Peyton Wedemeyer, Finalist, Local Letters for Global Change

Sam Ware, 22, right, walks by the pharmacy where he used to get some of his opioid prescriptions filled in The Entrance, Central Coast, Australia, Thursday, July 25, 2019. Image courtesy of David Goldman. Australia, 2019.

Sam Ware, 22, right, walks by the pharmacy where he used to get some of his opioid prescriptions filled in The Entrance, Central Coast, Australia, Thursday, July 25, 2019. Image by David Goldman. Australia, 2019.

This article features reporting from "An Opioid Addiction, and an Australian’s Battle to Survive" by Kristen Gelineau

Dear Rosa DeLauro, Richard Blumenthal, and Christopher Murphy, 

Every day, people along Australia’s coastline resort to drug abuse. What originally began in Canada, the UK, and the United States has now become widespread. In 2017 alone there were 1,808 drug-related deaths, caused by drugs like opioids, methamphetamines, heroin, and fentanyl. 

An article from the Pulitzer Center titled “An Opioid Addiction, and an Australian’s Battle to Survive,” written by Kristen Gelineau, shines a light on the struggle of a particular individual, Sam Ware. In July 2019, Sam suffered from an overdose, his 60th overdose in the past year. Sam’s battle with addiction began after a tooth extraction, Gelineau reports, where he became physically and mentally reliant on prescription pain medications. However, his addiction didn’t stop there. He soon indulged in drugs like methamphetamine, and the far cheaper heroin. Now, Sam is left in a coma, with his family worried he may never wake up. Unfortunately, this is much more common than people think, and is even happening in your own backyard. Hundreds of people just like Sam fall to addiction every day, overdosing on lethal, highly addictive drugs. 

In the United States, this issue is even worse. So far, the crisis, which has reached epidemic proportions, has claimed nearly 400,000 lives. While America is beginning an overall decline in accidental overdoses, wealthy neighborhoods are moving in the opposite direction. In my community specifically, drug abuse is an incredibly prevalent affliction. In my hometown of Milford, CT, our unusual wealth, averaging at about $80,000 a year, allows for drugs like opioids to be extremely accessible. For me, this reality is all too familiar. I will spare you the details, but at one point in time, addiction was a common theme in my family, as it still is in the remainder of the city.

I have basically been through all the steps. I have seen immediate family members face potential overdose, I have seen arrests, I have seen release, I have seen relapse, yet I haven’t seen any evidence that criminalization is the answer to solving the epidemic. From personal experience, I can say that jail time doesn’t do anything without follow up. I’m not telling you, congresspeople, that our country needs international law to prevent these drugs from reaching the public, I am telling you that we need outreach. Addicts don’t respond to people telling them what they can and cannot do; if they did, they wouldn’t be addicts. We need resources like relapse prevention, methadone clinics, psychological intervention, and rehabilitation in order to stop the epidemic, not regulation. The real way to help these people is to increase awareness and to donate to organizations that provide rehabilitation and counseling for recovering addicts. Most people don’t realize that addiction is so common in the modern world, yet this doesn’t mean that we can continue to ignore it. By increasing awareness of the issue, we can increase funding for organizations like the Lazarus Project, or Shatterproof, which work to end the stigma regarding addiction and improve outreach and education on the crisis. Education on addiction in schools is also crucial to preventing addiction in adolescents, who are very emotionally vulnerable. These nonprofits rely on donations in order to educate people on addiction prevention and recovery. I hope that you all understand that this is a life or death issue, and continuing to put people in prison for trying to cope with their traumas in illicit ways will not solve anything—for you or for them. I appreciate you taking the time to read my suggestions, and I hope I made some sort of difference. 

Sincerely,

Peyton Wedemeyer

Peyton Wedemeyer is a sophomore at Joseph A. Foran High School in Milford, CT. Peyton excels academically, and is a vital member of the Key Club - serving the community by volunteering hours each week. Peyton's commitment to making the world a better place is evident each day, and the opioid crisis is a particular problem that needs our attention.