August 2, 2018

Doodle Paintings from 1980 Revisited in 2018

In 1980, during my senior year at Douglas college, I was studying with the painter Joan Semmel. Feminism in art was in vogue in the late seventies and the early 1980's. Douglas, the woman’s campus at Rutgers University, was at the forefront of a galvanized interest in historical contributions of women in art as well as inquiry in to the female expressions of contemporary artists. Lucy Lippard and Judy Chicago were the heroines of the day.

On the local college level there were, I recall, exhibitions of collages made of female panties (painties?) and a plethora of art on such themes as menstruation. These were topics that I generally wished not to think about. But I was intrigued by the question of whether or not there was a female approach to abstract painting that differed from their male counterparts. Some claimed that one could deduce the gender of the artist just by looking at an abstract painting. I was not so certain about that but just for fun, decided, with a touch of irreverence, to execute a series of nine abstract paintings on wood panels that would look feminine. I called them "Doodles" because they were based upon the doodles I would freely make in the margins of my notebooks. I figured that anything that was intrinsic in nature would be most likely to emerge from free association. Professor Semmel admitted that she was uncertain as to how to evaluate these stream of consciousness paintings because they were so "quirky."

The paintings were displayed in the college gallery, then taken down and put in to a square box. They remained in that box for 38 years. This past summer, I retrieved them from storage. I almost discarded the entire box. Who wants to be reminded of their callow youth? Yet I decided to take them home with me anyway.

Last week, in an act of plagiarism of my own younger self, I restored, repainted, and re-posted these paintings. Some were just cleaned up a bit. Others were almost completely redone. I then posted the "new" works on social media. Someone wrote in and called them "quirky."

I’ve posted the before and after paintings here, quirky or not, as an interesting comparison between the young woman painter of 1980 and the old woman painter of 2018 who may or may not have learned a few new tricks over time. Having some technical difficulty on posting the revisions, but will try.

In 1980  they looked like this:

July 26, 2018

Pigeons in my Book

There is nothing quite like a little bit of pressure to finish work. I have been working sporadically for two years on my book You Look Great! Making Invisible Disease Visible. Many things got in the way of completing this, both visible and invisible. There was the problem of managing disability itself, with sluggish downtimes and time consuming medical appointments. Then there was the daily distraction of household and property maintenance, as well as my sometimes "real job" of producing art work for galleries that may or may not actually sell it.

The biggest delay in writing my book was the fact that there were two other incomplete books in the pipeline ahead of this one. But those are finished now and I am in the process of sending them out to prospective publishers, getting them back again, and then sending them back out to different places. At my age it is basically a mechanical process.

I actually have two or three other incomplete manuscripts but they will go on the furthest back burner. My incomplete part memoir/part medical adventure/big part illustration text looms over me. This is where applying just a little bit of pressure comes in. A short article for the Mayo Clinic will be published this fall. In this article I casually mention my work on You Look Great! Making Invisible Disease Visible. It helps make the goal of finishing this a bit more real.

I have begun setting a bit of time each day to write and work on illustrations. This last one, Piezogenic Pigeons from the chapter "Barrier Beasts." The rocks were drawn mostly from life and on location in Norway. Loved the vacation but allowed a little bit of pressure to intrude in order to bring my book illustration to life.

July 1, 2018

A Pack of Picky Pinky Panthers

I am back at work illustrating the chapter “Barrier Beasts” for my book “You Look Great! Making Invisible Disease Visible.”  This chapter is a satirical look at the intimidating barriers patients sometimes face in determining diagnoses of illnesses that have no one specific physiological marker, but require an accumulation of several physical manifestations that can be added up and tabulated for a definitive “score.”  This can be seen in such illnesses as Ehlers-Danlos, which a revised nosology added, at least on the Beighton scale, more stringent conditions for diagnosis.  For example, patients could be granted a point on the scale in flexibility for the pinky finger’s ability to bend up to or beyond 90 degrees.  This was changed slightly to read only “Beyond 90 degrees,” the cut off barrier to diagnosis moved just slightly higher. 
My satirical drawing and rhyme for this is called “A Pack of Picky Pinky Panthers.”  The rich background of this drawing is derived from the landscape of Norway, where I am at present.

