In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs

When you think about the New York Times, you usually think about some kind of quality reporting. Maybe even some fact-checking. I think of the NYT’s coverage of the drug war to be more of a mouthpiece for corporate and political America than real investigative reporting. But it’s always nice to know what the rich and influential are thinking:

While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white…

The Times states this as if it were fact, when it’s only based on “self-administered surveys to gather retrospective data on past drug use patterns among patients entering substance abuse treatment programs.”  I can’t imagine that too many people are honest about their past drug use, let alone those who suffer from addiction. And I imagine that the racial make-up of addiction treatment programs is unlike the racial make-up of America’s prison system. Like a lot of (psychiatric) research studies, this one doesn’t prove anything.

I don’t know what percentage of first-time heroin users have been white in the last decade, but heroin has always been a drug used more by white people than blacks (even if the media in the past portrayed it differently). It’s usually not good to generalize, but people use certain drugs because they have access to them — a $400/day heroin habit is not something most black people would have access to. (Another reason why pain patients, usually poor and disabled, aren’t really a part of this heroin “epidemic.” Even though the DEA says heroin is cheaper than pills, if you need to spend $400/day for the drug to be effective, that’s a choice most pain patients don’t have.)

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

“Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more middle class, these are parents who are empowered,” said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the nation’s drug czar. “They know how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so instrumental in changing the conversation.”

Mr. Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 26 years, speaks to some of these parents regularly.

Their efforts also include lobbying statehouses, holding rallies and starting nonprofit organizations, making these mothers and fathers part of a growing backlash against the harsh tactics of traditional drug enforcement…

These mothers and fathers are also part of the backlash against opioids. So, even though they’ve changed their thinking on how to treat addiction (no jail time for their families), that doesn’t mean they want to end the drug war. Far from it.

Heroin’s spread into the suburbs and small towns grew out of an earlier wave of addiction to prescription painkillers; together the two trends are ravaging the country…

I’d say the suicide epidemic is the trend ravaging our country, but then maybe my opinion differs from those over at the Times. But I get very tired of the media saying that prescription painkillers started this whole heroin epidemic, because that’s not true. Maybe in the media’s little white bubble, painkillers are to blame because that’s all they see — because white people are the ones with the most access to painkillers (and heroin).

This is what pain patients are up against — grieving, middle-class white people, with the time and money to make our lives miserable. Grieving parents writing anti-drug curriculum for schools, opening addiction “clinics,” and yelling in the ears of politicians and those with influence (like Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy). Do you think Mr. Botticelli would make time to talk to pain patients (who are disabled and poor)? Do you think an ex-alcoholic could even understand our position?

While it’s great that more (white) people are finally recognizing addiction as a disease, the problem remains:  What’s the best way to treat it? Obviously, what we’re doing isn’t working, and these parents know it because their family members usually spent time in rehab. So, we’re gonna send millions of new patients into treatment and treat them with… what? Bupe and Suboxone? Antidepressants? AA? Talk therapy? An addiction clinic on every corner?

It’s like creating a war against opioids, but not being prepared for the consequences. The plan to substitute alternative therapies for opioids isn’t working — as if there was even a small chance that it would. Now everyone wants to treat addiction with treatments that only work for a small number of people.

We know the results of the failed (white people’s) drug war.  What will be the consequences of the white people’s war against addiction and opioids?

5 thoughts on “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs

  1. According to my son, heroin has become the drug of choice among suburban kids because it’s cheaper than pot. Only thing is, heroin is addictive and marijuana is not.

    I can’t imagine a suburban girl or boy coming up with $400 a day in any fashion, except the time-honored heroin addict fallbacks: prostitution and theft.

    I don’t think the demographic of heroin use in suburbanites is strictly racial. I think it’s mostly the ennui of being a suburban teenager. Granted there is still a white majority in the upper middle class; but more and more black people are professionals, so I doubt that their kids are any more immune to opiate use than their white counterparts.

    My own son was introduced to drug use at a fancy upper class private day school that his affluent father put him in. The kids were self medicating out of boredom and as a “cool” thing to do. Some stole morphine or Oxycontin from relatives on hospice care.

    Then there’s the whole new heroin using and overdosing group: pain sufferers who have suddenly found themselves denied of their pain meds. Physicians now must “screen” pain patients for “risk factors” pointing to high risk for abuse. One of them is any “psychological/psychiatric disease.” I just took a course on this today, so I’m current on the language. “Disease”? Since when is depression or bipolar a disease? Apart from that, are we going to be denied treatment of our physical pain on the basis of our psychic pain? I’ve made a small experiment myself, looking at my many doctors’ willingness to prescribe ANY pain medication–opiates make me itch, so I only take them postop–depending whether I tell them my DSM diagnoses or not. Sure enough, the one that knows my dx I have to beg for anything at all, while the other who doesn’t know, is happy to whip out his script pad. No wonder we have so many “dual diagnosis” people in the system. We are suffering, and pain relief is hard to find, and getting harder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While I know that young people might not understand that heroin and opioids are very similar drugs, they obviously understand that the safer drug is the one in pill form, obtained by prescription. And I assume that the pills are easier to access than the underground heroin. It’s a bad choice, but a safer one. More education is obviously needed, but the education provided by the government will probably never be relatable to young people.

      It’s up to parents to educate their kids about drugs, but my parents didn’t teach me, and I didn’t teach my son. (It was hard enough to talk about sex.) We let our kids’ friends teach them about subjects we’re uncomfortable talking about, and now the internet. Obviously, we need a better way to educate people about drugs (and sex), especially kids; and in my opinion, honesty is the only way to go.

      We learn best through experience, whether we’re young or old. Young people will always experiment — that will never change. Criminalizing experimentation is like criminalizing growing up.

      Boredom (and drugs) can often cause people to act in very selfish ways, like stealing drugs from relatives in hospice. As a 30-year pain patient, I’ve had my drugs stolen from me, and I had to learn how to keep them safe. But I remember the one time another pain patient stole some of my pills, and really, it wasn’t so much selfishness as desperation to treat unmanaged pain. And if I understand anything, it’s desperation.

      I’m really against the addiction tests that pain patients have to take. Our lives are being decided by Big Data:

      “Even the best risk assessments yield probabilities, not certainties.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • One would think that deaths from heroin exceed those from pills, but actually pill deaths from intentional plus unintentional ODs, especially when combined with Benzos and/or alcohol, have now caught up with heroin use. Add to that the fact that many recreational pill users crush and inject the pills, putting them at risk for death from embolus as well as drug overdose, and liver damage from the acetaminophen in the combined products. I really think we have an epidemic of misery, whether from physical, mental, emotional, and combined pain. Our society has become hooked on competition and put-downs. I spent the day fighting off suicide, primarily because I have a virus and my brain always goes haywire when I’m sick. But the script was, “You’re no good. You’re good for nothing. You can’t work. 20+ years of schooling and you can’t even get a job. You need to die. Now.” Etc. Well, I’m still alive. If I wasn’t kind of allergic to opiates I sure would have taken some, because I sure was in pain. And now my foot is looking me because of the spinal stenosis. Now that I’m over being suicidal for the moment I’m going to use some Green Medicine. Herbs rock!

        Liked by 1 person

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