The Elephant Tranquilizer Tipping Point

It seems like America has been debating what to do about our drug problem for years.

drug-powder-skullWe’ve always had the contingent that urges no tolerance and vigorous enforcement of criminal laws, with swift and sure punishment of offenders.  We’ve got people who argue that some drugs really aren’t that dangerous, and that people who are addicted to other drugs really aren’t evil, they are just dealing with a kind of physical and mental sickness and deserve treatment, not prison.  And we’ve got people who argue that filling prisons with drug offenders doesn’t make sense from a pure economic standpoint in the current era of limited governmental resources.

But most of this debate centers on the people who are users.  What about the people who are profiting — the distributors and pushers and dealers, the people who import the drug and prepare it for sale on street corners?

The introduction of another new substance into our ongoing drug problem is just one more piece of evidence that those people are truly evil.  The new substance is called carfentanil, and it is a form of elephant tranquilizer that is toxic and deadly to humans.  Drug dealers are mixing carfentanil with heroin and selling it, producing a wave of overdose deaths across the country — including Ohio.  The substance is so deadly that even an amount equivalent in size to a few grains of salt can be a killer.

How can you defend someone who intentionally and consciously puts elephant tranquilizer into a drug, knowing that the addition dramatically increases the chance of death when the drug is consumed by human users?  How can you do anything except conclude that the person who takes that step is a monster, who deserves to be hunted down, prosecuted, and imprisoned for destroying people’s lives?

Heroin In The Buckeye State

Today I learned that my old home town, Akron, Ohio, has a serious problem with heroin.

I first saw a story about a 16-year-old boy named Andrew Frye who died of a heroin overdose.  His mother and grandmother have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and other crimes in the case because they supplied the heroin and fentanyl that he, and they, and two of their friends used together at a “party” in a motel room.   What kind of mother and grandmother would give a child heroin?  The story explains that both the mother and grandmother, and the other two friends in the hotel room, have a history of drug-related crime.

heroin-0904-06The death in a hotel room happened in Akron — and the story explains that heroin use is sweeping across the Buckeye State like the scythe of the Grim Reaper.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio had the second-highest number of drug overdose deaths in the country in 2014, primarily from heroin and pain-killer opioids; more than 2,744 Ohioans died from overdoses that year.  A Google search reveals other brutal family stories, like the one about a father and son who died of heroin overdoses in an Akron attic and weren’t found until six days later.

Akron had three times as many heroin deaths as homicides last year, and Akron police have formed a special unit that investigates every heroin death and tries to determine who supplied the drugs that produced the fatal overdoses.  The unit has had some successes — including prosecuting one reprobate who was selling heroin and fentanyl to people attending Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings — but the problem seems overwhelming, and this year heroin-related deaths seem to be rising.

Many of us live in worlds that aren’t exposed to heroin and drug-addicted mothers, but because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.  It just means we’re lucky, and kids like Andrew Frye weren’t.

PTSD

We were in a small neighborhood bar in San Antonio on a Saturday afternoon in November, sipping beers and getting ready for the kickoff of the Ohio State-Michigan game.  There were only the three of us in the place with the bartender.  The door to the bar opened and a guy in his 20s walked in.

He looked at us and began talking . . . and talking, and talking.  Was that our car right outside the door?  Where were we from?  Columbus?  Hey, he was from Whitehall!  Watching the Buckeyes?  Well, he was a Buckeye fan, too.  What did we think of Jim Tressel?  Who did we think was the best Ohio State quarterback during the last ten years?  What did we do for a living?  Where did Russell go to school?  How did Russell like being an artist?  Kish left to do some shopping, and still the questions and running commentary kept coming.  What were we going to do while we were in San Antonio?  Did we know that we were there during the San Antonio bad weather period?

the-bonds-of-battle-ptsd-sebastian-junger-vfFor brief instants the guy would watch the game and root for the Buckeyes, but for the most part he was a chatterbox who simply would not stop talking or let us just watch the game in peace.  We answered his direct questions politely because that’s what people are supposed to do, but also because I didn’t want to do anything to provoke him.  My guard was up, because people don’t normally walk into a bar and begin a rapid-fire conversation with complete strangers.  Was the guy on drugs?  Was he getting ready to ask us for money?   What was his angle, really?

Halftime came, and the guy got a call on his cell phone.  When he took the call he walked around, seemingly agitated, and talked loudly to the person at the other end of the conversation.  A minute or two later he ended the call and announced he was leaving, and after we said goodbye he vanished into the rainy San Antonio afternoon without incident.  I admit that I breathed a sigh of relief.

We looked over at the bartender, and I asked if he knew the guy.  He said no, he’d never seen him before.  Then he shook his head sadly and said, “PTSD.”  The bartender explained that the San Antonio area is home to a lot of different military bases, and therefore to a lot of returning veterans who were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.  In fact, there was a Veterans Administration facility across the street, and he suspected the guy had come from there.

The bartender himself was a veteran, he said, and he’d seen the guy’s kind of behavior before.  He said that when he returned from overseas, struggling with what he had seen and done, the VA’s first response was drugs, because “drugs are easy.”  So he took the drugs the doctors gave him, but he later decided that the drugs he was prescribed, and the kinds of mood swings they provoked, were just too much, so he stopped.  The talker’s behavior, the bartender explained, was showing the signs of the drugs he was prescribed for his PTSD.  His behavior wasn’t his fault.

