It's like the most boring zombie epidemic in history.
People have been getting loaded ever since Julius Wine ate all those bad grapes, and we're mostly OK with it. Sure, we have that War on Drugs business, but as long as dealers aren't shooting each other within our immediate vicinity, we tend to put our heads in the sand about the whole matter. But prescription opioid painkillers, our latest drug epidemic, are a different beast entirely, affecting everyone from inner-city dwellers to Middle-American grandmas. Ignoring this problem has only allowed it to grow more powerfully weird. For example ...
Taking opiates like heroin or morphine has been at best an intensely frowned-upon hobby, and at worst a life-ruining addiction that might lead to membership in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And it's only getting worse. Overdose has become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, thanks to a relatively new drug called fentanyl. The potent painkiller didn't really hit the streets until 2012, but by 2016, it racked up a staggering 20,000 related deaths in that year alone (more than double the year before it). Not that any one person's life is inherently more valuable than any other's, but one of those deaths was Prince. If fentanyl were a person, we'd have it drawn and quartered.
The problem with fentanyl is that it's 50-100 times more powerful than morphine, and up to ten times more powerful than heroin. The difference between fun and fatal doses is damn near microscopic.
The thing that really makes fentanyl dangerous is that you don't even have to take it to overdose on it. It's so potent that merely touching it or breathing near it can send you to the hospital. A police officer in New Jersey had to be rushed to the emergency room because a little puff of air came out of the bag of fentanyl he was closing. Police have begun stocking protective gear like Tyvek suits and respirators, and crime labs are researching ways to never have to open a bag of the stuff. Hell, even the nurses tending to an overdose patient can become afflicted, as was the case in Ohio in which three nurses came down with symptoms of fentanyl poisoning from secondhand exposure.
It's like heroin met anthrax in a dark alley, and they found, to everyone's great dismay, that they actually got along great.
Overdose deaths require an extensive autopsy for every single victim, and we're seeing so many recently that there are unbearable lines ... at the morgue. Some cities are forced to store bodies in cold storage trailers in medical examination parking lots. The "'tsunami' of bodies" is so great that examiners have resorted to begging funeral parlors to take in bodies temporarily while they scramble for more storage and/or refrigerated trucks.
The sheer volume of autopsies is pushing several medical examiner offices into losing their accreditation. There is a national caseload standard that limits the number of autopsies a single pathologist can do in a year, because that's not really something you want to rush. But with the bodies literally piling up on their doorsteps, some offices are skirting those limits. Ironically, they're also not completing enough autopsies, because they're supposed to autopsy a certain percentage of their bodies each month. Even if they're doing more than the legally allowed number of autopsies, the percentage will never be high enough, because the sheer number of the dead is overwhelming them.
It's like the most boring zombie epidemic in history.
People have been doing drugs in McDonald's bathrooms for as long as McDonald's bathrooms have existed. Businesses do everything they can to prevent this, from installing blue lights that make it harder for needle users to find a vein to closing their bathrooms to the public altogether. But that's not an option for public buildings. Since it's safer than, say, your local courthouse, most illicit bathroom attendees pick the library.
After hundreds of overdose deaths in public libraries in recent years, some librarians have had to essentially become EMTs. We're not talking about basic CPR classes here, but kits with medications that reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, as well as the full training to administer them. It sounds insane, but this has prevented numerous deaths. They're getting so good at it that some librarians have identified the drugs taken simply from the sounds the user made while overdosing. So maybe the next time one of them shushes you, you go ahead and shut the hell up.
The unemployment rate may have plummeted since the Great Recession began, but that number only includes people who are actively looking for work, so the slacker friend crashing on your couch doesn't count. The labor participation rate -- that is, the number of people who aren't hogging your PlayStation and eating all your Toaster Strudels -- has only grown by a fraction of a percent from its all-time low in 2014. What gives? Is it those darn lazy Millennials? It's the darn lazy Millennials, isn't it?
At the beginning of 2017, a survey found that 1.8 million Americans weren't actively looking for work, and didn't have a good reason (that is, they weren't "retired, in school, disabled, or taking care of a loved one"). In what is surely an amazing coincidence, about half of them also reported taking an opioid the day before. Fully half of all U.S. companies now test employees for drugs, so even if you drag yourself out of your haze long enough to land a job, you won't keep it. One drug-testing company reported that the number of workers failing their drug tests ranged as high as 20 percent. So now we don't have enough workers, and since immigrants are less likely to use opiates, more employers are turning to them to fill the void. Goddammit, is this why we have Trump?
But the opioid epidemic is also creating some jobs, in the form of comically dystopian-sounding "body brokers." It's a body broker's job to find patients with great insurance and shuttle them off to shady treatment centers, which makes it a pretty lucrative side hustle for managers of sober homes -- private halfway houses that provide accommodation for struggling addicts. Hey, selfless ministry doesn't pay like it used to.
Once there, those treatment centers then run a battery of expensive tests on the patient (one center charged $9,500 for five urinalyses) on the pretense of monitoring the patient's well-being. On occasion, they'll even pay the patient's insurance premium for them, out of the sheer goodness of their hearts -- and also because they know that they'll get way more back from the insurance company than they could ever pay in. They make so much profit that they can also toss a weekly kickback to the broker who brought the patient in.
It's a sweet deal for everyone except the patients, who are often relegated to squalid living conditions and straight-up lied to about their treatment. If they're even aware of what's happening to them, they're usually given cover stories to memorize to better scam their insurance. The insurance companies probably aren't very happy either, but luckily, they run on a magical supply of money that materializes out of nowhere. That's how we're all going to keep this up forever, right guys?
For more on how addiction can really cripple people, check out the movie Trainspotting.
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