The Opioid Diaries
February 22, 2018 2:38 PM   Subscribe

The Opioid Diaries "Over the last year, photographer James Nachtwey set out to document the opioid crisis in America through the people on its front lines. Alongside TIME’s deputy director of photography, Paul Moakley, the pair traveled the country gathering stories from users, families, first responders and others at the heart of the epidemic. ADVISORY Graphic content could be disturbing to some readers"
posted by ericost (27 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Very powerful. This is one of the many reasons why we need universal health care, housing first, etc. Life is hard, people need help sometimes, having an addiction is a medical problem and should not be a death sentence.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:12 PM on February 22 [8 favorites]


It's a heartbreaking "crisis" and an illness ("epidemic"), now that the user population is white. Help them!
Back when the user population was Black, opioid addiction was considered disgusting, immoral, degenerate, criminal. Lock them up!
There are photos of only two Black alleged drug users in this story; one is already jailed, the other is being violently arrested. He is already cuffed and there are two guns pointed at him. Yeah that police officer quoted about always trying to respect users' humanity... guess that doesn't apply to this guy.

Addiction IS an illness. Users DO need help. But man, the racism inherent in how North America responds to drug use (well, and everything else) makes me want to fucking weep.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:30 PM on February 22 [46 favorites]


Even more reason to treat it as a social and medical problem and not a criminal one.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:21 PM on February 22


My wife, through her job at an adoption agency, sees a lot of this problem up close. Addiction is a sadly common thing with the birthmothers. It’s common enough that she usually knows what the street price of various drugs are at any given time.

I hear a lot of noise about attacking this crisis, but I honestly think productive action is running headlong into the puritanical and vindictive nature of so many in this nation. Even as the crisis moves upscale, into the wealthier suburbs, legislators just can’t get out of their attitude that the people involved are simply weak and not worth helping.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:37 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


It's weird. I've read a bunch of articles about how we, as a society, have sympathy for white opiod addiction but none for, say, the crack problem in the 80s. I'm sure that if you ask people if they have sympathy for these people, they say yes, but I have yet to see any of this so-called "sympathy" translated into action. The primary difference is that white opioid addicts do not seem to end up in jail at the same rate as minority addicts. But when it comes to treating the root of the problem or helping addicts recover, or even allowing residential treatment facilities to go up in white neighborhoods.. well. All that sympathy seems to just evaporate into a puff of smoke.
posted by xyzzy at 4:44 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


This is an incredible piece of photo journalism. James Nachtwey is really boss.
From his website
" I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should. not be forgotten and must not be repeated.
posted by adamvasco at 6:00 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


It's a heartbreaking "crisis" and an illness ("epidemic"), now that the user population is white. Help them!

Was the user population ever actually not white? Well I guess it's a little complicated but you see what I'm getting at. But the story portrayed in media has shifted from an unsympathetic one about minority drug users to a (somewhat) more sympathetic one about white drug users.
posted by atoxyl at 6:06 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


I don't see a ton of sympathy for opioid addicts, either. In fact, I see an increasing lack of sympathy and/or understanding for responsible patients taking opiods under a doctor's close supervision.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:22 PM on February 22 [8 favorites]


I have yet to see any of this so-called "sympathy" translated into action. The primary difference is that white opioid addicts do not seem to end up in jail at the same rate as minority addicts.

I see the sympathy. Right there, I see it.

IT'S. RIGHT. THERE.
posted by tclark at 6:29 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


In fact, I see an increasing lack of sympathy and/or understanding for responsible patients taking opiods under a doctor's close supervision.

This feels very much like saying that everyone who ends up addicted to opioids somehow deserves it because they're not one of the "good" ones. An awful lot of opioid addictions start with medication prescribed after an injury.

And I say this as someone who has to jump through ridiculous hoops to fill a non-opioid prescription because their state legislature apparently thinks all controlled substances are opioids.
posted by hoyland at 7:03 PM on February 22


(And, yes, they're definitely opioid-related hoops. Walgreens has to give me a piece of paper every month telling me I don't have to be addicted to opioids.)
posted by hoyland at 7:05 PM on February 22


The photo with the Subway sign is awesome.
posted by snofoam at 7:10 PM on February 22


This feels very much like saying that everyone who ends up addicted to opioids somehow deserves it

In what possible way?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:01 PM on February 22


If you ever have a chance to see James Nachtwey speak and show some of his photos, GO. He is a saint that walks among us.
posted by PhineasGage at 8:31 PM on February 22


The way that this more sympathetic approach to the current opioid crisis displays racism is in contrast to the past - launching The Drug War - but it doesn't mean that it's not the right approach.

