Have you ever thought about the worst way to die?
For some it’s burning to death. For others, being buried alive, starvation, cancer, electrocution, or snake bites top the list.
Personally, as a bit of a claustrophobe, I fear suffocation.
Asphyxiation robs your body of fuel while also flooding it with adrenaline and kicking up your fight-or-flight response. You panic while feeling helpless to do anything about it. Your chest aches to expand even though it can’t, the inward pressure collapsing to the point where you believe you wouldn’t be able to inhale again if you tried.
This past week, reporters Jonathan Delozier and Evan Goodenow dug deeply into Lorain County’s heroin problem. We reeled at the more than 100 deaths the opioid has caused close to home — roughly three times the number of fatal crashes (35) this year countywide.
What many don’t understand is that heroin kills by suffocation.
Once in the body, it transforms into morphine and stops your neurons from firing, dulling your sense of pain and anxiety. That’s the high. The problem is that it slows down the central nervous system, including the part that controls respiration, until your lungs stop breathing.
It can also trick your body into rapidly dropping its blood pressure until the heart fails. In some cases, it causes pulmonary edema, where blood backs up in your veins, back through the lungs, and to the wrong side of the heart.
Local police and EMTs, haunted by what they’ve seen, have told me how they’ve come across heroin overdose victims whose lips and fingernails turned purple and even black. The oxygen starvation will turn white skin an eerie blue and black skin to an ashy white.
Sometimes the victim is making gurgling sounds, their eyes bulging and they lie there, choking out a death rattle.
Heroin users are real people and their deaths should not be abstract events, brushed away with a shrug. They do not deserve this sickening fate — the penalty for bad decisions should not be chemical execution. “They knew the risk,” is not something a civilized person says of heroin casualties.
There is no humanity in that way of thinking.
The question of stopping the heroin epidemic is not one of willpower, or right and wrong, or where to cast blame. Leave your judgement by the door.
The question is what we are willing to do to stop real people — good and bad, old and young, rich and poor, man and woman, black and white, believers and unbelievers, Republicans and Democrats, urban and rural, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and strangers — from dying.