A Pack of Picky Pinky Panthers

You can raise your pinky to ninety degrees
But you’ve only just begun
To unlock our gates of entry, please
bend little finger to ninety plus one

We have changed our minds, that won’t quite do
Little finger must bend more
It must bend to ninety degrees plus two
Don’t complain it makes you sore

That still does not look right to us
More points you must accrue
Pinky must bend back ninety-nine degrees plus
Or we’ll turn you in to glue

With your palm flat upon a table
bend pinky up to three o’clock
Then we’ll see if you are able
at the same time to lift a rock

Don’t cry and call us panthers mean
We only must be sure
Your pinky should bend to three fifteen
Or we will not allow you through our door

June 27, 2018

The Red Hen Restaurant in Lexington VA: A Real Review from an Ordinary Person who Actually Eats There

The Red Hen Restaurant: A Real Review from an Ordinary Person Who Actually Eats there and not the Fake One from our Government

Twice a year my husband and I make the trek from South Carolina to New Jersey to visit family and friends. We always try to make a stop in the charming town of Lexington, Virginia. Lexington is a jewel box of shops, restaurants, walkways bedecked with flowers, and a small museum that has a nineteenth century style garden. One of the highlights in Lexington for us is the Red Hen Restaurant. Their hours don’t always dovetail with our arrival so it is a treat when we can get in. We go there for the excellent food, manageable prices, and the pleasant atmosphere. The place is well decorated with the accouterments of local crafts, such as the beautiful wrought iron instruments hung by the staircase. The establishment is impeccably clean, and brightly colored with tastefully selected paints. The service has always been reasonably on time and professionally accommodating. I am an ordinary person with little power or influence.

What happened recently is that a woman who was not so anonymous, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who represents the power of the American Government, decided to visit this restaurant with her entourage. According to news sources, the staff expressed consternation over her presence on account of her support for policies that they consider abhorrent. In consultation with her staff, the owner made the decision to ask Ms. Sanders to leave. She made the request one on one, and there was no charge for food already consumed. It seemed that the matter rested there.

I cannot say for certain what I would have done in similar circumstances, because I have the benefit of time, reflection, and distance. I would like to think that I would have served the customer with the added twist to notify her that proceeds from her payment for the dinner would be allocated to progressive and humanitarian causes that have suffered under the present administration. I recently read in the Boston Globe of this solution having been applied by a local eatery. But we live in a divided country, and people are apt to make decisions based upon the passion of the moment.

Withholding food and other services from a paying customer has a long and painful history in this country. One could argue that the Red Hen, realizing this, used this history, as well as present circumstances, to mete out justice in those terms. But tit for tat generally does not end well. And in this case it most certainly did not. But what followed, at least from my perspective, erases any claim whatsoever that Ms. Huckabee may have to a status of victim. She was asked to leave by the owner of the restaurant. I cannot know how justified this request really was. What followed, however, was decidedly unethical, unprofessional and inappropriate.

There are many venues for registering a complaint against a restaurant: The Better Business Bureau, A Letter to the Manager, and a one star rating review if one desires. But Ms. Huckabee did not do this. Instead, she took to twitter, and her official Washington one at that. In her tweet she cited the incident then named the restaurant and its location. In so doing she rallied her supporters in a grand overkill form of vigilante justice. The predictable happened. People who have never even set foot in The Red Hen started writing bad reviews and meting out one star ratings. Supporters, many of whom also never tasted the restaurant’s exquisite food, launched a counter attack with five star ratings. The expected happened. Our president himself, also not a patron, tweeted a bunch of fallacious remarks concerning the hygiene and paint in the restaurant. A restaurant he has no physical experience or knowledge of. I never thought I would see the day in this country when our government would attack its own private citizens and private business establishments in such a gross manner.

But what can an ordinary person do in the face of this? Tell the truth. It may impact only a few, but it is better than letting a lie stand.

