Taco ‘Bout It: Out of the Darkness

by Taco Olmstead


I really didn’t want to write on this topic again, I wish that I had never felt the need nor the loss to address this issue, but the need is evidenced by a body count that knows no battle, no boundaries nor the nobility to honor the fallen. Addiction has touched the homes and lives of our parents, our children and our friends.  Still we continue to hide behind the truth, the problem isn’t heroin, it’s all of us.

I’ve lost a lot of people along my journey in this life, many to drugs, some to accidents and several to suicide. I went through the grieving, the mourning, the anger and the sadness and for decades now, I have cursed the tools, the systems, the means by which self destruction was achieved. I hated heroin, pills, the look, the social status, the neighborhood and the dealer. Despite how much distance I put between myself and these issues, the problem grew, lives remained affected and more people continued to die.

Just a few statistics to think about:

In 2010 the CDC states that over 60% of overdose deaths (22,134)  involved pharmaceutical drugs. They found that almost 30% of these deaths involved benzodiazepines and more than 18% involved antidepressants.

Researchers found that the number of adults using a benzodiazepine increased 67 percent over an 18-year period — from 8.1 million prescriptions in 1996 to 13.5 million in 2013.

In addition, the average quantity of filled prescriptions more than doubled between 1996 and 2013. At the same time, the overdose death rate for these drugs increased from 0.58 deaths per 100,000 in 1996 to over 3 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 — a more than fivefold increase, the researchers said.

These statistics have found their way into all of our lives. Whether you are straight edge or an addict, a preacher or an atheist, all of our lives have been touched by addiction and self destruction. It would seem that none of us are safe, none of us are exempt and we are all left uttering one word at these funerals… Why?

Many would claim we need to increase penalties for dealers, including doctors. Some would even argue for more prison time for both dealers and users, as one cannot exist without the other. The truth is however, that despite steadily increasing incarceration penalties and fines for drug offenses, our drug problem has increased, people continue to die and we are still left asking why? The threat of incarceration is not working, people are still buying and selling substances that kill them. I’m pretty sure we learned these lessons during prohibition and potheads have been saying this for years but then on the other hand fail to apply this lesson to our current state of addiction.

As a recovered drug addict and someone once prone to self destructive behavior, I still ask why? How have we not come to learn what is driving this behavior? We are all familiar with “Big Pharma” and their ill gotten gains. The statements of “Fuck Heroin” and “Kill your local heroin dealer” have become ubiquitous in our news feeds and viral tweets. However, are the drugs and the dealers the actual problem? A drug placed on a counter is hurting no one as is a drug dealer with no clientele. Much like any tool, and this argument is the same argument presented by proponents of the second amendment, a gun, a hammer, a knife and even heroin are all harmless until a human being employs them. Not until a human enters the equation is heroin or a heroin dealer, in any way a danger. WE create the danger in both of these scenarios. The common factor in both scenarios are humans.

I’m sure that many of you are thinking that I am making an absurd argument, maybe I am. However, I ask this simple question, how many overdoses could have been prevented if these people felt they could openly speak with you or I about the pain they were experiencing? As a former drug addict, I can assure you that rarely does an addict feel comfortable asking for help from their sober brethren. People who are sober have likely not experienced addiction to drugs. It’s not like you can get good advice about your drug problem from practicing addicts either, which is generally the company of people your life is relegated to when addiction takes hold of your life. The treatment of addicts, heroin addicts in particular is akin to the treatment of those suffering from AIDS when the disease first went public. Instead of screaming “Faggot” we scream “Fuck Heroin” and relegate both the drug and the addict to a taboo corner of society unwilling to face the shame we as a society created.

Is it really unreasonable to make the argument that making a poor health choice should NOT lead to prison? Is it unreasonable to consider legalization? Is it unreasonable to ask people to understand that heroin addiction is no better or worse, morally speaking, than the tens of thousands of people who die from their addiction to sugar? Absurd? Here’s more  statistics for you to consider:

According to the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, sugary drinks kill more than 184,000 people worldwide, more than 25,000 in the US alone. In the year 1700, the average person consumed four pounds of sugar a year, today we consume over 180 pounds a year! Sugar has caused the deaths of more than all of the wars in the last forty years combined!

How many of us go to our loved ones funerals and say “Fuck Sugar”?  I’m pretty confident that doesn’t happen as often as it should. This is evidenced by our complete courtesy in not telling our overweight loved ones to put the soda down. It is a taboo to address a massive health crisis like obesity to those who are overweight but we incarcerate and shame those who are likely suffering from a mental health issue like addiction? It seems that we have misplaced our priorities and find it acceptable to “drug shame” people who have found few opportunities to begin recovery and even fewer friends to help begin the process of healing. We do not love drug addicts, we hide them.

Have I completely lost you or are you still reading? I’m not at all saying that I personally approve of people using heroin. I’m not saying that it’s okay by any means. I am however saying that I am overweight, genetically prone to diabetes and despite repeatedly attempting to rid my life of sugar, I often fail. I’m sure that many of you have seen me smoking, drinking a sugary beverage and eating food that is terrible for my health, yet we all continue to live, laugh and love, void of scurrilous judgement. Perhaps we could try a similar approach towards heroin and no longer will our family be forced to hide. I can still see their faces, hear their voices, their laughter and I desperately wish they had asked me for help. Killing their dealer wouldn’t have kept them from using, but I can bet a conversation with a friend would.