Hurricane Harvey a Category 4 hurricane, hit Houston with brutal force and left rising floodwaters. Before it made landfall, many scrambled to evacuate and get out safely. Of course, the citizens of Texas went into survival mode to help their fellow citizens. Many people were rescued from being trapped inside their homes. People all over Houston gathered their families and pets and headed for shelters. It seems that the number one priority of all the people of Houston was to get out and get out safely. But for those who are addicted to drugs, survival of Hurricane Harvey meant something else entirely. A man named Johnny Durst, who is an advocate and outreach worker with the Montrose Counseling Center, understood that drug users would likely risk their lives to make sure they could acquire drugs and avoid withdrawal. Durst put together care packages for IV drug users. These care packages included bleach kits for IV drug users and clean water.
The people that Durst encountered said that they did what they had to do to get what they needed. Food, water, clothes, and shelter naturally should have been what they sought. Instead, they spent their time seeking out drug dealers – to help them get what they needed to hold off withdrawal. Addiction is not known to discriminate, and the homeless were not the only ones looking for ways to stock up on drugs to hold them over during this hurricane. It was people from all walks of life- including those who were unable to refill their opioid pain prescriptions.
On Reddit, an entire discussion was created about this topic. People were trying to come up with ways to stock up on opioid drugs before Hurricane Harvey hit. One person posted: “Before a storm everyone was buying out all the water and bread and I was buying all the dope to last through the floods.” Some expected Houston to be a ghost town for a couple of days and wondered how they were going to get their hands on opiates to stay well. The conversations grew on Reddit and some even began to discuss their fantasies of looting pharmacies and home medicine cabinets. Some with the attitude that all that matters is getting well vs actually surviving the natural disaster. All of this speaks volumes on the insanity and obsession that comes along with addiction.
Of course, we have another threat during this hurricane season. Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, hit Florida this weekend. On Reddit, a man also posted a picture of him on a Florida interstate heading to his drug dealer while everyone else was evacuating. The contrast of those going north and those going south is telling. There are no vehicles on the south side of the road, but a long line of backed up traffic heading north during evacuation. Still, the first concern for this man and for the addicted remains making sure that they do not go into painful withdrawal. Staying behind, regardless of the consequences, is what many drug users do during hurricanes. A study conducted after Hurricane Katrina in 2011 with 119 interviewees found that many drug users put partying, maintaining their habits, and selling drugs ahead of their own personal safety and evacuation (Dunlap & Golub, 2011). Hurricane Katrina left 80% of the city of New Orleans underwater. These drug users decided to put themselves and others at risk during the Hurricane. The study gained insight into the drug market before and after Hurricane Katrina. Only 25 percent of the potential interviewees agreed to participate in the study. Many drug users stated that maintaining their addiction and preventing withdrawals were the only priorities on their mind during Katrina. Many were lucky to survive, as Hurricane Katrina killed over 1,833 people.
These stories show the power that addiction can have over a person. There are some who can plan ahead and purchase large quantities of drugs before the storm hits and evacuate with everyone else, but many can’t. Our country is truly in the middle of an opioid epidemic and this is another example of the powerful hold that drugs can have on people and on our country. The fate of those who continue to put themselves at risk during these hurricanes is unknown. The hope is that they survive this hurricane despite putting themselves at risk and see this as a wake-up call to seek help as soon as they can.