Every day, more than 90 Americans lose their battle with opioid addiction.
Last year alone, overdoses claimed more lives than the wars in Vietnam and Iraq combined, The New York Times has reported.
Locally, for the past two years, Washington and Greene have placed among the top 10 counties in Pennsylvania for overdose deaths. And the trend shows little sign of reversing.
As of May 31, the Washington County coroner already had recorded 40 overdose deaths. It’s not known how many deaths occurred during the same period in Greene County; the coroner there failed to return a call requesting data.
More importantly, the statistics represent real people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers – who have left behind families and friends to mourn them. Many of them have been eulogized on the obituary pages of this newspaper. Some of their families openly shared their loved ones’ cause of death. More didn’t, fearful of the perceived stigma associated with addiction.
It is for all of them that we are launching the ongoing series, “Drugs, Overdoses and Addiction.”
For the past five months, a team of reporters, editors and photographers has been meeting with recovering addicts and drug and alcohol experts to learn as much as possible about the local opioid crisis. We set out to learn how the problem escalated, what is being done to address it and determine the effects it’s having on our community.
Much of what we’ve found so far is startling, surprising even. Recovery is big business, we learned, and the city of Washington has become a hub for addicts in search of rehabilitation.
We also found that addicts are not stereotypical junkies in search of sustaining a euphoric high. Fifty percent of opioid addicts became hooked on prescription painkillers and are desperate to feed their bodies the chemicals they crave.
We learned, too, that our readers are worried. Through reader surveys, an overwhelming number of you shared your fears with us, some in intensely personal ways. Consider this sampling of responses we received to the question, “What are the four top things you worry about?”:
• “My gram passing, then I become homeless ’cuz I live with her. My daughter addicted to heroin for the past (7) years. Just awaiting the day. My children surviving this world without me, when I pass. Losing my loved ones.”
• “Finances, my sons’ addictions, how the state police have been abusive toward them, getting them the help they need.”
• “If my kids will make it home from school alive. If our lives are in danger. If they will ever arrest the drug dealer across the street, and that I will never be able to move away.”
As part of the series, the newspaper plans to host a town meeting with drug and alcohol specialists to address community concerns. We’ll announce that initiative later.
And we’ll introduce you to recovering addicts like Josh Sabatini, who shares his story about hitting rock bottom on Page D1 of today’s edition.
We’ll share the failures, too, as told by the loved ones who have been left behind.
Finally, to those who have criticized proposed solutions, efforts to stem the crisis and the addicts themselves, we respectfully request you read openmindedly and nonjudgmentally. The problem didn’t occur overnight, and a resolution certainly won’t be swift, either.Learn More About the DOA Series