The collage that illustrates this review, The Red Hen, is a reworking of a piece of Chinese folk art.

May 31, 2018

A Painting of Roman Glass

Last winter, and the winter before that, I spent some time looking at ancient Roman and Byzantine glass at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the Princeton University Art Museum in New Jersey. One of the pictures I took from a study collection at Princeton University was so well balanced in composition that I did not alter it by much when I painted it, save to turn the middle vessel blue from green, and the green fish vessel in to violet.

These are painted on an amber coated gesso panel with thin glazes of color to create a glass like effect. On top of that I used mica enhanced pigments, the glitter effect reflecting the crystalized ancient glass.

For the background I made repeat patterns based upon the arch in the fish vessel.

May 30, 2018

The Bandoneon Player Revisited

My remake of old paintings continues. An early painting of a Bandoneon player, circa 2006, was in storage since it was part of an exhibition that same year. It had a nice frame and the canvas was sound so I decided to update it with fresh colors and a new composition. Like the painting of a dancing couple which turned in to a single woman doing a mathematics equation on a decorative background, The Bandoneon player became something richly decorative - with just a portion of the bandoneon player preserved.

I first sanded down the painting and let it sit for a while before deciding on edits. I settled on erasing everything but the face of the musician and his upper torso. I placed an oval stencil over his figure and painted out everything else with a thin coat of white paint.

At the time, my native yellow irises were in bloom so I harvested these to add to the composition. This only made sense by placing them in a vase underneath the oval. This vase of yellow iris was soon joined by a large teapot - painted from one in my collection. I altered the shape of the vessel to make it more ovoid, in keeping with the oval shape above it.

Finally, I transformed the portrait in to a depiction of a mosaic, painting a series of small tesselated strokes in various hues. A new painting again from an old work that was doing nothing more than taking up space.

May 10, 2018

The Turbulence of Rivers

This spring I have been in the process of reclaiming, restoring and recycling old paintings. For many of these, this simply means sanding down old canvases and painting over them. This painting of a small chapel in Elloree, for example, used to be a seated figure.

For other paintings, there are some parts that I wish to carve out and retain. The rest can be transformed.

My most elaborate painting transformation was of a couple dancing salsa. The only part of this painting that appealed to me was the woman with her back turned. The patterns in her dress were based upon the ripples of water that I observed in the Edisto River.

I sanded down everything in the painting except for the female figure.

I then applied an ample coat of white paint mixed with greys and greens around this figure. I had no idea where this revision would lead and decided to paint as it occurred to me from whatever inspiration happened to fall my way while the revisions were taking place.

In keeping with this "stream of consciousness" approach to painting, I acquired a heightened awareness of events that happened around me as I was revising this painting.

At this time Facebook started sending me advertisements for African braids. Taking this as a kind of omen, I decided to do research in to various types of hair styles so that I could change the figure’s hair in to braids. What I settled on was a combination of Afro-Columbian, Zaire, and Norwegian braiding systems.

While working on the braids, I decided that the figure in the painting should also be actively working on something. So I put a stylus in her raised hand. Initially, I thought to have her painting or weaving. For this effect, I studied Persian carpet designs and incorporated a number of them in to her work. I noted that working on this pattern was helpful for the relief of pain and discomfort. At this time I was reading a patient’s account of how doing mathematical proofs caused him to temporarily forget pain. Could I also allude to mathematics? I could! The theme of this painting was rivers - actually flow patterns that I had observed in the Edisto. Could there be a mathematical equation to express this? I did a search and came up a paper on river turbulence and calculations to evaluate this using Hack’s Law. So I carefully placed Hack’s Law in the painting in a position to appear as if the figure is writing it.

Now that I had a mathematical as well as a visual allusion to rivers in this painting I embarked on poetic expressions. There is a veritable plethora of these but I chose Langston Hugh’s "I know Rivers," and Pushkin’s "The Bronze Horseman." The latter poem has as its subject the historical flooding of St. Petersburg when the Neva River overflowed its banks.

