Peaches Geldof’s death likely linked to heroin, police say

Heroin probably played a role in the death of Peaches Geldof, the daughter of musician and Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, who died in her family home last month while alone with one of her two young sons, police said on Thursday.

A post-mortem examination failed to establish the cause of her death on April 7 but an inquest was told on Thursday that forensic tests found heroin in the 25-year-old's system.

Her death brought back memories of that of her mother, television presenter Paula Yates, who died of a heroin overdose aged 41 in 2000 while alone with her youngest daughter, Tiger Lily, then aged four.

“There was recent use of heroin and the levels identified were likely to have played a role in her death,” Detective Chief Inspector Paul Fotheringham said in a statement at the opening of the inquest into Geldof's death.

Geldof, a media and fashion personality and the mother of two young boys, was the second of Irish musician and campaigner Bob Geldof and Yates's three daughters.

The inquest heard her body was found by her husband of two years, musician Thomas Cohen, in a spare bedroom of their home in Wrotham, Kent, in southern England in the afternoon of Monday, April 7.

Cohen had been staying the weekend at his parents' house in southeast London with the couple's sons and his father dropped their youngest boy, one-year-old Phaedra, back with Peaches late on Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the weekend she had been in touch with family and friends and her last phone call was with a friend at 7.45 p.m. on Sunday.

“All of the friends and family who had contact with Peaches during this period describe how she seemed her normal self and was making plans for the future … there was no cause for any concern,” Fotheringham said.

But Cohen became concerned when he could not contact his wife the next morning and went to their house with his mother and their other son, two-year-old Astala.

He found Geldof slumped across a bed and police said it was obvious to him that she was dead. He quickly located Phaedra and called the emergency services.

Police who were treating her death as “non-suspicious but unexplained” said there was no evidence to suggest anyone else was involved. The inquest was adjourned until July 23.

Peaches Geldof had been a regular on London's party scene for years but, after becoming a mother, quit the city for country life.

At the time of her death, she was a columnist for Mother & Baby magazine, writing that “being a mum is the best thing in my life” and she was “happier than ever”.

Bob Geldof said the loss of Peaches had left him and his family “beyond pain” with celebrities from Britain's television and music worlds joining him at his daughter's funeral on April 21.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Andrew Roche

Vatican culture minister tweets Lou Reed tribute, then a clarification

The Vatican’s culture minister tweeted a tribute to the iconic Jewish-born singer Lou Reed, then a clarification that he did not condone drug use.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi on Monday tweeted a verse from Reed’s song “Perfect Day.” Reed died Sunday at 71 of complications following a liver transplant.

On @CardRavasi, the clergyman wrote, “Oh, it’s such a perfect day/ I’m glad I spend it with you/ Oh, such a perfect day/ You just keep me hanging on (Lou Reed).”

While the lyrics seemingly refer to a love story, the “you” also has been interpreted as being heroin — as some of the replies to the tweet noted.

In his following tweet, Ravasi also mentioned Reed and clarified that he did not condone drugs. He warned against “illusions” and quoted the Bible verse about reaping what you sow, noting that Reed himself had used that line in “Perfect Day.”

Ravasi’s tweet before his Lou Reed tribute also quoted a Jewish cultural figure, the Israeli writer Amos Oz. He tweeted, in Italian, “I never saw a religious fanatic with a sense of humor. Nor a person with a sense of humor becoming a fanatic. (Amos Oz)”

On the eighth day, God made oxycodone

New York City narcotics agents announced the indictment of five Brooklyn men yesterday, members of a Sabbath-observant drug ring that operated out of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn.

Defendants Jack Zibak, 28; Jack Zaibak, 24; Eduard Sorin, 38; David Gerowitz, 37; and Philip Mandel, 25, were charged with multiple crimes, from illegal possession of narcotics to illegal possession of a weapon, according to CBS news.

Police reportedly seized around 900 doses of heroin, as well 335 oxycodone pills, cocaine, Xanax, Suboxone and Klonopin from the group during their initial arrest in April. They also found a sawed-off shotgun and ammunition.

The name of the NYPD sting operation that led to the drug bust? Only After Sundown.

Though cavalier about New York’s drug laws, the group was scrupulous about observing the Sabbath. Text messages from members of the gang show them alerting their clientele of their weekly sundown-to-sunset hiatus.

“We are closing 7:30 on the dot and we will reopen Saturday 8:15 so if u need anything you have 45 mins to get what you want,” they wrote in a group text-message to clients.

Drug abuse debate: Legalization, medication or therapy?

On a wall at Beit T’Shuvah’s sanctuary there are plaques with the names of those connected with Beit T’Shuvah who have passed away. One of those names is that of Josh Lowenthal, a former resident who died on June 11, 1995.

