Wow, it's been nearly an entire year since my last post.
Wait a minute. That's not right, is it?
No, it's been nearly a year since I had surgery to resolve the infected heel bone.
Yeah, that's it.
I have to say that even though the whole infection/surgery/recovery thing was a bit yucky to go through, the results have been absolutely stupendous. I was hoping to see the infection gone and the pain somewhat reduced. I'd have been really satisfied to still have stiffness and soreness so long as the threat of gangrene and amputation was gone.
As it turns out, though, they frickin' fixed the whole firetruckin' thing. I mean, not only is the infection long gone, the damme leg/ankle/foot is better than repaired. It's better than it was when I was 30 in fact. No pain. No stiffness. No swelling. I can use it as hard as I want and the whole thing works like it did when I was a kid.
I can't begin to tell you how great that is. I mean, I literally haven't come up with big enough, good enough, words, phrases, sentences, etc.
You might be wondering why I'm asking you all to take time away from your busy and important jobs and families to send me some (lots, please!) heroin.
Well, lemme just share wit' chall what I took and went and wrote for the newspaper this week.
Dateline: Here and Now.
By Shaun Evertson
Are most farmers and ranchers really drug addicts?
If you are a farmer or rancher, you are probably a drug addict. If you are married farmer or rancher and have a family it’s a virtual certainty that more than half of those who live in your home are drug addicts.
C'mon, addiction in agriculture has been a major news story in the ag press this week. It’s gotta be true, right?
The story, which in some publications was written as straight news and in some publications as opinion or commentary, was quite formulaic. Catchy, sensational headline. Lede which describes a terrible tragedy in superficial but sensational terms, followed by citations from a couple of “scientific” studies. Quotations from agricultural “experts.” A call for “action.”
The problem, though, is that the narrative regarding an opioid addiction crisis in agriculture is at best wildly misleading.
One commentary referenced a survey conducted by something called “Morning Consult” which declared that “just under half of rural Americans” claim to have been “impacted” by opioid abuse, and “a whopping 74 percent of farmers and farm workers have been impacted.”
Okay, fair enough. Now what is “Morning Consult,” and what do they mean by “impacted?” Those details are absent from the commentary. The implication in those numbers is that about three-quarters of American farmers and ranchers are hop-heads, or at least employ hop-heads. Does that ring true?
Now I get it, the story didn’t say “exactly” that, did it? Of course not. But that’s a pretty skimpy fig leaf to hide behind, because the implication is clearly there and clearly intended to be drawn.
At the Morning Consult website (just search the name with your web browser of choice) the outfit says this about themselves:
“Morning Consult is changing how leaders use public opinion to make key decisions & drive strategy.”
Furthermore, “Our cutting-edge survey research and data science teams work with the world's largest companies on custom research and data visualization,” and, “Our team of editors and reporters deliver vital data & insights to over 275,000 daily subscribers on the issues shaping business, politics, tech and culture.”
Okay, so they do marketing. Marketing which appears to shade heavily into propaganda. What about their survey, though? They claim to do scientific surveys. It must be a valid survey, right?
I spent more than 30 minutes searching the Morning Consult site and the web itself, but I couldn’t come up with the actual survey. I don’t doubt that it exists, at least in some form, but it is not easily available. And it should be.
Despite that, the survey was cited in more than 25 ag publications. Probably many more than 25, I just happened to get 25 citations on the first page of results my web browser called up.
For those keeping score at home, we’re basically relying on the word of a marketing company that three-quarters of farmers and ranchers and/or their employees are hop-heads. Are you comfortable with that?
Let’s set that aside for the moment.
Another story quotes American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, who said, “We’ve known for some time that opioid addiction is a serious problem in farm country, but numbers like these are heartbreaking. Opioids have been too easy to come by and too easy to become addicted to. That’s why we are urging everyone we know to talk to their friends, family, co-workers – anyone at all they know or suspect needs help. And because opioid addiction is a disease, it’s up to all of us to help people who suffer from it and help them find the treatment they need. Government cannot and will not fix this on its own. Rural communities are strong. The strengths of our towns can overcome this crisis.”