As an homage to Pushkin, I painted a miniature portrait of the Russian poet held in the figure’s right hand. The figure was doing math with her left hand. Would it not be ironic, I mused, if my mathematician friend were left handed? It would be Jungian synchronicity at its best.

For the rest of the painting, I slowly painted a pattern like eighteenth century embroidery. The act of painting this itself was calming and engaging, especially while listening to Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion and a good recording of Hummel’s piano concertos. The final work is reproduced below. She lost her man but became so grand.

April 28, 2018

Last Day to Vote in ArtFields, Lake City, South Carolina

Today is the final chance to visit an extraordinary art exhibition and the last chance to vote for your favorite art work. I hope I’ll be able to vote from my cell phone like they said we could.

In yesterday’s post, I showcased my own difficult to find but still present drawing in Art Fields, Lake City, South Carolina. There are indeed many art works in the exhibition which are large, obvious, and accessible and others that are tucked away in the corners of shops that might be missed by those on a tight schedule. My favorite art works in this exhibition come from both categories. This venue is at times like attending a gallery or museum, and at other times like a treasure hunt.

In the spirit of the hunt, I noted a charming outdoor installation of tiny seated sculptural figures resting on a series of steps in a practically microcosmic alleyway - also perhaps constructed. Checking the Exhibition Catalogue it appears that it could have been Yelita Diaz’ "Small Beings in Evolution." Another outdoor installation that I did photograph reminded me of some of the German Expressionist stage set designs, with a graffitti style wall that could be espied through planks of rough hewn lumber nailed together to create an almost biomorphous environment. Created by an art team from Knoxville, TN. The sign I photographed for this is partially obscured, but the art work is here below:

Art Fields is a great showcase for installation art. Many contributing artists, aware of this emphasis, feature work that is composed of multiple images: a cohesive grouping of photographs, paintings, relief sculpture and drawings. An impressive example is Alicia Leeke’s Under the Microscope II. This work features sixteen digital media based images adapted from microscopic discoveries of the beauty that can emerge from the zooplankton and phytoplankton found in water samples. It is a kind of art work that seems to encourage selection. Which one is my favorite? This one? This one as well.

Tucked away in the corner of the same space that housed Under The Microscope is another work that invites scrutiny of a different kind, by video artist Margaret O’Hara. Her work, This in My Nowhere, elicits a disturbing feeling of what it means to be "less than." The woman in the video speaks of pain through small screens placed on the floor. One actually has to stoop down low to even see them.

There were singular works of art that left a lasting, glowing, visual impression. The first one was an impressive glass mosaic portrait by a mother/daughter artist team, Virgina and Sarah Haynes. "Dreamer" is composed of very tightly knit luminous tesserae and was a sheer joy to behold.

A wild boar with the moniker Uncle Bluegill, took center stage at the W.A. McClam Stables. Ross Turner’s tour de force work in plastics and shaped papers belies the solid weight of this giant pig on a bed mattress.

Jim Toub’s drawing, Mapping Invisible Cities, made me feel like I had a kindred spirit in an artist working on a modest scale in a meticulous way and influenced by quiet reading.

We only were able to see a small portion of this exhibition, but every moment was extraordinary.

April 27, 2018

Lost in Art Fields

This weekend will be the last weekend to see the stunning display of installation art in Lake City, South Carolina. My husband and I were there briefly this past Sunday, and although we only were able to take in a portion of the exhibition, I will post a few of my favorites from the show shortly.

For the first time, I applied to the regional art competition Art Fields, now taking place in Lake City, South Carolina. My accepted art work, A Map of the Medical Underworld, was rather overwhelmed by the large works and installations on location. It became very apparent that this was an exhibition for installation artists, artists working on a large scale, and artists using multiple works counting as
one. My drawing was a finely detailed work that took over three weeks to create. But in order to really fit in thematically it would have had to have been ten times as large and in multiple sections.

