Mar 01, 2018

Andrew Sullivan on the opioid crisis

Andrew Sullivan's essay on the US opioid crisis (a) is compelling (though not critical enough of Rat Park (a)).

It's somewhat hard to excerpt; the passage about how scope insensitive we are is good:

And so we wait to see what amount of death will be tolerable in America as the price of retaining prohibition. Is it 100,000 deaths a year? More? At what point does a medical emergency actually provoke a government response that takes mass death seriously? Imagine a terror attack that killed over 40,000 people. Imagine a new virus that threatened to kill 52,000 Americans this year. Wouldn’t any government make it the top priority before any other?

In some ways, the spread of fentanyl – now beginning to infiltrate cocaine, fake Adderall, and meth, which is also seeing a spike in use – might best be thought of as a mass poisoning. It has infected often nonfatal drugs and turned them into instant killers. Think back to the poison discovered in a handful of tainted Tylenol pills in 1982. Every bottle of Tylenol in America was immediately recalled; in Chicago, police went into neighborhoods with loudspeakers to warn residents of the danger. That was in response to a scare that killed, in total, seven people. In 2016, 20,000 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids, a form of poison in the illicit drug market. Some lives, it would appear, are several degrees of magnitude more valuable than others. Some lives are not worth saving at all.

Also this part:

What has happened in the past few decades is an accelerated waning of all these traditional American supports for a meaningful, collective life, and their replacement with various forms of cheap distraction. Addiction – to work, to food, to phones, to TV, to video games, to porn, to news, and to drugs – is all around us. The core habit of bourgeois life – deferred gratification – has lost its grip on the American soul. We seek the instant, easy highs, and it’s hard not to see this as the broader context for the opioid wave. This was not originally a conscious choice for most of those caught up in it: Most were introduced to the poppy’s joys by their own family members and friends, the last link in a chain that included the medical establishment and began with the pharmaceutical companies. It may be best to think of this wave therefore not as a function of miserable people turning to drugs en masse but of people who didn’t realize how miserable they were until they found out what life without misery could be. To return to their previous lives became unthinkable. For so many, it still is.