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A World of Hillbilly Heroin: The Hollowing Out of America, Up Close and Personal

In a new book Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco explore the poorest pockets of the United States. In West Virginia they found communities ravaged by drugs.

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“I was just sittin’ around watching TV and started aspiratin’,” Heizer says flatly. “The medication was goin’ into my lungs. You gurgle with every breath. You are drownin’, basically. I remember walkin’ down my mom’s steps and gettin’ in the ambulance. I remember at Welch, they put me on the respirator and then transferred me. After they put me on the respirator, I stopped breathing on my own. And then I remember in Charleston wakin’ up an’ they had my hands restrained so I wouldn’t pull the tubes out. I had a real close call.”

The men sit in front of their flat-screen television and chat about friends, classmates, and relatives who died of overdoses. Hovack talks about a niece in her early twenties, the mother of two small children. She recently died of a drug overdose. He tells us about a high-school classmate, an addict living in a shack we can see from the window. The shack has no electricity or running water. The men, who rarely leave the house, mention the high bails being set for selling drugs, with some reaching $50,000 to $80,000. They joke about elderly grandmothers being hauled off to prison for drug dealing.

“I’ve seen a lot of busts in the county over the last few years, and a lot of the people that have been arrested are elderly people that are sellin’ their medication just to live,” Vance says. “When I was workin’ at the hospital I seen ODs all the time. Young people were comin’ in. It’s bad. The depression and the pain. I guess some people that hang and live in this area, they just have to turn to somethin’.”

“Since the drug problem is so bad you see the crime rate as well,” Leach says. “People breakin’ into homes, stealin’ whatever they can to sell or pawn, just to keep up with their drug habit.”

Heizer, seven weeks later, dies of a drug overdose, sitting on the living room couch in front of the big-screen television.

Copyright 2012 Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco

This excerpt is taken from  Days of Revolt, Days of Destruction by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco (Nation Books), pp. 153-158.  All rights reserved.

Joe Sacco is widely hailed as the creator of war-reportage comics. He is the author of Palestine,  Footnotes in Gaza (winner of the Ridenhour Book Prize), and Safe Area: Gorazde.


Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, writes a regular column for Truthdig every Monday. Hedges' most recent book is "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle."

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