So a Map of the Medical Underworld was lost! Actually it was not literally lost, just difficult to find. It took us a while to locate the work, but by asking directions and following maps we found the building it was purported to be in - a side street at 128 N Acline Avenue. The building was called W.A. McClam Livery Stables. The entrance opened in to a spacious room where we saw a stunning sculpture of a wild boar. But no drawing. Then I noticed a side exit and took that. This opened into a long corridor of talking heads on videos. Coming back in to the main room again I asked a volunteer if I had missed something. She pointed me to an exit door at the back of the room. I took that and found my work hanging on a wall in a narrow corridor and facing the exit door. Rather ironic really, a drawing that features a maze that has no exit hung in a spot where it is difficult to find.

My drawing was based structurally on Sandro Botticelli's illustration of Dante's Inferno, but with a few rings of Hell missing. It occurs to me now that probably the best way to display such a detailed drawing would be to have it lying flat in a display case - like the way old book illustrations and maps are displayed. Something to think about for the future...or spend a year making it ten times larger.
I've posted the whole map here along with close up views of some of the parts. The central maze incorporates Chinese seal script characters that say wicked, error, and lost.

April 6, 2018

The Opioid Crisis: Pain, Politics and the Media. Part One: Who's Crime is it?

The Opioid Crisis: Pain, Politics and the Media

Part One: Who’s Crime is it?

It was 3:00 AM. The constant pain in my throat and neck, the crawling sensations in my limbs, made for yet another night without sleep. This night I decided to try to distract myself by reading. I had been advised to try late night reading as a treatment for insomnia by well meaning but misinformed health care professionals who have a predilection for missing pain as a causative factor in keeping people awake at night.

For my late night reading, I began to peruse W. Travis Hanes III’s book The Opium Wars, The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. I flipped to the pages which described events leading up to Lord Elgin’s decision to burn the Chinese Emperor’s Summer Palace. It was the treatment of French and British soldiers arrested under a flag of truce at the suburb of Tongxian outside Beijing that had elicited such a draconian response from Elgin, the text claimed. The descriptions of prison conditions were not exactly drowsy inducing comfort reading but I proceeded anyway on account of the riveting tale. I gasped when I read about the leather straps tied to the prisoner’s hands and feet being bound tightly and watered periodically so that the straps would eat into the flesh, which then filled with maggots. Since the prisoners so bound could not wipe flies away from their faces, the flies settled on noses, ears, and mouths to lay eggs and soon all their orifices became filled with maggots - driving some of them stark raving mad.

I went back to bed, my eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling , with pain in my body and now maggots on my mind. Sleep would most likely not come this night, I concluded. Despite that, I was distracted by a new revelation that the history text brought to light in my mind, which oddly enough did pause the pain. This small epiphany was the realization that back then, as now, the subject of opioids could elicit such a screaming pitch of human emotion and such a burning desire for vengeance, that all vestige of humanity and rationality can effectively be erased. Then, as now, when emotional reactions become ascendant, evidence-based, realistic solutions fall away. Civil discourse subsides. The search for scapegoats rises.

The greater the pain involved in any crisis, the less the likelihood there generally is for an easy resolution. This is especially true when opposing sides of a crisis experience substantial emotional loss. There is the loss of loved ones to drug overdose, the pain and disruption of addiction. On the other hand, there are patients in need of analgesic relief. There is the very real tragedy of patients taking their own lives when treatment for pain is withheld. And there are countless others for whom daily functioning can only be obtained through the use of opioid based medications.

So how does a society go about the task of treating one population without risking the destruction of another? There are no immediate, unilateral, and easy solutions. To compound that problem, what makes finding solutions especially difficult is that in much of the mainstream media, emotionally charged propaganda tends to drown out facts. And to a large extent, the pain of loss due to drug abuse has secured a far greater rallying cry than the needs of pain patients to effective and dignified care, leading as a consequence to their own losses.

