Opium Wars


Apr 23, 2020

Opioid addiction is a growing problem in America and there seems to be some groups that are affected more than others. Trying to figure out the cause of addiction seems almost impossible and it more than likely is.

I feel like we have moved beyond controlling anything in this country and need to move forward with a solid plan in helping others control themselves. As family and friends of those suffering addiction maybe we can help them control their own actions, by stepping in and just saying something and that could be easier said than done.

Opioids Don’t Care Who You Are

I have seen various types of people from all backgrounds be affected by opioid addiction. From my brother, who had a bad injury when he was 13 and gained an early dependance to prescription opioids, to one of my close friends. Even my sisters ex-husband who sustained a life altering event while under the influence of Heroin, basically rendering himself useless. It even cost my cousin his life.

As a family member and a friend to those who have or are suffering, I see bringing awareness to those around addicts as a stronger solutions than targeting and demonizing those who are addicted.

Man in a poppy field

In the Field

Spending time in the poppy fields of Afghanistan as a Marine, made me see a different side of the world others are generally unaccustomed too. Seeing first hand where the true source of this problem lies gives me more of a concern. I was a squad leader in the Battle for Marjah, I remember seeing poppy fields spread across land as vast as Utah and Salt Lake county combined.

According to a National Geographic contributor Robert Clark “the reasons Afghanistan’s share of worldwide opium production skyrocketed from 19 percent in 1986 to 90 percent two decades later. The greatest factor, however, was the Taliban.” With about ninety percent of the world’s opium production coming out of Afghanistan and having a military presence there I feel like this really is a concern and something that needs to be addressed.

Soldiers in dry Afghanistan poppy field

Education is Essential

After reviewing a few different online sources, I have drawn a conclusion that we might not ever find a specific connection or even a root cause to the widespread opium addiction here in the United States. What we can do is educate ourselves on how to recognize the signs of addiction to help with early intervention avoiding long term addiction and potential overdose.

Understanding the numbers seems to be important in understanding just how big of a problem this really is. So family and friends can be more consciously aware of the signs and symptoms of addiction. According to Josh Katz and Abby Goodnough “The epidemic of drug overdoses, often perceived as a largely white rural problem, made striking inroads among black Americans last year particularly in urban counties where fentanyl has become widespread.”

I feel that this statement alone says a lot about the current problem, because it gives a different perspective. From one perspective it states how the impact of opioid use is limited to just affecting white urban Americans. To me and from what I have seen, this could be widely connected to the pharmaceutical opioids being over prescribed and according to the CDC,

“40% of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid”.

To me this indicates a starting point and could help us to find early indicators for early intervention and prevention. The other side indicates to me more of a concern as to the affect it is having on black urban Americans. With the widespread of fentanyl coupled with heroin impacting larger percentages of these Americans, to me it shows similarities.

Opium medicines in old-time pharmacy

Adaptable Opium – Something for Everyone

I grew up as a poor American and I am in fact white, I saw not only my brother struggle with addiction to pain pills early in life, but my mom as well. After talking to them and hearing their perspective years later, having overcome the addiction, they told me it was like an unwanted desire to do something they felt they had to but didn’t want to. Or, for my brother he ended up trading one demon for another. He also stated that if he went down a continued path of self sustained addiction being prescribed opioid pharmaceuticals, perpetrated by doctors and big pharma he would be worse off than what he is now.

For black urban Americans, who are being impacted with higher overdoses as indicated again by Katz and Goodnough “Drug deaths among blacks in urban counties rose by 41 percent in 2016, far outpacing any other racial or ethnic group. In those same counties, the drug death rate among whites rose by 19 percent.” This to me indicates that to ‘white’ urban Americans, prescription opioids are easier to come by, whereas heroin is more prevalent to ‘black’ urban Americans.

Coupled with fentanyl, this deadly concoction is having a devastating impact on the black communities in particular. Decriminalizing drugs is the only way in my opinion to really bring this crisis to an end. The numbers indicate that prescription narcotics are just as deadly as Heroin and no one is arresting doctors. Since this isn’t something I see happening in the near future and the problem is not going anywhere, it’s only getting worse.

