According to the CDC website approximately 115 people die every day from opioid related drug overdoses. It is assumed that number is higher but it is very difficult to determine numbers as some death certificates don’t include this information for various reasons, and sometimes other drugs are found in the person’s system and so opioids can not be precisely pinpointed as the cause of death. The point is, that on average, 115 people are dying per day from opioids. In the year 2016 more than 64,000 people died. To give you some comparison, 58,220 Americans died in the Vietnam war.
I have drawn a line for each person on the side of my painting. 115 lines are represented. The deaths in just one day. The year 2018 is crossed out because for one reason, 2018 has been a garbage year in America for average people and because we know those numbers are going to be higher when the final stats come in. I can only write/paint from the information I have found. So I paint from now, but I know that I don’t have all the information and I also know that 2018 won’t be the end of the epidemic.
The plant itself is extremely beautiful. The stems droop over, as if they have run out of water (though they haven’t) but slowly, over the course of few days, they rise up gently until they point at the sun and then suddenly burst open with incredibly bright, though fragile looking petals. The flowers themselves can range from white, yellow and lavender to a variety of deep and beautiful reds. In California the official flower is a different type, but similar looking poppy, that is a bright and brilliant orange color. The petals look and feel like paper. They appear fake. Only lasting a few days these large, sometimes four to five inch blooms flutter in the wind, bending and bowing with the breezes. After being fertilized, the petals suddenly drop to the ground, almost as quickly as they appear, leaving behind a strange pod that holds the seeds. They stay like that until they dry and the seeds are released for the next year.
The flowers are a testament to, or metaphor if you will, of the beauty, fragility and fleeting moments of a life.So many lives lost, like the petals falling and being carried away in the wind.
A lot of the deaths that we are witnessing these days are caused by the synthetic copies of the opium poppy. Drugs like Fentanyl are often used by people that find themselves in over their head, and accidentally die, often by mixing street drugs with prescription. It’s a sad tale. One that has been told for years but the death toll has risen by a very wide percentage within the last decade.
Our government is bad at a lot of things so it’s unsurprising that any attempts at dealing with this problem are failing. The powerful and uneducated often lean on aggressive techniques. Criminalization, and blame often lead the way, but what really needs to happen is that we as humans need to look at this problem in a more compassionate way. The majority of the people who find themselves hooked on opium derivative drugs do so because they are in pain. Physical pain from accidents, surgeries, illnesses or age and chronic pain as well as depression are all major players in this sad opera of life and death. We need to address those root causes before we as people will ever get past this. Because one thing is for sure, if people are in serious pain, they will desperately search for a way to heal or mask that pain. If not opioids, then something else will fill that void. We need to find a better way to help people cope with the pain of existence.
With this painting, I hope that the incredible beauty of the poppy flower comes across, and I hope we as decent humans can quickly come together to find a compassionate solution to the pain that is killing our friends, relatives and neighbors every day.