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Drugs and Drug Culture Are Radically Different Than When I Grew Up

And So Are the Repercussions

Photo by the author

I just read a story in the New York Times about a fentanyl addict in Oklahoma City named Josh.

Josh woke up one day in his cubby hole in an abandoned building, and he needed a fix. Wandering outside, he spotted his fellow fentanyl user, Chris, sitting on the porch across the street. He was drinking a beer and reading the Bible.

His buddy Chris had a few bucks, and they went off to try to score from one of Josh’s connections, which they did.

Chris ended up handing $30 to Josh who handed it to the dealer.

It turned out to be a lethal dose for Chris.

Now Josh is in jail facing a murder charge.


The charge against him is despite the fact that drove to a gas station and had them call for help. He also performed CPR on Chris until the EMT’s arrived. He stuck around and did whatever he could to help his friend stay alive rather than bailing out and running from the car, parked in a carwash, and leaving Chris to be found dead.


I haven’t used drugs since 1989. I grew up in the drug culture of the suburbs of a big city in the 70s. In the 80s I lived in three major cities, the last one being NYC, where I’ve lived since 1984.

It’s amazing how much drug use was happening then, given the fact that everythign was illegal. Pot was a staple. I mean it was everywhere.

The world around it was different. Getting busted could be a huge problem, even with small amounts of drugs. There was a heavy social stigma from the straight world, especially toward “pushers” and dealers.

Heroin was the deadly endpoint for many users, although pills and alcohol surely took out a lot of people.


Cocaine blew up in the 80s, followed by Crack, which took users by storm and led to a ton of violence the installation of heavily-armed suppliers and dealers in cities all over.

On from there to the opioid spiral which was super-charged by OxyContin, in which we are still living. But while heroin and pharmaceutical opioids have been somewhat diminished, now we’re dealing with fentanyl. And Tranq. Oh my God, tranq, the flesh-eating monster.


We know that opioid and fentanyl deaths have come in all forms, from a high school kid taking one pill that unbeknownst to them is laced with fentanyl, to full-on addicts suffering long and slow deaths, and everything in between.


The years of the War on Drugs have created many different conditions and attitudes. There is a societal blame for addicts/users that is hard to shake. We tend to blame the users and vilify them while hating and hunting the providers. It’s a huge global business, and the U.S. is an incredibly big market.

So now we have scenarios where a couple of guys go together and cop some fentanyl, and the guy who actually handed the money to the dealer is charged with murder because his buddy - the provider of the cash for the score - died from it.


The Times story goes on to say that Josh has discovered that the prison he’s in has tons of fentanyl available. He’s using it. He nearly died from it. I wonder who would be held accountable for that death?


I had a friend in college who I did a lot of speed with. We’d hook up, do some speed, get high, and go drink.

One night we doubled back to his apartment to get something he’d forgotten. Just then, his roommates and a few other guys arrived, and we all sat down at the kitchen table. I didn’t know any of them.

One of these guys put a big mirror on the table and poured a pile of powder on it. He cut it up into this crazy zigzag of lines. He and his friends snorted most of it, then handed the mirror over for me and my friend Mike to do a few lines each.

I never asked what it was. I assumed it was cocaine or speed. Wrong. It was heroin. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

That was a line I said I’d never cross. I never set out to do heroin. But, I did some. Fortunately for me, I didn’t pursue it and only did it once or twice more, years later.

So, I have a track record of taking a drug I had not intended to take. Also, I did a ton of street drugs from mescaline to LSD to Angel Dust to THC pills and who knows what the hell was really in any of them?


I wrote a piece a while back about my fears of killing someone while driving drunk and ending up being charged with vehicular homicide. That was an all too real possibility that I was fortunate to escape. I dodged that bullet.

But there are all kinds of bullets out there now. As evidenced by Josh’s murder charge, accountability ideas have changed.

I know that were I to decide to have a drink or a joint, I could end up in the hell of using fentanyl in prison while facing a murder charge, or be stuck in a hell parallel to that one. It may sound far-fetched, but it's not.

It’s the truth of my life. And now I have so much to live for. I feel joy and aspiration and pleasure and contentment and I nurture my dreams and I work hard and I’m grateful.

It looks to me like the drug world is incredibly more perilous than it was during my using days.

I made horrible decisions then, especially when I was in a blackout. Something was operating, but it wasn’t my right mind. The darkness was in charge, and there could be no understanding that, for example, I should not go ahead and drive home blind drunk in a heavy rainstorm. It wouldn’t occur to me.

A lot of the using and party life seemed like fun and games back then, even though I was walking through fire. None of it looks like fun and games any longer.

I have a choice today. I’m choosing to stay clean and sober.

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