Opioids in Alexandria: A growing problem

Opioids in Alexandria: A growing problem

Few people or communities remain untouched by the opioid crisis that has seemingly reached its tentacles into every corner of the United States.

The stories are all too familiar: The cousin who has been in and out of drug rehab for years; the co-worker who became dependent on pain-killers after an accident; the son or daughter who found the wrong crowd and became hooked. If we’re not personally affected, we have collectively watched from afar as prominent entertainers like actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and singer Prince have died from overdoses.

For years, the stereotypical drug addict was poor and lived in the inner city. His or her drug was heroin, an opiate derived from the poppy plant. Heroin use was stigmatized and most people not living in inner cities felt relatively safe, because the sense was that heroin addiction was isolated to some “other” place. This perception was largely a myth, as heroin has been widely available for years.

More recently, the U.S. heartland has experienced a surge in drug addiction and overdoses. Economic stagnation combined with a sense of hopelessness has left many people searching for something. While Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses,” in recent years increasing numbers have turned to heroin – which has been joined by synthetic drugs like fentanyl and OxyContin to form the drug class “opioids” – and not religion as their source of solace.

Alexandria, neither inner city nor flyover country, is also susceptible to this growing, nationwide problem. As our page one story in this week’s Alexandria Times – “Opioids in Alexandria: Two-year surge has city responders working overtime” – illustrates, opioid use is increasing exponentially in our city.

We believe that this subject warrants an in-depth examination, because we as a community can’t effectively combat a problem until or unless we shed light on it. This week’s piece is therefore the first salvo in an on-going series that will run in the Times over the coming months.

In this week’s installment, city police, health officials and others share insights on what it’s like to combat these drugs, while trying to help the addicts themselves.
We also examine some of the data surrounding overdoses, arrests and treatment in Alexandria from 2015 through the first four months of 2017. Unfortunately, the trend in all three categories is sharply upward, with 2017 set to be the deadliest year yet for opioids in the Port City.

Times reporter James Cullum will be the primary author of pieces in this series, but the endeavor will be a team effort, with our whole editorial staff contributing to planning, data collection and design.

Look for each story on page one, with the “Opioids in Alexandria” logo, as we explore various facets of the crisis, from the drugs themselves to stories of users to the toll addiction takes on family and friends. Also check out our web page, at www.alextimes.com, where we will create a landing page for the entire series to be reviewed at once.

We welcome readers’ input as this series unfolds. If there are particular facets of this crisis you would like to know more about, please contact us at letters@alextimes.com.