Photo by Corina Ardelean, Unsplash.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost about $1.5 trillion at the time of this writing. The US and friends can’t claim a decisive victory in either country. Not unless we define “victory” as unleashing chaos. The now defunct Soviet Union and the US used Afghanistan as a superpower playground. Their proxy war in the 1980’s decimated the country. Al Qaeda rose from the ashes, soon giving the US another excuse to invade once again.
War has brought is a flood of heroin into our streets, and not just to major cities. In tiny towns all across America, local papers are describing the heroin overdose as an “epidemic.” More and more young people lose their lives to lethal doses of heroin. Heroin is cheaper and easier to acquire than alcohol or pills. This menace is no longer confined to inner-city junkies subsisting in the lowest echelons of society. Heroin has made it to suburbia and beyond.
How did this happen? Whatever thoughts one may have on the Taliban, they did an excellent job controlling heroin production in Afghanistan, a country that produced over 90% of the world’s supply.
Afghan Heroin Trade
On the graph below, notice the sharp decline in 2001, when the country was under Taliban rule. Since the Taliban were overthrown, heroin production has skyrocketed:
This is not just some boring graph representing an abstract concept. I live in an idyllic university town in the Midwestern heartland, and here, we have a heroin problem. I know people who have lost their sons and daughters to heroin. Local police say there isn’t much they can do to stem the tide.
Beer is more expensive than heroin these days. If you’re underage in America, heroin is cheaper and easier to acquire than alcohol. Heroin is everywhere.
So Little Help
Worse still, America is a ruthless country when it comes to taking care of people who are sick. Few resources are available to those with mental illness, addiction, or both. Even if you have health insurance. If you’re mentally ill, drug addicted, or both, your best option in many cases is to show up at an emergency room. You must tell them you’re suicidal and will kill yourself if they let you go. Then, most likely, they will detox you if you’re on drugs, and send you to an overcrowded facility. Once there, they will bombard you with prescription drugs to “stabilize” you, before releasing you a few days later. The moment you arrive in a mental health or rehab facility in the US, the race is on to kick you out as fast as possible. They need to make room for the next person cycling through the revolving door.
The other option is to say you’re homicidal. And if you really are homicidal and your family is afraid of you, the exact same thing happens anyway. Families with small children who have a mentally ill, drug-addicted, or explosively violent teen have little or no recourse, unless and until the teen in question does something so horrendous, he or she is sentenced to a long stint in prison.
Story of Sam
There is a homeless young man in our town who shattered his ankle a couple of years ago. As is typical in the US, he was given a generous supply of pain pills, including Oxycontin, which is essentially synthetic heroin. Over the months, he became addicted to the pills, to the point where he could no longer afford his supply. Interestingly, doctors continued to prescribe the drugs for him all along, leaving cost as the only constraint. Soon someone in the town came along to “help” by explaining he could replace the pills with cheap heroin, and get the same high at bargain prices. He started smoking heroin, and before long, he was injecting heroin.
Now he’s a homeless addict, scrambling daily for his next fix.
Sadly, his own father is hard pressed to help because he’s an addict himself. His mother is a pharmacist who meets him daily and hands over a trickle of cash to keep him from experiencing withdrawals, while he languishes on a months-long waiting list for affordable treatment. I recently met him at a pizza shop to give him a waterproof backpack to carry his meager possessions, though it was stolen from him in less than two weeks.
Sam’s not a bad kid. Despite his drug habit, he remains reluctant to steal and to deal heroin as a means of financing his own habit. He has tried to go off heroin cold turkey, but found withdrawal–which can lead to death–too difficult to endure. There are no clean needle swaps in our area, so he shares needles with fellow addicts
Too Close to Home
One of my closest friends has a son who fell to heroin addiction. A bright young man who should have had a bright future, he has spent his youth in the revolving door between rehab and prison. He was lucky, thanks to the efforts and resources of his desperate family, to get some privately funded treatment and is no longer using heroin. But years into his treatment, he still depends on methadone to make it through the day–and with a felony on his record, he is hard-pressed to get a decent job. The odds he will return to heroin are high, as are the odds heroin will ultimately send him to an early grave.
I asked the local drug treatment facility why it’s so difficult to get treatment for people in desperate need, and they said our policy is reactive, not proactive, and there simply aren’t enough allocated resources. When half our discretionary spending is on weapons and war, we can’t be bothered with trifling things, like taking care of our own people. Sooner or later, most heroin addicts land in jail, where they sometimes die during cold-turkey detox. That’s “drug treatment” in America.
I have done volunteer work for a halfway house, where addicts leaving prison attempt to rejoin society. Talking to these young men (and they’re mostly young men) drastically changed my image of a “junkie.” We’re losing good sons and daughters to heroin every day, yet the major media fixates on things happening thousands of miles away. Yes, it’s sad that the Islamic State is attacking religious minorities in the Syrian hinterlands. But is that more pressing for Americans than our own children overdosing on heroin in record numbers?
Intravenous drug use spreads blood-borne illnesses like AIDS and hepatitis C. We aren’t supposed to talk about the fact most people who get AIDS are homosexual and bisexual men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users. Death, apparently, is preferred over the social stigma. A glance at the numbers is startling. 9/11 took the lives of 2700 people. AIDS-related deaths each year in America are more than five times as high. Neither the War on Terror nor the War on Drugs has brought relief to the American people, many of whom, thanks to our ridiculous media, are too busy gazing across the sea at ISIS to see what’s happening in their own backyards.
Who prioritizes news coverage, and to what end?
Foreign Adventures, Local Problems
Of course one might argue that domestic and international issues are inseparable. After all, it was series of foreign adventures that brought this demon to our doorsteps. But coverage that focuses on international affairs rarely includes the wages we pay on the ground for our short-sighted interventions in faraway lands.
The American people send their children to kill and die in unjust, senseless wars. This brings even more death to our streets. We squander our national treasure to export and import death and chaos. Meanwhile, our own cities and towns crumble and the social fabric unravels at an alarming pace.
Some people say the CIA is in the drug business, and that’s why the heroin sales are so high. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can see why people are suspicious. If we’re the most powerful country on earth, and we’ve spent billions of dollars and over a decade in Afghanistan, why can’t we do what the Taliban did and stop the surge in heroin production?
Are we even trying?
I’ll do my tiny piece whenever I can. The rest of America will marvel at the gender transformation of Bruce Jenner, and we’ll go on pretending our biggest problems in America are the plight of Yazidis in Syria and the “welcome” rise of bikini models in Afghanistan. I will continue to wonder if all of this is really as insane as seems.