Powerful Painkillers, When Abused, A Societal Scourge

A Problem Here in Easton, and All Over

People were understandably shocked when they saw on Easton Patch on Monday that three Easton teens — two 18 year olds and a 17 year old — had been arrested Saturday night for committing an armed robbery earlier in the evening near Frothingham Park.

A 20 year old male who had met up with the alleged assailants to buy marijuana was robbed of a little bit of cash at gunpoint, and also had a knife put to his throat.

Crazy. Absolutely crazy.

We had a lot of guns in Easton when I was a kid.  But, blessedly, and only with few exceptions, the guns were not used to commit crimes.

When I read about the armed robbery, I sent an email to Easton Police Officer George Allen, whom I’ve know for years and who is also a Facebook buddy of mine, and I asked him his thoughts.

Officer Allen, a patrolman and resource officer at provided me his comments, and he suggested that I also reach out to Easton Police Chief Allen Krajcik — which of course was good advice — for an official perspective and thoughts and comments on the crime.

Chief Krajcik and I talked online, and he provided me this statement:

Our housebreaks are about the same as they were back in the 1980’s when crack cocaine was so prevalent. When the crack cocaine trade slowed, so did the housebreaks. Opiate addiction is the leading cause of housebreaks and also a major cause of armed robberies. Also, another area of concern is drug dealers stealing from each other. The sale and distribution of drugs is a cash trade and often involves firearms. Drug dealers are then a logical target for other criminals since that is where the cash is. Drug dealers who become the victim of a robbery are less likely to report the crime to police and often seek their own retribution which just adds to the violence. Remember the infamous bank robber Willie Sutton’s quote to the FBI when they asked why he robbed banks? “Because the that’s where the money is.”

I agree with Chief Krajcik.

And what drives the opiate-related crime is that opiates are powerful painkillers that are their own vicious and destructive and ensnaring animal that can ruin a life like no other chemical.

Opiates are well known in society in the form OxyContin (one of the brand name forms of the drug oxycodone) and Vicodin (a brand name form of the drug hydrocodone).

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are semi-synthetic opiates that have been developed to improve on the “old school” opiates morphine, diacetylmorphine (commonly called heroin), and codeine.

(Through my work on staff at Ball Consulting Group LLC, a public relations/public affairs firm that specializes in the medical, health care, and human services industries, I am provided a semi-clinical tutorial on pharmacy and pharmaceuticals.)

Opiates are sewing hurt and pain throughout America — with Easton being just one communal exemplar of the problem. Let me say this, too, that the Easton Police do a superb job in taking on this problem here and keeping this community safe overall.

And I will also declare that the job of the EPD is only getting more difficult and challenging.

Really. Talk with our young people in Easton — those in the age bracket from, let’s say, 18 through their mid 20s. Ask them about what heroin has done here.

(Here is a link to a column I wrote that ran in this space on April 15, 2011, which focused on heroin and painkiller abuse and crime here in town.)

What did Officer Allen have to say? Working in the schools, he has a credible and valuable perspective. He has also been around for a while. He grew up in a big family in Easton, and graduated from OA and Stonehill College.

Officer Allen came on the Easton Police Department force since 1980, and served his entire law enforcement career in town.  He will retire this December.

Here are some thoughts that Officer Allen sent to me in an email earlier this week:

The community has changed and we are seeing a little more of this type of thing. Drugs have a big part in this including marijuana. The relaxing of the marijuana laws are not helping. The stuff out there is a lot stronger than the junk that was around when we were kids. A lot of these crimes are a direct result of someone needing money for drugs. Sometimes I wonder what these kids are thinking. They almost act as if there is no future or life is a video game. Sorry to say we are busier today than back then. Our town is no different than the communities around us. I still feel this is a great town to bring up kids in and we will all keep fighting the good fight.

Officer Allen added, "Also feel free to stop in [to Oliver Ames] sometime and I can show you the good things that are happening with our young people. There are more kids doing good then the bad but they get overshadowed by the kids that make bad choices."

I hear that.

And the thing is when considering all of this we need to remember that life is complex. No easy solutions. There are many kids out there, basically decent kids, who get messed up in drugs, and then there entire life begins to collapse in on itself.

Opiates and their nasty influence can destroy even some of the nicest people.

The 17 year old who got arrested on Saturday night, and in whose home guns were found — well, I heard from someone whose sister lives in the neighborhood where this young man grew up. And the word I heard that, at least when he was a kid, he was a good kid.

You may snicker and say, “Oh, yeah, right — sure.”  But that he was a good kid once doesn’t surprise me at all.   And I hope he just might still be able to get his life back on track.  I hope the same is true for his alleged accomplices.

Believe me, I have worked on writing projects that have brought me up close with people who have done some very bad things. I have met and talked at length with some very dangerous and violent people. I have received my education on the vicious, terrible, monstrously brutal, and depraved side of life.

What this experience has helped me learn, and the lesson is unsettling and does nothing to support that life can be neatly figured and judged and appraised — is that a good kid, a smart kid, a giving kid, and a kid from a caring and loving family can become something else, fast. 

We are responsible for our actions — we must all be ready to face the consequences for those actions. Still, we can’t skirt reality.

Opiates and other types of powerful painkillers serve an important and necessary and incalculably beneficial purpose in medicine. They prevent and suppress terrible suffering.

Yet, let’s understand this, powerful painkillers are also powerfully addictive.

Addiction holds hands with dependency and enslavement. When that happens, all bets are off. You can easily become as primal and predacious as necessary to secure the drugs that will satiate your hunger and heal your physical and emotional agony.

Opiates are a scourge in the United States. A subset of that scourge are the mountains of prescribed painkillers that feed the addiction of those for whom they have been prescribed, as well as those who illegally get their hands on prescribed meds.

Prescription drug abuse just might be the biggest drug problem in the U.S.

When you can’t get the pills, then you find a way — and you find a way to pay for — a bag of heroin.   Heroin is cheaper than the pills, and it provides the same painkilling and “I feel no pain” high chemical.

If we in society, through whatever means — and it seems that there is a role here for a mix of the individual, family, civic community, private industry, non-profits, houses of worship and faith groups, and government — can beat back the opiate problem, if it can head off addiction before it starts, and establish better and more efficient ways to identify and help those at risk of addiction, then we are making long and powerful strides to making society safer and healthier.

And, yes, for sure, personal responsibility and accountability is the foundation of all this working.

But we aren't helping solve the problem if we don't face straight on and admit just awfully and extraordinarily addictive are the painkillers that circulate within so many people, and up and down and throughout our streets, our homes, our cities, our towns, and our villages. 






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