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I spent 30 years with the CIA. My official resume says things like “distinguished record of solutions-driven leadership across multiple mission areas,” and “led program responsible for collection, translation, and analysis of breaking events,” and “oversaw work of employees in multiple locations across Western Hemisphere.”

Hidden in those phrases are the risks, relationships, and experiences that I have funneled into the Detective Emilia Cruz series set in Acapulco. Every day, Emilia faces down violent cartels and official corruption stemming from drug money.

But for all my work, and the work of thousands of others in the intelligence and law enforcement communities, the drug war rages on.

Right in my back yard.

Hello, I’m Marnie and I’m here to introduce you to the opioid crisis

She was our waitress at a national burger restaurant. My daughter and I were exploring our new neighborhood in Tennessee and had stopped there for lunch.

Marnie was a slender brunette in her early twenties in jeans and a tee shirt and plenty of restaurant-provided flair. She bounced over to our booth, tray in hand, and without preamble began telling us how busy she’d been that morning and hoped we didn’t mind the rain and the sweet potato fries were her favorite and did we want some sweet tea and was there anything else she could get for us.

As she spoke, she lowered herself until her elbows were on our table, putting her head on the same level as my shoulder, so that she had to look up at us. With her butt in the air, she hooked one foot around the other ankle, bent her knees, and jiggled up and down as she finally took our order.

I thought at first that she was nervous, then that she had to pee.

Marnie brought our meal in fits and starts, forgot the sweet potato fries, but refilled our tea, once again adopting her curious jiggling bent-over pose.

When she smiled, I saw that her teeth had eroded into small brown stalagmites.

The distinctive rot of a habitual user.

More like Marnie

In contrast to other places I’ve lived, the drug crisis is very much in evidence here. Every day, I see people with the same tell-tale look: twitchy, vaguely confused, thin to the point of skeletal.

There’s both a sadness and an unpredictability about them that is unsettling.

According to the World Economic Forum, “A sharp increase in prescribed opioid-based painkillers and the rise of illegal fentanyl – which is up to 50 times stronger than heroin – has unleashed the worst public health crisis in American history . . . In 2017, there were over 11 million “opioid misusers” in the United States. To put that number in perspective, that’s equivalent to the entire population of Ohio.” https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/the-numbers-behind-america-s-opioid-epidemic

Closer to home, the governor’s office of Tennessee has this to say: “Each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose, which is more than the number of daily traffic fatalities.” The electronic billboard over Route 40 told me yesterday that 832 had died so far in traffic accidents in the state. https://www.tn.gov/governor/2018-legislative-priorities/tn-together.html

The state’s opioid website gave these statistics for 2017:

  • Overdose deaths: 1772
  • Nonfatal overdose outpatient visits: 15,001
  • Painkiller prescriptions: 6,879,698

The population of the state is 6.17 million.

Do the math. More painkiller prescriptions than people.

Elections and the opioid crisis

The Tennessee matchup between Marsha Blackburn and Phil Bredesen is one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races. Marsha is a popular member of Congress. Phil is a popular former governor.

Control of the Senate is at stake, with all that implies. But as the saying goes, all politics are local. And for Tennessee, that means the opioid crisis.

We’ve been treated to a barrage of radio and television ads blaming both candidates for the opioid crisis.

If Phil is to be believed, Marsha singlehandedly prevented the DEA from cracking down on opioid exports into the US and is a paid creature of Big Pharma.

If Marsha is to be believed, Phil is heavily invested in Big Pharma and as governor did nothing to prevent opioids from ruining Tennessee lives.

State Senator Ferrell Haile, a Blackburn supporter, nonetheless hit the nail on the head when he recently wrote in The Tennessean: “Finger pointing and name calling will not solve the opioid epidemic, and every minute spent politicizing it is a minute wasted.” https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2018/09/29/marsha-blackburn-helping-fight-opioid-epidemic/1440487002/


  1. margie

    Well said. Everyone likes to point their finger at the crisis, but the solution starts with each individual.

    • Carmen

      Thank you, Margie!


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I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.


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