The United States, Canada and Britain are facing an ever-deepening opioid crisis that is destroying lives, families, and communities. The magnitude of the problem is staggering, and it continues to accelerate at a pace that may soon undermine social stability across much of the West.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 300 people die of fentanyl overdoses each day in the United States. Over the course of a 12-month period ending in July 2022, fentanyl poisoning killed 110,236 people in the US.
This figure does not include the tens of millions who are addicted to legal and illegal drugs or who have died of other substances. The American Medical Association’s Issue Brief of December 22, 2022, confirms that “the drug overdose and death epidemic continues to worsen.”
Consider the following: The State of California reports that in the past year, it “seized enough fentanyl to potentially kill the entire population of North America twice.” The Commonwealth Fund also reports that deaths associated with synthetic opioids in Britain and Canada have also been skyrocketing, while the European Union is bracing for an increased influx of opioids.
And ponder the impact on adolescents and children. According to the CDC’s December 2022 Morbidity and Mortality Report,
“Median monthly overdose deaths among persons aged 10-19 years (adolescents) increased 109% from July-December 2019 to July-December 2021; deaths involving illicitly manufactured fentanyls (IMFs) increased 182%. Approximately 90% of deaths involved opioids and 84% involved IMFs. Counterfeit pills were present in nearly 25% of deaths.”
Medical professionals, policymakers, independent-minded journalists, and academics need to confer and begin asking some hard questions about what’s driving the ever-increasing drug use and death rates reported by the CDC. Old approaches and academic paradigms are not working.
A question of perception
The opioid crisis did not materialise out of thin air. On December 22, 2022, the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued a report on “how cartels are exploiting America’s addiction epidemic.” It lamented the “deadly synthetic-drug supply chain.”
The supply-chain metaphor is one side of the story, but there is more to it than that.
While it may be comforting to blame the epidemic on Mexican drug cartels in league with Central American, Colombian and Chinese confederates ruthlessly exploiting insatiable US and Canadian demand for painkillers, the hard reality is that no discussion of the problem is complete if it ignores the well-documented efforts of America’s own Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, and gigantic pharmacy chains (and their astute industry lobbyists) to create and sustain a thriving market for opioids in the United States, with much of academia cheering them on.
According to the CDC, “while the overall opioid dispensing rate in 2020 was 43.3 prescriptions per 100 people, some counties of the United States had rates that were nine times higher than that,” and given that death rates from legal and illegal drugs continue to climb, one must conclude that either US drug policy is woefully deficient or President Joe Biden, his senior team and supporters (such as Governor Gavin Newsom of California) are incompetent or indifferent to the problem, or both.
Mexico, China just one part of the story
The US Drug Enforcement Agency’s “top operational priority [in Texas] is to defeat the two Mexican drug cartels — the Sinaloa and Jalisco (CJNG) Cartels — that are primarily responsible for the fentanyl that is killing Americans today.” That should be the priority of all 50 US states and Mexico.
Moreover, according to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, “the links between Chinese and Mexican actors in the fentanyl trade have grown in complexity, including the development of sophisticated money-laundering operations.”
It is widely understood that the Chinese and Mexican governments haven’t done enough to stop the export to the United States, Canada and other countries of their domestically produced fentanyl, fentanyl-related substances (analogs), and chemical inputs (precursors) that go into making “final product” fentanyl. So it is certainly fair to hold China and Mexico accountable for their (nefarious) actions.
Nevertheless, the US and Canada need to look to their own culpability stemming from the moral relativism that undergirds the ideological presuppositions of so many of their elites and elite institutions, and that would include a reassessment of the academy’s blind homage to neoliberalism.
Bad ideas and flawed thinking pervasive
Most ruling elites in the US and Canada have embraced the anthropology of egocentrism that is part and parcel of the moral relativism that informs their worldview.
This is an anthropology — a concept of the human person, if you will — that worships absolute personal autonomy, sees man as sufficient to himself, believes religion is a private matter (if it has any value at all), delights in self-realisation as an ultimate good and embraces a neo-Nietzschean “will-to-power” to satisfy every need and every want and every craving.
This philosophical framework, which nurtures ideological neoliberalism, also believes in perpetual progress, that is, the notion that history is inexorably moving the planet Earth (despite its limited and shrinking resources) to some historically determined state of prosperity, which will achieve the greatest good for the greatest number, even if some have to be sacrificed on the altar of population control along the way.
In essence, this worldview undermines society’s ability to hold the line on drug use. When push comes to shove, there is a howling emptiness at the core of modern life that is a consequence of the marginalisation of religion, the collapse of the family, the hollowing out of the national economy as jobs move overseas.
The result is a large population of at-risk people ill-equipped to meet the challenges of life. They go through life in a free fall plummeting toward terra firma without a parachute. In that state of affairs, opioids look like a good alternative to a hard landing. Academia and Big Media do next to nothing to help with their incessant promotion of value-free, libertine behaviour.
