Opioids

Increases in Opioid-Related Deaths Show That Drug Warriors (Including Biden) Have No Idea What They're Doing

After a slight drop in 2018, fatalities involving opioids jumped last year, setting a new record that is apt to be broken this year.

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Last year President Donald Trump bragged that "we are making progress" in reducing opioid-related deaths, noting that they fell in 2018 "for the first time since 1990." That 1.7 percent drop was thin evidence of success at the time, and it looks even less impressive in light of the the 6.5 percent increase recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019. When you add preliminary CDC data indicating that opioid-related deaths rose dramatically this year, you have even more reason to wonder whether the government is actually winning the war on drugs.

The 49,860 deaths involving opioids that the CDC counted in 2019 set a new record that is likely to be broken when the data for 2020 are finalized. "Synthetic opioids other than methadone," the category that includes fentanyl and its analogs, were involved in 73 percent of opioid-related deaths last year. According to the CDC's preliminary data, "the 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months ending in June 2019 compared with the 12 months ending in May 2020."

During the same period, total drug-related deaths rose by 18 percent. Although that includes increases in deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine, the CDC says, "synthetic opioids are the primary driver," and "the increases in drug overdose deaths appear to have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic." As Zachary Siegel notes in a New York magazine piece, the pandemic and the lockdowns it inspired probably have driven drug-related deaths in two main ways: by contributing to the economic woes and social isolation that make drug use more appealing and by increasing the likelihood that people will use drugs without anyone else around, which magnifies the risk of fatal outcomes.

Although the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it have made matters worse, opioid-related deaths were already on the rise, which suggests once again that reducing access to prescription pain pills, the main thrust of the Trump administration's strategy, has not had the intended effect. To the contrary, it has driven nonmedical users toward black-market substitutes that are more dangerous because their potency is inconsistent and unpredictable, while depriving bona fide patients of the medication they need to make their lives bearable.

Although the government has succeeded in driving down opioid prescriptions, the upward trend in opioid-related deaths has not just continued but accelerated. In 2019, "natural and semisynthetic opioids," the category that includes commonly prescribed pain relievers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, were involved in 24 percent of opioid-related deaths (many of which also involved fentanyl and/or heroin). That's down from 52 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, opioid-related deaths rose by 136 percent, while the fraction involving synthetic opioids increased from one-seventh to nearly three-quarters. That does not seem like a good tradeoff.

President-elect Joe Biden's "Plan to End the Opioid Crisis" promises more of the same. Biden emphasizes access to "substance use disorder treatment and mental health services"—a big Trump talking point. Biden wants to "hold accountable big pharmaceutical companies, executives, and others responsible for their role in triggering the opioid crisis," which the current administration also has tried. Such lawsuits and prosecutions might make drug warriors feel good, but they do absolutely nothing to reduce opioid-related deaths.

Biden promises to "stem the flow of illicit drugs, like fentanyl and heroin, into the United States." Why didn't anyone think of that before? To the extent that such supply control efforts succeed, they drive traffickers toward more potent and concealable products. That helps explain why heroin has been displaced by fentanyl, which is far more potent, and fentanyl analogs, some of which are more potent still. The proliferation of such drugs increases the variability that makes black-market opioids more lethal than legally produced narcotics.

Worse, Biden says he will "stop overprescribing while improving access to effective and needed pain management." We know from years of experience how the government is apt to strike that balance, and it is bad news for patients and nonmedical users alike.

Biden wants to expand "drug courts" as an alternative to "incarceration for drug use," but his plan hinges on the threat of incarceration for people who do not want the "treatment" he thinks they should have. And even those who comply will still be treated like criminals. "I don't believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use," Biden said during an ABC "townhall" in October. "They should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed." Biden, who in the late 1980s was saying "we have to hold every drug user accountable," now wants to lock drug users in "rehab centers" rather than prisons.

Biden's plan says nothing about harm reduction measures such as fentanyl test kits, supervised consumption facilities, or expanding "medication-assisted treatment" beyond methadone and buprenorphine (although it does recommend looser restrictions on buprenorphine). The plan mentions "harm reduction" just once, and the phrase is immediately followed by a list of law enforcement initiatives. It looks like Biden, despite all his compassionate talk, will replicate the strategy that is helping to sustain the "opioid crisis" he says he wants to end.

NEXT: 2 More Cops Involved in Breonna Taylor's Death Receive Termination Letters

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  1. The beginning of BDS?

