In my experience, people either immediately recognize the name of Harris Wittels, or they don’t at all. And that’s precisely what makes the comedian and former Parks & Rec writer’s death from addiction in 2015 that much more tragic.
4 years later, Wittels’ sister, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, has launched a new podcast series called “The Last Day” that explores the ongoing opioid epidemic in-depth and with astounding empathy. While many people have been affected by this problem, the solutions aren’t so readily apparent. Or, if they are, there are still stigmas around them that make it difficult to enact them on a larger enough scale.
In the 7th episode of the podcast, Wittels Wachs speaks with Svante Myrick, the 32-year-old politician who just won his third term as mayor of Ithaca, New York. Myrick speaks passionately and candidly about his own family’s history with addiction, and also about the potential benefits of safe injection sites—supervised spaces where people can go and freely use the drugs to which they are addicted. The idea is understandably controversial, particularly if you subscribe to the negative stereotypical assumptions about drug users. But, as Myrick explains, these safe injection sites have been shown to reduce deaths as well as crime.
If this sounds contradictory to you, well, then, I would suggest you listen to the podcast episode:
7: 20,000 Fewer Funerals
I’ll be honest: I’m not being completely objective here. My friend Matt overdosed and died in 2016. My wife also runs a professional theatre company in Ithaca, where Svante is mayor—and in 2018, I wrote a play about opioid recovery that was devised in collaboration with people in the Ithaca area who were transitioning out of prison and rehabilitation programs. Read the rest
The Sackler family got richer than the Rockefellers through their role in creating and sustaining the opioid crisis, which took more American lives than the Vietnam war.
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The Sackler family (previously) is one of the richest in the world, and if you've heard of them, it's probably because their family name adorns so many art galleries, museums, and academic institutions around the world: but they way they got that money is less-well-known.
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The film above documents "Treatment Box," a one-day installation in New York City's Greenwich Village over the summer where passers-by could watch 26-year-old Rebekkah suffer through the horrors of painkiller and heroin withdrawal. Anti-addiction organization The Truth orchestrated the recording and public showing of Rebekkah's five-day experience that was edited into a single long-form video. After the detox, Rebekkah entered a treatment facility for treatment at no cost to her. From Ad Age:
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The scenes of her shaky limbs, nausea, vomiting and insomnia played out on a three-dimensional installation at Astor Place in New York City in June. Passersby stopped to watch a life-size Rebekkah in her room, often huddled in bed, wracked with pain. Interspersed are short interviews where she explains that she was prescribed opioids when she was 14, after injuring her ankle during cheerleading practice. Addiction quickly followed, and two months later, she tried heroin. “I feel like I’m coming back from the dead,” she says on Day 3 of detox...
Before beginning the campaign, the organizations met with a medical ethicist to determine whether the project should move forward, and the treatment protocols were reviewed by Phoenix House, a national addiction treatment program.
Opioid overdoses now kill more Americans every year than guns, breast cancer, or car accidents. 20 million Americans suffer from addiction to alcohol, illicit, or prescription drugs. On the second anniversary of Prince’s death from fentanyl overdose last weekend, the President of the United States demonstrated a deep ignorance of this medical epidemic, calling someone he considers an alcoholic and addict a “drunk/drugged up loser.”
Days later we learn that Dr. Ronny Jackson, the physician Trump nominated to lead the country’s largest healthcare system, the Veterans Administration, is known to have a drinking problem and is nicknamed “The Candyman” because of his reputation for freely distributing controlled substances to White House staff. With 1 in 10 soldiers seen by the VA for problems with alcohol or drugs – the majority as an outgrowth of being treated for chronic pain – Jackson was a dangerously ignorant choice.
Both the president’s regressive drug policy and his impulsive social media outbursts are conflicting, misinformed, and poorly executed, so his recent post about addicts being “losers” must seem pedestrian to most. In the same tweet he also managed to insult a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and engage in thinly veiled witness tampering before taking off for a round of golf while his wife attended Barbara Bush’s funeral. Numbed and spotty outcries ensued, and we moved along to the next week’s insults. It became just more white noise.
Leadership and policy drive the public’s attitudes about addiction and these opinions have very real consequences in people’s lives, as it did for Prince. Read the rest
The Sackler family is best known for the buildings adorned with their names thanks to their acts of philanthropy, which is either motivated by a public spirit, or by the desperate need for some reputation washing as the public becomes increasingly aware that the family fortune was built on the perfection of shady techniques for marketing addictive drugs, which reached its zenith when Perdue, the family pharma business, created the Oxy epidemic, by falsifying addictiveness research and aggressively recruiting doctors to hook their patients on their lethal products.
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In 2016, Taylor Weyeneth took a break from his studies as an undergrad law student at St John's University and used the skills he'd acquired organizing a single golf tournament and working in his father's chia seed factory (closed abruptly when his father went to jail for processing illegal Chinese steroids in the plant) to campaign for Donald Trump. Now Weyeneth, at 24 years old, is the deputy chief of staff for Office of National Drug Control Policy, in charge of billions of dollars in spending to curb the opioid epidemic and fight illegal drug use.
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