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.

Needle In The Arm

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead yesterday in his Greenwich Village apartment. According to reports, he was found in his bathroom, with a heroin-filled needle in his arm. It was an ugly, grisly death for someone so talented.

Unfortunately, Hoffman’s death is just a very visible sign of the significant drug problem in the United States. At the same time some states have moved to decriminalize recreational drugs like marijuana, cheap and powerful strains of heroin are producing new legions of addicts — and overdose deaths. In January, Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his State of the State speech to what he called the “full-blown heroin crisis” in that state, where deaths from heroin overdoses are soaring and addiction to heroin and opiates is skyrocketing. Heroin plagues cities like Cleveland, and this year in the Pittsburgh area a new blend of heroin has been blamed for 22 deaths.

Of course, overdoses are only the tip of the iceberg. Heroin use is directly associated with theft and violent crime. Addicts steal from their families and loved ones. If you know anyone who has dealt with a family member who is a heroin addict, who has seen their child or sibling turn into someone they no longer recognize, and who has exhausted their retirement savings trying to treat the addict, you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of the anguish and heartbreak heroin is causing. It is a terrible drug.

It’s tragic when a great talent like Hoffman dies so senselessly, but it’s also tragic that it takes the death of a celebrity for many of us to focus on the very serious problem of growing heroin use and opiate addiction.