Wick Communications

The new, old drug problem

In journalism, Uncategorized on October 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

I wanted to congratulate Scott Christiansen, staff writer for the Anchorage Press, for his illuminating cover story on the heroin problem in his city. His chilling discovery, that service providers were reporting a rise in the use of the opiate, could be the basis for a story in your neck of the woods.

Scott says he was after a different story in the beginning.

He had seen reports that ambulance crews, which in Anchorage include a well-trained paramedic, sometimes lacked the prescription drugs they need in the course of their work. As a result, they sometimes have to make do with other pain relievers and the like. Scott, who has been on the job in Alaska for a good long while, called an emergency room doctor he knew in the area to ask if he was on to something.

“He said, ‘Yeah, it’s real but why are you writing about this?’” Scott told me on the phone. “He said, ‘I have a story that’s bigger.’”

That bigger story turned out to be heroin. Overdoses were deadly. Programs for the addicted were overflowing. And those ambulance crews didn’t really relish the calls.

I did a quick search of the numbers and found some evidence that drug use is up in many ways in recent years. I don’t know if it has anything to do with the economy, but I bet you could find an academic to make an educated guess. …

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that marijuana use and binge drinking are up across most demographics between 2002 and 2009, the last year for which I could find statistics. Figures for illicit drug use generally is up. (Did you know that 8.7 percent of everyone over the age of 12 have used illicit drugs in the last month, according to the CDC.

Here’s a sobering thought: Fatal poisonings – accidental death – due to prescription opiates have tripled since 1999 and now outpace car wrecks as a cause of death in our country.

Scott told an arresting story without resorting to a tired tactic. Most such stories begin with an anonymous drug user, hunched over his needle and his spoon in some dark alley. And if they begin that way, they almost always end there, too. The writer pens something like, “Tony depressed the syringe and liquid gold rushed into his veins. He staggered to his feet and then staggered off into an uncertain night…”

Scott says he didn’t go that route because he never found his “Tony.” Truth is, he didn’t need Tony. He simply told the story, leaned on good, reliable sources and facts numbers from the right quasi-governmental agencies.

You can find it here.

Clay

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