The Jewish Journal recently ran a story about “One-Way Ticket,” Rita Lowenthal’s memoir about her son, Josh, who was addicted to heroin from the age of 13 until his death from a self-administered overdose 25 years later. Lowenthal’s moving account of her son’s life punctures the myth that addiction can’t happen to Jews. It can, and it does.

Another myth that Lowenthal would like to puncture is that if addicts only had enough willpower, they could kick the habit — that only weak-willed people can’t pull themselves out of the addiction abyss.

A recent Newsweek cover story is called, “The Hunt for an Addiction Vaccine.” The article says that science views addiction not as a failure of willpower, but as a “chronic, relapsing brain disorder to be managed with all the tools at medicine’s disposal,” and that the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) is developing and testing compounds that could prevent or treat addiction.

NIDA scientists have concluded that there are three kinds of self-control: putting off present gratification for a later reward, processing sufficient information before making a decision and being able to change responses that have become automatic.

It should come as no surprise that addicts score poorly in all these categories. In other words, addicts’ brains are wired to opt for immediate rewards, to leap before they look, and to keep repeating accustomed behavior in a rote manner. The medicines in development would change the addict’s responses in all three areas.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, has a different focus: He objects to what he calls the massive failure of the global war on drugs. Like a growing number of responsible voices, Nadelmann argues for drug legalization, or at least decriminalization.

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, Nadelmann makes the case that the war on drugs cannot be won — he cites “mountains of evidence documenting its moral and ideological bankruptcy.” He writes that U.S. administrations have let rhetoric and ideology drive policy, and that in countries that have adopted a different way of dealing with drugs and addicts — Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland — the result has been “a reduction in drug-related harms without increasing drug use.”

When asked about this, Beit T’Shuvah staff and residents uniformly say that legalization and pharmacological addiction treatments are beside the point. Their attitude is that addiction — defined in their Web site as the “obsessive pursuit of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, money, property and/or prestige” — is not about drugs, it’s about the issues that lead to drug use, issues that also lead to other self-destructive behavior.

One long-time Beit T’Shuvah resident, a middle-age man with an MBA and a background in the entertainment industry, said that “you can solve your drug problem and still not be any closer to an effective life. The point is to find out what the problems underneath are: not living your life effectively, not living it with truth. The problem is not the drugs.

“You can legalize drugs, you can find chemical ways of neutralizing the effects of drugs, but the end result will be the same: the root problem will still be there, and the person who has that problem will suffer in a different way. If it’s not drug addiction, if it’s not incarceration, it’ll be family dysfunction or abuse or other issues. These are all manifestations of a deeper problem, just as drug addiction or alcoholism is a manifestation of a deeper problem. And it’s that deeper problem that has to be treated.”

Lowenthal agrees that addiction’s deeper problems should be addressed: “Anyone who has been shamed and punished for addiction needs understanding and support.” But she points out that the situation with illegal drugs, as opposed to alcohol or prescription drugs, makes users subject to the law: Her son was in and out of San Quentin and other prisons because he stole in order to maintain his addiction. “Try getting a student loan, a job, or sympathetic in-laws after serving time in prison,” Lowenthal says.

If her son had lived in a society where heroin use is not a crime and where it’s cheaply available, then he probably wouldn’t have stolen, she believes. He probably wouldn’t have gone to prison over and over, and he might not have chosen to take his own life at the age of 38.

Mother pens memoir on life with heroin addict son

Rita Lowenthal raised her family in a nice Jewish home, lived in a nice Jewish neighborhood and belonged to a nice Jewish temple. So how did her son become a heroin addict at age 13?

The need for an answer to that question, as well as a desire for closure, is what inspired Lowenthal to pen “One-Way Ticket: Our Son’s Addiction to Heroin” (Beaufort Books, $14), a memoir that compiles her experiences and correspondence with her son and his journal entries while in and out of San Quentin State Prison.

Despite years of treatment, Josh Lowenthal never broke the heroin addiction that eventually took his life in 1995.

“It looked like our family had all the blessings, so I wanted to figure out what happened,” Lowenthal said.

At a time when celebrity drug use and failed rehab attempts are all too prevalent — and even joked about — “One-Way Ticket” illustrates the cruel reality of drug addiction. “It is a disease, and it needs to be treated that way,” said Lowenthal, who wants to make the idea of knowing or loving an addict less shameful.

She first noticed a shift in her son’s behavior when he was 13, when the family lived in Pittsburgh. Along with her first husband, David, and their older son, Mark, Lowenthal quickly dismissed the change as teenage arrogance that would be addressed after the bar mitzvah.

“In 1969, Josh was 12, crazed with excitement about The Beatles, long hair, guitars, jazz and psychedelic paints that transformed his cute little boy’s bedroom with the cowboy bedspreads into a teenage den,” Lowenthal said. “He was beginning to bring home different, somewhat older friends, and he quit saying ‘goodbye’ in favor of ‘one mind.'”

