Somewhere Between Pills and Hope: An Appalachian Story

With the economy in the tank, poverty on the rise, jobs packing up and shipping out, and liberals blocking any chance of new domestic energy jobs, it seems that the only thing the Appalachian region of the country has going for it is SEC basketball and football.

(Strangely that has been enough to keep us all sane.)

Take it from me; the people of Appalachia have a different way of doing things. Growing up in the heartland of the heartland, the little tri-state area between the Appalachian portion of Ohio (where it is pronounced Oh-hi-ya), Northeastern Kentucky, and West Virginia, I have learned that people in this particular area have trust issues. And who can blame them?  Be it iron ore, coal, timber, steel, or just plain old manual labor, some “slick city fella has came in and taken advantage of us and the bounty that our region provides.”

As a hillbilly once famously said, “Every time you meet a person here, they already have two strikes against you, so try not to screw it up the first time around.” We are quite accustomed to being used and abused but we are always looking for that person who is here to help us out of the kindness of their heart, not for the benefit of their wallet.

Physical pain is common to an area where people work hard for a living.  Food is put on the table by the sweat of your brow, the strength of your back, and the grace of the good Lord. The chemical plants, the coal mines, or the boat and train yards are all solid examples of good old-fashioned work, which serves as the cornerstone of life in Appalachia; without it, you don’t eat. The way we see it, that’s the way it should be.

We seek comfort for the spiritual ailments from Christ. As for the physical pain that comes from swinging a pick or from years of breathing coal dust, well, a few years back we met our medical messiah for those problems, Oxycontin. Turns out, he is a false prophet.

Crippling addictions to legal drugs (via crooked “Doctors” who were no better than petty drug dealers) rocked Appalachia; and my home county of Scioto, in particular. These little shops started popping up all over the place, under the facade of “pain management clinics,” where a person could walk in, claim to have a sore back and for a roll of cash be out the door with a bottle of pills.  Quickly, after crime and life-taking addictions increased, the clinics were given a nickname: “Pill Mills.” At one point, in 2008, a study by the state pharmacy board of Ohio showed that in Scioto County alone, 35 million pills were dispersed by the 12 operating pill mills. In a county of 76,000 people, that is 460 pills for every man, woman, and child in the county. A dark cloud hung over my community for a long time.

Finally a local group of folks who had lost loved ones decided to take their organization, SOLACE (Surviving Our Losses And Continuing Everyday), from the stages of a support group to an army of hope for our community. SOLACE outed these “Pill Mills,” and with the help of a local state Representative, law enforcement officials, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, SOLACE cracked down and shut down every last “Pill Mill” in the county.

Scioto County won a large battle in 2011, but the war is far from over.

Now that the “drive through drug dealers” are gone, the addictions remain, but the resources are limited. We have been told to expect a rise in break-ins because addicts will be coming in looking for prescribed pain pills from folks suspected to have them, such as cancer patients and older citizens. Also, we are supposed to see a spike in the use of the cheaper alternative to Oxycontin: Heroin.

I write this so that all of you may know what is happening. Don’t think for a minute this is taken care of or even that it is only a problem for us “pill-billies.”  This is a wakeup call to big government folks everywhere.  The story I just described is fashioned and promoted by big government’s intervention and the resulting domestic “blowback.”

Our government has been at war with poverty, declared war on drugs, decided that people aren’t responsible enough to use firearms, and denied business access to resources for fear of “environmental damage.”  So thanks to the “moral” legislated corrections of the government in the supposed “best interest of the citizenry”, the once proud industrious people of Appalachia now have no jobs due to big government’s industry regulations, and therefore, are mostly on welfare and dependent on the government for sustenance.

Thanks to the intrusive, authoritative,”father-knows-best” form of government, the people of Appalachia have been reduced to needy, broken, dope fiends, lying around stoned out of their minds, sucking their thumbs, and waiting for the first of the month to roll around so they can go to Wal-Mart and blow their welfare check on cigarettes and fast food that is killing them as well.

I wonder if, after reading this, the Occupy Wall Street folks still want the Government to do something about their so-called “wealth inequality.”

Know Government, no Freedom. No Government, know Freedom.

Tanner Salyers // Shawnee State University // @TannerSalyers



  1. Very good analysis! Thanks, Tanner! I agree with you!!!

  2. It boggles my mind why our country is so hell-bent on supporting foreign countries and so ignores the many issues in our own people. The people of Appalachia have long suffered from poverty and neglect. It is time our government invest in our own people who wish to work and who strive so hard to put food on the tables of their family. As for these doctors who peddle drugs like candy to children, it is time for stiff penalties and control to be utilized to protect individuals who for whatever reason cannot protect themselves from these snake oil vendors! Our “government” has made virtual slaves of society with welfare, hand-outs and disability benefits to those not truly disabled. It becomes a lifestyle to sit around with your hand out because you know that the do-gooders will send you a check! The bible says if a man does not work, he does not eat. When hand-outs aren’t so readily pushed upon people, more incentative is given to be productive, to educate your children and to better your lot in life. Your article was well-written and it’s about time someone speak up about the issues affecting America!

