Symptoms of a Fraying System

The last immersion and interviews I did with long time opioid addicts was in Oakland and North Central California in August. Very entrenched there, seasoned. One memory is spending a couple of hours with a young woman, early 20's and her young daughter. We were on a bench, in the town square of Arcata around sunset. Beautiful little place with a view of the Pacific. Now also a homeless encampment and scene of daily human deterioration. She had diabetes and swollen feet on her. In an offhand kind of a way she said to me, “After insurance ran out, heroin was cheaper than my medication.”

Aside, West Oakland felt more strained, frayed and overwhelmed than any of the emerging markets slums I ever worked in (Mumbai, Delhi, Guadalajara, Calcutta, Jakarta etc.)  More social dysfunction, complete absence of family structure left. No mutually supportive culture to take any of the edge off.

I view the opioid crisis as part of the big enchilada of overly concentrated, top down, inorganic system structures we have all helped build, either directly or indirectly through participation.

I've done quite a bit of first person immersion into rural and urban communities where drug addiction is prevalent.

It seems to start as an individual’s experience of social/community or economic/systemic disaffection. Then addiction then is a symptom, not a cause. The primary appears to be loss of hope and personal agency. And of course, we’ve made humanity hurt and, from the point of view of those who suffer, opioids are a cheap and effective fix.

We need to confront that from the point of view of our systems, the opioid crisis a well crafted scenario. Opioid addiction is where our health and social systems warehouse those who do not pay. Addicts drift away and out of our view. Slowly deteriorating. And without cause or guilt to be assigned to us. Addicts are the sunset of our modern era. We are all indicted by this crisis, not just the rich or corporates.


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