Hidden Faces of the Opioid Epidemic
As of January 16, 2019, Edwin Chindongo is three years sober. If asked a few years earlier whether he would be able to follow a path to recovery, Chindongo might have said no. “I thought if I die, I die,” Chindongo told the HPR. That was before Chindongo met Dr. Avik Chatterjee, a physician at Boston Health Care for the Homeless, a shelter-based program at the heart of Boston’s opioid epidemic. Chatterjee helped Chindongo recover from the opioid substance use disorder he had developed following his use of prescription Percocet. Chindongo now finds himself working in the very same shelter where he once lived, helping those who see themselves as incapable or undeserving of receiving help.
Chindongo’s story does not fit squarely into the public narrative of the modern opioid crisis. He is not a member of the white, rural working class which has become the face of the crisis, nor are his parents survivors of the 1960s and 1970s heroin epidemic that plagued non-whites in inner cities. Although Chindongo’s story seems atypical, it is representative of many that remain hidden from the public eye, reflecting the media’s failure to cover the diverse experiences of opioid use in America. Yet an effective response to the opioid crisis must address all people affected. This requires focusing on systemic causes of substance use disorders and prescription practices as well as reducing the negative consequences of drug use through ground-level harm reduction.