  3. “…the people of Appalachia have been reduced to needy, broken, dope fiends, lying around stoned out of their minds, sucking their thumbs, and waiting for the first of the month to roll around…”

    Wow! As a native of Southeastern Kentucky, I must say that I find your analysis and description of the Appalachian region very insulting. The majority us rural folks are proud, hardworking, God fearing, family loving, Conservatives.

    As any other place in America, the Appalachian region has its problems, and I realize that your article attempts to focus on the failure of government intrusiveness. However, the Appalachian region has been bashed and put down far too long. Lets put some of the good things about the people of our region out there! There’s several stubborn folks in our communities who refuse government welfare and work hard to ensure they’ll never have to fall back on it. How about a piece on them?

  4. Jo Anna Donini Krohn says:

    Very good article! I want to thank you Tanner. As an active member of this “army of hope”, I actually feel like I have gained some solace in this past year. We will continue to promote education and awareness about addiction as we continue to fight this war on drugs.
    Jo Anna Krohn

  5. As a certain senator said to someone recently ” On what planet do you spend most of your time?” Whichever one it is, it’s obvious that you’re overdosing on “faux news”

  6. 2alangroves says:

    Thank you for this article. I like the personal experience that you bring to the discussion.

    And in the writer’s defense, he was commenting on the false hope that people have in government and the terrible track record government has on returning those promises. The author is not insulting the character of the people of Appalachia -that much is apparent from the beginning of the piece. Conversely, I was given a warm feeling from the discription of the people’s rugged individualism, foreign skepticism, and spiritual life-style (which sounds a lot like my home in middle TN!)

  7. After all that was accomplished in 2011 on the drug war,you would think they had a backup plan for the drug addicts.Like grants to fund abuse clinics to help the drug addicts get off the crap they have been dependent on for so many years.Like setting goals for new jobs to come into the area just so people who live on welfare don’t have to wait for a check from month to month.Giving them a job that can actually make them be proud and hold their head up from getting a pay check every week or every two weeks.Someone better get some priority in order here as just like taking away a farmers land and he can’t harvest his crops,you take away a drug addicts means of his addiction they have no choice but to look for alternative solutions.Solace has done a great job in handling things and they are just a few.They to me have done far more in pushing this issue to get it resolved then the government has done in 50 years.JoAnn why don’t you run for Governor?Or President? We could use someone who is a “gitter-done” person.What are we paying people in the government to just sit on their ass in an office and do nothing.Do they not realize that their people who have a drug problem isn’t only the drug addicts problem but their problem too.If you don’t have people you don’t need a government.We need to help these people who have a drug problem,not just lose them in the shuffle because you think they are no benefit to society anymore.Reach out and help them, they are human,they are loved, and they may just be one of your kids or your relatives kids.I lost my son to drugs in 2009 and if it weren’t for SOLACE and all the support they have given me I believe I wouldn’t be writing this today.And for the most part their should be a law stating that any doctor who prescribes medication to a person and that person overdoses on that medication should have to pay for the funeral expenses of that person.I am on a fixed income(but have worked all my life since age 14) and I to this day am paying on my sons funeral bill.That in itself is a big burden to carry.So to the Governor of Ohio I say take some action in the matters at hand.We need these people to help us.And to do that you need to reach out and help them by treating their addiction first and then providing them a job so that they have a better reason to work then to take drugs.Give them life! Give them hope! Show them that they are somebody and somebody does care!

  8. Amy Miller says:

    The basket weaving hillbillies are priceless.

  9. “…the people of Appalachia have been reduced to needy, broken, dope fiends, lying around stoned out of their minds, sucking their thumbs, and waiting for the first of the month to roll around…”
    -Tanner Salyers

    “Wow! As a native of Southeastern Kentucky, I must say that I find your analysis and description of the Appalachian region very insulting. The majority us rural folks are proud, hardworking, God fearing, family loving, Conservatives.”

    First of all, this is mostly a very good article. However, like Genia, I grew up in Eastern Kentucky. Northeastern Kentucky. To be exact, for most of my life I have lived with 3 miles of downtown Portsmouth. And, like Genia, I find Tanner’s description of the region, equally insulting. This passage of an otherwise good article was completely unnecessary and makes the author sound like the “elitists” that the extreme right likes to talk about. I am, in fact, extremely insulted. I am VERY aware of the drug problem in the area, it has touched my family as well. But, this kind of blanket characterization of the people of the area is incredibly offensive, and simply not true of most of the people of the area.

  10. Wait, so how did government regulations force everyone to become an addict?

    Also, conservatives don’t blame their actions (including being a “dope fiend”) on the government.

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