Former congressmen Barry Goldwater Jr. and Jason Altmire speak during a panel discussion on political polarization. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Station manager

On Tuesday, former congressmen Barry Goldwater Jr. and Jason Altmire visited the Ohio State campus for two events, one of which was a roundtable discussion with students on the opioid crisis.

This was part of an initiative called Congress to Campus that pairs former Congress members, one Republican and one Democrat, to travel to campuses and discuss political issues with students.

I had the privilege of taking part in this discussion as participant-observer for The Lantern, but perhaps more importantly as a recovering heroin addict.

The discussion was enlightening and heartening for me to see so many people with different backgrounds take a genuine interest in drug abuse, including those who have little to no personal connection with the issue.

The premise of the lunch was to have an informed discussion, not one that is off-the-cuff or based on gut emotions. Essentially, the goal was to not have the type of policy discussions you see on Twitter where it only takes two sentences to go from discussing an issue to personally attacking someone.

As such, participants were provided with reading material that was used as a jumping-off point for discussion. The information was broken down broadly into four policy approaches to the issue: prevention, treatment, enforcement and reducing harm.

As much as the political science major and political columnist in me would love to take this space to talk about policy, I won’t bore readers with that, because the most interesting takeaway was the human element.

As a recovering heroin addict of three and a half years, and a user for four to five years before that, I have seen every conceivable reaction to addiction.

I have been congratulated for my sobriety; I have been called a junkie. I have encountered those who think addicts are the bottom of society’s barrel.

What struck me about this roundtable was the base knowledge people brought with them before we even began reading the provided material. People care about helping others, even addicts, and it is beyond heartening to see. It is nice to know opinion has changed form the “War on Drugs” years; addicts are no longer tossed aside as moral failures.

One moment that will stick with me was one participant who stressed she saw no reason to punish users disproportionately, it just wouldn’t help.

I couldn’t agree more, for a ton of anecdotal reasons I could list, but that someone who was not an addict understood this was amazing.

The scope of the opioid crisis is so severe it even blows me away as someone who was living it just a mere three and a half years ago. For example, fentanyl wasn’t even on my radar when I was using. Now it is everywhere.

I am never shocked by the lengths addicts will go, but I am shocked by the death toll.

But with the elevation of the crisis, it has been amazing to see how the public has embraced the problem with compassion and education. People might never be able to understand an addict’s mindset or what it’s like to use every day, completely devoid of emotion and hope.

The best way I can try to describe it is with lyrics from the Macklemore song “Otherside.”

“Syrup, percocet and an eighth a day will leave you broke, depressed and emotionally vacant… stealing and taking anything to fix the pieces inside/ Broken, hopeless, headed nowhere/ Only motivation for what the dealer’s supplying.”

And, of course, there were moments in the discussion Tuesday, or in my day-to-day conversations with people about opioids, where I can shed light on things that the general public might not quite get or where their perception is slightly off, but they cannot and should not be expected to understand the life of an addict and what that world is like.

But they are trying. They are trying to help.

It cannot be said enough how much support helps in the process of getting sober and seeing the public corale around this issue at a time when it seems more and more wedges are being driven between us. It can only mean good things for the future.