I talk a lot on my radio show about the state’s opioid epidemic. The stories and interviews have convinced me of a couple of things:
First, some drug companies and their wholesalers knowingly dumped millions of pills on our small state, fueling an addiction crisis that now includes heroin and fentanyl. They need to be held accountable.
Second, we need to treat addiction as a disease. We can’t, nor should we, lock up everyone who is caught breaking the law by using illegal drugs.
Third, West Virginia needs a sustained, multi-pronged approach that focuses on prevention, long-term treatment for addicts who want help and tough law enforcement for mid-level and high-level drug dealers.
Fourth, rehabilitation should include a pathway for former addicts to return to the workforce and reclaim their place as contributing members of society.
But I must confess, none of those points were the first thing that occurred to me when personally confronted with it.
My office is in downtown Morgantown. It happens to be next to a pathway that connects the downtown to a portion of the recreational trail where many of the city’s homeless, alcoholics and drug users congregate.
Yesterday, just before airtime for Talkline, there were three people sitting on the steps beside our building shooting up. 9:30 a.m., downtown Morgantown, right next to a business, essentially in the open, sticking needles in their arms.
This isn’t the first time that’s happened. The area around our building has increasingly become a gathering place for this kind of activity.
My initial response was not the detached reasoning that I mentioned above and have talked about the show. I was disgusted and angry. “Can you believe that? Get these junkies out of here. Call the police.”
No empathy. No concern about a fellow human being. No attempt to help. Just revulsion. It’s always interesting when what you believe to be your convictions are confronted by reality. I suppose this means I know there is a serious problem, but I’d rather not witness it firsthand.
Many of you know too well about the damage and pain from the opioid epidemic because you have been living it. You have a family member who succumbed to addiction or you yourself have struggled with opioids.
Or you are a first responder who will say, with justification, “Yeah, well welcome to my world… times 1,000.” Some of you may have “compassion fatigue” and have grown numb by administering Narcan to the same people over and over, carting away dead bodies or arresting the same people time after time.
Our opioid crisis is not just statistics, it’s people, and frankly some of these people are the unsightly underbelly of our communities. I’d like to think I’m helping by reporting on the epidemic, but the ugly truth is, when I’m looking right at it, I don’t want to get my hands dirty.