epidemic

Changes of scenery usually yield other changes throughout life. This was true when I moved away to college, and it’s been true as a result of every other move I’ve made since. I’ve been back in Jackson for just over two months, and while I’ve broken free of Chicago’s gravitational pull, parts of life there have stayed with me. Nothing really surprises me anymore (not that anything really ever did when I lived there).

My history with this town has taught me a lot about what matters in life and what can fall by the wayside. When I left nine years ago, I knew that I was leaving a town inhabited by a lot of people who either revel in, or languish in, drama and pettiness. But, as it turns out, this is true everywhere I’ve been, and likely everywhere I’ll go. All I can do is stay clear of it. If anything, I notice it here because I expect it.

Some of this is fabricated, and some of it is real. Jackson has a large population of people who live at or below the federal poverty line. When the recession hit in the last decade, it was, in many ways, a depression here. I know some people who are still out of work. And where there’s poverty, there’s crime, and there’s drugs.

I make the reference often that Jackson reminds me a lot of Harlan County, Kentucky. As a fan (maybe the correct word is “aficionado”) of the acclaimed television series “Justified,” you might know where I’m going with this. Harlan is a real place: a small town in the heart of southeastern Kentucky’s coal country. In the show, it was ravaged by poverty after the mines closed, and many of the residents turned to other means of living, like crime, and other coping mechanisms, like drugs. (Sadly, the Harlan of “Justified” is based on fact.)

One of the drugs that gets a lot of airtime is something known as “Hillbilly Heroin,” also known as Oxycontin. Oxy is a pain killer, and a narcotic. It was a product of the opioid craze in the 1990s. It’s highly addictive, and overdosing is usually fatal.

Jackson has a drug problem, Heroin, Oxy, meth, and some cocaine make it to the streets around here. 51 people in the county died from opioid overdoes alone last year. The state of Michigan has more opioid prescriptions than it has residents. And the United States has more opioid prescriptions per capita than any other country ON EARTH.

This is part of a larger problem, and one that has no easy, or at least no readily available, solution: Poverty. I’m not going to go into that right now because I could be here all night, but the short version is, nobody should have to live like this.

There was an overdose caught on camera last month. A man overdosed on Meth or Oxy, in front of the Jackson Police station. The video, shot by a bystander, went viral on Facebook. I don’t know if he survived it, but it’s indicative of the problem we have here. Nobody seems to have any idea how to combat it, because it’s rooted in economic strife, and that clearly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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