Visualizing Baltimore's Opiate Experience

Authored by Michael Hart and StockBoardAsset,

A quick drive through some of the more desolate parts of East Baltimore will give you some insight into a crisis that is consuming not just Baltimore, but almost every corner of the United States.

The streets are littered with boarded up warehouses and tenement housing-rows and rows of dilapidated, graffiti covered buildings that litter the landscape like tombstones, commemorating a once vibrant city that has succumbed to a trifecta of affliction: economic hardship, racial tension, and rampant drug addiction.

The visceral decay of the city of Baltimore gives insight into the decay of the lives of the people who live there. The riots that shook the city in April of 2015 after Freddie Gray died in police custody came as a shock to many, but the rampant desperation of the city’s residents served as the perfect incubator for the discontent that reached a boiling point not seen in Baltimore since April of 1968 in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. There seems to be a fine line between boredom and rage, and recent events in Baltimore, Ferguson, and elsewhere in the U.S. straddle that line with a dangerous frequency.

In this recent video by Stock Board Asset, we see a city ravaged by a brutal epidemic of opioid addiction, where the only businesses that seem to be thriving in the city are the opioid treatment centers. Gone are the local businesses, social clubs, parks, and church groups that were the hubs of urban social organization. Today, the long lines that form outside of these treatment centers have become the new social commons, as addicts loiter outside smoking, chatting, and nervously looking to get high.

The last 20 years have seen the opioid epidemic spread across the United States. In the late 1990s, the states with the highest rates of opiate overdose deaths were concentrated in the Southwest: New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona. Six years later, the epicenter had reached the South: Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Florida.

By 2014, the epidemic had spread to the Rust Belt states: Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. This crisis is very rapidly consuming the entirity of the United States, and is showing no signs of slowing down, with both urban and rural centers equally hard hit.

As the population of Baltimore has continued to decline to levels not seen in almost a century, and the infrastructure continues to crumble, the people who choose to remain in this withered husk of what was once called “Charm City” are the forgotten victims of globalization and predatory urban development schemes. We are witnessing a slow motion apocalypse that seems to be a harbinger of similar trends throughout the US.

Baltimore is Ground Zero for the Fourth Turning in the US; the nexus point where seemingly disparate social problems-a housing market bubble, racial tensions, rampant opioid addiction, and crumbling infrastructure-all coalesce.

Watch the video and ask yourself, “Is my city next?”