Narcan, Ohio, and the Working Class Struggle

All across the United States, but particularly in the deindustrialized Mid-West, an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose is overwhelming working class communities. In response to this public health disaster, a Middletown, Ohio City council member has proposed a “three strikes” rule for medical response to overdoses and the administering of the lifesaving drug Naloxone (sold under brand name Narcan). This eventuality is a death sentence for addicts. Disturbingly, this is offered as a selling point by the reactionaries who support it.

Liberation News recently spoke to a recovering opiate addict from Middletown, Ohio about the three-strikes proposal and the reality of the illegal drug trade.

LN: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Would you mind saying a little about how you became addicted and what your experiences with the “War on Drugs” have showed you?
Mr. X: I got into it during my junior year of Highschool. Honestly, one day it just showed up at school. I’ve been off heroin for a while because now I’m on methadone, and methadone does work but not for all addicts.
I’ve been on opiates ten years now. I have never overdosed or needed Narcan though. I’m very careful when I buy heroin, but I was charged with a felony last year for calling in an overdose and put in jail. Something has got to change about how America treats addicts.
LN: In your opinion, what is causing the increased frequency of overdose?
Mr. X: What we’re overdosing on isn’t heroin. It’s Fentanyl — a drug made by a company called Watson Labs. Another company is called Mylan…People have to know the corporate ties to this drug and stop blaming Mexicans. The drug war is racist at its core.

Middletown, Ohio is a small city in south-west Ohio with a population of about 48,000. According to the most recent U.S. census data, 12.6% of the population lives below the poverty line. In 2016 there were 532 response runs to reported opiate overdoses in Ohio. By June 16th of 2017, there have been 577 such runs.

The last opioid epidemic in Ohio was between 2005–2007 and, similar to the current crisis over the last few years, it was characterized by an increased usage of fentanyl. Fentanyl is a “synthetic narcotic that in its prescription form is estimated to be 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin and 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine” (Ohio Department of Health). Most often, users are sold fentanyl in place of heroin or prescription drugs, and dealers are typically unaware of the chemical composition of their supply.

A primary factor in the increase of addiction in the United States is the rampant over-prescription of opioid pain medications by medical practitioners:

“The CDC data shows the counties where opioids are prescribed most often are those still suffering the effects of the great recession. The highest-prescribing counties are likely to be in rural areas or “micropolitan” towns with fewer than 50,000 residents, where the unemployment rate stands nearly two percentage points higher than the national average[…] Doctors and dentists in the worst-hit counties wrote six times more prescriptions for opioids than did providers in the lowest-prescribing counties.” — “Urban-rural divide exacerbates opioid crisis, despite prescription drop,” The Hill
8 graphics that illustrate the US opioid crisis” — The Boston Globe
Ohio Department of Health, 2015 Overdose Data: General Findings
National Forensic Laboratory Information System, Special Report: Opiates and Related Drugs Reported in NFLIS

It is no coincidence that fentanyl usage has coincided with periods of economic uncertainty and downturn. It is further no coincidence that the ruling class has sought to turn worker against worker, brother against brother, loved one against loved one, in an effort to distract from the underlying causes of addiction and the failure of drug criminalization to solve these problems. By rendering addicts a “drain on society,” the system seeks to exculpate its own complicity in their suffering and capitalize upon it.

LN: The argument on the “three strikes” side is that readily available Narcan is perpetuating addiction. Could you give your thoughts on that?
Mr. X: Death sentence. That’s all it is. It’s Republicans’ fucked up way of getting another mouth off welfare, because Republicans seem to think all addicts are on welfare, which is not true at all. It’s viewing human life in dollars. Narcan could be cheap. The only reason I’m alive is because of programs like methadone clinics and needle programs. The churches do a lot too.
Narcan perpetuates addiction? No. Poverty and desperation is what perpetuates addiction.

Trump, in response to the opioid epidemic, appointed New Jersey Governor and all-around charlatan Chris Christie to head the new national opioid commission. Despite assurances that the administration “care[s] passionately about this issue and we want to save lives,” little has been directly said about treatment programs or compassion for addicts while much has been made of “stemming the tide” of addiction. In conjunction with the proposed billions of dollars cut from Medicaid, upon which the vast majority of addicts rely, this positioning is euphemism for reducing the number of addicts through attrition.

The wave of anti-addict sentiment being espoused by local municipalities seeking to limit access to Narcan and seeking harsher punitive measures for those struggling with addiction is a genocidal program.

LN: As an addict in recovery, what do you think should be done to solve the public health crisis of addiction and overdose?
Mr. X: Nowadays, I see lawyers, grandma’s, soccer moms, businessmen all at the heroin spots. All opiate addicts would be functional with a steady supply of opiates. It’s the cost of the drug that ruins the functionality of the addict — they gotta start stealing or showing up late for work because their dealer was late. It’s the access and the price that drives addicts to not “functioning.”
From the perspective of an addict, it’s not money for heroin we want. It’s things like water, medication, housing — simple things that this system refuses to give us! There are more and more addicts nowadays that have good jobs, but when their jobs find out they’re using they’re going to get fired. Having addiction shouldn’t get you fired. Most addicts would be law abiding if they had access to heroin.
The price of heroin is $100 a gram. In order to make like $80 to $100 or more a day you have to do things you don’t want to do. Even addicts that have jobs never have money. The price is simply too high.
And this is the only solution: The government has to start giving addicts a safe product — affordable and safe. Legal government heroin, because heroin needs real regulation. As far as giving addicts money and a place to stay, it’s called harm reduction. You want us off the junk? Then help us!

According to CDC estimates, over two-million Americans are addicted to opioids. In 2015, 52,000 people died from overdose. It is estimated that 2016 and 2017 will far exceed this number as more and more users navigate the dwindling social resources and hostile criminal justice system bound to their exploitation.

Ohio Department of Health, “2015 Drug Overdose At A Glance” — These policies are in serious jeopardy and thousands of addicts are being sentenced to die.
LN: What are your final thoughts about the pending “three strikes” proposal in the Middletown city council?
Mr. X: They need to equip more addicts with Narcan and us addicts can save each other if they don’t want to do it. I think three strikes is a death sentence for an easily solvable problem. All you have to do is spray some liquid up a person’s nose…Really, that’s all it is!
They should have separate crews just for administering Narcan that operate at a lower cost. You don’t have to bring the cops and the fire truck and five EMTs. Be smart!
They bring out the whole fucking posse for overdoses and waste so much money. It’s the criminality of addiction that wastes resources.

According to an EMT interviewed by Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services:

“We have, on several occasions, been advised by dispatch not to enter the scene until law enforcement arrives. We have had to wait as long as 45 minutes to respond into the scene for law enforcement to arrive. This obviously decreases the chance of successful resuscitation and causes a significant delay in treatment.” — Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services, Epidemiological Survey №2, “Naloxone (Narcan®) Administration in Ohio 2003–2012.