What would you do if you found a person dead from a drug overdose while you wereout jogging in your neighbourhood? And nobody could tell you her real name or where she came from? If you are freelance journalist Waylon Choy, you use your decades of experience as a reporter to interview people and chase down leads to write the story of one of the tens of thousands of people who die every year in North America’s opioid epidemic.
Choy, who has recently taken a substantial buyout from his long-time employer, the Vancouver Sun newspaper, and sold his house at the height of a historic real estate boom to move in with his father, finally feels financially secure enough to become a freelance journalist and write about whatever interests him. Or to take on clients willing to pay for his almost 25 years of experience at one of Canada’s most important daily newspapers, but only if the story interests him.
On the same day he promises to discover who the dead junkie was, a powerful businessman offers him a lucrative contract that makes Choy uncomfortable, but it is hard to turn down his first paying customer, especially one who also offers to help his father out of financial jam. As Choy grapples with the complicated ethics of earning a living as a freelancer, he prefers to focus on his search for the dead woman, but learns that agreeing to work for a powerful patron comes with numerous strings, perhaps chains, attached.
He decides to assert his independence by travelling to Los Angeles where it appears the dead junkie once lived, but rather than escape the tentacles of his “boss” Choy finds himself in the middle of a war between two rival drug lords. Journalists and innocent bystanders are killed.
“Donald Trump once was quoted as saying that the only effective way to combat drug dealers was to legalize the products they sold,” says War on Drugs author Gary Engler. “But once elected president, he has presided over an administration that continues the same old failed policies.”
“Just like war created a powerful military-industrial complex, the war on drugs created a police-prison complex that sucks billions of tax dollars into a destructive, racist, but profit-producing-for-some system that fights any common sense reform of its failed policies.”
But, Engler says, now that opioid crisis kills tens of thousands of “regular” White people every year in North America, more legislators are taking the problem and its solutions seriously.
“I spent half my life in East Vancouver where addiction has long been a major problem with an obvious solution,” said Engler. “But it wasn’t until drug users got together and organized to fight for their rights that various levels of government began to admit that the war on drugs never had a chance of victory.”
“Decriminalization and treating addicts for the medical problems they have are the obvious solutions.”
Choy, the main character in the FAKE NEWS series has lived in East Vancouver his whole life, seen the junkies and even written about some of the problems associated with the growing opioid epidemic, but not until he begins to search for one human face among its victims does he really pay attention to the problems and possible solutions.
“‘Personalize the story’ is a common request from an editor to a reporter when covering some issue, especially a failed public policy,” said Engler. “It’s cliché in the newsroom because it works. People relate much better to the personal than to the abstract. It makes the issue real.”
“War on Drugs is about a journalist trying to personalize the opioid crisis.”
The novel is also about the bigger forces that shape drug policy: politics, immense profits, corruption, foreign affairs, entrenched, self-serving bureaucracies and violence. “These are all in the book, but most of all this is a fast-moving tale about a journalist risking his life to report the truth,” says Engler.