Drug use and journalism
The changing landscape of abuse
This article began as a vain attempt at capitalizing on the current Millennial milieu surrounding drug use. It was to be a Vice-esque article touting the benefits of taking drugs to explore the inner recesses of the artist’s mind, explaining the history of drug-abusing intellectuals from Coleridge and Freud to Jimi Hendrix and Allen Ginsberg—clickbait, but smart clickbait, I like to think. I researched, selected some choice quotes to bolster my argument, threw in a couple of personal anecdotes, but was ultimately unable to sift through the factoids and synthesize anything novel and meaningful. I was unable to convince myself of the worth of my own argument.
As an artist who uses drugs, and at one point used them liberally, I assumed this piece would write itself. A younger me would have had no issue bringing everything together into an humorous and relevant op-ed. An unfortunate series of events has since steadied my judgment, and caused me to reevaluate my relationship to drugs, and to journalism.
I’m from Portland, Maine, a coastal New England urban center that can hardly be called a city if you look at the population (approximately 66,000). Maine itself only has 1.3 million inhabitants, and for such a small place it has disproportionately high numbers of opioid overdoses. In 2016 the state averaged a little over one overdose death a day. The Portland soup kitchen is always packed to capacity and it is not uncommon that shelter workers will be forced to administer Narcan (the controversial instant-withdrawal drug) as more and more people overdose in the state facilities themselves.
These facts alone should be enough to bring anyone pause. Opioid addiction is a public health crisis, and whether or not it is on your radar, you may find yourself unable to avoid its far-reaching consequences, as a close friend of mine found out.
Jared and I have been friends since we were children (‘Jared’ was his preferred pseudonym) and he is one of the smartest people I have ever known. So I was shocked to find out that after graduating from college he was unable to slow the downward spiral caused by his addiction to Adderall, cocaine, and alcohol. The spiral very nearly took his life, and he reached out to me in his moment of need.
This was the first time a loved one had crossed the threshold of ‘bad habit’ and cultivated a life-threatening addiction. The experience of watching my best friend go through painful withdrawals shook me more than I’ve been willing to admit. I began to reassess my own relationship to substances and the relative ease and comfort I have in purchasing and consuming substances of any kind, from the mild to the mind altering. I felt the need to interrogate my socioeconomic position within the landscape of drug use and question the motive behind it all. Did substances really help me discover the wellspring of my creativity? Or was this just an excuse to avoid accountability, appear progressive, and/or, fill some kind of void? The answer was, unfortunately, yes, yes, yes, and yes.
I have since been doing all I can to help my friend along the road to recovery, and have also been with him as he traverses its various stages. More recently, after relapsing several times, he decided an inpatient rehabilitation facility was his best bet at staying sober. Although, as he and his family began the process of applying, they discovered that many if not all of the legitimate inpatient and outpatient services, private and public, were filled to the brim with recovering opioid addicts. On top of this, as state and federal healthcare subsidies continue to drop, state health insurance will no longer cover short-term treatment, leaving middle-income families, like my friend Jared’s, shouldering a huge financial burden or else forgoing treatment altogether.
This brings me to another point—the group of college educated, upper-middle-class readers who have re-popularized a sort of neo-Gonzo-journalism i.e. Vice and Paper, sharing articles highlighting the benefits of weed, MDMA, or shrooms in fighting depression, or the weight-loss benefits of tequila, are systematically immune to these changes in the healthcare landscape. They, myself included, have never had to worry whether or not the free clinic in their city was going to continue their needle exchange program, or whether there was sufficient space in a drug and alcohol rehab program. And they won’t, that is, until they find themselves unable to break a habit, confined by an inefficient bureaucracy, with no options.
Maine’s far-right Governor Paul Lepage is notorious for his stance surrounding the state’s opioid crisis—parotting conservative commentators who believe it’s an issue of criminality rather than one of access to quality treatment. He has made his career by slashing funding for so-called safety net services and has recently proposed cutting the budget for the Healthy Maine disease prevention programs. With health programs operating at capacity, on minimal budgets, spaces in recovery groups are reserved for high risk, severely addicted individuals. This means, people like Jared who may not be addicted to opioids, but are nevertheless desperate for help, will fail to receive the care they need, and a crisis will become a silent epidemic.
With Trump’s proposed healthcare plan, and a string of conservative governors and congressmen emboldened by Trump’s hardline rhetoric, one can expect to see this played out on a larger scale all around the country. And indeed it already has. Just last summer the University of California San Francisco closed its Mission District health clinic serving low-income youth. The clinic offered affordable STD and HIV screenings, as well as other health-related services.
Jared never believed he would find himself in such a position. And neither did I. And yet here we are. This story may not be sexy, or clickable, but it is nevertheless a narrative that, as a journalist, I feel obligated to explore. These are realities that may not be in our sphere immediate, but could be very soon if the capitalist publishing machine continues to de-stigmatize drug use without acknowledging the potential for harm that exists in this precarious moment in history.
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