For those who may not have read “American Carnage—the new landscape of opioid addiction” an article by Christopher Caldwell in the April issue of “First things” magazine, I recommend it.
On many levels, Caldwell’s book is discouraging, but in illuminating the reality of what communities are facing today and must prepare for, he does all of us a favor.
There is hope, he says, when proactive communities like Pawtucket, RI and Little Rock, AR have proactively confronted local addiction problems. Caldwell refers to Anchor Recovery Community Center in Pawtucket, and I refer to Wolfe Street in Little Rock.
Both of these organizations are doing a lot, and they have the potential to do a lot more.
And the need is great.
Caldwell’s article focuses in part on the powerful drugs that have emerged combined with sophisticated delivery systems and ruthless dealers, and he calls for a response by the citizens of individual communities that is aggressive, informed and focused.
“Fifty two thousand Americans died of opioid over-doses in 2015,” Caldwell tells us, about four times as many as died from gun homicides and half again as many as died in car accidents.”
Here are some of the culprits:
Fentanyl, Caldwell notes, is an opioid invented in 1959. Its primary use is in trans dermal patches given to people for end of life care. If you steal a bunch of those you can make good money with them on the street. Addicts like to suck on them—an extremely dangerous way to get a high.
“Fentanyl in its usual form is about fifty times as strong as street heroin,” he continues. “But there are many different kinds of Fentanyl so the wallop it packs is not just strong but unpredictable.
“There is also Butyrfentanyl which is about a quarter of the strength of ordinary Fentanyl. There is Carfentanil which is 10,000 times as strong as morphine. It is usually used as an animal tranquilizer, although Russian soldiers used an aerosol version to knock out Chechen hostage-takers before their raid on a Moscow theater in 2002.
“A Chinese laboratory makes its own fentanyl-based animal tranquilizer, W-18, which finds is way into Maine through Canada. China manufactures a good deal of the Fentanyl that comes to the U.S., one of those unanticipated consequences of globalization.”
As for the delivery of powerful drugs, the small quantities make smuggling easier and there are also ways to order on line. Perhaps the most famous is the “Silk Road” first organized by a twenty six year old libertarian programmer named Ross Ulbricht.
The silk road web site was hosted on the “Dark Web” where anyone could trade anything—drugs, hacking software, forged passports, counterfeit cash, poisons—free of the government’s watchful eye.
The Silk Road quickly ballooned into a $1.2 billion enterprise, and Ulbricht embraced his new role as kingpin. He enlisted a loyal crew of allies in high and low places all as addicted to the danger and thrill of running an illegal market place as their customers were to the heroin they sold.
All of this is to say that drug dealers will find a way to get their product into the hands of users. Wall or no wall.
A hundred years ago, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act and then repealed it a dozen years later in 1934. They discovered that if people wanted to drink alcohol, the Federal government couldn’t stop them.
Miraculously, barely a year later, in 1935, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous in Akron, Ohio, and its spiritually focused program proved stunningly effective in reducing alcohol consumption and at no cost to those who benefited.
Little Rock, Arkansas was one of the earlier states to adopt AA and thousands of Arkansans have benefited over the years.
Little Rock Assets
In our pursuit of creating an organization in Little Rock to help citizens struggling with addictions get well, we are fortunate to have a number of assets in our community already in place.
These assets include over 400 AA meetings a week, three major hospitals equipped to handle substance abuse cases and several more such as the BridgeWay focusing exclusively on addiction recovery. There are a number of evangelical churches with substance abuse programs such as Rick Warren’s Christian-based version of AA called “Celebrate Recovery.”
We also have the Wolfe Street Center, a 501 (c) 3 company which has up to 30 meetings a week and is open 16 hours a day and seven days a week. Many former alcoholics and other drug addicts say it was their first stop on the road to recovery.
Wolfe Street, has been a powerful influence on helping people recovery from alcoholism and has the potential for being Little Rock’s central institution for developing, in concert with other local institutions, recovery plans for individuals who seek help. It would be a good beginning.
I was about three years into my sobriety when Joe Mcquany, Gene Walter and Gerald Cathey acquired a former funeral parlor in a bad part of town and, in 1983, changed its mission from burying the dead to resurrecting the lives of alcoholics.
I loved Wolfe Street and began attending when the doors first opened. I served as chairman in 1992 and 1993.
Over the years, Wolfe Street, which is 100% privately funded, has become a significant factor in helping people recover from their drug addictions, and it has continued to grow in size and influence.
Much of Christopher Caldwell’s article focuses on the Anchor Recovery Community Center in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which was founded seven years ago. There are 5,400 recovering addicts there, and ex-addict, Jonathan Goyer, helps run things.
“Anchor specializes in peer to peer counseling for drug addicts.” Caldwell notes. “With state help and private grants.
“It hosts Narcotics Anonymous meetings, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions, art workshops, and personal counseling. It runs a telephone hotline and hospital outreach program. It has an employment center for connecting newly drug-free people to sympathetic hirers and banks of computers for those who lack them.
“It has an employment center for connecting newly drug-free people to sympathetic hirers, and banks of computers for those who lack them. And all the people who work here have been in the very pit of addiction—shoplifting to pay for a morning dose, selling their bodies, or dragging out their adult lives in prison. Some have been taken to emergency rooms and “hit” with powerful anti-overdose drugs to bring them back from respiratory failure.
Communities, which fail to act and develop a comprehensive response to the drug problem, will suffer consequences. In his article, Caldwell notes that nearby Salisbury, Massachusetts, founded in 1638, has declared that the opium crisis is the worst thing that has ever happened to it. The town lost one young person in the decade-long Vietnam War. It has lost fifteen to heroin in the last two years.
Last summer, in Huntington, West Virginia (pop. 49,000), there were twenty-eight overdoses in four hours.
Episodes like these, Caldwell says, “have played a role in the decline in U.S. life expectancy in 2015.”