from The StarPress
When journalist Sam Quinones pursued his first book on the opiate epidemic, he assumed it would be focused on the criminal aspect.
But as he told the audience during Meridian Health Services’ community speaker series event Thursday, he found that addiction spreads far beyond crime. He spent several years documenting these components for his book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
What he learned during his research is that there’s not just one reason for this epidemic, but several. Quinones spoke of the 1980s, when there was a change in the heroin market, drugs were cheaper and more potent and fentanyl became popularized. He also discussed how parents have coddled their children, keeping them from being fully capable of understanding pain, and how lack of communication has resulted in widespread isolation.
Growing up in Southern California, the author’s mother would ring a bell to gather him inside for dinner while he was playing outside with friends. Why? Because during that time, he joked, parents didn’t know where their children were. But at least they knew they were outside socializing.
Quinones made that same trip to his hometown recently and didn’t see the same picture.
“Why do we wonder that heroin is everywhere?” he asked the crowd. “Heroin, I think, is the final expression of values we’ve fostered in this country for at least the last 35 years. It’s the final expression of isolation, of our preference for isolation at the expense of community.”
Following Quinones’ speech, Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler shared that sentiment in a panel discussion, moderated by Star Press executive editor Greg Fallon.
Mayor Tyler talked about growing up on the southeast side of Muncie. Among the 200 or so homes surrounding his family’s, his parents knew nearly every other parent. He doesn’t see this happening now.
“I’d almost challenge anybody in this room today to tell me who their neighbor is two blocks away,” he said.
Mayor Tyler sat alongside Quinones, newly-appointed chief deputy prosecutor Zach Craig, Meridian’s addiction services director Anthony Lathery, Dr. Scott Taylor, volunteer Rhea Graham and State Senator Jim Merritt. Here’s what else the panel addressed.
Challenges facing the community
Right now, Muncie is feeling the effects of this crisis. Local drug statistics show that the number of possession of heroin cases nearly doubled from 2015 to 2017, and overdose runs by EMS have increased from 618 to 816 in that same time frame. Mayor Tyler said public safety makes up between 75-82 percent of the general fund budget any given year, and it continues to rise.
“We will easily hit somewhere between three quarters of a million dollars and a million dollars on that budget that will be responding to overdoses,” Tyler told the audience.
Craig said one of the side effects from the opiate crisis is that “it absolutely absorbs every resource it can,” thus taking away resources from other problems the public safety officials can address.
‘The good news is there is no solution’
Heroin addiction, Quinones said, “is what happens when as a culture … we start believing in easy answers and silver-bullet solutions.” So in his years of research on this topic, he has found that the antidote is community, and an incremental, “tulle-and-dye” approach is key.
“The good news in all this is that there is no solution,” Quinones said. “We tried the sexy, solitary solution. We tried one pill for every individual’s pain … One of the things (this epidemic) is asking us is to stop believing that there’s an easy way out of every problem, that all rules don’t apply, that we have no need for each other.”
Graham, a panelist who has faced addiction herself and now volunteers to help those with addiction, has learned that drugs are typically the symptom of an underlying problem, and the process that led her to recovery started with compassion. What stops progress is stigma and judgment.
What’s being done
Merritt, who serves portions of Hamilton and Marion counties, shared his plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming session that would focus on addiction as a health issue, including a bill freeing drivers from liability if they have needles in their cars during traffic stops and they notify law enforcement upfront.
Meridian Health Services has recently introduced new addiction services for the community to address the growing need. Its Maternal Treatment Program, which opened in June 2017, has already served nearly 70 women by providing access to have access to case management, therapy and medication-assisted treatment options. Meridian has also established its Addiction and Recovery Center, which has opened locations in Richmond and Lafayette. To learn more about Meridian’s services, visit www.MeridianHS.org.