It’s a fine sentiment Duvall expresses, but it’s also largely empty. It sounds good, but who isn’t for helping those who suffer? Who wouldn’t be for helping the agricultural community in a time of crisis? Still, read Duvall’s line -- which may be incomplete and taken out of context -- and you realize that there isn’t much there. A sympathetic noise and a call to action, but the problem remains essentially undefined. How do you act if you don’t understand the problem in reasonable detail?
Luke Runyon of NPR Illinois was frequently cited in the recent spate of agriculture addiction stories. “Rural areas and small cities across the country have seen an influx not only in the prevalence of prescription opioids, but illicit ones like heroin. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, four times the number of opioid-involved deaths than in 2000. A recent University of Michigan study found rates of babies born with opioid withdrawal symptoms rising much faster in rural areas than urban ones.”
Again, fair enough. And I don’t mean to imply that opioid addiction isn’t a problem -- it always has been and always will be. But as Zippy Duvall noted, it’s a disease which inflicts individuals, and there’s no easy, one-size-fits-all solution. Furthermore, there’s still no evidence that three-quarters of America’s farmers and ranchers and/or their employees are hop-heads.
What about the Michigan study? More rural babies born with opioid withdrawal than urban babies. That’s got to prove something, right?
What does the Michigan study prove, and more importantly, where are the data? Where are the numbers, and what do they mean in scale, context, and perspective? None of that is available in the many ag publication stories reporting on this “crisis.”
When you dig into the numbers you see that while the numbers of babies born with withdrawal symptoms are indeed up -- from about 1 per 1,000 in 2003 to 7 per 1,000 in 2013, the increase is only very loosely correlated with location, and much more strongly correlated with low income levels. In 2003, rural babies accounted for about 13 percent of those born with withdrawal, while 87 percent were urban babies. In 2013 the rural number had moved to 21 percent, while the urban number was 79 percent. So a slight shift, indeed, but clearly having to do more with income than location.
It’s pretty clear that statistics are being cherry picked to support a particular narrative -- a narrative that claims an epidemic of opioid abuse and calls for strict government controls on prescription pain pills.
Not mentioned in the narrative is the fact that strict controls already exist, and that nearly all pharmaceutical companies and medical providers adhere to the those controls. Nor does the narrative mention that providers and suppliers who violate the law are continually being caught and punished.
Increased government control will -- just as it demonstrably does in the case of gun control -- punish law-abiding citizens and do nothing at all to inconvenience criminals.
Let me offer a couple of personal anecdotes.
A couple of years ago my mom was suffering from severe degeneration of her hip joints. She was in incredible pain, and she needed medicine to control the pain while going through the process of having both hips replaced. It’s quite likely that if she had been unable to receive adequate pain control with opiate medication, she would have died. Pain is no joke. It’s real and debilitating. Mom took a lot of strong pain killers throughout the process. At the end of her medical/surgical journey, she emerged pain-free and with two new hips. And she was not addicted to pain pills. Mom and her doctors worked together to manage her pain without placing her at risk for addiction. Just as nearly all doctors and nearly all patients do when dealing with severe pain.
As for myself, last year I developed a bone infection in my heel. It was a serious problem, one that put me at risk of losing my foot. I was on IV antibiotics for seven months, and I was prescribed pain pills for seven months as well. Following surgery, my heel was fixed, I was infection free, and I was not addicted to pain pills.
According to the opioid crisis narrative, there’s simply no way that mom and I could have survived our bouts of pain management without becoming hop-heads.
So seriously, folks, what are you going to believe? Are mom and I some kind of superhuman examples? Or is it possible that the opioid crisis is perhaps less than people who cherry pick statistics and play fast and loose with facts in support of a manufactured narrative are willing to come clean on?
Do you farmers and ranchers really believe that three-quarters of you and/or your employees are hop-heads?
It’s probably worth thinking about this stuff.
A well-bandaged lower leg greeted me following surgery to fix an infected heel bone last December. Opiate pain medicines helped me deal with the pain, and the usual well-managed pain plan avoided any possibility of addiction.