drug abuse

Ghost in the opioid crisis? Haunting New York Times report probes New Hampshire's pain

Ghost in the opioid crisis? Haunting New York Times report probes New Hampshire's pain

If you spend much time in New Hampshire, as I do (visiting family), you know that it's a complex and interesting state.

Lots of people know about "Live free or die," the state's motto. Lots of people -- The New York Times quotes the regional slang, "hella wicked many” -- know about the state's unique tax structures and its state operated liquor stores.

Of course, I am interested in the state's interesting mix of secularism and radical individualism. Take a look at the Pew Research Center's "How religious is your state?" website and there's New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, right at the bottom of the chart. Note that 43 percent of folks in New Hampshire are absolutely sure that they believe in God.

So, how does one handle religion -- or a glaring lack of religion -- when dealing with haunting subjects like this state's opioid crisis? When dealing with hurting hearts, tortured minds and ravaged bodies, should journalists raise any questions about the human soul?

I thought about that as I read a stunning New York Times feature that ran with this headline, "1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours." It was based on a year of face-to-face research with an addict named Patrick Griffin, his father Dennis (a recovering alcoholic), his mother Sandy and his sister Betsy, a recovering addict.

This is the rare case in which I want to praise a story that appears to have zero religious content. It's a great story, one that few readers will forget if they read to the final shattering lines. However, I also want to raise a journalism question: Should someone, at some point, have asked a few religious questions when covering a story that is packed with stark, life-and-death questions about moral issues and choices? Yes, where is God during this family's agony? Are there religious issues linked to the drug culture in this secular region? The Times notes:

In Patrick’s home state of New Hampshire, which leads the country in deaths per capita from fentanyl, almost 500 people died of overdoses in 2016. The government estimates that 10 percent of New Hampshire residents -- about 130,000 people -- are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The overall burden to the state, including health care and criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, has ballooned into the billions of dollars. Some people do recover, usually after multiple relapses. But the opioid scourge, here and elsewhere, has overwhelmed police and fire departments, hospitals, prosecutors, public defenders, courts, jails and the foster care system.
Most of all, though, it has upended families.

This is, of course, a story centering on a health crisis that affects the mind and body. But, throughout the piece, there are constant references to a great mystery: Why do some people recover and others do not?

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What did God say? Mike Pence prayed and then changed his mind on needle exchanges

What did God say? Mike Pence prayed and then changed his mind on needle exchanges

What we have here is a rather complex, not-so-shallow, for the most part fair-minded New York Times news feature about (wait for it) a crucial political event in the life of Gov. Mike Pence, the evangelical Protestant running mate of Citizen Donald Trump.

Yes, faithful GetReligion readers, there are times when this story actually allows people close to Pence to talk about issues linked to religious faith and you cannot hear a snarky newsroom Greek chorus in the background. I know that you are all asking the same question: How did this miracle happen?

Actually, it's not a miracle at all because this story fits some rather familiar patterns that can be seen in work at the Gray Lady, as well as in other prestige newsrooms from time to time. What are these patterns?

(1) The story is about a complex and controversial moral and cultural issue -- in this case needle-exchange programs to stop the spread of H.I.V. among drug users -- but it is not an issue linked to the Sexual Revolution.

(2) Savvy evangelicals (Catholics, Mormons, etc.) who work in the public square know that all they have to do to improve their press coverage is to take actions that some would see as progressive and/or offensive to their core constituents in evangelical pews and pulpits.

(3) The politico in question, as part of his or her decision making process, goes to God in prayer and, lo and behold, in this case the voice of God is said to agree with the editorial-page policies of the New York Times.

So take a quick read through the feature that ran under this headline: "Mike Pence’s Response to H.I.V. Outbreak: Prayer, Then a Change of Heart." Do you see what I see?

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