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        1. Sullem provides details about record breaking opioid induced fatalities, then in the same sentence, talks about how we need cheaper and more readily available opioids. He then jacks off and blows this ideological load in his own mouth, swallows, and then his head explodes into a powdery dust of narcotics.

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    2. Unreason commies blame trump in the first sentence of their propaganda piece, yet Biden has been a drug warrior affecting drug policy for 36+ years.

      Yet unreason commies voted for him.

      Goes to show that unreason staffers dont want to call call government on the fact that drugs are unconstitutionally banned as a product. They want the commies in the democrat party (party of slavery) to control drugs via taxation and government policy to buy votes for democrats.

      1. “Goes to show that unreason staffers dont want to call call government on the fact that drugs are unconstitutionally banned as a product.”

        lol. the author of this article wrote the book “Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use” over a decade ago where he continuously makes that argument. he’s also made the argument you want to read in this article countless times in other articles. It’s Jacob Sullum for christ’s sake.

        But, you see, if every single article he wrote were simply about the unconstitutionality of gov’t action, it would get tired quickly, and worse, be completely unpersuasive to those who disagree with that point.

        THIS article was an attempt to show those peoole who are fine with gov’t doing unconstitutional shit to control us, that their chosen means will only get them further from their desired ends. It’s an attempt to be persuasive. I can tell from reading your posts that persuasion is not a strong suit of yours, so I understand your confusion.

        1. Believing that then and knowing what he knows now should make Joe Biden anathema.

          Yet I’m not seeing the revulsion and animus so plainly evidenced against Trump.

          It’s curious to say the least.

          1. It is not. Biden may be incompetent and doddering, and he supports failed policies that will only make the situation worse, but Trump is a pathological liar who is a grifter and brings out the worst in people. Only his cult members can’t figure this out, since they think he is the messiah. Trump is opposed to reasoned discourse, facts, and fact checking. Hell, all you Trumptard still think he won the election.

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            2. You are a fucking idiot.

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  2. Too late you’re getting Joe Biteme and his sociopath protege.

    1. You’ve got that wrong. Harris is the Jeff Dunham to Biden’s Walter.

    2. Is this Mikey’s new username?

  3. When Chris McFattyfat Christie was governor of NJ, he passed 2 laws limiting the number of opioid pills that could be prescribed at a given time. After each one, the death rate increased.

    The illusion of progress matters more to politicians than cause and effect.

  4. SleepyJoe knows what he is doing, everyone else is doing it wrong.

  5. Biden, who in the late 1980s was saying “we have to hold every drug user accountable,” now wants to lock drug users in “rehab centers” rather than prisons.

    It sounds like the libertarian-Democrat harm reduction voices have found a friendly ear in the Biden/Harris administration. Kudos to Mike Riggs and Radley Balko.

    1. “Ve vill zend dem to ein rehab zenter”
      “What are all those human sized ovens for?”

  6. I’m so sick of this. It’s time we had American heroin made in America by Americans for Americans! MAGA!

    Seriously why don’t Dems advocate for ending drug prohibition? Not only would it lower overdoses it would lower violent crime especially gun crime.

    1. For the same reason that all the cop issues were in cities run for the last fifty years by Democrats.

      They want to denounce the problem, not effect solutions. Keeping people scared and oppressed is how you run a vote plantation.

    2. Be aide they don’t actually want to solve either of those problems?

    3. Nanny State! And the Nanny says No!
      I live in the largest Nanny State of all.
      In California, you can’t legally smoke cigarettes in your own apartment if you share walls and possibly ventilation with others, unless it’s weed, in which case it is OK.
      Obviously this makes no real sense, which is my point.

  7. What else did the dems expect us to do sitting all alone in our isolation chambers?

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  9. An advertisement for drug use, right after another. So your bias is very evident. Drugs are wonderful for creating zombies and that’s what you preach.

    Answer the simple question: if these drugs were released, would there be more or less deaths due to their use after one year of release?

    1. Check with Portugal. They decriminalized heroin and other hard drugs something like 15-20 years ago. They saw the predictable decrease in overdoses as well as rates of addiction.

      That’s right Marcelo, by outlawing drugs, you make the problem worse. People who would be content with less dangerous drugs like Percocet are driven to higher concentrated drugs like heroin. The same thing happened during alcohol prohibition: people content with wine & beer switched to hard liquor because it was cheaper to smuggle.

      1. Portugal shows that any deterrence effect of criminalizing drug use is so minimal as to be a total waste of resources.

        But you don’t necessarily get good drug use outcomes with legalization without a program of harm reduction. Portugal tackled the criminal justice aspect and added to the welfare state at the same time, including making treatment more available.

