I found a syringe on the sidewalk the week before last, on my daily walk home from work on the Margaret Street hill in Saranac Lake. It was half-buried in the snow.
I picked it up and looked at it. It had an orange plastic cap over the needle, and it looked empty. The clear tube had the word "insulin" on it in black, but I doubted it was a diabetic who dropped it. What would be the easiest way for a junkie to get needles? From a diabetic, of course - there are probably more of them in the low-income circles druggies tend to come from than in the rest of the population, since those folks are less likely to have a nutritious diet.
Anyway, here I was with this needle, wondering what to do with it. Last summer, not long before the big drug bust Aug. 28 (which uncovered the largest stash of heroin village police have seen in years), my next-door neighbors were walking their dog when they found a syringe along the tree line behind our houses, near the train station. They turned the needle in to the village police. I didn't do that with this one, though. I took it home and threw it away.
That goes to show how commonplace this kind of thing has become - and so quickly. A year ago I would have almost freaked out, and even a few months ago I absolutely would have called the cops. But now I'm practical about it. I figured the needle wouldn't be very useful in solving any crime, being buried in the snow and all, and it turns out I was right. In a conversation about it Friday, village police Chief Bruce Nason said they would have disposed of it for me if I had asked, but that's all.
That same week, a local young person died of a drug overdose in Saranac Lake. I won't give details that would identify the person, for the sake of family members, but it was a brutal reminder of an unescapable fact: Hard drugs not only destroy lives; they kill people, too.
We have an emergency radio scanner in the Enterprise newsroom; many other local people have them in their homes. Because of that, we all have a much better sense of the problem. We know it's become common to hear rescue calls for overdoses. They used to be rare.
There was another one Friday morning. Too many prescriptions, they said. Person in their 20s - again, I don't want to get into too many details.
Most of these overdoses aren't fatal, and for that we can thank our emergency medical care professionals and volunteers. With advances in medicine and practices, they now can save more people's lives than they used to. A movement is now beginning to give Narcan overdose antidote kits to police and other front-line personnel. It's easy to see how that would help.
The person I mentioned earlier, who died, was smoking a fentanyl patch at the time - yeesh! Fentanyl is derived from opium, like many of the drugs being abused around here: oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and heroin. Other drugs were found at the overdose scene, too, according to Chief Nason.
It broke our hearts here at the Enterprise. We know this person's family members, and know they had already gone through hell trying to love and support this person, and to deal with the essential things their loved one couldn't. The same goes for many other families around here. We know some of them.
There's no easy way out of the mess of addiction, but there is a hard way - and it's worth taking. It beats spiraling down to harder and harder drugs. It beats turning to crime and prostitution to pay for your habit. It beats dealing drugs and spreading the disease - and possibly giving someone a fatal dose. It beats dying.
It was terrible enough when prescription drugs became a scourge in these parts. Then came treacherous hallucinogens like synthetic marijuana and bath-salts-type drugs. Methamphetamine has arrived, too, although it's more prevalent in areas around us. And then, for the addicts who had done everything else and needed more bang for the buck, heroin moved in with a vengeance.
It all happened so fast.
So what next? Have we hit bottom yet? Will things get better before my kids become teenagers?
"Unfortunately it never goes away as quickly as it gets here," Chief Nason told me Friday.
One night recently, I was saying good-night prayers with my daughters when they asked me about a Bible story involving Jesus curing people who were possessed by demons.
"Do demons do that stuff anymore - possess people?" one of them asked with a skeptically tilted eyebrow.
Very good question.
The answer is yes.
Look at people addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography, whatever; they lose control and become puppets. They're still largely responsible for their actions since they invited these demons into their bodies, but the evil spirits are making them do and say horrible things to people. The addict's good side, which we knew, is lost or buried. That's demonic possession, plain and simple.
One could say the same of mental illness, except for the person having invited it in.
Imagine if someone today had the power to command such demons to leave people instantly. We would love such a healer.
So, were those gospel demons actually alcohol or drugs, or did they match our traditional concept of red-bodied, horned monsters? I don't know, but it doesn't really matter. For practical purposes, they're the same thing - mysterious, nasty forces that corrupt people, making them hurt themselves and others.
That's a tough thing to face, but it can be overcome, through hard work, patience and faith - faith in people and in a higher power.