“Scott” was born in Huntington, West Virginia, in 1969. Huntington has been severely hit by the opioid epidemic – this summer, the town experienced a devastating 26 overdoses in just four hours.
In a three-part series, Scott shares the story of growing up in Huntington before the opioid epidemic hit, time spent in the Marines where he struggled with his own substance use, and his hopes and fears for Huntington now.
Huntington Before Heroin
I grew up in a different time, on a different planet, things were different there. My formative years were spent in Huntington, West Virginia. We grew up poor, but we never went hungry. Never went to school dirty. Didn’t have the best of everything, but had the best of what we could have. If I needed stitches, I got stitches – and I did need stitches a couple of times growing up!
Things were a lot different then. We smoked in high school, we dipped in junior high. There was work and, if you were fortunate and you knew people, you got a union job working in a plant. Union work, plant work, good money. Very, very coveted positions. Your last choice was to go into the military.
We had drugs growing up…did quite a few drugs when I was in high school. Drank a lot. Primarily marijuana, alcohol, some pills – the normal stuff. I’m not gonna say everybody did it, but a lot of people did. However, we stopped. We kinda grew out of it. Matured out naturally, they would say now.
In my instance, I’m not gonna say I completely stopped, but starting my junior year of high school, I had other things that were more important. I wanted to go into the military. My mom had sent me to a military camp during the summer and I loved it. That’s what I really wanted to do. I got involved in ROTC. My grades started to improve, I started to pay attention. I’d figured out something I wanted to do.
My friends stopped the heavy drinking and drugs, too. Some got married, had kids. Now the buddies I used to get into trouble with are on the police force! One is even a federal agent. Guys who will retire from good jobs with good pensions. When we got caught smoking weed and drinking, the cops would just pick us up and give us a ride home to our parents. We were way more scared of our parents than of the cops! It wasn’t like we got arrested or went to jail. We just went on with life, and we had the chance to make a good life for ourselves.
I didn’t learn this ’till later – I did not observe this ’till later. Culturally, where I’m from, it’s a very stubborn population. We have to be. You ever work in a coal mine, or steel mill? You ever had to use an outhouse? You have to haul wood to heat your house? You had to be stubborn to survive.
We’re a stubborn people, and that’s something people don’t realize about the drug problem now. No amount of law enforcement is going to stop my people from drugging and drinking…if they want to. We don’t need more laws, we need jobs. Those good jobs my parents and friends had are gone.
Additional Reading: The Aftermath – Growing Up with an Addicted Parent
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