  10. Poor commies at unreason. They hope democrats can bring forth the apolocypse and anarchyland can rise from the ashes.

  11. Can you say “professional O.C.D. Alarmists” — 49,860 is 1-in-10,000. In small towns that’s ONE whole person in ONE whole year – call out the bomb squad! What’s COVID now? 300,000 and the general flu? 22,000?

    There’s always a fire to be found somewhere — Their jobs depend on it.

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  13. FFS, if you choose substance abuse, legal or illegal, the fault is your own. Blaming it on others–Trump, Biden, Boris Johnson, whatever–is pure chickenshit.

    1. What about people with a medical condition preventing them from working? Those that were once receiving medical treatment, but their doctor compassionately pulled them off their opioid Rx.

      When you go to the doctor, you expect to be PAYING FOR competent medical care. Booting people off addictive Rx’s for the purpose of making bureaucrats feel good is not competent medical care.

      Whose fault is it when the doctor makes medical decisions in the best interest of bureaucrats rather than in the best interest of the patient PAYING FOR the service?

      1. The ‘competent medical care’ argument might have more weight if the medical profession had not sold their souls in exchange for a monopoly on the use of controlled substances back in 1970.

        Those “compassionate” (yes, I know you are being sarcastic) doctors are only responding to the pressure of the bit they willingly accepted back then.

        They only pretend they are in charge of your care, and any semi-functional adult should know that going in.

    2. How does one choose to be addicted to something? Isn’t addiction by definition a reduction or elimination of the ability to freely choose?

      1. Unless someone injects you against your will, it is your choice.

        Fucking moron.

  14. Sorry but I cannot get too worked up over people choosing to take drugs then overdosing. If you truly want liberty and freedom then accept all the consequences both good and bad. Taking drugs or drinking massive amounts of alcohol to escape reality is one of the dumbest, most self-destructive things a person can do. Natural Selection can be a Hell B*tch.

    1. “I cannot get too worked up over people choosing to take drugs”

      Does that mean you don’t think the government should be spending billions of dollars trying to prevent it either?

      1. Not at all. If I’m on the hook for your idiotic decisions, then I’d say ban them so I won’t be on the hook for them.

    2. “Sorry but I cannot get too worked up over people choosing to take drugs then overdosing.”

      The majority of which are multi drug overdoses. And anyone who injects street heroin is evincing a massively self destructive nature.

    3. Addiction by definition is a reduction in the ability to choose. It’s no more a personal ethical decision than the decision to catch the flu. Presumably, given recent events, most libertarians would prefer to treat all illness by ignoring it and exposing their loved ones wantonly and hoping for the best. But normal people think societies should play an active role in fixing such problems.

      Lots of people addicted to alcohol or other drugs don’t think they need help or don’t want it even if they do. I think a good first step in making it easier for people to seek medical attention for the problems they have is to stop stigmatizing certain diseases as moral failures.

      That goes across the board. I am not sure moral judgment is all that relevant to how we live modern lives. I’m not sure it has been terribly relevant since we lived in caves.

      1. “Addiction by definition is a reduction in the ability to choose. It’s no more a personal ethical decision than the decision to catch the flu.”

        …except the whole initial taking of the drug. You blame Trump for COVID but Junkie McShootsUpaLot is TOTALLY innocent from his lot.

        You know, people who don’t take the drugs do not tend to be addicted to said drugs. And I now oppose legalization because libertarians support it and libertarians are crayon eating chimps.

        Fucking moron.

        1. Not sure what point you think you’re making. People choose to use drugs. People don’t choose to be addicted. An addiction is the absence of choice.

          You think it’s a coherent ethical approach to leave people to suffer and die because they made one bad decision? Why? To make yourself feel superior?

          You’re not superior to anyone else. You’re just a jackass who needs to think he is.

      2. Wrong. Addiction is atrophy of a bodily function by flooding the system with opiates or barbiturates. All else is cravings, habits, fascination or simple self-deception. Otherwise Tony could be committed for being addicted to communism.

    4. Prohibition caused the Great Depression. Mystical altruist eugenic theories that require the initiation of force have that sort of outcome. This occurred in 1907, 1929-33, 1971, 1987-92, 2008 and both Flash Crashes. Republicans grasp at every lie in a struggle to evade this, to the point of defining “business cycle” as the cyclic crashes that–by bad luck–happen to coincide with enforcement of God’s mystical looter laws banning production and trade.

