Today, I’m not going to talk about the actual drug problem in West Virginia, or our wonderful town. We know it exists, we know it’s bad and we know we need a solution for this epidemic. It’s ripping the state apart, but we know that. What I’m going to talk about is our conscience choice in how we react to the news about addicts, how we react to people dying from the addiction and how we handle these issues on social media.

First, allow me to make a statement that some people don’t agree with – even though it’s backed up by scientific fact: addiction is a disease, not a choice. Do you have a choice to not do drugs? Absolutely. But, assuming that choice is made, and moving forward with treatment, it needs to be recognized as the disease it is. Quitting takes more than good intentions or correcting a faulty moral compass.

That aside, as the drug epidemic has grown, people’s sympathy for death has lessened – or maybe their boldness behind a keyboard has grown. The first time death via addiction came across my social media feed was a few years ago when a student I attended high school with died from heroin. This student died alone. Nobody expected this. My feed was filled with sentiments like, “We never expected this. Prayers to the family.” Or, “I can’t believe you’re gone” attached to a photo of them with their arms wrapped around each other at a high school football game.

Then, the dialect and conversations began to shift. The comments turned hateful and aggressive. People no longer felt sympathy for those dying. “Trash. Nothing but trash in this town,” people said. “Don’t they know how bad it is? Disgusting.” They were, somehow, mad at them. Being mad at the dead will accomplish nothing. However, celebrating the life of someone before their very being was stolen away by drugs – that can make a difference. Focusing on the negative will not bring about a solution. It never has.

Then, the conversation turned even darker, “He deserved to die.”

Let me set one thing straight right now. No one, absolutely no one, deserves to die from their drug addiction. Somehow, this too manages to remain an unpopular opinion. A friend posted about someone recovering from drugs and someone else decided that posting, “they all deserve to die” was the appropriate response. Shocked, I felt the need to reply. The woman not only told me I was wrong on the post, but then proceeded to bombard my Facebook inbox with aggressive messages toward me about my opinions.

I deleted her messages and moved on – they didn’t hurt me or change my opinions. However, I am not directly impacted by drug overdose by way of immediate friends of family. When someone overdoses or dies from a result of one, keep in mind that they leave behind family and friends – many of whom discover their loved one’s addiction upon their death. They are grieving the loss of a major part of their life. Don’t make it worse for them by spewing unnecessary drivel. These people do not need to read hateful and insensitive comments online. If you think something negative about these addicts, leave it at that – a thought.

It seems that people have forgotten their basic human decency – or at least their manners. I doubt many of these people would have the courage to say these things aloud, but, behind a keyboard they become bullet proof. It’s unlikely these people would show up at a woman’s funeral and tell her mourning father, “She knew this was coming. Disgusting trash.”

This is a major problem with a hyper-connected community. We lose our ability to gauge and understand social situations. We are not individual people fighting a battle on our own, we are a community facing a major drug epidemic. It’s time we start acting like it.