The high school class of 2000 in rural Minford, Oh., began its freshman year as a typical class, with jocks, cheerleaders, slackers and overachievers. By the time the group entered its final year, painkillers were nearly ubiquitous, found in classrooms, school bathrooms and at weekend parties. Over the next decade, Minford’s Scioto County would become ground zero in the state’s fight against opioids. It would lead Ohio with rates of fatal drug overdoses, drug-related incarcerations and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The New York Times interviewed dozens of members of the Class of 2000. Many opened up about struggles with addiction, whether their own or their relatives’. They discussed years lost to getting high and in cycling in and out of jail, prison and rehab. They mourned the three classmates whose addictions killed them.
Opioids spared relatively no one in Scioto County; everyone appears to know someone whose life has been affected by addiction. Purdue Pharma introduced its opioid painkiller, OxyContin, in 1996, when the Class of 2000 entered high school. Some students began experimenting, often combining prescription opiates with alcohol at parties. What began for many as a weekend dalliance morphed into an all-consuming dependence. They swallowed opiates before school, snorted painkillers in bathrooms and crushed pills with a baseball on desks at the back of classrooms. Many members of the Class of 2000 spent their 20s getting college degrees and starting families. Others did anything they could to avoid withdrawal. Friends and relatives began overdosing, getting arrested, or both. Some went to prison. Some became drug dealers and are plagued with guilt at having fueled countless addictions. In 2010, Scioto County led Ohio in the number of opioid prescriptions, with enough to give 123 pills to each resident.