Ohio’s Issue 1

The New York Times is practically synonymous with in-depth reporting, maybe one of the few journalism institutions still able to afford it. Recently they made news by reporting on how the uber wealthy move money around and avoid paying taxes, etc. (something impossible for 99% of regular citizens). The subject of that reporting was the Trumps (and now the Kushners). “Political” is what the supporters of the wealthy scream (or are paid to say) in order to delegitimize the investigative findings. Probably the same will result when Bob Mueller presents his findings. Sigh. On the surface it is hard to find the “politics” in a recent New York Times Magazine in-depth report, Trapped by the ‘Walmart of Heroin’ A Philadelphia neighborhood is the largest open-air narcotics market for heroin on the East Coast. Addicts come from all over, and many never leave. (Jennifer Percy, 10-10-18). Then again, it is a plethora of actual “politics” though the reporting is not political. Analysis found the safari through the piece to be analogous to the early in-depth reporting of Michael Jackson’s Neverland after his demise. Although Jackson’s Neverland was the (un)limits of the uber wealthy, Percy’s coverage of the ‘Walmart of Heroin’ is the (without bottom) depths of destitution. A quickie synopsis of an intense and very lengthy article is that, for various reasons, a recreational drug tourist who “Googled “really bad drug areas.” A neighborhood in Philadelphia came up: Kensington.” Users who otherwise held done day jobs would shop there. The history of this site, where any and every drug is available and openly used, the trash and homeless encampments that accompany this metastasizing beast, its history and economics as well as the state’s (city’s) efforts to rid itself of this scourge are the stuff of the investigative reporting. The state is not very proficient at dealing with a health crisis (and has a record to show for it). Philly was no different, first trying to “arrest their way out of it,” followed by repeated attempts at treating it as a health concern – disease. The repeated attempts NOT to “arrest their way out of it” resulted in failures that the city in turn used to learn and try a different, more nuanced approach, which likewise failed. Etc. Ad nauseam. Analysis was reminded of the century old (and ongoing) efforts to abate another addiction – nicotine. Its popularity, and availability, were so prevalent and over reaching that designating it as a disease, let alone a health concern of the state, was, well, completely “political.” Like Coke, tobacco products were sold in vending machines for the longest time. The state’s track record of dealing with it is abysmal. States used “tobacco settlement money” as a contribution to their general fund with some going to window dressing like “Just say no.” Along with our president they found a way to capitalize on the negative, taxing tobacco in order to raise even more for their general fund. Instead of “arresting their way out” they opted to tax their way out while saying it was all in the names of more jobs, better economy and something about boats rising and the tide. The “politics” involved with the designation and interpretation of some social phenomenon as in reality a scientific occurrence, like a health crisis, is the stuff of Bruno Latour’s book, The Pasteurization Of France (1988). LaTour writes of the “politics” involved over a lengthy span of time to establish Louis Pasteur’s claim of bacteria as a source of disease. It wasn’t accepted as being so overnight. Indeed, it was actively resisted (power, wealth, influence, etc.). Fast forward to the contemporary reception of climate science (the Anthropocene) or Bayer’s use of glyphosate (Round Up, Bayer now owns Monsanto). No, the state has an abysmal record of addressing and dealing with any health crisis. It is always “political.” If it wasn’t “political,” what would it possibly look like? Carl Hart on why it’s time to legalize drugs: “What is wrong with people making that choice?” Psychologist and author on the myths of the opioid “epidemic,” and why it’s time to ask Americans to be adults, Chauncy DeVega (9-26-18) peels back a corner of what it might be. A quickie synopsis of DeVega’s interview with Carl Hart includes, but is not limited to, myth busting – not all use is addiction (Is Bill Clinton addicted to cigars?), functioning addiction (able to hold a job, pay bills, raise a family, etc.) and malignant addiction (a disease addressed by therapies of recovery, etc.). Scary stuff until one realizes that just such approaches are already used by various countries (Netherlands, Switzerland come to mind). The alternatives of “arresting our way out of it”, “Just Say No” pedagogies, along with abstinence only sex education and forced slavery as immigrant labor opportunity, have a track record of promoting the myth while eliding any solution. Yes, what Hart speaks of, and Philly tries (and tries again), is messy, precarious,  discomforting, and very “political”. The future solution of a health crisis, the disease and scourge of illegal drug possession and use, the stigma, the tragic consequences of incarceration and its avoidance are uncertain, unpredictable. They are found only in the “doing” of solution, not in the myth of certain outcome. Ohio’s Issue 1 may be inaccurate, tentative, imperfect, and fraught with “politics” but it is a “doing” of solution rather than a continuation of theoretical proposals while continuing to “arrest our way out of “ a very real (and “political”) health crisis.

 

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