During the first few years of writing Opiate Nation, the working title was Saying Goodbye Through a Body Bag. As I got closer to publication, friends suggested I look for another title, saying it was off-putting and gave a depressing visual image. It took me a while to adjust to the idea of another title because it was the experience of doing just that – saying goodbye to my son through a thick black body bag in the hot August sun – that pushed me through my grief and on to writing about what my husband and I had experienced and what we hoped could be a warning for others.
During the current Covid-19 pandemic, when I have heard the stories and seen the images on TV of body bags around the world, with loved ones closed up and rolled away into morgues or refrigerator trucks – without those who love them able to even say goodbye – thoughts and feelings from my own experience make their way to the forefront. I remember it well. A sense of confusion, then panic followed by numbness and disbelief that someone I love more than my own life is in that bag and not only will I never see him again, but “he” is actually gone and I can’t even view all that remains: the flesh and bone that he once inhabited.
Yet, I had the benefit of being able to have a memorial for our son with several hundred of his family and friends included – something death in the time of Covid-19 has cruelly robbed from loved ones around the world. The important process of grieving is severely hampered without the act of a memorial: publicly remembering a life, hearing the good memories other share, grieving a loss with others, and receiving the love and consolation that mitigate some of the pain.
The United States has almost one-third of all Covid-19 deaths (over 100,000 confirmed), with over 6 million confirmed cases worldwide (with potentially as many unconfirmed where testing is limited or inaccurately reported or non-existent) and over 350,000 deaths. The number of families around the world suffering the effects of unexpected death is hard to imagine.
But, let’s not forget the families of the millions of individuals who die from drug overdoses. According to the latest report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 585,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2017, with opioids accounting for the majority of those avoidable deaths. And, as with Covid-19, the majority of those deaths were, and continue to be, in the United States: one in four of all drug-related deaths globally. Europe is not far behind. This is a sad commentary on how the most advanced western societies have failed to be true communities where individuals are of more concern than rugged individualism and the well-being of our citizens fails to take priority over the careers of politicians.
When it became too obvious to ignore, and the causes behind the opioid epidemic were finally acknowledged and the profiteers from the greed giants exposed, we though capitalism run amok could no longer hide its shameful face. But Covid-19 has demonstrated that is sadly not true. Political premiership and partisan politics in the United States (along with several other countries) not only ignored all warning signs and health advice that could have reduced this tragic loss of life, but continues to prioritize appeasing a political ideology that sacrifices the good of our society in the name of individual freedom. Does selfish individualism differ from selfish capitalism?
Will we ever learn? Will we continue to jeopardize public health and the need for community safety nets due to polarized political agendas? How many more families will have to say goodbye to their loved ones through body bags following avoidable deaths before things change?
Univ of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP)
Lessons learned from influenza pandemics: predict that COVID-19 would likely spread in a series of outbreaks over the next year, until 60 to 70 percent of the population is infected. This would drive the death toll into the millions.
NBC News, May 1, 2020
WASHINGTON — The federal government placed orders for well over 100,000 new body bags to hold victims of COVID-19 in April, according to internal administration documents obtained by NBC News, as well as public records. The biggest set was earmarked for purchase the day after President Donald Trump projected that the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus might not exceed 50,000 or 60,000 people.
Around the same time it wrote the contract for the body bags, FEMA opened up bidding to provide about 200 rented refrigerated trailers for locations around the country. The request for proposals specifies a preference for 53-foot trailers, which, at 3,600 cubic feet, are the largest in their class.