Through likes and comments, I’ve watched my hometown of Perry, Ohio, disappear into and come back from heroin addiction.
The U.S. is facing a massive heroin epidemic, and nowhere is it more evident than in Ohio, where fatal drug overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in 2007, and increased by 60 percent from 2011 to 2012. Addicts in rehabilitation say heroin is the easiest drug to find. State legislators have called for Republican Governor John Kasich to declare the prevalence of heroin a public-health emergency, and in May he agreed to an Obamacare Medicaid expansion largely because the state badly needed the federal help in funding treatment for heroin addiction.
Perry, Ohio, is a microcosm of the epidemic, which is now infiltrating upper-middle-class suburbs. Thirty minutes east of Cleveland, the town of 1,500 has a median annual income $31,000 higher than that of Ohio overall, but it also lacks opportunities for young adults to start their lives. With the exception of the technical jobs offered by the nuclear power plant—a definitive feature of the town—those without a college degree travel to neighboring towns to work in retail or service industries, and those with a degree rarely return. When I graduated high school six years ago, most of the people in my class left Perry for college, but many of those who stayed behind eventually turned to heroin to cope with their anxieties about the future. Addiction to the drug is growing most quickly among people between the ages of 18 and 25, like the friends who fell off my Facebook timeline as their lives became absorbed by their addiction.