This Week 1/9

Start reading about the opioid epidemic, and there’s no shortage of staggering statistics. Drug overdose has become the leading cause of death in the U.S. for those under 50, surpassing deaths from firearms, car accidents, homicides, or HIV/AIDS. In 2017, the number of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. reached a record high—70,237, more Americans than died in the entire Vietnam War. The majority of those deaths are from opioids.

In two decades, the crisis has shifted from prescription opioids to heroin to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. But the numbers have only gone up. In Virginia, drug overdose deaths involving heroin went up 21.8 percent from 2016 to 2017, more than in any
other state. In Dopesick, author Beth Macy, who spent 25 years as a beat reporter for the Roanoke Times, tells the stories behind those numbers.

“So many people in America have no idea how bad this epidemic is,” she tells us. “I wanted to write something that would illuminate it.”

In this issue, we also talk to Jordan McNeish, a Charlottesville resident who has turned his struggles with addiction into a way to help others, through the Jefferson Area Harm Reduction group. Harm reduction acknowledges the reality that
not everyone who abuses drugs is ready or able to quit, and focuses on minimizing the risks and providing support.

McNeish appeared before City Council in December, to advocate for more accessible, anonymous distribution of naloxone, and a needle exchange program. He was influenced by groups like the New England Users Union, whose president, Jess Tilley, told NPR, “I feel as an outed drug user, I speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves.” When people feel ashamed about not being able to quit, they use alone, and that’s when they die, she says. “I want people to realize that they don’t have to be alone in this.”—Laura Longhine