I was in conversation the other day in Mexico with an older man from Virginia who recently lost a brother to cancer. Choked when he remembered how his brother as a child would approach parents on the street to compliment them on the beauty of their offspring, the gentleman added that cancer was not his brother’s only ailment. He was also, he said, a victim of “the other epidemic” – meaning the opioid crisis that caused about 500,000 deaths from overdose in the United States between 1999 and 2019, while still destroying numerous lives through addiction.
The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the overdose phenomenon, with deaths in the US now exceeding 100,000 per year. About 75 percent of this is attributed to opioids – a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic fentanyl and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.
A December article in the New York Times, entitled “Opioids Feel Like Love. That’s Why They Are Deadly in Difficult Times,” explains that such drugs “mimic the neurotransmitters responsible for making social connection comforting – getting older. to bind to child, lover to beloved ”.
The article emphasizes that isolation and loneliness often fuel addiction, and that a quadrupling of overdose mortality rates in the U.S. has occurred over the past few decades coupled with an increase in social isolation. A 2018 survey, for example, “found that only about half of the participants felt that they had someone to turn to most or most of the time”.
It is therefore hardly surprising that coronavirus accommodation protocols and social distancing measures would encourage many Americans to seek substitutes for human contact and love – not that American society has ever been very, um, loving.
To be sure, life can become quite lonely in a country that prefers to spend trillions on war rather than ensure its citizens have adequate access to basic rights such as health care – and where a depraved capitalist system inter-human solidarity actively thwarts in the interest of maintaining a tyranny of the elite.
Speaking of war, the figure of half a million – the number of Americans killed by opioid overdose over two decades – happens to be the same as the number of Iraqi children allegedly killed by US sanctions alone since 1996. When using these statistics confronted at the time, the then US ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, confirmed that “we think the price is worth it”, which encapsulates capitalism’s deadly logic quite perfectly.
So is the case of Purdue Pharma – maker of the massively addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin – owned by billionaire Sackler’s family. As noted in a December 2020 U.S. congressional hearing on the role of Purdue and the Sacklers in the opioid epidemic, “Purdue targeted high-volume prescribers to promote sales of OxyContin, ignoring and working around precautionary measures aimed at reducing prescription opioid abuse. and promote false narratives about their products to divert patients from safer alternatives and divert blame to people struggling with addiction ”.
Indeed, former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler once said in an email that “abusers” of OxyContin (a trademark oxycodone) “are the culprits and the problem”. They are reckless criminals ”- a charming assessment, no doubt, of the person who oversees the reckless flooding of American communities with dangerously addictive drugs.
Purdue Pharma was dissolved in 2021 in a settlement that would make the Sacklers slightly fewer billionaires, a predictable form of “justice” in a country where poor people of color are regularly sentenced to life in prison or forced into other, similar life-destroying to endure. penalties for minor drug-related offenses. The scene becomes all the more morbid when one considers that people addicted to OxyContin often turn to heavily criminalized drugs such as heroin when the so-called “legal” drugs are not available.
During the aforementioned US congressional hearing, one state representative gave his straightforward opinion to David Sackler, a former member of the board of directors of Purdue Pharma: “I’m not sure I’m aware of any family in America that is more evil than yours. .
But while the Sacklers were singled out for allegedly unique scams, Purdue Pharma was merely part of the American way: make a murder of murder. Just ask the arms industry.
The company’s deviation from blame on the victims of its robbery business model is further symptomatic of a domestic neoliberal landscape in which poor individuals are blamed for their failure to succeed in the society that effectively kills them – and makes them pay the bill for the honor.
Other U.S. corporate actors have also faced litigation for their contributions to the opioid epidemic. In November, a federal jury in Ohio found that CVS, Walgreens and Walmart – three of the country’s most prominent pharmacy chains – were complicit in creating a “public nuisance”. And yet it is still a rather banal indictment in a criminal carcass nation where collusion between government and corporations in a lucrative and deadly addiction to capitalism has yielded a system that is utterly ill.
And as long as opioids “feel like love” in an otherwise loveless panorama, there is no end in sight to the crisis.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.