In 2016, The Centers for Disease Control published a list of Opiate prescribing guidelines in an effort to address the addiction problem in the United States. In this document they acknowledge that chronic pain as well as drug addiction coexist as dual epidemics and therefore provide recommendations for the amelioration of both. Yet any student of history as well as any chronic pain patient or care giver will know that these recommendations as well as many others employed at present, will probably serve to ameliorate neither. Adhering to these guidelines may very well not only increase the number of chronic pain patients, but could also actually swell the ranks of drug addicts. Perhaps most problematic is the recognition that there is a confluence between the epidemics of chronic pain, and opiate addiction. But confluence does not equal causation, and it is my hope that my writing will in some small way elucidate that.

The history is fairly straightforward. The United States has a peculiar way of repeating its past mistakes. Most notably are the failed policies that came in to play during previous spikes in illicit opioid use. Two examples would be the Harrison Act of 1914, and the subsequent more stringent Heroin Act of 1924. Then as now the United States faced an opioid addiction problem. And then as now, law enforcement tended to lump together addicts, patients in pain, and health professionals prescribing analgesic relief in to one great toxic mix of moral failures. These acts, although initially providing better regulation of common products with habit forming contents, also penalized physicians who prescribed pain medications and attempted to curb the availability of such drugs for pain. The acts were failures. There will always be a product available to fill a need - the illicit drug trade only grew. The same can be said for Prohibition. The same faulted logic of applying restrictions to legal manufacture of a product in the hopes of stemming the tide of illegal knock offs is at work today, as is the notion that addiction is a moral failing rather than a disease.

One possible solution to the problem of widespread illicit drug use and addiction in the United States might be to follow the models of other countries rather than to repeat the failed policies of its own past. Portugal might be a good example. Drugs were decriminalized in 2001, with fines for possession but not prison. Addiction was treated as a medical condition rather than a criminal act. Most recent numbers indicate that drug overdose rates in Portugal are now the second lowest in the European Union. On the contrary, the probable results of the United States policy of restricting legal prescriptions in tandem with increased criminal prosecution may be foreshadowed in states like New Jersey, a state that saw a three fold increase in illegal opioid addiction following the application of stringent prescribing. The Guarini Institute for Government and Leadership published a study in 2015 which claims that although New Jersey ranks 45th in nation in terms of opioid prescriptions, the state’s heroin abuse rate is triple the national average.

Using a less emotionally charged product as an example, the above dilemma might be better explained. Let’s say, for example, that our market was being flooded by illegal knock offs of designer purses with fake Versace labels. Using the logic of the drug wars, the answer would be to close down Versace. And where would that lead? Would not eliminating the legitimate source open up the markets even more to the cheap and poorly made substitutes? We do know from such sources as the National Institutes for Drug Abuse that what is fueling the opioid epidemic now is in fact, not prescribed drugs, but the unregulated illegal production and distribution of dangerous substitutes.

Yet the emphasis in both the CDC recommendations as well as in popular media is on opioid prescribing. One could argue here that the present opioid epidemic may have had part of its roots in legal prescribing, and that pharmaceutical companies may have been complicit in their marketing campaigns by underestimating the addictive nature of such drugs as oxycontin. Things do have a beginning somewhere. A family member might have stolen another member’s pain medication. A criminal might have stolen a pain medication, the formula determined, and illegal production begun. This is usually referred to somewhat euphemistically as "diversion." But trying now to curb the illegal use of street drugs that have been formulated upon prescription opioids, would seem to be about as effective as closing a barn door after all the horses have run out. So why does the United States do this?

Perhaps the answer lies in an affinity to eschew difficult solutions and complex problems in favor of simple and easy ones. Going after drug cartels is complex and dangerous. Going after doctors is easy. Treating people addicted to street drugs is difficult and expensive. Addressing the social fragmentation and strains that cause people to turn to illegal drug use is time consuming and expensive. Criminalizing them is easier and more efficient. Eradicating the supply of illegal drugs is overwhelming. Taking pain medications away from patients who may need them in order to function or have any semblance of a quality of life is easier by far.

One set of answers is fraught with expense, time, diligence and humanity. The other set is more efficient and may be more cost effective, yet is ultimately inhumane. In the United States we have been tending towards the latter.