Heroin was the furthest thing from her mind.

“Josh always appreciated a thrill and was always looking for the next excitement,” she said. “He was fun to be around. We never thought it would come to this.”

After the family became aware of the problem, Josh would spend the rest of his life in and out of recovery and rehabilitation centers.

Because he started using at such an early age, Lowenthal believes Josh’s body and mind never had the chance to fully develop independently of heroin, thus making the path to sobriety increasingly difficult with age.

Josh never liked many of the facilities, Lowenthal said. He went AWOL from several institutions, many of which preached “tough love,” an idea that had little effect on Josh and a concept extremely difficult for Lowenthal to embrace.

In a journal entry from 1985, Josh wrote about a particularly frustrating rehab experience: “This rehab is no good. Better off in jail if I want to be clean. I don’t know if I could stand to brown nose my way through this for months … more concerned with table manners than wrenching guts…. One thing is for certain, if I could be successful in this program I wouldn’t need it.”

Looking for a fresh start, Lowenthal and Josh moved to Los Angeles after her marriage ended. She found work as a professor in social work at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), while Josh struggled to find a college that would accept him. But no matter where they moved, “he was never far from drugs,” Lowenthal said.

Of all the treatment facilities, both Josh and Lowenthal acknowledged that Beit T’Shuvah was by far the most effective and encouraging.

“They know relapses will happen; they only hope the addicts will return to the program when they do,” Lowenthal said.

After frequent relapses and periods in and out San Quentin for petty theft, Lowenthal explains that Josh was finally realizing the futility of his addiction. While he craved a normal life, Josh was scared by a world without drugs — a sentiment expressed by many addicts close to full recovery.

In an unsent letter to his brother, Mark, written just a year before his death, Josh shows a disturbed, yet more self-aware, side while serving time at San Quentin:

“Realistically, I expect that in approximately two-and-a-half more years on parole, the state will probably squeeze another year out of me. Six months out, six months in, seems nearly unavoidable…. I imagine with hindsight that, more or less, we all reflect on — with misgivings — precious time squandered as so much spare change.”

Lowenthal said she sensed that Josh was extremely close to ending the nightmare of his addiction. In a video interview with Beit T’Shuvah, recorded one week before his death, Josh admits, “Like I said, I’ve been a junkie for 25 years. I’m 38, and I’m tired, and it’s over. These are my friends…. This is the end of the story — at least for the moment.”

She believes Josh committed suicide when he overdosed on heroin, although no note was found.

Lowenthal is now retired from HUC-JIR, as well as from the USC School of Social Work, where she was a charter member of the Betty Friedan Feminist Think Tank. She worked on the 2000 ballot initiative, Proposition 36, which changed California’s law to permit substance abuse treatment, as opposed to a jail sentence, for first- and second-time offenders guilty of nonviolent, simple drug possession.

She currently serves on the board of the Progressive Jewish Alliance as chair of the Drug Policy Committee of the Criminal Justice Task Force, in addition to being a member of the Community Action Committee of the Progressive Christians Uniting.

While Lowenthal has learned to turn her depression into political action, she said she’s still haunted by her tragic loss of Josh. For many years while Josh was using, her only comfort was a statement made by her son, which she said had become like a mantra for her: “There is nothing you can do, Mom; you can’t compete with heroin.”

Iranians Facing Up to Drug Abuse Taboo

Three years ago, Raymond P., a 28-year-old Iranian Jew, was a full-fledged member of a notorious Los Angeles street gang. He sold drugs and suggests that he may have participated in violent crimes. He doesn’t want to talk about specifics but explains by saying he was desperate to pay for his drug habit.

Raymond P., who asked that his real name be withheld, is among an uncertain but significant and possibly growing number of Southern California Iranian Jews who have been using and selling illegal drugs. It’s the sort of problem you wouldn’t typically hear about within the Iranian Diaspora community, because the topic embodies cultural shame for family members. Experts say that silence has aided and abetted the problem.

However, now there are efforts under way both to end the silence and help these families.

“I came from a very good family, but I didn’t care who I was hurting, as long as I was getting high,” said Raymond P., who is now in recovery.

He told his story to nearly 200 Iranian Jews gathered recently at the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. The gathering late last year was the first of its kind for the community.

Since their arrival in great numbers in the United States more than 25 years ago, Iranian Jews — numbering an estimated 30,000 in Southern California — have become one of the more educated and financially successful Jewish communities. But this has not made them immune from a side effect of the American dream: drug abuse, especially among the young.

Leaders of the Eretz-SIAMAK center have decided it’s time to shatter the long-standing taboo of not publicly discussing the drug abuse plaguing Iranian Jews. It began an open dialogue on the issue late last year by gathering a panel of experts to educate families about drug abuse.

