The Heroin and Opioid Crisis Is Real
Many are affected in Milwaukee. So what are government leaders doing about it?
It’s easy to distance yourself from tragedy, even when it’s happening in your own town. One tragedy becomes like another, not really hitting you until it hits you personally. It then becomes something else, so powerful it’s almost surreal. Imagine what its like to enter adulthood knowing a good portion of your friends are either opioid or heroin addicts, or know others who are. For myself and much of my generation, that’s increasingly the reality. Fortunately, I haven’t lost any people yet. But that, sadly, can’t be said for some of my closest friends. Without naming names or casting blame, that’s the story I need to share.
I’ve lived in Milwaukee my entire life but in several different places in the city. When it came time to enroll in high school, my mother and I moved to Wauwatosa for better options. Throughout high school, as anywhere else I suppose, drugs were prevalent. However, opioid abuse–to my knowledge–didn’t appear to be a widespread issue at that time.
That was from the ages of 15-18. I’m 21 now, and things have shifted in the oddest of ways. At first you hear about this kid snorting something for giggles, then one too many stories of heroin use. Fall and winter seemed to bring rehab admissions, and seasonal depression. The use of opioids and heroin were closely related; depending on which drug is easier to obtain.
After high school, from 18-20 years old, I moved back to Milwaukee with my aunt and then father. Two houses down, people not that much older than I lived with their young children. One girl would come outside and play with the neighborhood children, but never spoke. Rather, she’d whine or grunt, or remain totally silent. I eventually discovered she was the daughter of relatively functional heroin addicts. Her exposure to the drug use, however, left her a stunted and complicated soul. She was almost like a wild child, escaping her home day and night only to return later. When her family nodded off, the doors were often left open for her to roam. It’s a cycle playing out across Milwaukee and neighboring counties and suburbs.
But nothing compared to seeing my friends high, nodding as they stood up or sat down. For a while, I didn’t even realize it was happening. But eventually my mind could no longer hide the reality. It was a darker, more dreadful thing to behold than I’d anticipated. Watching their lives spiral ever downward isn’t easy. One rehab or hospital visit turns to two, then three, and so on depending on the person. That’s assuming you’re lucky enough to have friends who survive long enough for that.
Being unlucky means going about your life until, one day, you hear someone’s gone. One friend of mine lost several people in less than a year. They were all kids his age, 18-19, or younger. Punctuating that tragedy were mug shots of those you once knew–arrested for opioid possession or distribution. They’d occasionally drift through your Facebook feed and then away again. You let it pass as if it’s just another meme or pointless viral video. Except it’s not.
And where’s the response from city and county officials? Last year the Milwaukee Common Council released a report called “888 Bodies and Counting,” which found there was a 495 percent increase in heroin-related deaths in Milwaukee County between 2005 and 2014 along with a big increase in opioid-related deaths. But where’s the followup to this report? Where’s the task forces, treatments and visionary, daring new ideas tested in other states? What about protests or demonstrations? Some treatment centers have cropped up, but the response pales in comparison to the issue at hand. Each day spent ignoring this crisis on a local level is a subtle insult to the victims. It relegates the issue to the periphery, leaving only shame for those caught in addiction.
Which leads to another thing that’s widely known, but never talked about: addict shaming. For many people, whether younger, say 15-21, or older users, shame and stigma is real. I’ve seen people who weren’t addicts, but simply hung around some, ostracized by others. It’s often a matter of standing by someone you’ve known your entire life. But to onlookers, those perhaps not as immediately affected by the epidemic, judgements come easy.
Treating the addicted like lepers doesn’t solve anything. How many families attempt to help their addicted loved ones, and how many disown them? This is a facet of the crisis that needs to be openly acknowledged. Without doing so, I fear America may never come to grips with this issue. We must see addicts as people, not rotten fruits to be shaken from the tree. Drug users are people, like you or me, and they need our help.
Isiah Holmes is a local writer and videographer.
More about the Opioid Crisis
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Colleagues to Call on Administration to Take Immediate Action to Reduce Price of Life-Saving Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 20th, 2018
- Opioid Crisis: The House Where Addicts Die - Isiah Holmes - Apr 18th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address the Opioid Crisis - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 17th, 2018
- Op Ed: Stronger Action Needed on Opioid Crisis - Matt Flynn - Apr 14th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Helps Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Allow Safe Disposal of Unwanted Drugs in Hospice - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 13th, 2018
- Leah Attends Opioid Taskforce Meeting about Alternative Treatments to Pain - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Apr 13th, 2018
- Walker Signs Vukmir Bill Battling Opioid Crisis - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Apr 10th, 2018
- Combating the Opioid Crisis: Governor Walker Signs Bipartisan Bills on Opioids into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Apr 9th, 2018
- Bipartisan Alternative Drug Treatment Program Signed Into Law - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Apr 3rd, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Hosts Roundtable with Green Bay Officials on Fighting the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Apr 2nd, 2018
- U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, Todd Young and Edward Markey Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Fight Opioid-Related Infectious Diseases - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 23rd, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Announces New Funding for Wisconsin to Combat the Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 22nd, 2018
- Vukmir Battles Opioid Epidemic - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Mar 20th, 2018
- Supervisor Peggy West: Time to Hold Drug Makers Accountable - Sup. Peggy A. West - Mar 14th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin to Health Insurers: Step Up Response to Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Mar 5th, 2018
- Latest Report Highlights 20 Percent Decrease in Opioid Prescriptions Dispensed from 2015 to 2017 - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 2nd, 2018
- Tracking Opioid Deaths by ZIP Code - Isiah Holmes - Mar 1st, 2018
- Governor Walker Discusses the Opioid Epidemic at Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Conference - Gov. Scott Walker - Feb 5th, 2018
- Vukmir, Nygren Lead Efforts to Combat the Opioid Epidemic - State Sen. Leah Vukmir - Jan 19th, 2018
- Governor Walker Takes Additional Action to Fight Opioid Crisis - Gov. Scott Walker - Jan 19th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls on President Trump To Renew The Opioid Public Health Emergency - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Jan 12th, 2018
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Calls on President Trump to Sign Bipartisan Legislation Passed by Congress to Help Halt Flow of Illicit Fentanyl into the United States - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Dec 22nd, 2017
- Drug-Related Deaths To Hit 420 in 2017 - Edgar Mendez - Dec 21st, 2017
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Joins Bipartisan Group of Senators Urging Congressional Leadership to Commit Resources to Opioid Epidemic - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin - Dec 15th, 2017
- Murphy’s Law: Brad Schimel’s Opioid Problem - Bruce Murphy - Nov 14th, 2017
- Op Ed: State Leaves Counties to Sue Drug Companies - State Senators Janet Bewley and Dave Hansen - Nov 11th, 2017
- Special Report: Opioid Crisis Hits City Hard - Edgar Mendez - Nov 9th, 2017
- Opioid Crisis Still Growing - Dave Fidlin - Oct 30th, 2017
- Op Ed: Nygren, Sidener Dramatize Opioid Problem - Casey Hoff - Oct 18th, 2017
- Op Ed: The Heroin and Opioid Crisis Is Real - Isiah Holmes - Aug 28th, 2017
- The State of Politics: John Nygren’s War on Drug Abuse - Steven Walters - Jul 10th, 2017
- Op Ed: Opioid Crisis Demands Bipartisan Solutions - Jeff Plale - Feb 24th, 2017
- Prescription Drugs Lead Way to Heroin - Wyatt Massey - Mar 17th, 2016
- Heroin Deaths Up 241% Since 2010 - Wyatt Massey - Mar 16th, 2016