An e-magazine recently enthused effusively over a psychedelic drug called “magic mushrooms,” in an obvious attempt to convince the reader of the excellence of hallucinogenic drugs: “People all over the world have come to see them as nature’s gift that offers a taste of magic.”
This gift of nature also offers a taste of hallucination, anxiety, confusion, panic, and the untethering of the senses, while causing untold stress to family and friends. What fun.
The dominant narrative
The ruling elites promote the principles of “harm reduction,” that is, “a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.” Throwing more money at the problem and individualising treatments post facto will not lessen the overall demand for opioids or hallucinogenic substances any time soon.
The US Department of Health and Human Services’ “Overdose Prevention Strategy” offers to help “people where they are, without judgment, stigma, or discrimination” and states that “individuals inherently deserve services that promote health, regardless of whether they use drugs.” That is all well and good but reeks of desperation and misses the deeper problem exacerbated by the “hyper-selfie” mindset.
Presidents Biden and Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met in Mexico on January 9 to discuss how to reduce the production and transport of drugs into North America. But if the US State Department’s readout of the meeting is any indication, it’s unlikely any real progress will be made beyond the usual sound bites and misleading statements about border security.
And it certainly will not help dampen the opioid crisis in Canada that Health Canada granted on January 31 “any resident of the province of British Columbia [the right] to possess 2.5 grams of Ecstasy, crack, cocaine or heroin — and even the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl — without fear of criminal charge. The province will no longer arrest, prosecute, fine or jail drug users, nor will it seize their drugs,” according to The Guardian.
Be that as it may, without a change in the dominant worldview and culture of self-realisation and self-absorption, the growth in the use of opioids won’t fall until the ruling elites in government, academia, and Big Media — the ones who create the narrative for the population at large — come to understand that the human person does not exist to seek pleasure (or minimise pain) but to achieve greatness through magnanimity and service to others.
Journalist Thomas Fazi, in an article titled “The Curse of Lifestyle Leftism” (Compact, June 19, 2022), quotes Sahra Wagenknecht, member of the German Bundestag for Die Linke (The Left), observing, astutely, that the political left “no longer places social and political-economic problems at the center of left-wing politics.
In the place of such concerns, they promote questions regarding lifestyle, consumption habits, and moral attitudes.” This is true of the left not only in Germany but throughout the collective West.
Fazi describes “lifestyle leftism” as “urban, cosmopolitan, pro-globalization, pro-immigration, pro-identity politics. They are equally oblivious to the fact that the institutions and policies they support — the European Union, poorly managed immigration, ‘flexible’ labor markets — have benefited big capital while making the lives of working-class people more precarious.”
Lifestyle leftists may be perfectly decent folk but, blinded by ideology, their natural capacity for prudent decision-making gives way to wishful thinking, leadership virtues give way to virtue signalling, and nobility degenerates into pettifoggery. When comfort (and relief of pain and illness), entitlement, and “rights” without responsibilities, become paramount in a person’s life, the common good is secondary, if indeed the concept retains any meaning.
The philosophical underpinnings of modern lifestyle politics (to which not only the left is susceptible) has helped spawn and energises the opioid crisis. The drug cartels are well aware of the spreading moral rot, of the howling emptiness at the core of modern life in the US. This encourages them to gamble that demand for their nefarious products will continue to grow.
And with a US border that’s wide open, the Mexican cartels and Tse Chi Lops (China’s drug kingpin) of this world are confident they’re making a pretty safe bet.
The more we insist on comfortable, pain-free lives (with euthanasia waiting in the wings … just in case), the more we will rely on narcotics, potions, pills, mushrooms, stimulants, and elixirs to affect the desired “out-of-body” experience. But out-of-body means out-of-this-world. The more we decouple from reality, the more we will be putty in the hands of reprehensible and wicked actors of whatever stripe. Pick your own bogeyman.
Perhaps the economic toll of the opioid crisis — US$1.5 trillion in 2020 according to the Senate Joint Economic Committee (September 2022) — will cause people to reflect on the link between personal behaviour and the common good.
In the meantime, the United States must clamp down on the external threat coming from Mexico, China, and other countries such as Canada and from such non-state actors as organised crime syndicates. It should also move to shut down US-based opioid laboratories, which constitute a growing menace.
In the case of China, it will be up to the US House of Representatives through its newly established “Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party” to come up with sensible actions that go beyond the usual panoply of tired statements, bluster and counterproductive browbeating.
At the same time, we need to re-examine the deep anthropological questions driving the demand for opioids, because unless we do, “harm reduction” methodologies, and more money and enforcement will not work.
Those who would profit from the pain, suffering and despair of vulnerable people should be given no quarter. And academics who contribute to this calamity should vacate their ivory towers long enough to see what grief their inane teachings have visited on their countrymen.
This article has been republished with permission from Asia Times. Read the original article here.