Have you ever seen the film called Yes Man? It’s about a man who decides to say Yes to absolutely everything, just to see where it takes him. I would say the first 25 years of my life were Yes Man on steroids.
And that is how I, a girl from sleepy Northamptonshire, ended up dating a Cowboy in Arkansas. A Cowboy whose friends were in and out of prison, and whose community was gripped by synthetic heroin.
It actually started on a horse ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain. I had just left school and I loved horses, so I was obviously going to fall in love with the first cowboy I ever set my eyes on.
At night, I would hear his footsteps approach my door. He would slip in between the covers and hold me close, whispering stories of exploring the woods on his black hoofed mule. We would dance around the kitchen, swigging whisky from the bottle as he taught me the moves to another country song. Happily drunk, I would melt into his strong arms. I was absolutely besotted with him and, quite frankly, would have jumped off a cliff if he told me to. We parted ways at the end of the season, but I missed him fiercely.
So, three years later, with only a couple of patchy Skype calls to keep us in touch, we finally found ourselves briefly single in the same time frame. Elated, I blew my student loan on flights to stay with him near Fayetteville.
There were moments of magic that I will never forget from that trip. Like dancing in a long blue dress and knee-high country boots in a nightclub called the Funky Cowboy. Like nursing newborn kittens with a pipette of milk when the barn cat disappeared, and cheerfully riding a mule right through the McDonald’s drive-through.
There was a lot of darkness too.
Grayson, like so many other people in the states, was a user of opioid painkillers. A doctor prescribed them for his mum after she took a nasty fall from her horse and, before anyone knew it, she was battling addiction.
Being around the house, her son started dabbling with them too. He enjoyed the high. His friends were taking them; all their parents were taking them. Everywhere I looked, people were addicted to the euphoric side effects of the opioid painkillers that doctors started massively overprescribing in the 1990s. Thanks, of course, to the aggressive marketing campaign by the pharmaceutical industry, and lies told to doctors about how addictive they were.
You see, 75% of people now using heroin in the USA started off using addictive pain pills that were prescribed to them by a doctor. (National Institute For Drug Abuse)
In many cases, doctors were genuinely trying to help their patients. In many others, the drug producers paid them more than $25,000 each for ‘speaking and consulting services.’ (Harvard) Unsurprisingly, it was the doctors who prescribed the most drugs who were awarded big bonuses.
Pharmaceutical companies literally bribed doctors to push narcotics, and 750,000 American people died from overdosing on them between 1999 and 2018. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
I was surrounded by OxyContin when I was with Grayson. It was mixed into drinks, sniffed off countertops, and chewed as pills. Driving to the store, I saw the glazed eyes and swaying walks of the addicted flash by the windows of his truck. It was so common for people to be addicted to painkillers, that it soon became a completely normal part of the scenery.
One Sunday, we went to see his auntie after church. She was a kind and gentle lady. She spent most of the visit laying down in her bed whilst I chatted to her teenage son about the best techniques for baking bread. What a surprisingly wholesome moment in this ridiculous experience I’m going though, I thought happily.
But as we were leaving, she got onto unsteady feet and slowly made her way to the kitchen. She pulled down a pack of Oxy from the kitchen cabinets and handed a strip to Grayson with a kind smile. The same way my grandma used to slip my sister and I a packet of sweets, or a £10 note.
‘Have fun kids. But you know I always say you just can’t beat a shot of good old-fashioned street heroin. Sorry, but it’s true!’
I thought she was joking right up until Grayson was chewing them in a nightclub. I was seriously out of my comfort zone, but it’s amazing how quickly alien behaviours become the norm. Sucked up by the energy of everyone that surrounded me, I learned to accept what I saw.
I was still young, still naïve. I had no idea that opioids were so dangerous or harmful. I didn’t even really know what they were! You just don’t get aunties handing out synthetic heroin in rural Northamptonshire. But I adapted to the situation pretty quickly, just like people always do. Human beings are survivors, and we will adapt to our environments like wildflowers in the desert.
Looking back now, I can see how much these addictive pain medications were hurting the people that I came across. I see how many lives were being wasted away in a dreamy stupor, mounting debts, and petty crime because chasing the next high replaced the space that your dreams had once taken up. I see that the users were victims of a pharmaceutical industry that put profit before human health.
OxyContin, also known as hillbilly heroin, is just one of a myriad of synthetic versions of morphine that were promoted by big pharma in the 1990s. In the coming years, babies were literally born shaking with withdrawal symptoms as they left the womb of addicted mothers. In 2018, over 10 million people abused opioids in the USA. (US Department of Health and Human Services)
But do you know what has stuck with me the most? The fact that black boys in the USA are getting locked up for years for pushing a bit of weed, when the rich pharma blokes were allowed to advertise synthetic heroin on daytime TV!
I mean, seriously?!
Marijuana is a natural plant that has been used by humans for over 2,500 years. Although controversial, it has a range of medical uses including pain relief, preventing Alzheimer’s, slowing down the spread of cancer, soothing tremors for Parkinson’s disease, alleviating Crohn’s disease, and protecting the brain after a stroke. (Business Insider)
I’m not saying everyone should go out and get high. I am just saying that weed is less harmful and addictive than alcohol and tobacco. It is also less addictive and harmful than the drugs regularly prescribed to us by doctors, but no one is getting offended by people enjoying a glass of wine in the evening. People aren’t criminalising Marlboro Lights. I find this fascinating!
Whether or not you believe that weed should be legalised is not the point. I’m not much of a weed smoker, myself. I barely even drink alcohol these days!
The point is, the so-called war on drugs ripped countless families apart, incarcerated one million (mostly Black) people and deepened institutional racism all around the world. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry could go unchecked for decades as it pushed a drug that it knew was highly addictive and that killed hundreds of thousands of people. What the heck!
I believe that many people work in the pharmaceutical industry in good faith. They create, market, and distribute drugs because they want to help people that are suffering. After all, medication is not intrinsically bad. When used correctly and distributed responsibly, medication can relieve pain, cure diseases, and transform lives for the better. It can add many happy years to our lives, and it can ease the suffering of those we love the most.
But I wonder how many American lives were spent to keep those Opioid bonuses flowing, and how many decades will it be before that intergenerational trauma finally gets the time to start to heal.
I often find myself totally bewildered by the things in society that are considered ‘good’, ‘decent’ and ‘important,’ and the things that are called ‘bad,’ ‘immoral’ and ‘insignificant.’ But if we follow the money, we can often find a pattern.
I hope you found this article interesting. You can find more about big pharma in the ‘Hillbilly Heroin’ chapter of The Highly Sensitive Nomad Book.
The name and some details of ‘Grayson’ were changed in order to protect his identity.
More articles you might like to read:
- How To Reason With Idiots: The ‘Truth’ About the COVID Vaccine
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- How to Stop Hating Yourself (Simple Tips for Cultivating Self Love)
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