The New York Times has a well put together interactive piece, written by Dan Levin, titled: The Class of 2000 ‘Could Have Been Anything’: The high school yearbook is a staple of teenage life. But for some, it reflects the devastating toll of the opioid crisis.
The media presentation is nice, as it shows the pictures of the students of Minford High School, in Scioto county Ohio. Minford is near Portsmouth on the Ohio River, which is the border with West Virginia. It is about a hundred miles south of where I grew up in Zanesville, Ohio. I graduated from Zanesville High School in 2000, and the stories told in the piece, I saw in my social group as well. Some of the stories told hold some extremes that I wasn’t aware of while in high school, mainly because of going to college part time, I had limited ties with social groups either in college or in high school, which is important for being involved in drug culture. I did, on rare occasions, see opioid use in school. We just called them “pills” at the time, the common use of the term “opioid” wasn’t around then. On the infrequent time that I’d attend a high school party, there was definitely pills around, but alcohol was more visible. The only time in my life that I was offered the opportunity to do cocaine was at a high school party as well. I did decline that offer, but it was from someone who I had gone to a Christian school with a couple years earlier.
After high school, I was in social circles that did see the consumption of illicit opioid pills as a matter of course. I remember visiting friends and watching one of them crush up a couple of pills to snort, and explain that “they’re the old kind, the good ones that don’t have the glass they put in them to keep people from snorting them,” I’m presuming that no drug companies were adding “glass” to their drugs, but maybe there was some additive that irritated the nasal passages. I remember working at a restaurant with someone who started to show up nearly comatose on his feet and would nod off while working. I had a girlfriend who had started to get into Xanax, and I remember threating the mutual friend who she had gotten them from to make sure she never got them from him again.
As I’ve written and talked about at length before, the DARE program likely failed us all, because the nice policeman didn’t bother to tell us that all drugs don’t carry the same risks or the same levels of danger, and he also told us that there are “good” drugs and “bad” drugs. He assured us that our doctors and the pharmacist were looking out for our best interests. Although said with best intentions, the man was wrong. The pharmaceutical companies knowingly became suppliers of the illicit drug trade. The press, when covering the so-called “opioid” epidemic, like to point out how many pills per person in a certain community that that community is consuming. The pharmaceutical companies must keep statistics on production and distribution, and then ignored the implicit issues that would come with knowing that a small town is purchasing more of an addictive drug than could reasonably be prescribed.
As someone who has had family and friends, and personally, have been harmed by the casual prescription of very addictive drugs, I do find myself to be a little puzzled as to why opioids have become such a issue of national attention. In the Times piece that I linked to, it remarks that the death toll for opioid related deaths in this country is over 400,000 since 2000. That’d be easy to point to this as a reason. But, the NIH thinks that more than one and a half million Americans have died alcohol related deaths in the same time period. And the CDC thinks that more than nine million Americans in that time period have died from tobacco related deaths. I don’t mean to dismiss the suffering of any of the families or communities that have been hit by the drug pushing, lying pharmaceutical companies, but it is a genuine curiosity for me. The United States attempted to put prohibition on alcohol because of the dangers that come from alcohol abuse, and it failed. The United States’ hypocritical prohibition on recreational cannabis use is about to come to an end. But I’ve never heard, seen, or read anyone calling for a end of prohibition on recreational opioid use. Maybe opioids kill too fast. Maybe tobacco and alcohol use are culturally ingrained. Maybe there are racial issues to this as well, such as the differences in response to crack use (a “black drug”) versus cocaine use (a “white drug”) in the 80’s and 90’s. Or maybe it’s because these addictive drugs are being made and pushed by the companies that we have been told to believe have our best interests and health at the forefront of their mission.