Review: This is Ohio: The Overdose Crisis and the Front Lines of a New America
TW: This review discusses the opiate crisis, including mentions of overdoses, and a personal story regarding one.
Title: This is Ohio: The Overdose Crisis and the Front Lines of a New America
Author: Jack Shuler
Published: 8 September 2020
Format: Hardback library book and e-book from overdrive
“The news seems more focused on sensational-death stories like terrorism rather than the individuals who die unnecessary deaths across this country every day”
Synopsis (from Goodreads): “Tainted drug supplies, inadequate civic responses, and prevailing negative opinions about people who use drugs, the poor, and those struggling with mental health issues lead to thousands of preventable deaths each year while politicians are slow to adopt effective policies. Putting themselves at great personal risk (and often breaking the law to do so), the brave men and women profiled in This Is Ohio–a coalition of people who use drugs, mothers, and allies–are mounting a grassroots effort to combat ineffective and often incorrect ideas about addiction and instead focus on saving lives through commonsense harm reduction policies.
Opioids are the current face of addiction, but as Shuler shows, the crisis in our midst is one that has long been fostered by income inequality, the loss of manufacturing jobs across the Rust Belt, and lack of access to health care. What is playing out in Ohio today isn’t only about opioids, but rather a decades-long economic and sociological shift in small towns all across the United States. It’s also about a larger culture of stigma at the heart of how we talk about addiction. What happens in Ohio will have ramifications felt across the nation and for decades to come.”
I picked up this book because I have lived in Ohio my entire life, and every day I think about the sign that sits a mile from where I live that states how many deaths in my city have occurred due to overdoses since 2016 or 2017, and while I don’t know the exact number, I do know that the number on that sign is far too high.
In my city, it seems that everyone knows someone who has overdosed or who is struggling with addiction. At one point, our morgues were filled up and bodies were put in trailers. Read about it here.
Working in the public library, it has been painful to see the state some people are in, and how the library is one of the few places they can go to stay warm in the winter or cool in the summer. At my former job, my coworker and I would routinely check our reading garden for drug paraphernalia, as used needs were often found in the grass. Our toilets were often clogged with used needles, and on more than one occasion, we had to check the restrooms to make sure everything was ok.
The worst, however, was the day the library opened after being closed for a few months due to COVID-19. Within an hour of opening, a person overdosed in front of me. I had no training in Narcan, and the library had made the decision to not carry it in the locations (a decision I now question). I was frozen in shock and fear. Although police presence in libraries is a controversial topic, I am grateful for the officer we had that day. He was always a compassionate man, who stepped in and got the person the help they needed. The entire situation was frightening, and after what felt like too long and several attempts, emergency services was able to revive the person.
Ohio is part of the Rustbelt, which is made up of other Midwestern and Eastern states that once made up the majority of manufacturing jobs in the USA. Ohio in particular was known for rubber and steel with Firestone and Goodyear located in Akron. Eventually, factories shut down, jobs were lost, and manufacturing cities faced difficult economic times and have since struggled to recover. Eventually these Learn more about the Rustbelt here and here.
It’s important to talk about the fall of the jobs in the Rustbelt, because it plays a role in the overdose crisis that states like Ohio are now facing. Shuler does not shy away from this fact, nor does he rely on historical information about Ohio to write this book. I like that he worked directly with multiple people involved in the front lines of the opiate crisis – including people who were addicted, currently addicted, and/or had family or friends struggling with addiction.
Everything in this book was shared thoughtfully and with compassion, showing multiple angles of the opiate crisis, such as harm reduction, the public health crisis, the economic crisis in the Rust belt, the problem with how addicts are treated, and how it has impacted Ohio and its residents, specifically from Newark, Ohio.
This book challenged my assumptions and perceptions of drug addiction and poverty. I am ashamed to admit that I viewed things from a very limited viewpoint. I still have much to learn and unlearn, and I hope to continue doing so. I want better for Ohio. My state, my home, is so much more than a “Rustbelt Wasteland” and being a “fly over state”. Ohio is full of history and people who work hard. Many of Ohioans, including myself, are the children and grandchildren of the people who worked in the factories. We know our history, the good and the bad, and we are working for a better future.
I choose to stay in my Ohio city because despite the high crime and drug rates, I know it is a good place and it needs people to stay and work to make it better for everyone – not to push people out because of the stigma regarding addiction, but to provide resources that are truly accessible.
While there is no perfect solution, Shuler describes many resources that are making a difference in Newark, which for me, helped end the book on a note of hope for Ohio and its residents.
Overall, I highly recommend this book. Even if you don’t live in Ohio or the USA, I think it’s important to read.
Ope, happy reading, with love
a girl from Ohio.
**Please keep any comments thoughtful and civil. This is not a blog to spread hate or misconceptions regarding people struggling with addiction.