Oklahoma's troubles

It’s the best of times for Oklahoma — at least in terms of making the New York Times. Oklahoma has recently made the Times for its stark decline of life expectancy of uneducated, middle-aged whites; the killings of unarmed black suspects by police; opioid addiction; the budget crisis; and the damage it has done to schools.

On Aug. 24, the nation’s newspaper of record reported how health officials in Oklahoma City are “… staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of a disease that, for nearly two decades, was considered all but extinguished.”

Syphilis linked to drug epidemic

Most doctors haven’t treated a case of syphilis since the 1990s, but the Times’ Jan Hoffman reports that Oklahoma City has one of the biggest outbreaks in the nation. Many of the Oklahomans who have it were unaware of the disease. The spread of syphilis is “… another consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine epidemics, as users trade sex for drugs.”

The nation can now read about the 200 open cases of sex partners that the state health department seeks. They get to read about a search that “… has led them to members of 17 gangs; to drug dealers; to prostitutes, pimps and johns; and to their spouses and lovers, all caught in the disease’s undertow.”

And, surprise! Part of the problem is budget cutbacks. Hoffman reports:

In 2012, half of state programs that address sexually transmitted infections experienced reductions; funding has largely stayed flat since then. The Trump administration has proposed a 17 percent cut to the federal prevention budget.

Proper funding would make the difference

And so, Oklahoma’s worst of times make for ripe headlines in the New York Times. On the other hand, what if the national press could write more about Oklahomans like the hero of the piece, Erinn Williams, the city’s lead field investigator into the syphilis outbreak? Given Williams’ tenacity, if she and her team received proper funding, I bet we’d see impressive results. And that would likely hold true with the other Oklahomans who struggle against odds so great that their frustrations make The Gray Lady.