DeAndre McCullough Dies in Baltimore from Heroin Overdose

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

(By Eric E. Sterling, Guest Blogger)

The New York Times reports on August 29, 2012 on the life and death of DeAndre McCullough in Baltimore on August 1, 2012 at age 35 of an apparent heroin overdose.

DeAndre’s youth had been chronicled in the non-fiction book and HBO mini-series, The Corner, A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood (New York, Broadway Books, 1997), by David Simon and Edward Burns.  DeAndre’s parents, both Baltimore residents addicted to drugs are central figures in the book and miniseries. The book and mini-series were sort of a scholarly prelude by Simon and Burns to the HBO smash hit series, The Wire, about contemporary urban life, policing,urban politics, drug trafficking, drug use in Baltimore.

The Times reports that DeAndre, addicted to drugs as a teenager, was able to get treatment and begin a life of recovery, obtain a high school G.E.D. (graduate equivalency diploma), and attend community college. He had employment, and had roles in HBO’s The Corner and The Wire. But he had great success as a drug treatment counselor in Baltimore at Mountain Manor, a few miles west of the corners where he grew up. But after several years, he resumed his drug use, lost his job, and was in and out of treatment and in and out of various jobs for the past seven years.

Why does someone who seems to have overcome a childhood and life of risk factors succumb? Is it changed brain chemistry, the “lure” of the high of opiates, an inadequate, stunted self-love, the “environment of the neighborhood,” bad choice of friends, lack of education, lack of good jobs — some or all of the above? Or was it badly manufactured drugs, poor education about drug use, inadequate harm reduction, continued stigmatization of addicts and those in recovery? I don’t think The Times story tells us enough to answer, but no doubt there will be many who will insist that Mr. McCullough’s death supports one of their talking points.

Perhaps before International Drug Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, further details of Mr. McCullough’s life and death might be published that might be the honest basis for drawing some lessons from his tragic death.

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10 Responses to “DeAndre McCullough Dies in Baltimore from Heroin Overdose”

  1. #1 |  Thom | 

    “GED” stands for “General Educational Development”, not “graduate equivalency diploma”.

  2. #2 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    One issue I don’t think will get looked at much; if heroin were legal, and it was possible for a user to be fairly sure what strength of drug he was getting, would this man still be alive? Would he have held his life together better if he hadn’t had to deal with the war on drugs? Could he have lived a successful life while ‘addicted’ under drug legality?

  3. #3 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    Some evidence that baclofen (a muscle relaxant) eliminates cravings and additions.. It would not surprise me if the war on drugs increases some people’s anxiety enough to put them at more risk of addiction.

  4. #4 |  Jay | 


    I thought it stood for ‘Good Enough Degree’.

    Wiki says, ‘General Educational Development[1][2][3][4](or GED) tests are a group of five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the taker has American or Canadian high school-level academic skills. The initials GED have also been used on diplomas to mean General Education Diploma, General Equivalency Diploma[5][6][7][8] or Graduate Equivalency Degree.’

  5. #5 |  En Passant | 

    @ #2 C. S. P. Schofield: IMHO the answers to your questions are yes, yes and yes.

  6. #6 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “Living beings, caught up by cravings
    Rush about aimlessly like trapped rabbits
    Therefore, monk, set aside craving
    And find freedom.”
    The Buddha in “The Dhammapada”

    There are any number of reasons why one might become addicted to a substance. Heroin and other opiates seem to be especially addictive. Addicts build up a tolerance and require ever larger doses to avoid the pains of withdrawal. If you have never seen a person going through Heroin withdrawal, I can tell you it is like watching someone going through a very serious bout of the flu.

    But that is the chemical and biological aspect of addiction. Aside from this, I believe that the addict is attempting to fill or rise above a void in their lives. They attempt to do this by stimulating and/or depressing their central nervous systems. With this in mind, I wonder why anyone thinks a jail/prison cell or other form of correctional control will ever help the addict. State action cannot fill the addict’s void. State action cannot stop the addict from running from himself. You can’t punish craving out of existence, you must let it go.

    The drug war, or whatever officials choose to call the prohibition of substances like heroin, is a war against the marginalized other. Drug warriors never think addiction can happen to people they love or to themselves. They believe this until it does happen. We are all susceptible to addictive behaviors to some degree. We all run from our problems. We all obsess over cravings. So why would we put people, who aren’t so different from ourselves, in a cage for succumbing to addiction. Drug warriors may feel superior but they are putting themselves in a cage too.

  7. #7 |  Noah Motion | 

    David Simon wrote movingly about Mr. McCullough’s death a few weeks ago:

  8. #8 |  EH | 

    Helmut, whether or not that sense-making about a complex social phenomenon is correct, I don’t think that psychologizing (really: moralizing) about it is helpful. Also, what is behind your hedge that heroin only “seems” to be addictive?

  9. #9 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    My main point was that there is more to addiction besides the obvious chemical/biological causes. And the drug war IS a moral issue, so why not “moralize” about it. Should I just throw around numbers like stats and formulas or talk about chemical compounds? Drug addiction is likely influenced by chemistry, genetics and the state of mind of the user/abuser. It is a complex matter and the criminal justice system is not properly equipped to deal with its complexity. That is what I was trying to get across.

    Also, I was not hedging on heroin. I stated: “Heroin and other opiates seem to be especially addictive.” Note my use of the word “especially.” What I meant is that heroin and other opiates seem to be even more addictive than other drugs (say cocaine and other stimulants). But, I’m, not a toxicologist, so I don’t have all the stats on that.

    I have a suspicion–which I hope is not true–that your main objection to my post is that I used a quote from a major “religious” figure (Note: I think Buddhism is more a “way of liberation” than a religion in the western sense of the word). Does a reference to the spiritual side of life offend you that much?

  10. #10 |  Astra | 

    The Corner was an extremely affecting book and it left me with a deep pessimism about “winning” the drug war. RIP DeAndre.