2 of a Farmer’s 3 Children Overdosed. What of the Third — and the Land?
BLANCHESTER, Ohio — A life of farming taught Roger Winemiller plenty about harsh twists of fate: hailstorms and drought, ragweed infestations and jittery crop prices. He hadn’t bargained on heroin.
Then, in March 2016, Mr. Winemiller’s daughter, Heather Himes, 31, died of an opioid overdose at the family farmhouse, inside a first-floor bathroom overlooking fields of corn and soybeans. Mr. Winemiller was the one who unlocked the bathroom door and found her slumped over, a syringe by her side.
Nine months later, Mr. Winemiller’s older son, Eugene, 37, who once drove trucks and tractors on the family’s 3,400-acre farm, overdosed at his mother’s home. Family members and medics had been able to revive him after earlier overdoses. Not this one.
Overdoses are churning through agricultural pockets of America like a plow through soil, tearing at rural communities and posing a new threat to the generational ties of families like the Winemillers.
Farm bureaus’ attention to seed, fertilizer and subsidies has been diverted to discussions of overdoses. Volunteer-run heroin support groups are popping up in rural towns where clinics and drug treatment centers are an hour’s drive away, and broaching public conversations about addiction and death that close-knit neighbors and even some families of the dead would prefer to keep out of view.
And at the end of a long gravel driveway, Mr. Winemiller, 60, has been thinking about the uncertain seasons ahead. His last surviving son, Roger T. Winemiller, 35, spent years using prescription pain pills, heroin and methamphetamines, and was jailed for a year on drug charges. He is now in treatment and living with his father.
The son dreams of taking over the farm someday. The father is wary.
“Would I like to have one of my kids working the farm, side by side, carrying my load when I can’t?” Mr. Winemiller said. “Yes. But I’m a realist.”
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Photo: Ty Wright for The New York Times