Did you know that overdose deaths from pills and heroin now surpass traffic fatalities? Isn’t that astounding? If this is true, we are in the middle of our worst drug plague ever, apart from cigarettes and alcohol. How has this happened?
Part of the reason you haven’t read about this before is that the victims are mostly young, white, well-off, and their parents are too ashamed to talk about how their son or daughter got hooked on dope. The Midwest has become one of the hot spots of heroin use with many young people dying. In “Serving All Your Heroin Needs,” Sam Quinones reports that an addiction doctor in Columbus, Ohio told him, “This past Friday I saw 23 patients, all heroin addicts recently diagnosed.” In spite of low crime rates, privileged people from one of the wealthiest countries in the world are getting hooked and dying in rapidly increasing numbers from substances meant to numb pain. How are so many young people getting heroin?
It’s as easy to order heroin as it is to order pizza. Dealers, many of whom are from Xalisco, Mexico, circulate a phone number around town. “An addict calls, and an operator directs him to an intersection or parking lot. The operator dispatches a driver, who tools around town, his mouth full to tiny balloons of heroin with a bottle of water nearby to swig them down with if cops stop him.” The driver meets the addict, spits out the balloons, gets paid and drives away. Every day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Part of the problem is that for some time doctors believed that opioid painkillers such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin were non-addictive when used for pain. Prescribed to excess, sales of opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. Heroin proved cheaper than pills and provides a similar high so suburban white kids with money, cell phones, and cars were able to meet their dealers and buy their dope. No fuss, no muss, no violence, no Skid Row. I have even seen heroin dealers hanging outside a local methadone clinic offering free samples.
So what can we do? Portsmouth, Ohio, one of the first cities to address this problem, has instigated a culture of recovery. They shut down the pill mills. Narcotics Anonymous meetings are everywhere and recovering addicts are taking courses to become addiction counselors. The town saved one of Portsmouth’s last factories making shoelaces to provide jobs for young people.
The other heroin hubs that need to address this problem are Nashville, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Portland and Denver. It’s time for us to look at how we became a nation that yearns to anesthetize itself to pain. To suffer is part of the human condition. We have to encourage our young people to find healthy ways to deal with their discomfort. Meditation, yoga, art, community and service to others are ways to cope with a perfectly normal condition.