McClements: Empathy for drug users without action is no longer enough


Jordan McClements is a writer, composition/literature instructor and recovering heroin survivor, as well as a Master of Fine Arts student at Columbia College Chicago. He resides in Felton.

Like throwing syringes at a dartboard:

You close your eyes when you say you see us, but that’s your fantasy of us and what we look like, and it doesn’t exist.

Drug users and their narratives are repressed from everyone: drug users, drug users in recovery, people who do not use drugs.

We’re asking you all to look at us.

Yes, us, the drug user.

The only way you will see us is through words.

Whether our bodies are absent, my writing is an embodied practice.

Why do I have to disembody my language on a piece of paper for you to see us?

You close your eyes and stop listening when you imagine us, when you decide that we don’t exist, in this life or your next.

You can’t read our body language.

You can only interpret us without a body.

Whether it be through these words or the words you wish to write about us, and other drug users, after we’ve died.

You cut us with your body language every time you see us.

You cut us because seeing us makes you realize that you allow overdose.

We remind you that you and the United States:

Don’t care enough to change overdose in the United States.

That’s why you hide us and the sight of our bodies.

In prison; jail; rehab; Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous rooms; in the bathroom stall; under the bridge; and filling the cemeteries and morgues.

You want us to embrace recovery’s problematic lifestyle that we, and many people, cannot live with and die from.

Recovery is death for many, and you know.

Most of all, we know:

Recovery is death for many because it is the middle state between active drug use and never using drugs.

We are more likely to overdose than you because we know and crave that big hit, but we’re not using. So, unlike you, we will go for the big hit, with no tolerance, and die.

Unlike you, who, if you do try drugs, will take a smaller hit and are more likely to survive.

I don’t have a tolerance like when I was shooting heroin every day, and you know it.
You want to not only cut us, you want to watch us bleed, as our fingernails drag to the morgue to get our toe tags.

Recovery works for some.

But recovery didn’t work for the drug users that overdosed and died:

Last year.

This year.

Or next.

What is my responsibility as someone behind a keyboard?

I’m going to hold you accountable.

What are you doing about the overdose crisis?

You can’t arrest, institutionalize or pray the United States out of the overdose crisis.

How many essays do I need to write for the United States, and you, to do something?

The overdose crisis is a supply issue.

The United States is running out of time.


Your friends.

Your family ... will overdose and die.

You don’t believe me?

You allow your neighbors to overdose and die every day in the United States.

Just like me, my friends and family overdosed and died in the United States.

The United States is dying from your inaction.

How many Americans have to die for you to care and act?

Or are you like everyone else in the United States?

Waiting for our country that doesn’t know how to address the overdose crisis to do something.

Are you selfish enough to wait for overdose to affect your life for you to take action

Recovery isn’t working for everyone.

What are the deficits in recovery?

The chase of recovery is the same chase as drugs:

A death trip.

Recovery is not the answer for all.

Recovery is death for many.

Come up with new ideas.

Look at us.

See us.

Like you see yourself.

If drug users in recovery can’t understand drug users not in recovery or outside recovery, how can we expect someone that doesn’t use drugs to see us as human?

Because you don’t.

I feel compelled to make people care, and I feel, in this moment, that the reality of social justice and solutions journalism doesn’t make people feel.

How does journalism make us feel and care?

How does this essay fit into journalism?

Does it, or does it not, fit into journalism?

How do we make people care?

At what point does empathy without action become violence?

There is little difference in the mental gymnastics required to read this article and having empathy with action.

The difference, for now, is life and death.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.