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Deadly overdoses

A moment with Camden police, the spiritual roots of opioid addiction, and thoughts on The Shape of Water

Deadly overdoses

Camden County police officers participate in an Oct. 14, 2017, candlelight vigil in Camden in remembrance of those who have died from drug overdoses. (Joseph Kaczmarek/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

A Camden moment: 

I was working on a magazine story in Camden, N.J., last week, spending time with the police department there. Camden has been famous for having the purest heroin in the country (when I brought that up, one Camden resident laughed and said, “It just comes from New York!”), so the city continues to bear a heavy cost amid the opioid epidemic. The city held a candlelight vigil a few months ago for those who had died in the epidemic, as it might have done for a shooting or terrorist attack.

And indeed opioids have been much more devastating than any violent crime there. Philadelphia and the surrounding area that includes Camden saw 1,314 people die of drug overdoses in just the first six months of 2017, according to a project from The Philadelphia Inquirer. Camden’s overdose fatalities had doubled from the previous year largely due to spread of the extremely dangerous drug fentanyl. 

I walked the city with one Camden County police officer, Tyrrell Bagby, who last year saved 15 people with Narcan (generically, naloxone), an overdose reversal nasal spray. Bagby said officers aren’t allowed to handle drug bags anymore, because fentanyl has made it too dangerous. As The Atlantic notes, “A puff of fentanyl from closing a plastic bag is enough to send a full-grown man to the emergency room.”

Worth your time:   

An excellent piece of writing from Andrew Sullivan on how the opioid epidemic is a perfect expression of modern despair: “Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness—faith, family, community—seem to elude so many.” I don’t agree with some of his conclusions (injection sites?!) but he helpfully gets at the spiritual underpinnings of the crisis that I have seen over and over in covering it these last few years.

This week I learned: 

There is such a thing as a county-level legislature! I had never heard the word legislature applied to a county government before. The Erie County Legislature in New York passed a law not just banning but criminalizing certain types of counseling on sexual orientation, with punishment of up to a year in jail.

A court case you might not know about: 

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here in New York ruled that the protections for “sex” in Title VII include “sexual orientation.” This is a major issue that will likely end up at the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future.

Culture I am consuming: 

The Academy Awards: I saw best picture winner The Shape of Water, and it is an underwhelming pick in a field that included Get Out, Dunkirk, and Phantom Thread (my personal top three picks from among the nominees). The Beauty and the Beast–patterned story features a sexual relationship between a mute cleaning woman and an Amazonian fish god. Aside from the fish-woman sexuality, my problem is with the villain, a 1960s caricature preaching about how God doesn’t sanction freaks like the fish creature, and torturing him in case you didn’t get the point the first time. That said, director Guillermo del Toro showed up at our regular theater screening and I enjoyed hearing him talk about his love of monsters and cinema. The movie is obviously an ode to classics like Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it had too many drawbacks to make it a classic in my mind.

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