The opiates crisis in the United States has killed more than 105,000* people since 2015. That is almost double the number of US troops that were killed in Vietnam. At the height of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years, the numbers of Americans (mostly poor young people) killed was considered an incalculable loss of life thrown away for no reason.
Yet with almost double that number (which will likely be passed this year), there seems to be little cause of alarm other than the sad sounding voices of politicians promising answers. But we know they really don’t care about working people dying.
Most media accounts of this crisis – in which people are killing themselves to escape the hell of American capitalist society – act as if the problem is a natural disaster, a force that cannot be stopped.
What corporate media accounts don’t tell you is that it was – just like the Vietnam War – a mass murder of working people by the rich.
THE CRISIS IS THE FAULT OF ONE FAMILY
In 1995, Purdue Pharma introduced a drug that would destroy thousands upon thousands of lives. The painkiller OxyContin was marketed to doctors as a drug that would relieve chronic pain with minimal risk.
In fact, the drug was aggressively marketed and the company and the family that owns Purdue Pharma – the Sackler Family – played down the risks of addiction and preyed upon populations most vulnerable to the hype: the elderly and chronic pain sufferers.
Evidence has come to light that the company knew the drug was being abused and was highly addictive, but hid the information from the public. The company and the Sackler family have in recent years has been sued for their role in the tidal wave of death caused by opioid addiction unleashed by OxyContin.
Nevertheless, the explosion of popularity and sales of the drug has made the Sackler family one of the richest families in the United States, with an estimated net worth of around $13 billion.
The Sackler family lives one of the most luxurious lives in history on the backs of hundreds of thousands of deaths. They built a courtyard in a London museum that reportedly was so lavish it shocked a member of the British royal family. They have their name on facilities at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre and the Royal Academy, Harvard and Peking Universities; the Smithsonian, the Guggenheim in New York and the American Museum of Natural History among many, many others.
The capitalist press often has written glorifying stories about the Sackler family for their “philanthropy”. They get the benefit the rich always do, while we pay the price.
WHAT WE GET
While the Sacklers live it up, working and struggling people are dying. Many people become addicted to opiates in part because of the rapidly deteriorating social and political situation in the United States.
After decades of almost no political representation, working class people in the United States are becoming increasingly despondent due to the fact they feel they have no say in a so-called “democracy”.
Also, increasing inequality – a feature, not a bug, of capitalism – is forcing more and more into precarious financial positions. Many working Americans have no savings for an emergency and it is certainly common to see Americans asking for help on social media paying for medical costs.
JP Morgan says student debt has reached $1.5 trillion (with a t) and a slowdown of car and home sales. An increasing sense of financial doom contributes to the feeling of desperation for many working people in the United States.
Life expectancy has declined the last two years in the United States, and the country ranked just 45th in life expectancy in 2017, down from 31st in 2015.
WHAT WE CAN DO
Despite the lawsuits by a number of state and local governments against the Sackler family, we all know they will escape true punishment by a system that rewards the rich, no matter how many working people they kill.
We start by building dual power and alternative institutions to give people a sense they are charting a new course in society together, rather than living in the rot of an empire slumping from crisis to crisis.
We start by reaching out to each other and focusing on ending empire, ending capitalism and patriarchy rather than voting for centrist Democrats who talk resistance but serve up more of the same.
We start by believing working people have the power to take control of their own destiny as a group and looking out for our interests, not those of the rich.
We start by knowing revolution is possible and working every day – together – toward that goal.
*Among the more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with nearly 30,000 overdose deaths according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths (66%) involved a prescription or illicit opioid, according to the CDC. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids rose from 28,647 in 2014 to 33,091 in 2015.