This Is Your Town On Drugs, Ctd

A reader writes:

Your reader makes an important point about the corporate support for the proliferation of prescription pain medication.  Let me add another dimension: prisoners who are “treated” while incarcerated with a stew of pain medication, anti-depressants and other medications, and then cut off cold turkey when they walk out the door.

I knew a young man who was involved in a tragic accident involving a gun while in high school. He ended serving a jail sentence for six months.  Because of his age, he was kept in a jail rather than a prison to keep him away from more hardened prisoners, which may have been good, but the downside is that jails don’t have much programming for prisoners.  So he sat in isolation, outside for one hour a day, with barely any services.  He developed a toe infection that was ignored until the pain was too great, and then they loaded him up with oxycontin.  When he was depressed, they added more anti-depressants.  Constipated?  More drugs.

Essentially, the jail’s point of view is that the easiest way to control prisoners is to just drug them up.  But when his sentence was up, the prescriptions ended and he walked out sick and addicted.  He’s still struggling four years later to find himself again, utterly derailed by the system.  How much of recidivism is a result of prisoners leaving in an addicted, weakened state?

Another writes:

I was shocked to see that somebody created a film about drugs and Oceana, West Virginia. I know that town well because I grew up in the next town over.

In a place that small, I can assure you that almost everyone knows everyone else and they know their business. Privacy is nearly impossible. My paternal lineage in that area goes back at least five generations to around 1800. It can be a wonderful place to visit with its slower, relaxing environment and with its very friendly people (and I’m related to most of them), but I’m so glad I don’t live there anymore. The problem with drugs in West Virginia (especially the southern portion of the state) has been going on for years – decades, even. It’s just now becoming recognized as the epidemic it has been for a while.

The real cause of the growing drug problem is the lack of economic diversity and the lack of jobs. The problems started around 1980 when technology and mechanization started replacing humans in large numbers. The place never recovered. The jobs that are there don’t pay the relatively high wages they used to pay, and lay-offs are common. You can look at the stats and see that unemployment is not very high, but it hides the number of people who stopped searching for unemployment. Many are instead receiving disability benefits, usually SSDI or workers compensation settlements. Generations of young adults have left the area in search of better jobs elsewhere (most often moving southward) and a better life overall.

My own family has been swept up into the drug problems of that area. A cousin, his ex-wife, my sister … the easy availability of prescription medication written in large quantities is criminal. The number of pharmacies relative to the population is staggering. When you drive through the region and you see five pharmacies on the same stretch of road that are serving a local population of 20,000 people, you know that something is fundamentally wrong. There are more pharmacies than grocery stores and fast food restaurants. Almost every town and county in the region has the same set of problems.

Oxycontin isn’t the only drug abused, as some pharmacies stopped carrying it. The pharmacies often have bars on the windows and doors, like what you would expect to find in a bad, inner-city area, and some post warning signs that they do not dispense painkillers (or not the better ones). Some people have to drive a good distance just to pickup a prescription for 5-10 pills of Oxycontin. This is, of course, ignoring entirely the illicit market. This is just how life works for people on the upside. The downside, as always, is much worse.

So, what do people do when they are in despair? They turn to something that can make them feel better, whether it is legal or not. This is not unique or some earth-shattering revelation, but for an area where people take pride in the beauty of the landscape, the friendliness of their neighbors and the sense of safety for their families, this drug problem has often turned their lives upside-down. You will see people sharing lost son-or-daughter announcements on Facebook only to find later that the son or daughter was discovered passed out in an abandoned home, in a hospital ER or dead in a car in the middle of a creek. Some of the people like to fool themselves into thinking that their children were kidnapped in some conspiracy from the scene of a local high school football game, when in reality their children got caught up in drugs and ran away to binge. They only come home to get cleaned up, eat a few good meals, state that they want to get better, ask for money (or steal it) and then disappear all over again.

There is lax enforcement for doctors writing large quantities of pain medication. The only way to deal with it is to have the parents of drug addicts complain to the police about which doctor prescribed the medication and which pharmacy filled the prescription. These parents are sometimes having to call the police about members of their own families, their friends or neighbors. Life is not so easy in a small town. Again, this is a story from the upside legal market. I don’t know much about the illicit market and I don’t want to. The problems on the legal side of this issue are truly appalling.

Where I live now the population is 15x greater with sirens going off all the time, newspaper and television stories about people getting shot (what city in America doesn’t have this?) but there are no stories of drug use or abuse among my daughter’s friends. No lost-child notices who later turn up dead after having overdosed or being shot for a drug buy gone bad. When it comes to long-term safety for me and my family, I actually feel safer where I am now.