Don’t think we have a drug problem? Think again
June 16, 2005
For those who don’t think the valley has a problem with drugs and alcohol, check in with Don Turner’s 7-year-old son. The boy lost his father – a vibrant, active man and lover of the outdoors – to a cocaine overdose last winter.Or you might talk to Sarah McLennan’s friends. The 29-year-old New Zealand native and Aspen resident overdosed on cocaine or alcohol or both last January.Further evidence of this valley’s sometimes deadly relationship with drugs can be seen in the sad stories that have been told over and over this year.Like the midvalley mother who hanged herself in early January in a detox facility in Glenwood Springs. Or the local musician who killed himself with a massive overdose of pills. Or Hunter S. Thompson’s decision to shoot himself in the head on a snowy Sunday night with his son and young grandson in the next room.The Thompson case shines light on another aspect of this community’s drug problem. Denial. We’ll never know what – if any – mix of drugs were coursing through Thompson’s mind in the minutes leading up to his death because the sheriff and the coroner decided not to conduct an autopsy, or even a drug test, to see if Gonzo was high when he offed himself.Thompson had a world-famous appetite for drugs of all sorts, so it’s not like local officials were protecting his reputation with their sudden lack of curiosity. And by avoiding the subject, our top law enforcement officer and the county coroner missed an important opportunity to engage the community in a discussion about the way drugs affect the place we live and the people we live with.The Aspen Valley Medical Foundation isn’t so willing to cover up this important issue. On Wednesday, June 22 it is hosting a daylong seminar on drugs and suicide in Aspen. “The Divided Self – Crisis in Paradise” will feature two panels of locals, one filled with people who have had to deal one way or another with the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and another filled with community members brushed by suicide. There will also be panels manned by medical and counseling experts with knowledge on each topics.As a run-up to Wednesday’s conference, The Aspen Times has been publishing a series on some of the ways drugs and alcohol affect the community. It began Thursday with stories of two longtime locals whose lives were nearly destroyed by drugs and alcohol until they quit and sought recovery. Today we interview emergency room employees who see some of the most obvious and ugliest consequences of substance abuse. Three more stories on the topic will be published before the conference kicks off.Ideally, Wednesday’s conference is just the start of an informed conversation about what some believe is the valley’s biggest health problem. Hopefully, it will generate innovative ideas for dealing with the very serious problems associated with drug and alcohol abuse. If nothing else, these dark topics will come to light, as they should more often.