In the short amount of time I’ve been writing for this newspaper, I’ve been exposed to the drug problem in ways I never thought I would – and I’ve watched the dehumanizing effect it has had on people all over the spectrum.
It’s such a multi-faceted issue, it’s difficult to know where to even begin talking about it – and, for better or worse, people do.
In some cases, I’ve been more shocked by the public’s response to the opiate epidemic than I’ve been at the opiate epidemic itself.
I’ve seen and heard people using words like “trash,” “rats,” “scum,” and other terms I’d rather not share, to describe fellow human beings – all because they made poor choices.
In one conversation, I noted to a friend of mine how overdoses have increased in recent months, and all she said was, “They’re so stupid.”
I guess I understand that. Sometimes, we feel the need to use negative umbrella statements as a defense mechanism against fear, or as the result of deeply rooted bitterness. I understand. It happens all the time, inside and outside the heroin discussion.
But I’m here to say that’s not alright. And here’s why: It’s not helpful, and in fact, it makes things worse.
If we continue to spread and even celebrate the lie that says all who use drugs are lowlives and cockroaches, we’re not only sacrificing our intellect on the altar of fear and hatred, we are becoming part of the problem by compounding the stigma.
The longer that stigma is allowed to rest in our community, the further our hearts stray from a place of compassion for those who need it the most.
I was heading back from a Lynchburg-Clay basketball game when my friend Brandon called to catch up.
As I rolled into Hillsboro, the conversation drifted between a variety of subjects – how his college classes were beating him over the head; how I was trying to keep my own head above water two months into basketball season as a brand new sports editor; his struggle to choose a career; and, abruptly, heroin.
I don’t recall how it came into the conversation, much like I don’t remember how it came into southern Ohio, but it did.
I was explaining a new type of case several prosecutors have tried, holding drug dealers responsible for overdose deaths. Then I got to talking about the overdoses themselves – the numbers, the sickening numbers I wish I was reading wrong and the accounts I’ve heard from those who treated them.
“It’s really bad,” I said. “It’s everywhere. It’s really, really bad.”
Instead of replying with a simple, “Yeah,” or “Wow,” or any one of the hundreds of useless or hateful statements I’ve heard in response to the problem, he said something I found unique.
“We have to do something,” he said.
Maybe it wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it – not desperately, not simply as an emotional response, but only as a simple, heartfelt statement borne of compassion and nothing more.
“We have to do something.”
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
Neither of us had a good answer.
At 20 years old, I don’t claim to have a lot of experience – but I’ve worked in news since I was 16, and I know for sure that in that time I’ve seen some remarkable people do some truly remarkable things, often in the darkest times.
As I’ve watched the opiate epidemic rear its ugly head in my back yard, I’ve seen law enforcement, emergency responders and elected officials stand up and at least do something.
Much like Brandon, I can’t say I know the solution, but I do know there are a lot of good people trying really hard to help in any way they can – and if there is a solution, they’re a part of it.
On Thursday, I went to my first Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition meeting. The coalition is a group of concerned citizens partnering with law enforcement officers, public health officials, treatment personnel and members of the faith community who meet regularly to discuss resources for reducing local drug abuse. You’ll find no end of ways to get involved at those meetings, or by visiting their Facebook page of the same name.
The Hope Over Heroin event coming up June 16-17 at the Highland County Fairground is another way to engage. More information on that can be found by visiting hopeoverheroin.com.
Really, though, there are ways to get involved all around us – all it takes is a little research and some compassion. We need that now more than ever.
So, please, before you take to the keys to throw in a hateful comment, take a moment and ask yourself if you’re willing to be a part of the solution.
David Wright is a reporter for The Times-Gazette. He can be reached by calling 937-402-2572 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org