We don’t really know our neighbors anymore. Oh, we wave at them and smile. But do we even know their names?

I got a new next-door neighbor a couple of months ago. But other than his first name, I didn’t know squat about this man. I knew that when my newspapers occasionally piled up on my Maryville stoop, he scooped them up and saved them for me, lest a ne’er-do-well cruise by and think I wasn’t home. He was considerate when he parked his pickup truck in the space next to mine. Meaning he minded the white lines and made it easier for me to back in my vehicle. While I pride myself on my driving prowess — I can drive really fast — I’ve never perfected the art of backing up a vehicle and leaving the same amount of space between the stripes.

I was getting pretty good at it though — until a couple of weeks ago. I’m Southern enough to describe something as cattywampas. That was my neighbor’s pickup truck. It was parked crooked and made backing in a challenge, and it didn’t move for two weeks. A few days ago, I learned why.

Another neighbor, who lives across the driveway and who used to live in that same neighbor’s apartment, called out to me. “Did you hear about your neighbor?” she asked. I said no.

“He died two Saturdays ago of an overdose,” she said.

The deceased and one of his friends both overdosed on opioids, she said, but when the friend’s girlfriend found them, she called 911 — and saved her boyfriend after first responders were able to administer the overdose-reversing drug Narcan. My neighbor was unresponsive and was DOA.

I knew nothing about him. I wonder if I could have helped him. I highly doubt it. But I didn’t know enough to try. And yet, I’m a journalist who never hesitates to ask questions. Instead, I went about my workaday life.

As a journalist, I’ve covered the opioid epidemic for many years, mostly cataloging the latest death toll from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say we all know someone who has died from overdosing on opioids.

I didn’t get that validation until my neighbor became a statistic.

As much as I love editing this newspaper, writing and reporting are more in my wheelhouse. So last Sunday, I reported that 46 million — with an m — opioid pills were sent to Blount County pharmacies between 2006 and 2012. It was the equivalent of 54 pills per Blount County resident, but not over the seven-year period. Those 54 pills were per resident per year.

It’s not the pharmacies’ fault. Those pills were prescribed by doctors. Doctors courted by drug companies.

The blame no longer matters. Your friends, your children, your husbands, your wives — they died and will continue to die because this country’s government averted its eyes and let Big Pharma get bigger and bloat itself with inflated prices of drugs that manufacturers knew were addictive. Google the legal settlements that Big Pharma has been ordered to pay.

It shouldn’t take a static pickup truck next to your car to sound an alarm: The opioid epidemic affects us all. When will we stop averting our eyes?

J. Todd Foster is editor of The Daily Times.

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