America’s Pastime and America’s Epidemic

Tyler Skaggs pitching for the Los Angeles Angels. His death earlier this season was a tragedy. And the reaction to the news that he had fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his system, demonstrates the strength of the stigma around addiction and drug use in this country, a stigma that needs to change. Photo by Jayne Kamin – Oncea/Getty Images, used here in accordance with the fair use doctrine. 

Earlier this season, the Los Angeles Angels and Major League Baseball in general experienced a tragedy when young pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his Texas hotel room. Yesterday, the medical examiner’s report came out, showing his death was the result of a combination of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his system. Sadly, this moment brings together America’s pastime and America’s epidemic.

Any death is tragic. Tyler Skaggs’ death is no more or less tragic merely because he had reached the highest stage in baseball. Yet, it draws more publicity. And the reaction to the overdose reveals a tragically apathetic attitude toward drug addiction, the opioid epidemic, and overdoses.

I cannot speculate about what was going on in Tyler Skaggs’ life that led him to that moment. That is not fair to him or his memory. Yet generally speaking, societal pressures and co-occurring mental health issues are often present in cases of addiction and overdose. And despite the fact none of the people reacting to Tyler Skaggs’ death online knew what was happening, many of them were willing to judge him for his death. They were willing to judge him as weak, or as some how defective because he died as the result of having these substances in his system.

Drug addiction, like mental illness, is a disease. It changes the way the body reacts to certain stimuli. Rather than reacting to this epidemic with judgment and stigma, we need to learn how to react to these tragedies with compassion and sympathy. Such a transition will help make it easier for those who struggle with these demons to come forward and get help. Unfortunately it is too late for Tyler Skaggs, but if we end the stigma, maybe we can save lives in the future.

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