According to recent federal data, deaths from drug overdoses skyrocketed in 2020 – an increase of 30% compared to 2019. It was the highest number of overdose deaths recorded in a 12-month period in the history of the United States.
“We have never seen that ever, a 30 percent increase,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That such an increase in drug abuse happened during the pandemic is hardly a surprise. As a result of the horrible mismanagement of the pandemic by capitalist governments worldwide, billions have been forced into ever more precarious situations. The pandemic has extended way beyond what it could have been had the world’s governments enacted a coordinated response, with adequate testing, tracing, and vaccination for all. The United States government has been one of the worst in that regard, leading to a disastrous increase in unemployment and poverty during this long health crisis. In the face of these problems together with the social isolation created by the prolonged pandemic, many have turned to painkillers of various kinds, including addictive opioids that can be easily abused in conditions of extreme psychological distress.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse also cited the widespread proliferation of Fentanyl as contributing to the rise in overdoses. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more potent than other opioids such as morphine or heroin, making the risk of overdose even greater. Government data suggests roughly 57,000 people died from fentanyl overdoses last year. In fact, according to an NPR report on the opioid crisis, “if current trends continue, illicit drugs will soon kill more Americans every day than COVID-19.”
As with most of the disasters plaguing our society today, the opioid crisis is manufactured by the capitalist system. The pandemic has continued for so long because of the priority given to corporate profits over human need. Any public policy that runs contrary to the profits of corporations will never be implement by the governments of the world, because their very purpose is to serve the capitalists who own these corporations. These twisted priorities during the pandemic have amplified alienation, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that are already common in capitalist society.
Most overdoses are deaths of despair. Not all of us suffer from extreme depression or risk of suicide or overdose, but we all know people who experience these problems. And all workers suffer from various burdens of capitalism, such as overwork, alienation, stress, and insecurity. To put an end to this misery we must get rid of the rotting system of capitalism, which only serves a tiny minority of billionaires at the expense of everyone else.
A different society is possible, but the ruling capitalists and their politicians will never build it for us. When we stop pinning our hopes on the current rulers and start taking things into our own hands, things can begin to change.