Reason Roundup

Drug War, Pandemic Likely Reasons for Spike in U.S. Overdose Deaths

Plus: Missouri and New Hampshire extend school choice, Facebook seeks recusal of FTC chair Lina Khan, and more...

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Drug overdose deaths were up significantly in 2020, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 92,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses last year ("the largest single-year increase recorded," according to The New York Times).

The data suggest that some of the increase in overdoses was tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The biggest month-to-month increases occurring in March, April, and June 2020, when coronavirus fear and uncertainty were at their highest and authorities across the U.S. instituted the strictest shutdown orders.

That the highest overdose numbers corresponded to periods when people were most socially isolated, stressed, out of work, cut off from services, and economically precarious is unsurprising. But last year's increase in drug overdose deaths can't be entirely attributed to the pandemic and government responses to it.

"Public health experts said there had been a pre-pandemic pattern of escalating deaths, as fentanyls became more entrenched in the nation's drug supply, replacing heroin in many cities and finding their way into other drugs like meth," the Times points out. "After decades of increases, overdose deaths dipped slightly in 2018. But they resumed their upward course in 2019, and drug deaths were rising in the early months of 2020, even before Covid arrived."

Which is to say: We can also blame the war on drugs, which helped incentivize the flooding of U.S. drug markets with cheaper and deadlier substances like fentanyl and makes safer drug use more difficult.

Things like easy ways to test drugs, supervised consumption sites, widely available overdose remedies, and an end to prohibition and black markets more generally could go a long way in reducing the rising tide of U.S. overdose deaths. But while some cities have made strides at the margins, most politicians have remained resistant to even moderate solutions that could help people know what they're taking and cut drug deaths.


FREE MINDS

Missouri and New Hampshire move to extend school choice. Here's the American Federation for Children on what Missouri's change means:

Creates a $25 million Education Savings Account program that provides eligible students $6,350 for educational expenses to attend the public, charter, virtual, private or home school of their choice

Eligible students include any student who attended public school in the previous year or is entering school for the first time

Students with an IEP or a family income below Free and Reduced Price Lunch would be given first preference; children in a family making less than 200% of Free and Reduced Price Lunch would be given second preference and all other eligible students would come after them

The $25 million program is funded by a 100% tax credit

And here's Reason editorial intern Ella Lubell reporting on New Hampshire's new measure:

The Granite State just got a bit more free for religious parents. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill into law last week that will expand a state school choice program to include religious schools.

New Hampshire—like Vermont and Maine—allows school districts without the funds to run their own schools to pay for students to attend other public or private schools in the area. But until last week, school districts could not pay for students to attend "sectarian" religious schools.

This new measure amends the state's tuitioning program by striking out the requirement that participating schools be nonsectarian.


FREE MARKETS

Facebook seeks recusal of FTC chair. Following Amazon's lead, Facebook is seeking the recusal of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair Lina Khan from decision making about whether to refile an antitrust complaint against Amazon. Earlier this month, a federal court dismissed an FTC complaint against Facebook—saying the agency had failed to prove Facebook has a monopoly in social networking services—but left room for the FTC to refile a new complaint.

"For the entirety of her professional career, Chair Khan has consistently and very publicly concluded that Facebook is guilty of violating the antitrust laws," Facebook said in a formal recusal petition filed Wednesday. "When a new commissioner has already drawn factual and legal conclusions and deemed the target a lawbreaker, due process requires that individual to recuse herself."

Related: I went on C-SPAN's The Communicators recently to talk about tech companies, antitrust law, and political hysteria. Check it out below:

 


QUICK HITS

• Democrats are cramming approximately all of their preferred policy overhauls and initiatives into a new budget proposal.

• Ben Dreyfuss delves into "how the media makes nice people believe insane things."

• Cathy Reisenwitz explores how the nonprofit group Exodus Cry reinvented the "white slavery" panic for the modern age.

• "Anti-racist discourse and politics in this country are not ultimately about people of color at all, but function primarily as a site of competition between different classes of white people," suggests Freddie deBoer.

• Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already playing politics with a new state law against protesters blocking highways.

• Maine abolishes civil asset forfeiture.

• "Colleges around the country, and especially graduate schools, are destroying the lives of young people. Product both of a pyramid-scheming academic class and bi-partisan commitment from the United States government, the problem is genuinely systemic," writes Mike Solana in a treatise on the U.S. system of student loans and higher education more generally.

• The Consumer Product Safety Commission is suing Amazon.