The Opioid Epidemic in the United States, 2021 Edition | Opinions

The other day in Mexico I met an elderly man from Virginia who had recently lost a brother to cancer. He gulped as he remembered his brother approaching parents on the street as a child to compliment them on the beauty of their offspring, adding that cancer wasn’t his brother’s only ailment. He was also a victim of the “other epidemic” – that is, the opioid crisis that caused around 500,000 overdose deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2019, while destroying countless other lives through addiction.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the overdose phenomenon, with the number of deaths in the US now exceeding 100,000. About 75 percent of these are attributed to opioids – a class of drugs that includes heroin, synthetic fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers like oxycodone.

A December article in the New York Times titled “Opioids Feel Like Love. That is why they are deadly in difficult times, ”explains that such drugs“ mimic the neurotransmitters responsible for calming social connections – parenting to children, lover to lover ”.

The article points out that isolation and loneliness often fuel addiction, and that in the United States, overdose death rates have increased fourfold over the past few decades and social isolation has increased. For example, a 2018 survey found that “only about half of respondents felt they had someone to turn to all or most of the time”.

It is hardly surprising, then, that coronavirus home-stay protocols and social distancing measures would lead many Americans to seek substitutes for human contact and affection – not that U.S. society has ever been very, um, loving.

Of course, life can get pretty lonely in a country that prefers to spend trillions on wars rather than ensuring its citizens have adequate access to basic rights like health care – and where a depraved capitalist system is actively thwarting for the sake of human solidarity Maintaining a tyranny of the elite.

Speaking of war, the half a million figure – the number of Americans killed by opioid overdoses in two decades – happens to be the number of Iraqi children reportedly killed by U.S. sanctions in 1996 alone. Given these statistics at the time, then-US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, reiterated that “we think the price is worth it,” which embodies the deadly logic of capitalism pretty well.

This also applies to Purdue Pharma – maker of the massively addictive prescription pain reliever, OxyContin – owned by the billionaire Sackler family. As noted in a December 2020 US Congress hearing on the role of Purdue and the Sacklers in the opioid epidemic, “Purdue targeted high volume prescribers to boost sales of OxyContin, ignoring and working on safeguards to stop the abuse should reduce prescription opioids and promoted “false narratives about their products to discourage patients from safer alternatives and to divert blame onto people struggling with addiction”.

In fact, former Purdue manager Richard Sackler once stated in an email that “abusers” of OxyContin (a brand of oxycodone) were “the culprits and the problem.” They are ruthless criminals “- undoubtedly a charming assessment of the person overseeing the ruthless flooding of US communities with dangerous addictive substances.

Purdue Pharma was resolved in 2021 in a settlement that will turn the Sacklers into slightly smaller billionaires, a predictable form of “justice” in a country where poor black people are regularly sentenced to life imprisonment or forced to endure other equally life-destroying things Penalties for minor drug offenses. The scene becomes all the more disgusting when you consider that OxyContin addicts often resort to heavily criminalized drugs such as heroin when the so-called “legal” ones are not available.

During the above-mentioned hearing before the US Congress, a representative from the state of David Sackler, a former board member of Purdue Pharma, gave his clear opinion: “I am not sure if I know of any family in America who are worse than yours “.

But while the Sacklers were selected for supposedly uniquely nefarious machinations, Purdue Pharma was just part and parcel of the American journey: turning killing into murder. Just ask the defense industry.

The company’s blame on the victims of its predatory business model is also symptomatic of a domestic neoliberal landscape where poor people are blamed for failing in the society that is effectively killing them – and they get the bill for the honors .

Other US corporate actors have also been tried for their contribution to the opioid epidemic. In November, a federal jury in Ohio found that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart – three of the most famous pharmacy chains in the country – were involved in creating a “public nuisance.” Yet this is still a fairly mundane indictment in a criminally incarcerated nation where government-corporate collusion in a profitable and deadly dependence on capitalism has spawned a thoroughly sick system.

And as long as opioids “feel like love” in an otherwise loveless panorama, there is no end to the crisis in sight.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own views and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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