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Dopey Day: A Holiday To Rival The Opioid Epidemic

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Photo used with permission from the Dopey Podcast

The most heartbreaking thing I have ever heard a podcast host say are the words Dave Manheim utters in the first thirty nine seconds of episode 143 of the Dopey podcast.

The episode, which aired on July 27, 2018, begins with Manheim saying: “Hello, and welcome to Dopey, the podcast about drugs, addiction and dumb shit.” It is the usual preamble for the show, however, on this day Manheim’s voice is coarse and weighty, his usual light, affable tone is absent. His demeanor is an imposing foreshadowing for the words that come next: “The worst thing that could’ve ever happened, happened. Chris relapsed and died.” His voice does not waiver during his announcement, but the grief slips in between the cadences of his breath. It’s there, in the words he isn’t saying, and comes in waves, the way grief does, throughout the duration of the episode.

Chris and Dave had met at a drug treatment center in Connecticut in 2011. The podcast however, didn’t come to fruition until 2016. Both having returned to active addiction before each getting sober again, the first couple of years of the podcast has a sort of fast and loose, ’90s, cable access quality to it. Dave and Chris cajole and tease each other to no end with fraternal intimacy, making listening to those early episodes feeling almost voyeuristic. There is an ongoing bit at the closing of the show, wherein Chris signs off the episode by saying “toodles” and Dave repeatedly asks him not to say it—episode after episode this goes on, and it just gets funnier and funnier each time. 

Episode 143 aired just three days after Chris O’Connor’s girlfriend had found him lying unresponsive on their bedroom floor. 

Manheim’s announcement seems to come out of thin blue air, the listeners never never seeing it coming.

I didn’t, either.

Admittedly, at this point in Dopey history I was in a non-committal relationship with the show. I was what a chronic relapser is to AA—in and out, but always coming back. I enjoyed Chris and Dave, their timing and comedic banter; they were like Rowan and Martin, if Rowan and Martin had been in and out of dozens of rehabs. Dave and Chris were 12-step friendly, but were also clear to point out that Dopey was not a “recovery podcast”. 

The irony of the show’s “drugs, addiction, and dumb shit” tagline, is not lost on me. I have often pondered that overdosing is quite possibly the dumbest of the dumb shit. While that may sound crass, as a former heroin addict myself, I mean it in the most endearing, gallows humor way possible. I mean it in the same way when I curse my friends whose lives have been cut short by overdosing. I’m not mad at them, but with my lips trembling, doubled over with grief, and snot streaming down my face, I curse the way in which they have left this earth. In a recent conversation with Manheim he told me, “Dopey Day is always painful,” and I get it. It just doesn’t get easier, not ever. 

16 minutes into episode 143 Dave calls Chris’ girlfriend Annie. They backtrack through Chris’ recent actions, a task I am also familiar with. It is not unlike detective work, stringing red yarn from one point to another to connect the dots. It’s the maddening and frustrating process of trying to make it all make sense, and if you have ever lost anyone to addiction, you are familiar with this process. Dave recounts a bevy of mistakes and errors Chris had made prior to his overdose. During the taping of episode 142, Chris had used Dave’s last name, which at the time was not done. Both hosts went by first name only, adding a sort of quasi-twelve step anonymity to the show. In addition, Chris had forgotten to include the theme song on the episode. At one point Dave confronts Chris, saying, “If you were using, you should know that you should tell me and we can take care of it.”

Chris’ reply to this is evasive at best, when he says, “You as well”.

I believe it is no coincidence (mostly because I don’t believe in coincidences), that the Dopey Podcast hit 10 million downloads, on the 5 year anniversary of O’Connor‘s death. It is poignant and bittersweet, in a way that is endemic of the time we live in.

At the time of Chris’s death, the landscape of the drug-using world was in the throes of devastating change. Fentantyl, a drug that almost no one had heard of outside of a hospital setting, was rapidly creeping into the drug supply in nearly every major city.

The Fentanyl problem however is further compounded by the fact that what is showing up in the drug supply is predominantly made illegally, without the guidelines, quality control, or safety precautions of the pharmaceutical variety. The CDC reports that, “…most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, making the drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous.” 

There’s also something called the “chocolate chip cookie effect,” wherein one portion of a drug may contain a lethal amount of fentanyl.

In 2018, on what would have been O’Connor’s birthday, Manheim, honored his former cohost by asking listeners to place the Dopey logo over their eyes in remembrance of Chris and others like him.  

This month will mark the 5th Dopey Day. 

Since the first Dopey Day in 2018, a lot has changed.

Countless listeners and members of the Dopey nation have succumbed to fatal overdoses of Fentanyl, a drug described by the DEA as, “…a potent synthetic opioid drug. Administration for use as an analgesic and anesthetic. It is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin as an analgesic.”

Of course, the Fentanyl the DEA is speaking of here is legally made, pharmaceutical-grade.

Wednesday, August 16th 2023, Chris O’Connor would have been 39. He is just one of many who has lost their lives to a drug overdose in recent years. The NIH reports that, “drug overdose deaths rose from 2019 to 2021 with more than 106,000 drug overdose deaths reported in 2021. Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 2021. Those involving stimulants, including cocaine or psychostimulants with abuse potential (primarily methamphetamine), also continued to increase with 32,537 overdose deaths in 2021.”

Harm reduction therapist Nata Oberg, echoed those statistics by adding: “That’s one overdose every 5 minutes in the United States.” 

In many ways, the show itself is a continued tribute to Chris O’Connor and his essence is ominously present in every episode. This year you can honor Chris and hundreds of thousands of others by covering your eyes with the dopey podcast logo on Wednesday August 16th (there is an actual filter that will do it for you on Instagram), and posting it in solidarity on social media platforms.

Help to end the stigma, help by educating people, carrying narcan, and by acknowledging those who need help in your community. Fentanyl is not simply a drug problem, it is a community problem.

I once could count off all the people I had lost to an overdose on my hands, but I ran out of fingers a long time ago…