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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Month: June 2017

Heroin Crisis is Taking Lives of Many in Appalachia

“The worst part of overdosing was waking up,” claimed a West Virginia heroin user.

A recent New Yorker article follows the lives of several people in West Virginia, exposing the widespread problem of heroin usage in poorer areas of the Appalachian region.

The Appalachia region. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A few of the Appalachian states consist of North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Mississippi, possessing some of the poorest regions in the country.

West Virginia, an Appalachian state, has the highest overdose death rate in the country.

What used to be a problem with largely prescribed opiate drugs has now pivoted towards a large increase in the use of heroin.

Heroin has become a cheap alternative to prescription pain medication to many people. A recent drop in the use of opioid prescription medications coincided with a spike in heroin usage.

An oxycodone pill now costs around eighty dollars, while a dose of heroin costs a mere ten.

In the memoir Hillbilly Elegy, author J.D. Vance notes several times that prescription drugs were a problem not only in his town, but in his household, with his mother being an addict. He also noted that in his town, it was understood that heroin was thought to be more dangerous than prescription medications; it was a sign of desperation.

Along with the spike in heroin usage, the amount of overdoses has increased immensely as well.

“They’re struggling with using but not wanting to die,” a medic noted.

According to the New Yorker article, nearly all of the addicts in West Virginia are white, born in the area, and have modest to little income. High levels of poverty and joblessness produce psychological distress, which in turn, can be numbed by the use of heroin and prescription drugs. Unfortunately for many of these heroin users, it often leads to overdose.

Heroin can be found in powder and pill form. CC Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s the scary part- that it’s becoming the norm,” a West Virginia resident said within the article, referring to heroin overdose.

The widespread and detrimental use of heroin on a person can also affect the family as a whole. As seen in Hillbilly Elegy, many children are often exposed to the traumatic effects of having a heroin addict for a parent. A report on child welfare and substance abuse claims that being raised by a drug-dependent parent leads to:

  • poor cognitive, delayed social and emotional development
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • other mental health symptoms
  • physical health issues
  • substance-use problems for the child

For families like J.D. Vance’s, growing up around drugs is a popular issue in their area. Recently, the drug of choice seems to be heroin, in replacement of prescription opioids.

“Heroin has become a social contagion,” claimed psychotherapist Peter Callahan.

How to solve the lethal problem? According to the New Yorker article, it will take time. However, the state of West Virginia has begun to treat the heroin epidemic as a public-health problem and aims to take further steps to diminish this deadly drug that takes the lives of so many Appalachia residents.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

What Migration Means for America

“The people who are able to leave very often do so,” explained Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance on leaving his hometown of Middletown, Ohio.

When discussing migration, one is forced to consider the reasons that people decide to leave and the costs that come with doing so. Framed by the greater migration of Appalachian residents to cities in the Rust Belt following World War II, author J.D. Vance chronicles his grandparents’ move from Jackson, Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, and the adjustments they had to make in their lives away from the community in which they grew up. Vance himself left his hometown as an adult, first serving in the Marine Corps, then moving in order to further his education at Ohio State University and Yale, finally settling in San Francisco for career opportunities.

In March of this year, Vance announced in a New York Times Op-Ed that he and his family would be moving to Columbus, Ohio to found a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic that has spread across the United States. In explaining this decision, he mentions that geographic mobility in the United States has been declining over the last thirty years. The people who move to those areas are those who have the means and skills to be successful in areas of the country where economic opportunities abound, leaving behind struggling towns.

CC Image courtesy of David Mark on Pixabay. Columbus, Ohio.

Vance hopes that by moving back to Ohio, he can help counter this trend sometimes referred to as the “brain drain”. He writes about another friend, Ami Vitori Kimener, who is in a similar transition. Kimener moved back to Middletown, Ohio, after graduating from Georgetown University, to start a business and work to revitalize the city. Yet Vance also states that “not every town can or should be saved”, alluding to the greater debate over what should be done about the towns around the country with few economic prospects and the people who still live in them.

Author J.D. Vance. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

An article published in The Atlantic last week by Brian Alexander engages with this debate from the perspective of those people who do still live in those areas. Alexander, like Vance, writes about the decrease in internal migration in the United States while acknowledging that researchers are not sure what this means for the future of the country. More importantly, he examines why people in “dying towns” simply do not pick up and move to an area with more opportunity.

Author Brian Alexander. CC Image Courtesy of the Brian Alexander Website.

There are various reasons and factors that go into peoples’ calculations about where to live, some external and some internal. Any solution to this issue will likely complex and nuanced, and studying these factors is an important first step in that direction.

Morgan Sederburg
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office