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:

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.

Join the discussion


  • 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?

  • 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.

  • To get involved in the discussion and stay up to date, become a registered user.

    It's simple, quick and free.

    Sign me up