Lethal dose of fentanyl - MUCH smaller than a US penny
A dose of fentanyl that would be lethal to most people

I believe as family and friends we need to be more aware of what we can do to help those in crisis. Giving them the push they need to seek help or just spending the time necessary to gain understanding as to why they use in the first place.

Pattern Recognition

Where it starts isn’t always a concern as to how it finishes. One of the biggest things that I have come to realize with my research is that not only is there a start, but there’s also a pattern that seems to be repeating itself in lower class societies. Particularly in the urban black and poor white American communities. A common trend that is found amongst both races, is they seem to both be poor. Yes you do get the occasional ‘pop culture’ star who goes down the path of no return, but that is probably because of how addicting the drug truly is.

I have had some people tell me it only took one time for them. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention states that opioid overdose accounted for 42,000 deaths in 2016 “On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.” Last year there were claims of 66,000 or more deaths related to opioid overdose, a crisis that has been declared a public health alert.

Protesting Addiction

With the huge protests happening today surrounding things like gun control, we should be protesting opioid addiction. According to an NBC news article

“The opioid abuse epidemic is so bad that it has hit overall U.S. life expectancy. Life expectancy falls when people start dying at younger ages, and that’s what’s happening in the U.S. with opioid overdoses.”

I think it may be time to start rallying for opioid addiction since it seems to be lowering the average life expectancy amongst Americans. Opioid addiction as a criminal offense seems to only make the problem worse because they are never really getting help. The CDC reported that “We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 16-year increase in opioid overdose deaths”.

Signs on a fence

On A Personal Level

Early intervention starts with the family and friends of those being affected, since they are the ones that are closer and able to spot the indicators early. Addressing the problem at the source is always the best course of action and being the moral support to the person in crisis is going to make the biggest impact. I recently had a friend who checked himself into rehab for opioid addiction, I have known him since we are kids and he contributes his addiction to his early abuse of prescription narcotics.

Looking back on life now I know that I could have had a huge impact in his life by stepping in and saying something early on. Because I remained silent no one ever gave him a reason to think he had a problem. It wasn’t until we were much older and the addiction had evolved into use of heroin that he realized this is something that he could not do alone. I have seen this cost him his marriage, his job, and even an honorable discharge for his military service which he gave 6 years of his life too.

Deeply Dangerous

The impact this is having on individuals affects everyone around the person using. They don’t ever see it as a problem until its so severe they are thinking about nothing but using. The euphoria of the high usually only last a few minutes. This makes the drug very dangerous because in order to keep that same high, you end up using more and more of the drug until becoming completely dependent.

My friend has had a few close calls and I remember talking to him one time after he overdosed about 11 years ago and asking him what happened. He said that he had been clean for a while and when he used he used what he that his body could handle. The next thing he knew he was in a hospital. This itself is dangerous because whatever you are doing at the time of overdose could impact those around you, especially if you are driving.

Heroin paraphernalia

“In 2014, the United States alone saw nearly 4.3 million people age 12 or older using prescription painkillers non-medically, which accounts for almost 2% of the population in the country. Of these, roughly 2 million suffered from a substance use disorder related to their abuse of these medications.”

This, as indicated by Maggie Fox shows that opioid addiction can start at a young age and that parents should also be cautious when giving their kids prescription medications for pain. Friends should also be more mindful of who is around them and what they are doing, specifically if you suspect one of your friends is using.

Warning Signs

If you know someone who is abusing prescription narcotics or if they have already moved on to more potent forms of opium like heroin or fentanyl you should say something, even if they get angry at you. I have had my friends get angry and I have even lost close family, because of personally and ignorantly remaining silent when it came to my friend. I could have said something, but for my cousin I should have seen or recognized something just by being aware of the symptoms.

