The opioid crisis of America has been overlooked for too long; journalist and author Beth Macy discussed her research on drug addiction and its relationship with suicide at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday. This lecture was just one of many events that took place during Suicide Prevention Week.
After a brief introduction from Alex Schaible, the president of Active Minds, Macy walked onto the stage for her lecture. She opened up her lecture with the words, “I’m sorry.” She explained this was because roughly 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses within the last year. About 75% of those were opioid-related deaths.
“The opioid crisis is festering and growing,” Macy said.
Macy’s New York Times bestseller “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America” outlines the trajectory of America’s opioid crisis beginning in the 1990s. According to NPR, Macy’s research spans three decades surrounding small communities of Virginia, which she says is the birthplace of the opioid epidemic.
Macy recognized that the story of the opioid crisis could be told from anywhere but she chose to focus on three specific communities in Virginia: Lee County in Appalachia, Roanoke and the wealthy suburbs of Hidden Valley.
Macy presented a slide filled with statistics that showed just how much the opioid crisis has taken root in our country. In the past 15 years, over 300,000 Americans have died from opioid-related deaths, and experts predict that there will be 300,000 more within the next five years. One in five people with opioid use disorder (OUD) get medically assisted treatment (MAT). Despite being considered the gold standard of care by the CDC, most treatment facilities don’t offer MAT.
In order for these statistics to truly connect with the audience, Macy shared the stories of individuals who struggled with addiction.
“When it comes to issues like this, I think those anecdotes really drive home that these are real people and you can look at facts, figures and data on the opioid crisis and [think] ‘Wow this a problem …’ but to hear the individual stories makes it human,” Addie Lotito, a seventh-semester marketing major and SUBOG president, said.
“My pain was nothing compared to the pain these families have suffered,” Macy said in reference to the writing of her book.
Purdue Pharma hired doctors across the country to become spokespeople for OxyContin, a drug that was becoming one of the most highly-addictive drugs. The drug’s slogan was “OxyContin: The one to start with, the one to stay with.” These spokespeople would target communities in which workplace accidents were more common so that doctors were already willing to prescribe opioids to patients. These spokespeople would even get pay bonuses based upon the size of the dosage they sold.
“What I took away from it is if it’s known that these companies are targeting these doctors and employing all these different methods to spread these pills that they know have this great potential to be abused, why aren’t people doing anything if the information is out there?” Jared Friday, a third-semester psychology major, asked.
Macy told the story of Tess Henry, a Roanoke mother who was over-prescribed opioids at an urgent care and became addicted before finding out she was pregnant. The baby was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) as a result of Henry’s addiction. After attending rehabilitation at countless facilities, she moved across the country to Las Vegas, Nevada for a new treatment program. Henry’s addiction was so severe that she became homeless, spending nights sleepings in casinos and the insides of vans, and resorted to prostitution to pay for drugs. After she was later murdered and found in a dumpster, Macy flew out to Las Vegas with Henry’s mother to figure out what had happened to her.
Whenever Macy gives a talk, she wears a locket around her neck that was given to her by Henry’s mother. On one side there is a symbol of the tree of life, and the other has a poem from E.E. Cummings on it. Inside the locket has a picture of Henry and her rescue dogs, and a picture of novelist James Baldwin, who she quoted at the end of her lecture.
“‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,’” Macy said.
Brandon Barzola is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.