In 2016, the NPR series EMBEDDED did an in-depth examination of the opioid crisis; it was personal and lengthy, painful and informative. It was a perfectly acceptable piece of reporting, but it pales in comparison to THE CRACKDOWN, because there are very few journalism podcasts like THE CRACKDOWN out there anywhere. This is a podcast about opioid addicts made by drug user advocates; it’s a show about a marginalized community made by that very same community. The results are unlike anything I’ve heard in podcasting: the show is a constant gut punch to anyone who’s turned an apathetic blind-eye to addicts, from policy makers to politicians to people on the sidelines of this crisis. The common refrain of the show is “nothing about us without us” and it’s reflected in every minute of the podcast.
THE CRACKDOWN takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia and is hosted by Garth Mullins, a documentarian and someone who injected heroin for a decade. From the very beginning, as the show introduces you to a huge array of drug users, any preconceived notions of how drug users actually think and behave is quickly thrown out the window. Conceptions of users as two-dimensional dope fiends whose lives are entirely defined by their habits are obliterated as you get to hear more users who come from a huge array of lived experiences. In the very first episode, an activist/user takes a stand at a local government meeting to demand that politicians change policies that are killing drug users, and the moment will make your stomach flip. The passion, dedication, and commitment to the community of drug users that the show focuses around seeps into every minute of the show. On CRACKDOWN you won’t find meek junkies begging from the margins, you’ll find people filled with rage who are ready for a passionate fight for their lives and dignity.
There’s a good chance you’ve tried to follow and understand the opioid crisis over the last few years; it’s been impossible to avoid, but I can assure you that there is so much you don’t understand about the complexities of this social problem if you’ve just been reading New York Times articles and NPR pieces about it. If you think the only people who’ve been touched by the crisis are working class white people in the rural United States with pill problems, CRACKDOWN will show you how much more multifaceted the problem actually is, and the full humanity of the people who continue to die from this crisis.
This is what I’ve wanted podcasting to sound like for so long, to stop having outside reporters come inside of communities in crisis and attempt to find a story, and to instead let communities tell their own stories. The team at CRACKDOWN are exceptionally gifted reporters, finding ways to thread conflicting emotions into stories about political fights won and lost and friends who have died. I want to believe that other communities facing similar extreme circumstances could, with a little guidance and the right equipment, start making shows just as powerful. So, start from the very beginning, and let this powerful show wash over you.