

So, am I telling you to throw away your Benzos? No, no, and hell no. When used under a doctors care, and responsibly, Benzo medication can be an important part of any therapeutic regimen. Candidly, when my anxiety was at it’s peak, I walked around with tranquilizers as a “just in case.” Knowing I had those to fall back on gave me the confidence to continue my daily routine in terms of my school, work and social life. If I hadn’t had those, I would have had major difficulties functioning. Eventually, modifications to my regular medication and therapy helped me address my anxiety issues, ones which (thankfully) have not come back.

Benzos can be helpful – you just need to be careful in how you use them!

PS: GO VOTE TOMORROW!