It's time to talk about the opioid epidemic


The other day I shared with you how I felt Walker County was not doing enough to deal with the opioid crisis. I still feel we all should get together as leaders and look for solutions. I have heard some feedback from those who are trying to offer solutions on their own. 

Along the way, some of us have wondered if the Daily Mountain Eagle should have done more by now. 

That is not to say we haven’t covered the drug problem at all. It was too obvious not to write about the investigations and the county operations geared toward fighting illegal drug distribution, as well as some of the treatments. We’ve done that. But in the rush to the daily deadlines, it feels as if we never gave it too much in-depth time for discussion that the topic deserved.

This area is known for being devastated by illegal drug use over the years, whether it was marijuana, meth or opioids. A decline of the areas’s basic industries, such  as coal and textiles, probably didn’t help matters, as did the proliferation of distribution networks that make use of the interstate that now comes through the area. 

Overprescribing opioids also has become way too common in society, due to federal mandates a generation ago that led to emphasis on treating pain. Certainly the prescription industry has some share of the blame in its marketing of these type of opioids. As a result, according to the World Heath Organization, the U.S. makes up about 4.5 percent of the world’s population and yet consumes 80 percent of the world’s opiate pain relievers. Our nation consumes 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, the active ingredient in Vicodin and Lortab. 

A wakeup call came a few years ago when the Washington Post did a long feature story on one family in Walker County that had to deal with their interaction with drugs. It was heart-breaking. 

And it is just one story. We’ve all heard of people whose families were devastated by death, injuries, neglect and crime that comes back to drugs. It has become a threat to our economy, as industrial leaders in the area worry about finding workers who will pass drug tests. We have a generation of grandparents who are having to raise children when the parents have become addicted — although I have heard cases exist where the grandparents were just as addicted as the parents, leaving them helpless. Social welfare officials have their hands full, as do medical personnel and law enforcement. 

I don’t recall what brought it all back up to mind last year, but one night our features editor, Jennifer Cohron, and I had a conversation that drifted to the topic. We both agree so much more could be said in exploring the topic for our county. Jennifer had a great interest in the topic, and we talked then of forming outlines of what we wanted to do with our coverage. 

As it has evolved, it looks as if we are going to start an ongoing, long-term look at the topic which will surface over time, beginning in June. In time, I feel everyone on the staff at one time or another will probably be contributing toward this topic. 

Our first effort will start with the personal effect, as well it should. We are calling it “Faces of Addiction,” not to encourage shame but to take the deaths of people we knew and and loved — real human beings of all segments of society among us who were affected and lost —and to use these stories as a warning bell in the night that this must end. If meetings, grants and government reports can’t get our attention, maybe the faces and stories of those who walked among us will shake us to our senses that we must act to end these addictions once and for all. 

I will quote what Publisher James Phillips said on this page Sunday: “We are asking family members and friends who have lost loved ones due to opioid addiction, to please contact us. We would like photographs of those loved ones, and we would be honored if a handful of our readers would share their stories of loss so that it may help others who have similar experiences. 

“We also hope these stories could help play a role in pushing a second thought in the mind of someone considering these drugs or in the early stages of an addiction so they might get help.

Addiction impacts every person in our community in some form. An addiction may lead someone to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do, and that is unfortunate, but we do not in any way want to embarrassing families who have suffered a loss due to addiction. We want to treat those loved ones with respect and tell their stories in an effort to show that it can happen to anyone, no matter race, religion, socioeconomic background or any other factor.” 

Anyone interested in talking to a newspaper staff member or to simply send in a photograph of a loved one who has lost their life due to addiction, please contact James at or Jennifer at They may also be reached by phone at 205-221-2840.