Wrong Way road sign

If you suspect someone is using, there are a few signs to look for which are strong indicators that they are under the influence of opiums. Some of these indicators are constricted pupils and one of the easiest signs to recognize, their pupils never change and remain small. The person becomes anxious as they come down off the drug and the more they come down the more anxious and agitated they become. Some things that we could look at doing if you are a friend or family member of someone being affected is volunteering to go with them to meetings, or just taking the time out of your day to sit and talk with the person. This small amount of time devoted to listening and caring could save their life.

It Can Happen to Anyone

When my little brother was thirteen he was shot at close proximity by a 20 gauge shotgun. The blast impacted his right inner thigh at point blank range, it took out three and half inches of his femoral artery. After a close call, 45 days in intensive care, 8 blood transfusions and 30+ surgeries later he barely walked away with his life. He was then prescribed pharmaceutical opioids like Percocet to manage pain, among other drugs for nerve damage.

After years of pain and being prescribed these prescription narcotics that are so addictive he developed a habit he couldn’t break, when he got older he lost insurance and turned to cheaper forms of the drug. He wasn’t affected by heroin later in life, but it did set him down a path of addiction, to not only abusing prescription pain pills but using harder drugs, that he has been battling since he was thirteen. Seeing my brother struggle with this and how it has controlled his life makes me even more passionate about bringing awareness to this crisis.

Assorted pills on an orange background

I feel like these statistics show a clear indicator that we need to start addressing poppy itself in general as criminal, in all forms and find alternatives to pain management, rather than criminalizing the act of using it.

Mimicking Nature

Different types of opioids that are being used also play a factor in the ongoing crisis, a lot of the times users are unaware of what they are actually getting. As mentioned earlier, drugs like heroin and fentanyl seem to have plagued urban or poor American’s more than other social classes of this Nation. The CDC pointed out that

“Between 2010 and 2016, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths increased by a factor of 5 – more than 15,469 people died in 2016. The largest increase in overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016 was for those involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone), which rose from 9,580 deaths in 2015 to 19,413 in 2016.”

Deadly Cocktail

One of the problems that is causing the increase in overdoses amongst heroin users is mixing fentanyl with the heroin. Fentanyl is a stronger form and the user is often unaware that it has been added, they are under the impression that they are just using Heroin. Because fentanyl is sometimes 100 times more potent than heroin, users end up doing 100 times what their bodies are able to handle. The outcome is usually death. This coupled with the statistics by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention shows us just how bad this addiction problem truly is, especially since it seems to only be getting worse.


In conclusion I would just like to summarize that with opioid addiction, or with any drug addiction there is always a way to get through it. It is never to late for you, or anyone who is suffering from addiction. It is never too late for family or even friends of those who are addicted to step in and intervene, small words coupled with tiny actions sometimes prevent big disasters.

Man with his arm around a woman

Early intervention is the best prevention of long term addiction and one of the easiest things to do. No one is going to get mad at you for showing them you care. You just have to focus on how you do it. No one wants to be attacked and if you attack a drug addict, they usually get very defensive and just end up using more drugs because they think no one cares. Its easier to use the drugs than deal with reality. So if you know someone close to you, like a friend or family member who is addicted personally, then take a few moments out of your day to just listen. Let them know that you are there for them. This is sometimes enough to get them through.

Sometimes it can feel like everyone has abandoned you, but we can never abandon each other. Especially those you care about.


1. Katz, Josh, and Abby Goodnough – The Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse, Particularly for Black Americans. The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2017

2. Opioid Overdose. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Aug. 2017

3. Fox, Maggie – More Minorities Are Dying from Drugs, Alcohol and Suicide. NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 22 Feb. 2018

4. Lauren Brande – Prescription Opioid Addiction: What is Causing the Epidemic? DrugAbuse.com, 3 May 2017

5. Clark, Robert – www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2011/02/opium-wars/”>Opium Wars. National Geographic, 14 Sept. 2017

By Mac

I am looking to change the rhetoric and perception of the American Veteran, one person at a time. #Post8ForLife Semper Fi! 🇺🇸

5 thoughts on “Opium Wars”
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