A January 2020 article in The Atlantic highlights the work of a Bucknell University sociologist who has documented the economic collapse of the Coal Region and its impact on local residents. Olga Khazan, a staff writer at The Atlantic, interviewed Dr. Jennifer Silva and compared the Bucknell professor’s findings with that of medical studies tied to the opioid addiction crisis that currently has America in its grips.
Silva interviewed hundreds of residents of the Coal Region for her book, We’re Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America. Her findings in relation to the opioid crisis in Northeastern Pennsylvania is summarized in several paragraphs at the conclusion of Khazan’s article:
When Silva… asked her subjects about their painkiller addictions, they would often link their problems back to the decline of coal. When the coal jobs went away, they said, families fell apart. Some people started drinking heavily and abusing their children—who then went on to be traumatized themselves and sought the relief of OxyContin. Some grew bored and aimless without a job, and they started abusing drugs to fill the time or to ease their sense of purposelessness. Some had to switch to other manual jobs, and days of heavy lifting eventually took their painful toll. OxyContin was just a short doctor’s visit away—in one case, a doctor would simply refill opioid prescriptions by phone. “The men and women in this book suffer from physical pain—muscles torn and backs worn out by heavy lifting and repetitive tasks,” Silva writes. But they also “turn to food and Percocet, heroin and cigarettes, to manage the feelings of anxiety, disappointment, and trauma from their pasts.”
Featured Image: The cover photo from Olga Khazan’s January 2, 2020 piece on The Atlantic’s website. SPENCER PLATT / GETTY