“For years, we’ve been quietly helping addicts in the community to [recover from] their drug use,” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of Eretz-SIAMAK. “But we finally decided to go public and try to fix this problem when we noticed it has really become widespread among our young people.”

The Eretz-SIAMAK leadership has made a mission of taking on serious and sometimes discomfiting issues within the Iranian Jewish community, including poverty, premarital sex and new Jewish immigration from Iran. It went forward with the drug-abuse awareness event after an anonymous donor provided funding. More seminars and other events are planned this summer after the same anonymous donor recently contributed $5,000 to Eretz-SIAMAK.

There’s no official or reliable data on illegal drug use among Iranian Jews, but psychologist Iraj Shamsian, who specializes in treating addicts of Iranian heritage, said that nearly half of his Iranian patients are Iranian Jews. He and other specialists say they are convinced that, based on their own practices and anecdotal evidence, the problem is growing.

Yet some families are hesitant even to seek help.

“Our culture is the type that wants to keep everything secret and not talk about it, because it’s embarrassing, and people put a label on you,” said Dara Abai, a longtime youth mentor and community volunteer who helps Iranian Jewish drug addicts. “In Iran, I remember that if someone told you to go to a psychologist, they thought you were crazy and had a serious mental problem.”

Cultural attitudes toward alcohol haven’t helped either, he added.

“In our community, we have a lot of alcohol use,” Abai said. “I go to parties and see married people half drunk. Their kids see this, and they think it’s fun. So they try alcohol at a young age, and sometimes that leads them to try drugs.”

Experts said, too, that young Iranian Jews, just like many other young people, experiment with different drugs out of peer pressure or to fit in with friends.

In working with young addicts, psychologist Shamsian draws on his own experience as an addict from 1983 to 1993.

“During those years, I never said no to any drugs I saw,” Shamsian said. “I shot heroin. I used cocaine. I used different downers and uppers — even tried acid and mushrooms.”

Shamsian said his addiction was so intense that he wasted away his savings, as well as family funds brought over from Iran, ultimately ending up on the streets of downtown before finally seeking help.

After becoming drug free, Shamsian obtained professional credentials. Besides his private practice, he works as program coordinator for Creative Care, a respected drug treatment facility in Malibu. He also hosts “Ayeneh,” a Persian-language television program, available on satellite systems, on which he seeks to educate Iranians about the dangers of drug use.

“We answer phone calls from Iranians around the world — even in Iran,” Shamsian said.

Three years ago, Shamsian, along with non-Jewish Iranians, helped found the Iranian Recovery Center (IRC) located in Westwood. The nonprofit offers seminars and education about substance abuse, as well as referrals to those seeking treatment.

“The services of the IRC are totally free and open to the public,” Shamsian said. “We help Iranians of all different religions.”

Other community resources include the Chabad Residential Treatment Center, a treatment facility run by the Chabad organization in the Miracle Mile area, where many Iranian Jews seek help for their addictions. It emphasizes Jewish values and spirituality.

However, the drug problem is not only among the young. Shamsian noted that a significant number of older Iranian Jewish men are using opium on a regular basis, because of their past use and familiarity with the drug from Iran.

Drug use frequently leads to legal difficulties, as well as financial, health and emotional problems, said Dariush Sameyah, an Iranian Jew and Los Angeles Police Department sergeant.

“I was in court recently with this person from a very prominent Iranian Jewish family, and she was heavily involved in credit card fraud to support her narcotics habit,” said Sameyah, who works in internal affairs. “This issue is prevalent in our community. If you look at the court records every day and see the cases coming up, you will see Jewish Iranian names quite frequently.”

“They get a very very rude awakening once the handcuffs go on,” Sameyah said. “Back in the day if a very well-respected Iranian person got arrested in Iran, they wouldn’t get handcuffed or strip searched the way they do here. It’s such an insult and slap in the face for an Iranian person when they are told to bend over for a cavity search, but that’s the law and public policy in the United States.”

Sameyah said a joint investigation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Los Angeles police resulted in the arrests last summer of nearly a dozen Iranians in Southern California — many of whom were Jews — for allegedly selling and importing opium, as well as laundering money generated from the sale of opium.

Besides opium and marijuana, heroin has recently made a comeback, said Sameyah.

He added that it’s almost never too soon for parents to begin discussing the drug issue with their children.

“If you want to start talking about narcotics to a 15-, 16- or 17-year-old, you’re about 10 years behind the curve,” Sameyah said. “Because that kid has spent the last 10 years in school with God knows who having glorified narcotics use for them. Education about narcotics starts at the age of 3 and 4.”

He said parents should talk about “what drugs can do to you and what they look like.”

But when children do stumble, make bad decisions and have problems, the taboos must be discarded to leave the path clear for recovery.

“We have to try not to judge people with drug addictions,” said Shamsian. “We have to look at drug abuse as a disease and not from a moral point of view.”