We had no way of knowing for sure, of course, whether the talker in fact had PTSD as a result of his military service, because he hadn’t talked about it — but the bartender’s comments had the obvious ring of truth.  It turns out that the bartender’s view of the VA’s actions isn’t unique; it’s not hard to find news stories that talk about the VA’s approach to prescribing drugs to returning veterans and question its value.

I felt bad for doubting a guy who had served his country, been scarred by the experience, and wasn’t getting the help he really needed to deal with his issues and return to civilian society.  And I wondered just how many returning veterans deal with PTSD and why the government that sent them over to fight hasn’t come up with an effective approach to a common problem.

It’s just not right.

The Cannibalistic Horror Of “Bath Salts”

Usually horrific stories are about an atrocity in a faraway land and circumstances that don’t have much resonance with our daily lives.  Occasionally, however, such a story strikes closer to home — and thereby becomes even more chilling.

The recent gruesome cannibalistic attack in Miami is one such story.  What could possibly cause two men to be naked on a bridge, with one man literally eating the other’s face (including nose and eyeballs), growling animal-like to police, and finally having to be shot multiple times because he was unresponsive to commands to stop?

The apparent answer is:  drugs.  Specifically, a new kind of LSD called “bath salts” that acts as a stimulant and leaves users in a state of complete delirium.  Police and ER doctors in Miami have seen the effects of the drug, which can dramatically increase body temperature and leave its victims extremely aggressive, with a kind of temporary super-human strength and an urge to use their jaws as weapons.

Some libertarians argue that we shouldn’t regulate drug use, because it is a victimless crime.  The awful nature of “bath salts” and their effect on people belie that argument — at least, as it relates to this particular drug.  It is beyond me why anyone would develop a drug that has such terrible effects, of obvious danger to both the user and to the people around him, and it is even more unimaginable that anyone would sell such a drug on the street.  I suppose it’s too much to expect drug producers and pushers to act with any kind of responsibility, but anyone involved in the “bath salts” drug trade should be punished, harshly, for injecting such an awful, hazardous substance into our society.

Back To The Back

One of our faithful Webner House readers asked me today for an update on my back.  The short answer is:  my back is better, thanks for asking.

After suffering through several agonizing days where I hoped my back would improve on its own, I went to the doctor.  Her examination led her to believe that it was simply a muscle strain, albeit a painful one — which is good news.  She prescribed a few days’ worth of steroids and an anti-inflammatory that I take daily.  I didn’t ask for any pain medication because I don’t like the loopy, lightheaded sensation that it often creates.  The steroids and anti-inflammatories have worked well.  Chalk me up as another satisfied example of the miracle of modern drug therapy!

The only real challenge for me is getting out of bed in the morning.  The automatic rollover and twist motion that I use to put my feet on the floor seems to tweak my lower back worse than any other kind of movement.  I’ve tried to be more cautious, but when you’ve still sleep-addled it’s hard to not engage in the same, routine movement that I’ve done every morning since childhood.

A Terrible Waste

The death of Whitney Houston is horrible news for her family, her friends, and her fans.  At this point, it’s not clear exactly what caused Houston’s death, although there seems to be rampant speculation about the surrounding circumstances.

What seems to be clear is that for years Houston battled substance abuse issues.  As a result, she never reached the heights that were anticipated for someone with her stunning voice, her exquisite phrasing and timing, and her transfixing stage presence.

The social costs of substance abuse are staggering.  Those costs are borne, most directly and most brutally, by the families of those who are in the grips of addiction.  Those families must deal with the lying, the heartbreak, the anger, and the pain that the addiction of a family member inevitably brings.

At times, when a well-known figure falls prey to addiction, the pool of people affected becomes broader, and society as a whole is deprived of the music, or artwork, or performances that the addict might have delivered.  The failure of gifted individuals to realize the full potential of their enormous talents is a tragic loss for the world — but we should never forget that the most profound loss will be felt by the families.

Death South Of The Border

Rodolfo Torre Cantu

The brazenness and bloodiness of the continuing Mexican drug wars is astonishing.  On Monday, a drug gang gunned down Rodolfo Torre Cantu, the leading candidate for governor of the state of Tamaulipas, one of the Mexican states along the border with Texas.  The candidate was out campaigning when his motorcade was stopped by a truck blocking the road and the cars in the motorcade were riddled with bullets, in an incident that sounds like the Sonny Corleone death scene in The Godfather.  Rival Mexican drug gangs have apparently begun to increasingly target governmental and political figures, and Cantu was their most high profile victim yet.

The overall death toll from the Mexican drug wars is even more amazing.  Experts estimate that 22,000 people have been killed by drug-related violence in the last four years.  Consider that slightly more than 5500 Americans have died in the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq since those conflicts began in 2001 and 2003, respectively.  Four times as many Mexicans have been killed, and in a shorter time frame!

This is bad news for America on multiple levels.  No country wants to have lawlessness on its border, and if Mexican drug gangs are bold enough to ambush leading politicians on public streets in Mexico, they likely are bold enough to try to cross over into American territory if they think it would benefit them.  Moreover, law-abiding Mexicans will not long tolerate living in a country where criminal violence reaches such levels and gangland killings go unpunished.  Those who are concerned about illegal immigration into America should be especially concerned that Mexico does not devolve into a state of criminal anarchy and chaos, because the flood of illegal immigrants that will result will dwarf what has happened to date.