What would cause us to embrace the draconian over the humanitarian? Enter a media backed by industries motivated by self interest. These self interests can range from support from for profit drug treatment industries to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture so called "safe alternatives" for pain management or those that manufacture opioid drug treatments It might also be worth exploring the self interest of our media, in the knowledge that inciting a public to anger sells news, and there is nothing so certain in that than finding common enemies.

There are enemies to be sure in the opioid crisis. Then there are those who are criminalized for behavior that has its basis in a health crisis. And finally, there are those who are criminalized in the court of public opinion. The media is at its most effective in this last category. The tools used in this last case are semantics, propaganda, misrepresentation of facts, obfuscation of the facts, fragments of truths, cherry picked reporting, and outright falsehoods.

In the case of semantics, the most obvious misleading term is "prescription opioid abuse." This phrase confuses the public by lumping together legally produced prescribed drugs with drugs that are illegally produced knock offs of the pharmaceutical industry to make it sound as if they all come from doctors furiously scribbling away on their prescription pads.

The best, or worst depending upon how one looks at it, example of propaganda might well be the South Carolina government’s anti-opioid ad campaigns. One such television ad features a woman rifling through her purse to find an empty prescription bottle. This is on a split screen with her on the left and on the right a picture of a man shooting heroin up his arm. A voice over tells us that filling this prescription will result in the right hand scenario. "Pain killers are killers," they like to tell us, as well as "Pain killers are people killers." To add to the confusion, South Carolinians are also told in these ads that four out of five people taking a prescription pain killer will end up becoming drug addicts. The National Institute For Drug Abuse puts that statistic closer to about four in a hundred - and that only for opioids. Interestingly, the South Carolina ads don’t even bother to make any distinctions between classes of analgesics. I have written to my state representative to voice my concern about my tax dollars being used to fund misinformation, but have yet to hear a response.

The most commonly misrepresented statistic in our modern day opioid war is the one about 80% of the world’s opioid supply being consumed in the U.S. The actual amount, while not being great perhaps, is 30%, according to the NIDS. But this does not prevent the media from persistently repeating what could indeed be an inflated statistic. Sometimes the facts are simply obfuscated by switching the placement of percentages and numbers; for example stating that 75% of people addicted to prescription opioids switch to heroin, when it was actually 75% of heroin users started out abusing prescription opioids (legal or illegal source not identified). Another way that numbers might not accurately reflect the overdose epidemic is how opioids present at death data is tabulated. Coroners’ practices are still in need of standardization, otherwise it would be possible to include end stage cancer patients who died on morphine.

Fragments of truth in reporting are often difficult to spot, especially when they come from a self professed "expert." On one NPR podcast, for instance, an ER doctor in an interview stated that opioids actually cause "an increase in pain." I checked that in a pharmaceutical journal and found that in some cases, an opioid can actually cause an increased sensitivity to pain, referred to as "hyperalgesia." The phenomenon still is not universal, nor even common in some findings, and does require more study.

Cherry picking in reporting can also serve to skew public opinion in one direction, without consideration for the other. This might best be addressed by balance. One example might be to balance reports of drug overdose deaths to deaths of people resulting from under treated pain. Perhaps news articles that tout the virtues of countries like Germany and Japan getting by without the use of post operative analgesics should be balanced against journal reports citing these countries for under-treating pain.

The intricacies of law and public policy on drug use, what actually needs to be done with regard to addressing drug addiction, may be ultimately too complex for this essay. I am not a legal historian with expertise in this area. Perhaps we may want to give some final consideration in re-framing how we perceive each other in these United States and to refrain from casting blame without accurate evidence based knowledge on human conditions. It would behoove us to know where data comes from, how it was generated, when it was generated, and who sponsored it. We should cultivate trust in non-partisan sources without commercial ties or strings attached to political power.

In re-framing, we might come to the realization that we are not, in fact, engaged in a twenty-first century opium war with each other, but in the midst of a common health crisis.

My mosaic art used to illustrate this essay, "Sub-clinical Harpies," is in a private collection. The small pills of unused hydrocodone tablets that I was given post surgically were painted and incorporated in to the background, not diverted to the black market trade.