by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 20
October 2021
Chart
15:00

The synthetic drugs destroying America

Deaths are exploding across all ethnic groups and around the country
by Peter Franklin

America’s opioid epidemic is as complex as it is terrifying. It should be impossible to summarise the key trends in one chart, but nevertheless here it is:


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It comes from new research published in the Journal of Urban Health. It’s behind a paywall, but the chart was tweeted out by one of the authors, Alexander Tsai.

It shows opioid-related deaths in each state from 1999 to 2019. This is still a regionalised phenomenon, with deaths exploding in some states but not others. However, the stereotype of this being a problem for poor whites in rust belt states no longer holds. Opioid deaths are also climbing fast among sections of the black population too. The near vertical trend in Washington DC is especially alarming.

The geography of the epidemic is changing, but so is its chemistry — thanks to the spread of synthetic opioids. The potency of these substances, especially fentanyl, has made it much easier for users to overdose. Their extreme concentration means that they’re also easier to smuggle compared to bulkier plant-based drugs like heroin.

In a stunning long-read for The Atlantic, Sam Quinones writes about the chemical revolution in America’s other synthetic drug epidemic — the trade in crystal methamphetamine.

As dramatised in Breaking Bad, innovations in the manufacturing of the drug allowed a ‘purer’ product to be made from cheaper ingredients. Prices and profit margins have come tumbling down. However, the criminal trade has adapted just like any other economic sector in the same position: by increasing volumes.

The consequence is a growing population of meth addicts. Indeed, among some users, the new meth is winning market share from opioids. In part that’s a function of price and availability, but also because the risk of overdose is lower. As Quinones puts it, “you don’t typically overdose and die on meth; you decay.”

Compared to the old meth, the new cheaper meth has a particularly devastating impact on the mental health of its users. Thus the meth epidemic means a mental illness epidemic and consequently a homelessness epidemic too. The evidence can be seen in the lawless encampments of Los Angeles and San Francisco — the toleration of which has created an environment in which addictions are reinforced and financed.

Unfortunately, while these epidemics grow and mutate at breathtaking speed, the public debate over drug policy is still stuck in the past. Liberalising drug laws will not the make the problem disappear as if by magic. Unless we systematically dismantle the conditions that lead to and perpetuate addiction, then the legal situation is of secondary importance. The dealers will still find a way of meeting demand — and won’t care about the damage they do in the process.

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James Joyce
James Joyce
1 year ago

It is not synthetic drugs destroying America, it is the war on “illegal” drugs. I’m a former prosecutor, including stints as a narcotics prosecutor, and the war is far worse than the drugs. Stupid and ineffective, like the embargo on Cuba. Been going on for 60+ years and dammit, maybe this will be the year! Maybe this will be the year the USA will win the war on drugs, as it has won the wars on: poverty, Vietnam, Afghanistan, racism, and maybe this will be the year that the Cuban embargo will finally work. Or maybe not….
Legalization of all drugs is the only possible solution, and please note that this is very different from saying that drugs or good, or that I am encouraging your third grader to smoke crack. I’m not.
Even recreational drugs are bad for most people, though is my use of weed better or worse than your reaching for the Pinot (figuratively, not literally)?
But drug use, abuse, and addiction is a health and hopelessness issue, not a criminal problem (until the addiction become so severe that the addicts resort to criminal acts). This should be treated as a medical problem and the victims/addicts with compassion. The quality of life has been declining, often steeply, for the middle class since, say 1960, maybe 1970, but at least 50 years. This hopelessness, somewhat understandably, leads to drug addiction. The Golden Age of the USA is long gone, and these addicts are collateral damage.
That being said, it’s not nice that China and Mexico either provide these chemicals in huge amounts or the precursor chemicals and are a huge part of the distribution scheme (seems that it is more efficient than the global supply chain for legitimate goods, but who knows?). They only do this because it is profitable, and keeping drugs illegal is a guarantee of profitability. If there is more $ to be made in human smuggling, or smuggling avocados (yes, that is really a thing in Mexico), the bad guys will shift to other things. So let’s remove the profit motive.
Finally, can we stop analyzing absolutely everything by race and ethnicity? Red lines/graphs not helpful when racialized. The former Yugoslavia divided up the spoils by ethnic group and Lebanon’s constitution does the same, and these are thriving models of multi-ethic societies.
Oh, wait, my bad….didn’t they have civil wars? Civil War coming in the USA, in part because of divisiveness like these charts. Lock and load.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The insistence on dividing people into ethnic groups is something that has been insisted upon in the name of ‘equality’. It has spawned a whole industry. We no longer make things but we are very good at creating problems, grievance and endless division. Who does that serve?

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

Ha! The grievance-mongers make a VERY nice living from it.

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Great comment although I hope you’re wrong about the civil war part.
I still believe the pervading sense of hopelessness is behind most of the woke movement. Too many young people with little chance of a decent career and future. They see the system is broken but don’t see a way to fix it so why not break it. The solution is an overhaul of American society to better adapt it to the post-industrial age. Does anyone think we have enough national unity to attempt such a challenging project?

