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A Dark Addiction

Minors

But when Trapp didn't have pills, the withdrawal symptoms left him "sick as a dog" and bedridden. "Every muscle in your body craves it," he says. "You can't sleep, can't eat. It's like the flu, but 10 times worse."

In two years, Trapp put $60,000 of his retirement savings, maybe more, up his nose. His daughter begged him to get help, as did his wife, Sue, who works as a shift manager at a Hardee's and as a guard at Red Onion State Prison, the supermax facility where sniper Lee Boyd Malvo is being held.

Trapp was "wormed over" after three days into involuntary withdrawal when his wife took him to a clinic to get help in 2005. He couldn't walk, and he couldn't hold up his head. He began taking methadone that week.

Life Underground

Foreman Gary Boyd steers through the tunnels of Pioneer Coal No. 1 in a low-rise electric cart, sloshing across channels of cold, muddy water. His nickname, Stork, is stenciled on his scuffed plastic helmet, and a slug of dipping tobacco bulges in his lower lip.

"The good Lord put me on this Earth to be a coal miner," he says, "and I can't think of nothing I'd rather do." He ducks slightly when the ceiling height drops to 40 inches.

A bearish man with a soot-streaked beard, Boyd stands well over 6 feet tall outside the mine. But underground, in a 3 1/2 -foot "low coal" operation such as this one in the mountains near Vansant, Va., Boyd mostly works on his hands and knees, crawling like an infant. He and the other men spend the entire shift, sometimes 12 hours or more, without ever standing up.

Compared with the large, corporate-owned mines that use the latest technology and enforce tighter safety codes, Pioneer No. 1, the company's only mine, is a mom-and-pop affair, run by a single operator and a 10-man crew. It extends horizontally into the mountain through a maze-like network of wide, low tunnels, and a red plastic sign along the access road outside reads "AMBULANCE ENTRANCE."

With narrower profit margins, small-scale outfits such as Pioneer, often known as "dog holes," typically pay less and don't offer benefits such as health insurance. But for miners who have been fired from corporate mines for drug violations or other infractions, smaller mines, which must still meet state safety standards, are a good fallback.

The "face," where Boyd's crew was working that day, was a half-mile into the mountain. A massive grinding machine called a continuous miner chewed at the coal seam with a spinning, snaggle-toothed steel cylinder. Water seeped from its mouth and trickled from its sides to cool the metal teeth and keep the dust down. The greasy, jet-black rock came off in chunks onto a conveyor belt.

As the machine worked, the tunnel walls cracked and groaned under the shifting pressure of the mountain. Crew members scrambled to stabilize the roof with wooden posts, wedging them into place with hammers.

"You're as safe as you would be in your mommy's arms -- if you watch what you're doing," Boyd said. He checked a hand-held meter every few minutes to measure carbon dioxide, which is poisonous, and methane, which can explode. Flecks of coal dust swirled in the yellow beams of the miners' headlamps.

Two Loves: Mining and Drugs

Drug use by miners who snort or shoot up underground has been a growing cause for concern among state regulators, and a law approved last year in the General Assembly imposed stringent drug-testing policies. All newly hired miners must be screened, and random testing requirements have increased. Those who fail risk losing their miner's license.


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