Anyone who thinks opioids are an epidemic everywhere around the country but not in the Hamptons is kidding themselves. According to reports, last winter 18-year-old Jordan Johnson, a star on the East Hampton High School football team, reportedly said he was given 100 mg of morphine at a local party and fell unconscious. In the hours that followed, partygoers made videos of him lying there. Some were posted. One had the comment “Why is he out still.” It took 12 hours before somebody decided maybe it was time to call 911. The police and paramedics came. They took Jordan to the hospital, where doctors put him in a medically induced coma. He survived. A course of rehab was given so he could learn how to walk again.
Two weeks ago, 22-year-old Hallie Ulrich, a graduate of Pierson High School in Sag Harbor, was discovered dead of a heroin overdose, police believe. The day she died, her friend, 28-year-old Michael Goericke, called 911 to report her missing, investigators believe. Then, two days later, they found him also dead of an overdose, which they believe to be from heroin.
It’s been said that drug manufacturers are the cause of this epidemic, because they provide financial incentives to doctors to urge them to prescribe opiates for pain in staggering amounts. I don’t know for sure about financial incentives, but I can confirm the part about the staggering amounts.
Last week I went to dinner at the house of a friend who told me about a case in point. He was flying up to New Hampshire to see his mother, who was ill. He would have to take a small plane there, and he was deathly afraid of flying in small planes. His doctor told him to take a Xanax. It would calm him, he’d go in the box and wouldn’t care. The doc also told him just one Xanax would not make him an addict. His doc wrote a prescription for one pill, which my friend got, but on the morning he was to fly to New Hampshire, he could not locate the pill. In a panic, he called his doctor’s office, but the doctor was not in. Instead, they connected him with the doctor on call.
“This doc listened to my story, and said he’d call in a prescription. I went down to the pharmacy and picked it up. At home, I opened the bag to see this little RX vial with my name on it and 15 Xanax pills inside. Further, if these ran out, I could get 12 refills until a year from now.”
“I’d sure like to see this vial,” I said.
He went into the bathroom and returned to the table with it. The label said there were 15 pills, but inside there was only one.
“I took one,” he said, “saved that other one in there for another time, and flushed the other 13 down the toilet,” he told me. “I didn’t want them in the house. I also called the pharmacy and told them to cancel all the refills. Someone could go there, say they were my brother getting me the refill, pay the co-pay, get high and nobody would ever know. And read this literature that was in the bag.” This was even more shocking. Here are a few excerpts.
“This medicine has been prescribed for you only. Do not pass it onto others. It may harm them, even if their signs of illness are the same as yours.”
“Xanax tablets should only be used for short-term treatment of anxiety. The overall duration of treatment should not be more than 12 weeks, including a period where the dose is gradually reduced (this is called ‘tapering’.)”
“Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking Xanax if you…have abused drugs or alcohol in the past or find it difficult to stop taking medicines, drinking or taking drugs. Your doctor may want to give you special help when you need to stop taking these tablets.”
“Your doctor may increase your medicine in small increments. Where the dose does need to be increased, it is usual to increase the nighttime dose first, before the daytime doses, to make sure you are more alert during the day.”
“It is possible to become dependent on medicines like Xanax while you are taking them, which increases the likelihood of getting withdrawal symptoms when you stop treatment.”
That is as close as they come to saying what they should be saying in the first place: Xanax can be highly addictive, and if you become an addict it will change your life.
Also, and this is the sad part, there are people reading this—maybe 10% of readers if estimates nationally are correct—who are thinking, you just threw 13 Xanax tablets down the toilet? Are you nuts?
The flight to New Hampshire, by the way, was a success.
* * *
While more than 45,000 Americans die every year from drug overdoses, about 30,000 Americans die every year from auto accidents. To put this in perspective, only about 5,000 Americans died every year in the Vietnam Conflict.
On August 19, I lost control of my car briefly on Main Street in East Hampton and struck a parked car. I was not traveling very fast and the airbags did not deploy. There were no people involved in this crash other than myself, but the damage exceeded $1,000 and so was enough for me to have to fill out a New York State Motor Vehicle Accident Report. It is four pages of small print and covers just about everything that might have happened during this accident. It required that I answer yes or no to each question and if yes go into further detail.
If there were ever a document that made you fully aware of the fact that you are in charge of nearly two tons of moving steel capable of killing people, this is it. Here are some of the questions in this document.
“List the names of all persons involved in the accident, and provide the date of death if anyone was killed in, or as a result of, the accident. If more than four people are involved, complete another report. In the ALL INVOLVED section of that report, provide the required information for everyone else involved in the accident. Enter the following codes in the appropriate columns: 1. Vehicle 1. 2. Vehicle 2. B. Bicyclist. P. Pedestrian. O. Other pedestrian.”
“Position in/on Vehicle: Enter the number from this diagram which corresponds to each person’s position. 1. Driver. 2-7. Passengers. 8. Riding/Hanging on Outside.
“Check all columns that apply and describe injuries. A. Severe lacerations, broken or distorted limbs, skull fracture, crushed chest, internal injuries, unconscious when taken from the accident scene, unable to leave accident scene without assistance. B. Lump on head, abrasions, minor lacerations. C. Momentary unconsciousness, limping, nausea, hysteria, complaint of pain (no visible injury) whiplash (complaint of neck and head pain.)”
This is the first accident I have been in since I was a teenager. The cause? Not sure. But I was driving tired. As a result of this experience, I’ve signed up for a safe driving course, just as a further reminder of what I am at the wheel of.
Also, I recently saw a t-shirt that had this slogan on it: I PROBABLY SHOULD NOT DRIVE HOME. The word “probably” had a line through it.
Someday, robots will drive us around. They never tire. And they don’t drink or take drugs.
I’ve read that some of the great minds in America—Elon Musk has such a one—say they are very worried about robots taking over.
I say we’ve been doing a crappy job of all this. What is taking these robots so long?