James Joyce
James Joyce
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

No, in fact, a guest on Bari Weiss’s podcast. HONESTLY provided a great insight into this. Caitlan Flanagan. I had never heard of her, but she was cancelled for this or that, and she ended up with Bari. As I have mentioned, Bari is supremely annoying, not a good person, except as a temporary ally against the woke. The same applies to Caitlin, actually. Anyway, towards the end, Caitlin remembers the division of the US in Vietnam times, how she, who grew up in Berkeley, was marching condemning the US. Of course the US was very wrong in Vietnam, and those protesting were, in a way, seeking to end the war (good), end the draft (bad), for free speech (good, though it has led to a coarsening in public discourse, and I am a massive offender), and various and sundry other things. But her comment was that then the US was strong enough to sustain these protests, now it’s not. She’s right.
Re your comment about the coming Civil War, I would like a peaceful dissolution, because I would like to be a citizen of a country where most people share my culture, my language, my tradition, most of my common values. The divisiveness of the US has been imposed on its people through massive lies–take for example the Immigration Act of 1965 that opened the floodgates to the Third World. I have heard Sen. Ted Kennedy speak of how this WILL NOT change how the US looks, it will simply allow the US to take an engineer from Germany, a doctor from the UK….. Pres. Johnson repeatedly said the same thing. Although stupid, esp. Kennedy, they had to have known. So they were lying (very likely) or they were completely stupid (very possible), or both.
The US is no longer strong enough to resist these attacks, and I see it getting much worse, not better. But I don’t see a peaceful dissolution. Lock and load. I may be early (slightly), but I’m not wrong.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

JFK set out to wreck USA by his policies on migration. He wanted to have just what we are now, the majority who built USA to the beacon it was intellectually, politically, industrially, economically, scientifically, tech, education, freedoms…..become a minority, and the majority being less successful and dis-unified. The migration set up then almost stopped Western Migration, banned it, and opened it to unskilled Third and Second World migrants, legal and illegal. Labour in UK did this same plan – check out Mandleson under Blair and “Rubbing the Right’s nose in it” (Biden is taking this policy to infinity). I am from London – and watched it from the 1960s till I left mid 1970s – and have returned all the time, and London is now less than 49% Native British – and most of them old.

But NO – Do not legalize drugs. That is Quisling, that is surrender to a horrible and horrific vice. The strong drugs are not compatable with being legalized in an open society. They are too destructive. Joyce says he was a proscutor of drug people – well I have lived in their world – and the bad drugs are so bad they require being illegal – and I say that wile being Libertarian. Society MUST have some line it says – this line I Will not cross. And the drugs like crack, meth, Heroin, Fentanyl, and the 10,000 other ones China is creating in their Pharma industrial complex, are too destructive to be legal.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Amen. I fear that the collateral damage of hopelessness has been put into the too hard/dont care basket and can only get worse as now homelessness is firmly in the mix. But surely it is relatively easy to legalise which is at least a nod towards caring. One day I hope that the 90% will realize that they cannot rely on governments and business to provide them with a reasonable life – and will start making strategic decisions as to how best to get along in life – and start creating their own hope ! – but then that requires much reflective thinking ! And what did Jesus mean by ‘the poor will always be with you’ ?? not encouraging………

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

“But surely it is relatively easy to legalise which is at least a nod towards caring.”

OK, legalize gun fighting and drive-bys as it rules the bad parts of the cities so why fight it – surrender to lawlessness, it is easy. Legalize shoplifting like the West coast has, legalize selling ones organs, legalize indenture, legalize drugs, legalize vendetta killing – just legalize all vice and crime – and thus get ZERO CRIME. So Easy. Just surrender, just refuse to fight and have no standards, no morality, safety – let your kids get addicted, let your neighborhood become an open drug land where going out at night is too risky – Let the weak destroy themselves… cool world your kind would make.

Allie McBeth
Allie McBeth
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Agreed. When kerb crawling was allowed in a part of the UK, it didn’t just help ‘keep the women safe’, it vastly increased the amount of prostitutes plying their trade – along with the associated evils of people shooting up willy nilly. This has somewhat ruined the neighbourhood for the people who actually live there. This is what happens when you cease to be bothered about a true social evil.

Last edited 1 year ago by Allie McBeth
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Steady on ! no-one was going that far ! – merely pointing out that one strategy clearly does not work and if it was legalised there would be way less need for crime, hopelessness etc. We would be addressing SELF DESTRUCTIVE behaviour vs other destructive. I am a supporter of zero tolerance for ‘other’ directed crime because a society cannot flourish without the rule of law !!

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
1 year ago
Reply to  James Joyce

is my use of weed better or worse than your reaching for the Pinot
It’s worse.
Alcohol with food improve each other even in small quantities. It isn’t necessary to get drunk to appreciate alcohol, because it tastes and smells agreeable. Normal consumption of it neither intends nor results in inebriation. Alcohol consumed in moderation over even a long period of time produces no ill effects, and possibly some beneficial ones.
The only purpose of drugs is intoxication. Nobody crunches pills because they enjoy the taste; the idea is always to get off your t!ts. Drugs are never consumed in moderation, and their use is associated with severe health problems, notably of the mental variety.
Apart from that, sure, there’s no difference.

James Joyce
James Joyce
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Point made. Not sure I agree, but ok. My larger point is that the war on drugs is the worst possible result. I was there. I did my bit. I regret all of it. Completely stupid and wasteful.
I hope you understand the distinction. If weed (and other drugs) are worse, well, they’re still readily available, though illegal. Proves my point.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It is more about self medicating due to hopelessness vs ‘getting off your tits” – and in my experience the only mental illness is usually depression vs a psychotic type. And some can self medicate that hopelessness functionally and some cannot and start the downward spiral etc. But those that cannot would benefit way more from support than criminalization – and possibly be able to re enter society as a more functional member – hard to do if you are an ex con – that person will just get more and more hopeless until they either die young, kill themselves – or kill someone else – are those the options you would prefer ?????