The following article was submitted by a former addict who wishes to remain anonymous. It was written based on their experiences with the opioid epidemic in 2012.
Another friend dropped last night. There was the typical cascade of responses, none of which were ideal or comforting given the circumstances. A friend of ours who we’d known
“Well, that’s what you get when you play with fire.”
“Another one? Wow.”
And then there was me. I hardly said anything. Not because I was so traumatized by the situation that I couldn’t find words. Quite the opposite. I didn’t say anything because I had nothing to say, because, quite frankly, I was getting used to my friends dying.
The opioid epidemic – or, rather, the fentanyl epidemic –has been going on for a long time, it’s just been hidden underneath pharmaceutical companies and prescription pads. It has caused such an unruly increase in the number of overdoses that many, like myself, are quite desensitized to the whole process of death.
Being able to brush off the death of a friend makes one quite ambivalent. On the one hand, I became jaded towards myself. I began thinking I was callous and shallow, too self-important to be concerned about the loss of another living human.
On the other hand, though, I really began to contemplate the nature of death and life. I’m able now to accept death as a natural part of life and, indeed, the only thing that we can be guaranteed of since birth. Is that a bad thing?
I think I was a bit young to develop such a deep understanding of death, but I also think that ultimately, it was a good thing. We all need to learn how to cope with death at some point in our lives, and I was fortunate enough to do so at a fairly early age. I just feel hesitant to accept some sort of personal benefit from living through the deaths of many of my friends.
The other problem with this desensitization towards death is that it really undermines the seriousness of the opioid addiction. This is especially true for addicts. People who have never used heroin tend to avoid it because of the associated lifestyle and the risks, but those who are an active part of the drug community feel a bit different.
Instead of making opioid addicts more aware, it made us more nihilistic. Instead of making more of an effort to stop our addictions, we became acutely aware that we would rather risk dying than stop using heroin. We were so desensitized to death that we became desensitized to the looming fact of our own mortality.
You’d think that after someone overdoses, they would do a rain check and reconsider where they’re at in their life. Certainly, this still happens, but most people who have remained in the opioid scene since 2012 have overdosed and been hospitalized at least once.
I certainly did, and it didn’t really change my outlook. I took a single puff of some heroin cut with fentanyl that was terribly mixed, dropped, and woke up in the hospital. Instead of developing an idealistic appreciation for life and my survival, I immediately checked to make sure I had the rest of my dope and decided that I would “be more careful.”
Thankfully it worked, but I feel that there was a valuable lesson there that I never learned. Or maybe I’d already learned it. I’m still okay with death – perhaps too comfortable. The loss of a good friend, of course, makes me sad – but when I see the rest of our friends weeping and mourning the loss of our companion, I’ve already accepted the reality and moved on to the next chapter of life.
I don’t think I’m callous, just realistic. We do not yet have the technological capability to bring someone back from the dead (which is probably for the better) and I realized during my close association to the opioid epidemic that a lost friend wouldn’t want us to be depressed and spend days crying over them. They would want us to celebrate their lives and remember them fondly, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.
Still, I feel a bit isolated when this happens. I’ve been called cold, heartless, and insensitive because I’m able to face the reality of death with a straight face. Part of me still wonders if this is ‘right,’ but then one wonders if anything could really be considered ‘right’ in the first place. Death happens, and we can dwell on it, or we can send the lost into the next life with good wishes and hold onto the fond memories that we made together.
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