    5. As someone with chronic pain from being run over and having half my spine damaged, I can tell you that I’ve seen people with chronic pain die because of these policies. Mist were on stable opioid regime to help mitigate their pain for years. Then the “opioid od epidemic” nonsense started and these patients had thwork legal opioid taken away. Left in agony some turned to illegal street opioids. Problem is that fentanyl is orders of magnitude more potent than the legal opioids they has taken before. They are also mixed with other drugs that can make side effects like difficulty breathing worse. Some of these people od and some of those died. They would likely be alive today if the stupid “forced tapering” policies hadn’t been enacted.

  15. Every person in the world that knows anything about how the opiate drug market works knew this would happen. It’s common fycking sense. Meanwhile people that need the legal form are the ones that suffer. Our country is run by buffoons and idiots.

  16. When government entities finish shaking down the opioid makers and have stashed the proceeds this problem will disappear from the media.

  17. Sullum wrote this article only to appear more “fair and balanced” in his opinions, instead of being a paid-for leftist tool, which is what he really is.

  18. We’re at the libertarian bitching phase for dealing with a crisis, and I wait with bated breath to hear their actual solution.

    Presumably it’s to get rid of the black market naturally by allowing the legitimate market to go so unregulated that you can’t tell the difference. But I could be wrong and maybe they’ve stopped being libertarians.

    If doctors, shady or upstanding, can hand out opioids like candy, people will get addicted and die. That’s what happened. It’s not just a black market quality control thing. And, again, I don’t know what controls quality in a libertarian system anyway. Not a government agency, so…?

    1. Someone ask Totalitarian Tony if one single American was not a drooling morphine addict in January 1903. If the answer is yes, his wishful altruist “prophesy” is as fallacious as all his–and the conservative fascisti who rode in with him–bullshit theories have proven to be so far.

    2. Ah. The “drugs cause addiction” fallacy.

      Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Says Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine Eric Kandel. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

      The origin of leftism is anger. The Democrat Party thrives on anger. And who is more angry than an abused child? The god of abused children is Satan (anger leads to the dark side). The politics of abused children is Communism. Stop child abuse.

      In other words Leftism is God’s curse for not protecting children better and then punishing them for pain relief.

  19. This is what yall voted for. *glares at Sullum*

  20. I wish people would report separately deaths attributed to prescription opioids and deaths attributed to illicit opioids. I am interested in comparing the trends for both categories but at my age, trying to figure out the math myself is a frustrating exercise. I don’t need to know all the percentages. Just show me a line chart comparing the two.

  21. The ignorant gangsters will pay any price (with your lives and money) to push opiates and simple poisons they’ve been confiscating for resale since 1914–if they can keep non-addictive, non-toxic entheogens like LSD away from the brainwashed viewing audience. To them these newfangled drugs are like hecklers asking awkward questions at a British Union of Fascists or German-American Bund rally… something to be attacked by violent means lest anyone see things differently.

    1. They are drugs. Medicines.

      Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Says Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine Eric Kandel. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

      The origin of leftism is anger. The Democrat Party thrives on anger. And who is more angry than an abused child? The god of abused children is Satan (anger leads to the dark side). The politics of abused children is Communism. Stop child abuse.

      In other words Leftism is God’s curse for not protecting children better and then punishing them for pain relief.

  22. Biden and the terrified prohibition fascisti clogging the comments are doing exactly what Ayn Rand predicted altruism would require of them. They are increasing coercive laws against production and trade so as to have more guns trained and used on Americans. As in Atlas Shrugged, their power to maximize the death rate does exactly that. It’s a pity Ayn knew nothing about the law-changing clout of spoiler vote leverage back in 1972. Nor did she understand that communist anarchist LP infiltrators were (and still are) a tiny minority of loudmouthed saboteurs.

  23. “The Latin American drug cartels have stretched their tentacles much deeper into our lives than most people believe. It’s possible they are calling the shots at all levels of government.” – William Colby, former CIA Director, 1995 Not too long after making that statement Colby died in a boating accident.

    Drug Prohibition is socialism for criminals. Says Republican Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman. Besides we learned that from Alcohol Prohibition.

    Who profits from Drug Prohibition?

    “There is too much money in it.” – A Former US Secretary of State.

    Big City Mayors? Big city police? Republican Drug Warriors? HRC?

    Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Says Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine Eric Kandel. Dr. Lonny Shavelson found that 70% of female heroin addicts were sexually abused in childhood.

    The origin of leftism is anger. The Democrat Party thrives on anger. And who is more angry than an abused child? The god of abused children is Satan (anger leads to the dark side). The politics of abused children is Communism. Stop child abuse.

    In other words Leftism is God’s curse for not protecting children better and then punishing them for pain relief.

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