I was deeply troubled to hear of a potential drug-induced cannibal attack in Florida in the last week. In the horrifying and gruesome and inhumane assault, a naked male, supposedly on a synthetic form of a hallucinogenic drug, tore the clothes off of a homeless man and proceeded to eat his face for a grueling 18-minutes. When officers arrived, the attacker did not respond to police orders and the man was shot 4 times (and killed) in order to stop the attack.
While the attack in itself if horrifying, what furthers the disgust is the comical reaction made by internet patrons. Attempting to make light of the situation, the incident has been termed as the coming of the zombie apocalypse. Not taking into account the life lost, the horrifying attack, or the issue of substance abuse seriously, the American people continue to sink to new lows in vain attempts of comedy. For those who have partaken in this juvenile form of humor, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Perhaps I am overreacting a bit. However, I work with criminals and substance abusers. I see firsthand everyday what illicit drugs can do to the body and mind. Because many users are under some form of monitored sobriety, they cannot freely use their drug of choice as fear of further legal consequence looms. In desperate attempts to get their fix, many are drawn towards synthetic drugs. What this means is that the user goes to a local convenient store and buys something advertized as a product “not for human consumption” but is sold for just that. Marijuana users buy incense or spices that are not used for aromatic purposes, but are rather smoked to attain a marijuana-like high. What results, rather, is a high minute compared to the actual drug and side-effects that are much worse than the real drug. We are now seeing the same thing with the new street hallucinogenic drug, “bath salts.” This is what is purported to be abused in the cannibal case. Bath salts are legal in most states, but are by no means the same bathing aid that one can purchase at a local beauty store. False advertisement looms large to conceal what is actually being sold. The street drug bath salts are a hallucinogenic powder which produces a high like one can find in methamphetamine, cocaine or LCD (or some combination of these). What comes with this high are bizarre hallucinations, heightened determination and aggression. In the Florida case, if the man was indeed under the powerful influence of bath salts, it can be assumed that he had some hallucination which led him to the brutal attack. By no means will this drug lead to a series of cannibalistic attacks. What this case does portray is the danger of not only drugs, but falsely advertized synthetic substances with dangerous side-effects. These synthetic drugs are legal to purchase and are readily available. This is no joking matter and one which ought to be addressed with a great deal of seriousness. American culture has romanticized drug use, or in some capacity have downplayed its role in society. For those that still see substance abuse as a problem, many do not know how to deal with the subject. Whether one views addiction as a disease, a choice, or a result of habit (my view), the issue is a cancer to culture. When one obscure case like the Florida attack make national headlines, the reception that is met is not one of concern for the person or the issue. What is instead seen are ill-fated jokes about the headline.
What I purport to be at the root of the issue is a poorly adopted view of the person. I overheard the Florida attack being discussed at a local coffee shop in Denver. One of the people made a zombie joke. Another at the table was not so amused and retorted with a serious comment about the victim. The joker replied with a horrifying statement, “the victim was just a homeless guy.” Culture views people in less than desirable circumstances as lesser in themselves. This is wrong. In adopting the Christian view of imago dei, all people contain the image of God despite their sin. So, the homeless man and the attacker, the drug-induced man who is now seen as a zombie, are of equal status in creation. God loves them as he loves you. Human plight, whether it be economic or chosen lifestyle, ought not be mocked. The response that should meet these people should be compassion (in whatever form possible). Take seriously the Great Commission. And love your neighbor. Understand the seriousness of drug use. Engage and give responsibly to the homeless. They may be less fortunate, but they are not lesser people.