Pointing out the fundamental racism at work, though, does underscore the point that what's needed isn't just to do better this time around but to right the wrongs that were perpetrated by our predecessors. I live in Philadelphia, where the Mayor and the new DA have spoken about the opioid crisis in the context of the mistakes of The Drug War, and the DA ran and was elected on a platform based on a series of policies to end mass incarceration and the racism of the criminal justice system (I mean it takes more than one DA but it's a good step). And in Oakland, people who've been jailed for marijuana possession get first crack at marijuana permits.

It's nice to see some of these get rolling. It's long overdue.
posted by entropone at 4:51 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Tangentially, this piece in the New Yorker is pretty good (if something which made me cry can be described that way).
posted by Slothrup at 6:55 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]


Jesus. The New Yorker piece Slothrup linked to contains this poem by William Brewer right at the end, "about an opioid-addicted father and his son. The father tells us:"

Times my simple son will shake me to,

syringe still hanging like a feather from my arm.

What are you always doing, he asks.

Flying, I say. Show me how, he begs.

And finally, I do. You’d think

the sun had gotten lost inside his head,

the way he smiled.


That made me want to cry and vomit at the same time. Lord help us.
posted by widdershins at 10:13 AM on February 23 [1 favorite]


Does William Brewer have personal experience with opioid addiction? To answer my own question, no, though he's from a place where it was a big problem. I had to check because, to be honest, some of the first-person stuff does not ring true to me. My experience is in a very different context, though - can't say I ever lived in a place where people I didn't know from drug shit were disappearing like that. I dunno, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until I look at some more poems but I feel like he could do to hew to the part he knows a little more.
posted by atoxyl at 11:16 AM on February 23


Have any of you taken opioids and felt like you were flying and like nothing bad could ever happen to you at that moment in time?
posted by elsietheeel at 7:55 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


What's with the misleading photo of a dead woman? Michaela Gingras, seen in her casket with mourning family members and identified as a heroin user, was murdered by a spree killer.
posted by Scram at 8:03 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


Have any of you taken opioids...

Yes.

...
and felt like you were flying and like nothing bad could ever happen to you at that moment in time?


No.

One time, I did feel like I was falling down an elevator shaft when the nurse put the Dilaudid injection in my IV too quickly, but I don't think that counts as flying.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:51 PM on February 23


Have any of you taken opioids and felt like you were flying and like nothing bad could ever happen to you at that moment in time?

I mean, metaphorically? I'll give you the latter more than the former.

One time, I did feel like I was falling down an elevator shaft when the nurse put the Dilaudid injection in my IV too quickly, but I don't think that counts as flying.

Well maybe it does? Dilaudid is highly regarded as an injection drug for this intense onset.
posted by atoxyl at 1:14 PM on February 24


I'm at least glad the Sullivan piece tackles the important and often overlooked part that taking opiates feels really fucking good.
posted by josher71 at 9:16 AM on February 27 [3 favorites]


flying rainbow unicorn pegasus heart cloud sun moon star. that's what it feels like. it feels like LOVE. i'll take flying ok
posted by capnsue at 9:20 AM on February 27 [2 favorites]


My point was that once you've taken them and have experienced that feeling (or the feeling capnsue describes, or whatever other amazingness happens), it's almost impossible to forget. That's why people die chasing it.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:27 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Belatedly, on the Brewer poem quoted: had this happened that way, an addicted parent bringing their child into addiction more or less deliberately? In your personal knowledge, of any "you".

I'm armchairing, asking about more armchairing, because this does seem like what another outsider would envision to feel the tragic degradation, and also at least a couple of steps removed from the direct path of addiction, the path to the drug. Hooking his child doesn't directly get that, and indirect profit doesn't really fit the poem.

And yes there's other possible psychology, such as 'it makes me feel bad if he can look down at me', but... I haven't lived in drug addiction, but I have lived in the War on Drugs, where that idea of they hate innocence gets tossed around freely without much attention to where it should go. So I wonder.
posted by away for regrooving at 2:28 AM on March 6




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