Every other day, I get someone yelling at me because we don’t publish enough news about drug overdoses. Three people dropped dead on the same block in a week’s time, they will say. Why have you not published their names and the details? 

Every day in between those calls, I get someone yelling at me because I DID write about an overdose, and whose business of mine is it anyway, when it comes to another person’s health and personal choices? 

Also trapped in this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t imbroglio are the police, who routinely respond to overdose calls, dole out the Narcan where necessary and then have to field phone calls from the media about it. 

Who knows what the right thing to do is in an age where men, women and young folk are dropping left and right on every other street corner? Nobody has a concrete policy on public information about drug overdoses because there was a time not long ago when they were relative rarities. 

These kinds of calls were so rare, in fact, that a Code 99 coming over the airwaves would get me popping up my head like a prairie dog in the newsroom. 

Someone dying? Already dead? I’d better get out and see if that’s anything our readers should know about. 


Overdoses happened back then, of course they did. But not hour after hour every night of the week.  

By now, most of us know someone who has overdosed on heroin or its painkiller cousins. Most of us know SEVERAL people who are addicted to the stuff, and we’ll insist all frantically that these are GOOD people. These are not street-level addicts, they’re our friends and neighbors, who got hooked on this crap because it was peddled to them so ambitiously by the big pharmaceutical companies. 

It’s all safe and effective, the doctors said. Very low risk of addiction. Take two every four hours, my suffering friend, and give us a call when you need more. 

The opioid epidemic is a sprawling, complicated, out-of-control mess created in large part by people we thought we could trust. We all know this. Legal painkillers and street-level dope are killing a whole lot of people and in spite of a hundred different think tanks working on the problem, the scanner still crackles with the noise of people succumbing all around us. They drop in the streets, they drop on their sofas and now and then they drop while driving on public roads. 

So many people are falling to the false comfort of the opioid high right now that it would be easy to believe opiates are the No. 1 one killer among us. 

They’re not, though. 


Along with overdose reports buzzing over the airwaves each day and night, there are other calls, too. Suicides. Bodies found moldering in squalid apartments. Domestic fights. Child abuse. Car wrecks.  

When it comes to death, destruction and the absolute annihilation of lives, there isn’t a single narcotic on the street that can rival that of alcohol. According to some stats, three times as many people die of alcohol each year than opioids. 

Where a substance like fentanyl is apt to drop a man where he stands in his dreamy nod, liquor takes its time: a cat toying with a field mouse before delivering the fatal blow. Alcohol death comes by the ounce and may leave its victim to linger for years before the kidneys go bad, the liver blows out or the drinker drives into a tree at full drunken blast and that is that. 

Obituaries for the alcoholic tend to read that our dearly departed loved one died “unexpectedly,” although the fact is that everybody familiar with the besotted soul knew with certainty that this was coming. Alcohol kills sometimes dramatically but more often it’s a slow, silent ruination of a life that ends in a sweat-soaked bed or at the end of a rope. 

Some describe the ravages of booze as “the forgotten epidemic” because by and large, you don’t hear much about it these days over the noise of all those bodies dropping from opiate abuse. Alcohol is legal, easily obtained and socially acceptable, after all, so it’s easy to forget that it’s still the deadliest drug of them all. 

The sad fact is, people die from alcohol-related deaths every single day in practically every neighborhood across the land. Unless those deaths come in dramatic, public fashion, we don’t report on them. Why would we, when doing so would serve no purpose and be horribly invasive for all involved? 


Sometimes I think we should employ the same hands-off policy where drug overdoses are concerned. Sometimes I think we shouldn’t; we should report on these sad affairs more aggressively because people need to know how dire the situation has become and that MUCH more help is needed — and if you’ve ever tried to secure a rehab bed for a drug addict or alcoholic, you know what I mean by that. 

I honestly wonder what percentage of news I report is in one way or another related to booze or dope. Fifty percent? Seventy-five? More than that? 

If we were to report on all the overdoses that happen around us each day, I’d need a much bigger notebook and more hours in the day.

It’s appalling that we’ve reached such a state of affairs, but here we are, and in spite of all the clutched pearls and solemn promises to do better, the scanner calls announcing the latest casualties go on unabated.

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