"It’s easy to make a judgment when you’ve not seen it, lived it or been through it—to talk about the drug and not the person.” That’s a quote from Deputy Walter Bender in Time magazine’s recent coverage of the opioid crisis—a powerful video and photo series showcasing some of the faces behind the epidemic.
This is the worst addiction epidemic in American history. It has brought down the nation’s life expectancy for two years in a row and now accounts for about 20% of a 6-point decline in the male labor force participation rate. Every 25 minutes, a baby is born suffering with opioid withdrawal, and every year, more than 64,000 people die of overdoses. That’s the equivalent of my entire hometown, wiped out in a mere 12 months.
The opioid crisis touches every corner of our culture, from places of worship and families to child services, the job market and the medical and pharmaceutical industries. And it’s first responders such as Bender, a deputy in Montgomery County,
Ohio, who are fighting this war head-on—often all on their own, reviving the same people week after week, knocking on their doors to find out if they’re finally ready for treatment.
But it’s also touching our little corner of the world. Spend any time reading news articles about the latest overdose or death tied to heroin, prescription painkillers or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and you’ll soon find the name of a c-store chain, be it a mom-and-pop or one of the best brands in the industry.
This puts us in a tough spot. We’re fighting so hard to change the negative perceptions that have dogged our industry, and at the same time this crisis is happening on the industry’s doorstep—or, more exact, in c-store parking lots, bathrooms and aisles.
And what we faced when reporting on this story is that not a lot of retailers want to talk about it. In fact, most won’t.
Start the Conversation
I fell in love with this industry for a very specific reason: It’s the great American common denominator. Nearly everyone interacts with a c-store during the day or week, whether they drive a Bentley, a pickup truck loaded down with ladders and lawnmowers, or a 2001 Corolla with a busted headlamp (that’s me!), or are on foot and grabbing a kombucha or a pack of menthols. I’ve never believed in “Bubba”; the c-store shopper is anyone and everyone.
In a dark way, the opioid epidemic likewise afflicts all people, briskly taking down everyone from longtime substance abusers to those who never saw it coming. And it’s leaving behind a trail of broken communities—the same communities you serve, employ, fuel and feed.
So can we begin talking about it?
For some retailers, as we learned during our reporting, its proximity is what makes the crisis so hard to talk about. People have died—family and friends, co-workers and customers. There’s a deep level of emotion and wish for privacy that comes with this epidemic.
For those of you who are reading this, we are sorry for the pain this crisis has caused you. And for those who were willing to talk to us, we thank you for your bravery.
Our goal for this month’s cover story is straightforward: to start the conversation. To quantify the epidemic’s effect on c-stores, to hear from those on the front lines, and to get us thinking collectively about how to protect team members both physically and emotionally as they become unexpected first responders themselves. To face the fact that we’re part of this epidemic, and that it’s not just a drug epidemic—it’s a people epidemic.
Abbie Westra is director of Winsight’s Retail Content Group. Reach her at email@example.com.