Over the last few weeks I have noticed these old pictures of opium dens creeping into my Pinterest feed. I must have, at some point, saved something that red flagged me for these black and white glimpses into history. I find these pictures haunting, and not in a good way. They show collective oblivion and numb escape. There is something in them that locks in your gaze and repels at the same time.
Does that sound familiar though? Are the opium dens that were so popular in the early 1900s so different from our world today?
If you look at the opioid epidemic affecting our world today, it is staggering. Take a look at these numbers of deaths from drug overdoses in the United States: 4,000 (1999); 16,000 (2010); 53,000 (2015); and 64,000 (2016). In the United States, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death for those under 50! Two thirds of these deaths resulted from opioids. Almost half of these opioid deaths results from prescription opioids. [Wikipedia]
What then is the difference between the opioid den era and today? Perhaps, and terrifyingly so, the real challenge is that this is no longer a group sport. That individuals, isolated and alone, are seeking solace in the pill or tempered spoon without others by their side. That we seek our drug in social media and cellular addiction, disengaging from the person sitting right next to us. That we become numb to the richness of a fully present life, with all its joy and pain.