The Hollowing Out of America, Up Close and Personal
On the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota, where our book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt opens, and where the average male has a life expectancy of 48 years, the lowest in the western hemisphere outside of Haiti, those who endured the long night of oppression found solace in traditional sweat lodge rituals, the Lakota language and cosmology, and the powerful four-day Sun Dance which I attended, where dancers fast and make small flesh offerings.
In West Virginia, however, the drug of choice was OxyContin, or “hillbilly heroin.” Joe and I went into some old coal camps, largely abandoned, and there it was as if we were interviewing zombies; the speech and movements of those we met were so bogged down by opiates that they were often hard to understand. This passage from the book is a look at some of those West Virginians, discarded by the wider society, who struggle to deal with the terrible pain of rejection and purposelessness that comes when there is a loss of meaning and dignity.
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in West Virginia, and the state leads the country in fatal drug overdoses. OxyContin — nicknamed “hillbilly heroin” — is king. At a drug market like the Pines it costs a dollar a milligram. And a couple of 60- or 80-milligram pills sold at the Pines is a significant boost to a family’s income. Not far behind OxyContin is Suboxone, the brand name for a drug whose primary ingredient is buprenorphine, a semisynthetic opioid. Dealers, many of whom are based in Detroit, travel from clinic to clinic in Florida to stock up on the opiates and then sell them out of the backs of gleaming SUVs in West Virginia, usually around the first of the month, when the government checks arrive. Those who have legal prescriptions also sell the drugs for a profit. Pushers are often retirees. They can make a few hundred extra dollars a month on the sale of their medications. The temptation to peddle pills is hard to resist.
Chris Hedges spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. His latest books are Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Death of the Liberal Class, and The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.
from the archives:
See also a very good review of Hedges’ and Sacco’s book: So long, middle America – The Irish Times – Sat, Aug 25, 2012