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Putting the pieces together

I live in a city with 88,000 residents and 17 dollar stores. I also work for the local newspaper, and my desk is next to the police scanner. I hear everything first.

On a Tuesday, the day before the first really cold day of the year, the scanner’s screechy garble told me a man had overdosed outdoors, on the bit of grass surrounding a local apartment complex.

Polite people, like the people who do “special reports” on television, invariably say that cities like mine are “at the center of America’s opioid crisis.” We are, too. We’re deadeye, bull’s-eye, dead center, and we’re as used to it as people get.

Our “drug of choice,” as the addiction counselors say, is heroin. It’s what America sends us as a trade for sending our kids to Afghanistan.

It’s like a game show.

“Mr. and Mrs. Garcia,” the fevered announcer says. “You sent your boy Petey to Afghanistan! Afghanistan is sending YOUR neighborhood 700 pounds of heroin!”

But the announcer doesn’t really have a fever. He’s dope sick, and his stomach is cramping from the need, and the sweat’s sliding down his skeletal face, and he can’t wait to get backstage so he can roll up his pants leg and find his last good vein.

And the scanner said the guy was lying in the grass, dying like a first-term senator’s conscience.

But wait, there’s more!

The next call on the scanner said there was a guy in the window of one of the apartments, and he was throwing rocks at the guy who was overdosing.

I’ve been deadeye, bull’s-eye, dead center in the middle of the crisis long enough to read the two calls.

The second guy, the guy throwing the rocks, knew the first guy and was trying to wake him up without being next to him when the cops arrived. Either he was high himself or he didn’t want to get involved because he definitely didn’t want the cops in his apartment. Most likely, both things were true.

If anything convinced me that the guy throwing the rocks was a junkie, it’s that he had rocks in his apartment.

You look around your house, and you may not have any rocks, but if you’re in a junkie’s house, there’s likely to be 15 rocks in the closet, a dead cat in the bathtub and six defrosted, but uneaten, frozen dinners in the top drawer of the dresser.

The cops found the guy in the grass. The scanner said he was turning blue, but they hit him with the Narcan, and he lived to convulse another day. The guy in the apartment, they spoke to but did not arrest. Here, in the center of the opioid crisis, throwing rocks doesn’t get you arrested, not unless you hit someone or break something.

I didn’t write the story because as I once said to a youngish editor, “If I ran out of here every time the junkies did something crazy, I’d have the body of a marathon runner.”

I’m like the cops now, overwhelmed enough by the misery that I do a kind of rough triage. Junkie robs a bank, I write. Junkie gets caught selling the stuff, they arrest. The rest of the time, the junked-up game show host just smiles with his purple rotted teeth and hands us the parting gift of apathy.

Of course, it’s killing us all.

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