Death By Injection

A good friend of mines son named Jacob died recently. He was only 20.

heroin

He injected heroin into his veins and died a few hours later.

He was a good kid. I liked him. I had not seen him in a years but I had met when he was a boy. He was a sweet person. He was one of those adorable kids you remember because of the goodness that oozes out of them.

He went to school, had a job and a girlfriend. And like most of us he was trying to better his lot in life. From what I understand he did not have a drug problem but did use drugs recreationally.

On this one instance, his occasional drug use cost him his life. His parents and friends will forever be saddened by this needless loss of life.

When I was in my teens, the recreational drugs that circulated were marijuana and some times cocaine. That was about it, because that was about the only thing that was accessible.

But as I have gotten older, it seems the amount of drugs available have skyrocketed. I would argue that it all changed in the late 1990’s with a change in the law.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I write quite a bit about politics, because  even the slightest changes in the law affect us all. Even though you might think changes in laws don’t affect you, they inevitably do.

I believe the genesis of the heroin boom began in the late 1990’s when drug companies were given the green light to start making new pain medication drugs. At the time, there were no real alternatives for patients who suffered from chronic pain. That is not to say there was no pain medications available, but there was not enough variety for the many ailments people suffered from. Some long time pain sufferers had no real recourse to alleviate their suffering and had lived it with it for years.

Lawmakers had been reluctant to open up the markets for new pain killing medicines as they were worried about the real possibility of an increase in drug addiction. But given the pressure by their constituents and the drug companies, a new industry was created.

One of the drugs that hit the markets in the mid 90’s was Oxycontin an opioid type medication similar to heroin. Both drugs are chemically similar, they are equally addictive, and both drugs are considered very difficult to withdraw from. Yet one was legal.

Drug companies and doctors benefited immensely by prescribing OxyContin as there was lots of money to be made. But there was a nasty side effect to the business, the patients got addicted. Doctors were happy to prescribe them to a point but once they started noticing that there patients were now addicts they had to cut them off. Doctors liked the money but were smart enough to know that they could lose their license if they started prescribing too much of it.

Desperate for their fix, the patients started buying the drugs in the black market and in Florida, pill mills started popping up to fill the need. A  pill mill is an operation in which a doctor, clinic or pharmacy pre- scribes and/or dispenses narcotics without a legitimate medical purpose. These doctors used their pre-scription pads to flood their communities with illegal narcotics.

These mills started booming all over Florida and became the epi-center for the drug trade. Patients, now cut off from their doctors found ample supplies through these pill mills. And when the addicts could no longer afford them they turned to heroin for their fix. Given the similar nature between these two drugs, the heroin market took off.

Clearly taking a pill is preferable to the alternative of heroin which is injected by a needle into the vein, but given that heroin is cheaper, people flocked to heroin. For example an 80 mg OxyContin can cost $60 to $100 a pill. In contrast, heroin costs about $45 to $60 for a multiple-dose supply. So many normal people” would never would have thought of injecting something onto their veins began to do so regularly did so because of their addiction and the cheapness of heroin.

Unlike Oxytocin where the doses and amounts are closely monitored, heroin is unregulated and manufactured in the black market. So when someone injects heroin into their veins, that person is literally in the hands of the drug dealer who made that batch. Growing up it was unheard of anybody who did heroin. It was the stuff of the hard drug users. But not anymore. Heroin has come to middle America. This is how a sweet kid, from a solid family with good economic prospects ends up killing himself. He used heroin because it is cheap and available and widely used as a drug of choice for many now. The stigma of heroin now longer exists.

This is how a change in law from 20 years ago can have major consequences many year later It was widely reported that during Donald Trumps campaign, he was  astonished by the amount of people that came up to him asking for help to solve the scourge of heroin. Drug use was not one of his main policy points but given the amount of sad stories he heard, he actually began to address this issues at many of his stops.

Now with marijuana being made legal in many states, who knows what future awaits us twenty years down the line. Living in Texas I have meet many recent Colorado transplants who have told me the main reason for leaving the state was the widespread use of marijuana. So we have already begun to see people take action due to this new law.

Right now, 3,999 American children die every month from an accidental overdose of heroin. That’s right, 129 people a day die from an overdose. This is the impact of laws. This is the impact of politics and this is how one change in law can affect us all.

Rest in peace Jacob. You will be missed.

