Senator Manchin attends a conference on the opioid problem
“Will Superfood Pancakes Solve the Opioid Crisis?” is by Jan Pytalski in Politifact West Virginia and is part of a joint project that joins West Virginia University and Politifact with the "100 Days in Appalachia" project. This article is about the writer’s attendance at a conference sponsored by the online news service, Axios, and the drug company, Eli Lilly. (Pytalski points out that Eli Lilly is “poised to benefit from a growing substance abuse treatment market that is forecasted to grow to worth $12.43 billion dollars by 2024.”) The speakers were varied and included Manchin and others affected by the opioid crisis including Huntington’s mayor, Steve Miller.
Pytalski was not impressed:
From an Appalachian perspective, to call this event “tone deaf” is an understatement. It would be difficult to find a better (or worse) illustration of the utter detachment from reality of the real issues involved in tackling the opioid addiction crisis exhibited inside-the-Beltway. The sunny disposition of the invited speakers and host, and the “feel good” tone of their stories undercuts what is still an evolving, deadly and vexing problem. More than 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, of both illicit drugs and prescription opioids combined. The latest data available shows opioid overdose deaths in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia grew by more than 1,000 percent from 1999 to 2016. In Appalachia, this epidemic is not a joke, it’s not a gimmick. It’s destroyed people and families and devastated communities.
Billed as a serious conversation about a deadly serious issue, what I instead witnessed was a slick marketing stunt sponsored by a news organization in partnership with a pharmaceutical corporation with direct financial interests.
It’s bad for journalism and it’s bad for policy.
A reaction to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy
Upon its release, Vance’s first-hand account of growing-up in Appalachia was both praised and criticized and eventually became a best-seller. With the release of Ron Howard’s upcoming movie based upon the book, Vance’s take on the region is certain to once again become the subject of numerous essays.
A recent book reaction to Vance’s work is Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll (West Virginia University Press, 2019). James Branscome reviewed the book recently for the website Daily Yonder and tells us that he has "traveled, researched and written about Appalachia for more than five decades. Never have I met Vance’s hillbillies. This book does a good job of describing the real Appalachia." He continues:
Billings, Turner, and many others in this book make clear that there is some perverse malady in both neo-conservative and neo-liberal philosophy in this country that needs to have an “other” who does not share their high values, high motivation, and righteous indignation about freeloaders and never-do-wells, remarkable in being homogenous Scots-Irish, who pass on a dysfunctional culture to their dirty-faced young ones in dark hollows and dilapidated coal camps.
Interesting. I’ll be ordering the book shortly.
Trump’s West Virginia – a more personal reaction
A few days ago, Commonweal published “What Happened to West Virginia (Seams of Resentment)” a personal essay by Danny R. Kuhn.
A native West Virginian, Kuhn still returns every year to attend a family reunion. Early in the essay, Kuhn relates his cab ride to the airport:
Traveling the country over the past twenty-eight years, I have heard all the stereotypes, and gotten used to responses like “Oh, I had a college roommate from Richmond” (different state since 1863) and “Is it against the law to marry your first cousin there?” (Yes it is, though it’s still legal in California and Massachusetts.) But today comments like those remind me of a more innocent time, the good old days before Donald Trump started coming to West Virginia to hold rallies where people chant “Lock her up!” and “Build that wall!”
Kuhn’s essay is part history and part personal reaction to his relatives who still support Trump. The obvious exception to the Trump supporters is his mother who is in her late-80s and who told him after Trump was elected:
“Working people will find out what they’ve done, and be sorry. They’ve spent all these years hating President Obama because he’s a black man, and told all those lies about Hillary, and now look what we have. And the preachers support it! Support that nasty man Trump and the things he says. That’s the part I can’t understand.” It was very sad, what she told me, but it was also true; and I found that somehow comforting. Now, whenever Trump visits my home state to drum up more politically convenient anger, I give my mother a call. Hearing her anger gives me hope.
It’s a good essay.