Between the pro-cannabis coverage and the news section, it looks like this week’s Dig wound up being a theme issue of sorts. Of course that isn’t so surprising …
Even as a journalist who strives to learn about and break stories ahead of the pack, I am far more disgusted than proud to say that I was reporting on the impact of opiates on Greater Boston communities before almost anyone else and have been on the case for more than a decade now. In my earliest dispatches for DigBoston about film director (Oxy Morons) and anti-drug activist Johnny Hickey, the subject of the feature this week, I was horrified to meet entire families reeling from death and addiction, as well as neighborhoods on edge while many public health officials and politicians ignored what was happening.
All these years later, it’s absolutely unbelievable what has become of this mess. Back in 2000, there were less than 400 opiate deaths statewide. In 2015, there were more than 1,500, or even more than 1,700 according to one state estimate. Last year, in 2016, that number shot up yet again, at least in the first nine months for which the Department of Public Health has accounted.
In addition to my story about Hickey’s latest film, Habit, this week’s Apparent Horizon by Jason Pramas also touches on addiction and the outright disaster that this ongoing crisis has caused in the Commonwealth. On my part, I would like to remind people that, while there are a number of factors in play, the opiate epidemic, much like climate change, is largely a man-made problem. Let me briefly explain.
As I have reported many times, lawmakers in Mass are swimming in pharmaceutical money. They have been for years. Even as the body count increases, for example, Purdue Pharma, the notorious manufacturer of OxyContin, spent $27,000 lobbying on Beacon Hill last year. This while the company’s director, Jonathan Sackler, in one case contributed $1,000 to the campaign of Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, as well as more than $10,000 to Bay State charter school advocates.
There’s an extremely long list of elected officials who have taken contributions from the manufacturers of dangerous pharmaceuticals. Yes, that list even includes a lot of politicians, like Gov. Charlie Baker, who also claim they want to curb the epidemic. Meanwhile, as so many recent deaths from Fentanyl have shown, this problem is a whole lot bigger than just Oxy, Percocet, and even old school junk in a bag. I wish I had some better news, but from Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill, very little is likely to change in the current political climate.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.