Steve Clark

sleeclark@gmail.com

 

Rolling Joints Saved My Life

I was stuck in a Mexican prison.

bud-in-joint-paper

I don’t look Hispanic even though I am. At the time, I had blond hair and blue eyes and weighed 140 pounds soaking wet. I was in here because I had been caught by the Mexican police for carrying marijuana and sentenced to thirty days for my crime. I was stuck in a massive prison pen with hundreds of other inmates who were hardened criminals. They were all thick and dark with a multitude of tattoos covering their bodies. I didn’t look like any of them, which only made me stand out even more.

It was early and I hadn’t been beaten up, as of yet, because the prison guards were still around to keep the prisoners away from me. But once it got late I was done for… and was told so by many of the prisoners. I needed to formulate some type of plan. Quickly. There was a good chance I’d be dead by morning.

As I scanned the prison floor, I saw a group of inmates rolling joints. They all had short fat fingers and were clumsy in the way in which they rolled. They were spilling the leaves all over the ground and the joints ended up being too fat and loosely wrapped. I approached the leader of the group who was supervising the activity and told him that I could roll the joints tighter, smoother and faster. In addition, I informed him, the joints would reduce the spillage by 20% thus increasing his profits. Shocked that I spoke Spanish, and eyeing me with disbelief, he told me to prove it. So I rolled him the tightest and most perfect joint he had ever seen.

Right then and there I fell under his protection and started rolling joints for him. During my short time in prison, I was never harassed and got my own bed to sleep in. I spent the next thirty days rolling joints morning, noon and night and showed his crew the right way to roll them as well. Ah! what irony.  My misspent youth that had caused me to end up in prison was the same thing that saved my life.

My friend, Henry, told me this story years ago. He had just been passed over for a promotion. His time spent in jail came up on an old police report during a background check.  He knew he was living on borrowed time with the company. He was ultimately let go. But, today he is at a new company doing just great.

Life is funny that way.  Random skills that you pick up along the way are the ones that can save your life.

As a kid, I spent my summers in Ecuador away from my friends and the things that I knew and liked. But along the way, I learned Spanish and developed relationships with people I still do business with today.

Knowing Spanish and helped me in many ways.  That one skill made me millions of dollars in compensation trading in international markets. The thing I liked the least about my childhood wound up benefitting me the most.

Nowadays, I spend lots of time on soccer fields with my kids and it is quite common to run into second generation Mexicans who can’t speak their native tongue. The looks I get when they see an “American” speaking their native tongue is priceless because they know they themselves fell short in that endeavor. They had the same opportunity I did but they just never took the time to learn their language.

But, my experience and prosperity from being able to speak Spanish has broader application. Many successful people have created fantastic careers incorporating their supposed “unproductive times” into creating new ventures.

The sports writer Bill Simmons incorporated his love of TV, movies and sports and merged all three to become one of the top personalities at ESPN. In his youth, while his friends did their homework, Simmons would watch TV all day. It got so bad that he has said that there are some movies he has watched over one hundred times. Not all of them classics.  The Karate Kid is one such movie he has used to incorporate into his articles.

Simmons was so adept on the forefront in writing about the merger of sports and pop culture that he became the leader of this new genre. His approach was unique and humorous. An article about the Boston Celtics, his favorite team, might have analogies and references to One Hot Wonder songs and characters from the TV show The Real World. The juxtaposition of those two themes was so hilarious and over the top that his articles were a delight to read!

At the time he indulged in TV and  movies he felt he was wasting his time; but, instead of using it as an excuse he used it to his advantage. His depth of knowledge of pop culture gave him a window into the soul of America and his writing tapped into that movement. Simmons used his time to become a curator of all things pop culture and combined that with his love of sports to become one of the most interesting sports writers of our time.

The acquisition of seemingly useless skills also benefitted Mick Jagger, lead singer from the Rolling Stones, who became the front man for the group even though he had no musical skills. As a child, Jagger was on a TV show produced by his father who was a physical education teacher.  On the show, Jagger would demonstrate and go through the exercises his father had taught him. Little did he know that he  was learning how to preform! He learned where the cameras would be and how to enhance his presence on screen…skills that would benefit him years later when he became the singer who would achieve fame and fortune.

Often in this super competitive life we lead, the dead times, the seemingly unproductive times, can be the seeds of a new venture hardly imagined. And, at times, greatness can come come from the intersection of two skills, like pop culture and sports to create an entirely new genre as Bill Simmons showed.

Then again, maybe one day that random skill you acquired along the way might save your life.

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com