All over America, I've seen posters warning against drug addictions. In Cheyenne, it's "METHAMPHETAMINE / Don't live this tragic story." A few blocks away, I stepped over used needles on the sidewalk. In Buffalo, it's an image of a beer bottle and a pill bottle, with "HEROIN addiction starts here..." Appended to it was a homemade sign, "SHOOT YOUR LOCAL HEROIN DEALER." Also in Buffalo, it's a photo of a seemingly dead man on the floor, with "Learn how to recognize OPIOID OVERDOSE and SAVE A LIFE." In Cleveland, it's a tagged toe in a morgue, with "DEATH BY HEROIN OVERDOSE IN CUYAHOGA COUNTY HAS QUADRUPLED," and this was in 2014, before the prevalence of fentanyl.
In 2016, Philly had 277 murders and 907 fatal drug overdoses. For 2017, murders are up 21% and drug deaths, 33%. What's your town's drug toll?
A 33-year-old friend admits to popping street-bought Xanax every now and then to help her sleep. I suspect she's on various pills, if not heroin, for she's always broke and borrowing money. She has a spotty memory, sporadic hygiene and pinpoint pupils.
"Jeff, man, you're always so outgoing, so gregarious, I can't imagine you having anxieties!"
"That's because of the Klonopin, dude. Without it, I'd be a mess. Without it, I'd be up all night pissed off, you know, about some stupid argument I had 15 years ago, some fight with a hot dog vendor who gave me ketchup instead of mustard!"
"Here's what it looks like," Jeff showed me some innocent white pills in a yellow bottle. "You want one?"
Jeff took one out anyway and gave it to the bartender, 42-years-old Lisa. She stashed it away for later.
Lisa is prescribed Buspar, also for anxiety, but it's weaker than Klonopin and slower to kick in. Lisa justified, "After eight or nine hours here, sometimes you're, like, whoaaa, so the Buspar helps, but I don't take it often." She's also swallowing pain-killers for a foot.
Down the bar was a new guy, Dominic. It turned out he's a writer, with a book of stories coming out in 2018. "Congratulations, man!" I shouted. "It's not easy to get fiction published these days."
Dominic said he had a story online, "And it has pills in it, too."
Millions of people ingest pills unnecessarily, but Dominic's character is a bonafide walking hell. From his "Sick Little Man":
That's the core of psychosis, really: sickness. And since your knowledge of the world is filtered through that sickness, the whole world begins to look as grotesque and spoiled as you. And when there's no good left to spoil, your sickness turns on you, it becomes you, and you the sickness turn on yourself, a black hole for which all things rot and disappear, like light lost in shadow. There's nothing in this world that doesn't sicken you to your bones, sad and dank and putrid animals that reek of death and stupidity, a stupidity so hopeless and consuming that you buckle over nauseated, sick to your stomach, sick to your sickness.