Drug Zombies

The zombie movie has become a form in itself.  We can all think of a zombie film or two; the undead taking over and a small band of non-zombies trying to survive.  Zombies are the haunted faces of people who once were, but are no more.  As if whatever personalities, or souls they had have gone and all that is left is ravaged flesh and a sort of animal impulse.

 I read (this information is all from a recent investigative piece in the L.A. Times) that there has been a dramatic rise in the use of heroin in the U.S.  The DEA claims to have been shocked by a phenomenon of the drug business that modeled itself on pizza delivery.  Small, local franchises are left to their own devices (no interference from bosses up the supply chain) and make door-to-door deliveries in small amounts.  Drivers are coached on how to dress “middle class”, and drive safely in innocuous cars.  The nationwide phenomenon was largely successful due to the target market they so smartly chose:  non-urban white people.  When one very successful entrepreneur was interviewed, he said, “It worked great- we didn’t get robbed or have any trouble.”  Street level dealers are taught to hang out a block from rehab centers where people addicted to oxycodone and methamphetamines gather and sell them on the quality (Mexican heroin has been found to be quite a bit stronger and less “cut” than the Afghanistanian and Pakistanian competitors) and cheapness of the drug (compared to buying prescription drugs by the pill off the street).

 What has this left us with?  Well, layer this new wave of drug addiction on to a rising unemployment rate and abysmal economy (especially in rural areas), the complete failure of the “war on drugs”, and we have a zombie problem.  I am not making light of addiction.  I am trying to sort through what I have seen in the last several years in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina (as well as other places).  Midsized and small villages have been becoming ghost towns for the past 30 years as Wal-Tar-K’s helped kill downtowns, and major industries left.  On a recent trip to a pretty typical town of about 40,000 people in Virginia, the number of street people milling around on a weekday afternoon struck me.  Young and old, black, white, and latin, male and female.  These people were in shabby clothes, with unkempt hair; they loitered around the thrift stores, around the homeless shelters, churches, and the graveyard.  They did not get on busses (I checked back later to see how many were still there) but seem to spend most of their day just hanging out.  I spoke to a few local people I knew and was told that the drug problem had gotten so bad it was not safe to go out at night in many parts of the town.  Whether this is true or not, it is clear that a confluence of problems is hitting these mid-sized and small towns, and drugs of several types are part of the mix.

 I grew up in a rural region that was poor.  I spent much of my adult life living in large urban areas.  I have seen low level drug activity as part of both cultural milieus, and certainly have seen the traditional form of addiction to alcohol going strong.  But what I am seeing now scares me so much more than anything did before.  Truly, it feels like I am driving around in some zombie film, so many unoccupied buildings, so much decay, and so many people living bottomed-out lives in so many regions of this country.  This picture seems to be a taboo subject with our local, state, and federal politicians.   In a way, I can’t blame them.  To talk about it would only upset the apple cart they try to construct, and spread more fear and despair.  But to not talk about it changes nothing, and only allows the complex problems that are behind the zombification to grow. 

 I am still surprised, still shocked when I drive to towns in my region and see the overwhelming number of people stuck in time and place, human artifacts of decay.  A few have cardboard signs and sit at street corners.  Most just mill about.  I have never had a particularly addictive personality, but like depression, I know anyone can fall.  I fear for my kids, my friends, my community, and my country.  What is happening people? 

 The guns and running solution in zombie films will not help us, nor does objectifying those who are sinking (which seems to be the popular opinion of GOP leaders).  Like a viewer at a zombie movie, I do not ask who will save us; I do not ask who is to blame.  I only ask, what will happen next? But without the thrill of a horror film resolved, or the comfort of knowing it’s just make-believe, can we simply sit and watch?

 

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