Ralph R. Reiland: A grim price, before their time
“No one can hurry me down to Hades before my time, but if a man’s hour is come, be he brave or be he coward, there is no escape for him when he has once been born,” wrote Greek poet Homer in The Iliad.
Unfortunately, there is increasingly much in America that can hurry a person’s hour to go.
“We now have a solid estimate of how many of our fellow citizens died because of drug overdoses last year: 72,000, with a large majority being opioid related,” wrote Andrew Sullivan in “The Opioid Epidemic’s Grim Total,” New York Magazine, August 17, 2018.
The 72,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2017 is 13,800 more deaths in a single year than the total of 58,200 U.S. military fatal casualties in the Vietnam War during the conflict’s entire two decades.
By the official count of a solidly escalating death toll per year in the U.S. from drug overdoses, the 72,000 death toll in the United States from overdoses in 2017 was up substantially from the 64,070 people killed by overdoses in 2016, an increase of 21 percent over the 52,898 drug overdose deaths recorded in 2015, based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On the whole, this increasingly deadly epidemic of drug overdoses in the U.S. is killing people at nearly double the rate of both firearm and motor vehicle-related deaths in the nation.
“It is a beautiful, hardy flower, Papaver somniferum, a poppy that grows up to four feet in height and arrives in a multitude of colors,” wrote Sullivan in “The Poison We Pick,” New York Magazine, February 20, 2018.
“The blooms last only a few days and then the petals fall, revealing a matte, greenish-gray pod fringed with flutes,” he writes. “The seeds are nutritious and have no psychotropic effects. No one knows when the first curious human learned to crush this bulblike pod and mix it with water, creating a substance that has an oddly calming and euphoric effect on the human brain. Nor do we know who first found out that if you cut the pod with a small knife, capture its milky sap, and leave that to harden in the air, you’ll get a smokable nugget that provides an even more intense experience.”
Perhaps those aforementioned poppy processes for chemically-induced bliss shouldn’t have been nationally published, supplying too easy a path to supposed heavenly pleasures and fake ecstasy for junior high school alchemists, just as it might have been better to have not put step-by-step directions on the internet that showed how to build pressure-cooker bombs loaded with shrapnel or showed how to use 3D printers to build lethal and hard-to-detect guns.
What we do know from the ruins in Europe is that poppy growing goes back as far as 4,000 BC. It “salved pain, suspended grief, and seduced humans with its intimations of the divine,” writes Sullivan. “It was a medicine before there was such a thing as medicine. Every attempt to banish it, destroy it, or prohibit it has failed.”
And failed, of late, most extensively and lethally in the United States.
Ralph R. Reiland is Associate Professor Emeritus of Economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh and a local restaurateur. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.