amerikans cannot escape the opioid epidemic—whether wealthy white families from Maine to the Midwest, or the gas station employee who stumbles on an overdose in the bathroom every other week. It is the most talked-about crisis since Uncle Sam, prince-elector of misery, elevated Freeway Rick to the imperial seat of the crack game; and it should be no secret to our readership that, like the crack epidemic inculcated by CIA wet work, the present dope epidemic is a direct result of u.$. imperialism. More than that, it has become an excuse to increase police numbers and militarization, has had a negative knock-on effect with the u.$.’s enemies, and in-turn given those countries—like Russia and China—the opportunity to crack down on restive regions and trouble minorities under the cover of a war on drugs.
It’s no secret that in 2000 Afghanistan accounted for 70% of world opium production, but just one year later, that yield had decreased under a Taliban prohibition campaign by 99%. And it’s no surprise that, under u.$. tutelage, opium production exploded year by year, with a 49% increase in 2012, and 36% increase in 2013, the exports are growing almost exponentially, with a further 43% increase last year. So as not to alienate their countrymen, and no longer having any power to enforce Islamic prohibitions, the Taliban also taxes this production in areas it controls, creating an important source of income for its war effort—just the smallest way the Afghan opium trade has come back to bite the u.$.
Indeed, Afghanistan accounts for 90% of world opium supply and two-thirds of land cultivated for opium poppy. This translates directly to mass human misery—a global war on the living person, conducted with a structural mercilessness that lays bare the inhuman recesses of the world capitalist system. And all that jazz.
In the u.$., heroin is mostly a white problem, affecting prescription pain patients especially, and, as with many trends within the white settler aristocracy, its affects cross divisions of income and geography, from the rural poor to the “middle” and “upper” classes. As it turns out, more than three centuries of bloodthirsty annexation, genocide, scapegoating, ghettoization, and associating drugs and poverty with oppressed nationalities does not equip a society to handle such a crisis, even among the national aristocracy, with any measure of tenderness. And so Trump promises blood, centering increased support to the occupation, calling law enforcement “absolutely vital to having a drug-free society”, and bashing the previous administration for not locking enough people up: “At the end of 2016, there were 23% fewer federal prosecutions than in 2011, so they looked at this surge and they let it go by,” he said. “We’re not letting it go by.” Although whites constitute the vast majority of drug users, blacks, according to Human Rights Watch, constitute 62% of all drug sentences in state prisons, and in seven states 80-90% of incarcerations for drugs. This is lax to Trump and Sessions, who want to see even more prosecutions.
So what does a largely white problem mean practically for oppressed nationalities? Death, mostly. An increase in kops means more dead civilians in general, but among the dead oppressed nationalities will have the lion’s share. I don’t go in for anecdotes, but a few weeks ago, I was standing in line in an Aldi in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The old woman in front of me was chatting with a younger woman, and one of them mentions how an Ohio sheriff has refused to carry Narcan. I didn’t expect an outpouring of humanity from small town Appalachia, but I honestly wasn’t expecting the old woman to say “well the n*****s will just keep doing it, so I see what he means.” And there, laid out in organic, popular fashion, was the logic of the drug war in the era of the opioid crisis.
In fact, whitey’s first reaction to the crisis has been to blame non-whites, whether Maine Governor LePage saying all drug dealers were blacks and latinos with names like “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty,” who “impregnate a young white girl before they leave,” (goddamn), or Trump, who almost weekly dog whistles that Chicanos are to blame, or Attorney General PGT Beauregard Sessions, whose “tough-on-drugs” memo from May led the Drug Policy Alliance to decry his call for a crackdown as “a disastrous move that will increase the prison population, exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and do nothing to reduce drug use or increase public safety.” (You don’t say?)
Globally, the outlook is even more grim. In Russia, HIV infection has exploded from intravenous drug use, of which Russia has the highest recorded incidence on Earth. 57% of new HIV cases are contracted via drug-use, principally heroin, and Moscow’s rightwing drug and health policies are not helping (the city of Moscow, for instance, has only one clean needle exchange, operated as a small charity, with no government funding). The rightwing government’s negotiators also oppose “harm reduction” strategies (needle exchanges, methadone etc.) in international agreements, not just at home, and opposes legalization more stringently than more conservative governments like Iran’s (Though Iran, it must be noted, supports needle exchanges and other “harm reduction” schemes). The current attitude in the country (whose media correctly, if ironically, point out that the u.$. presence in Afghanistan is the source of the world heroin crisis) serves only to benefit the mafia element (often indistinguishable from rural authorities and the oligarch element) that has long been involved in mid- and upper-level corruption in Russia, and to the detriment of the poor urban and rural population, as well as the indigenous peoples whose communities (much like those in north amerika) had already been wracked by dispossession, alcoholism and joblessness.
Though China does employ detox centers, they are largely cold-turkey military-style camps, rather than clinical facilities. China also employs needle exchanges in its most heroin-wracked southern province, Golden Triangle-bordering Yunnan, with great returns. As one might expect in a country bordering the Golden Triangle, China is flush with heroin, and its millions of addicts’ lost labor time tests the government’s patience, forcing it to enforce in bursts and campaigns, centering a narrative of stability and order, but never managing to dent production. Indeed, much of the world’s heroin is transported through the country. In China, as in Russia, heroin production and transport is so large-scale that it is virtually unthinkable that triads do not have protectors in the upper echelons of government, no matter how many traffickers are publicly executed.
The nationalities within the PRC suffer unequally, and therefore are targeted by (beyond run-of-the-mill chauvinism) the “Strike Hard, Maximum Pressure” drug campaign disproportionately. Nationalities like Yunnan’s Yi minority, and Xinjiang’s Uyghurs suffer disproportionate HIV and drug addiction, their drastically lower incomes and privileges fueling ethnic resentment. China is not exactly welcoming of minority populations, and even at the highest echelons, racism is a casual reality. Just this year, Pan Qinglin, CPPCC member from Guangdong, proudly unveiled a plan to “Strictly go all out to solve the problem of African blacks in Guangdong Province”. The proposal claimed that “Black brothers” travel in rape gangs, spread HIV, drugs and Ebola, and will turn China from a “yellow country to a black-and-yellow country.” Pan was not reprimanded for these remarks, but they do go a ways toward illustrating how the ruling class in China views minorities they associate with drugs, trafficking and HIV. It would not be a stretch to imagine that this fervent chauvinism within China’s ruling class is partly responsible for repressive policies in its restive frontier regions.
In the Philippines, Duterte’s bloody and reactionary drug war, the key feature of his prolonged farce-in-one-act of a presidency, is driven partially by the demonization of heroin users. Just one more minor example of how the heroin epidemic has invigorated reaction.
The beast that the u.$. has unleashed will continue to kill and destroy. A crisis always represents an opportunity for the reactionaries and an obligation for us; and to that end, it is our duty as communists to make the effects as well as the causes of the opioid epidemic, itself a mere symptom of imperialism, central to our propaganda. The u.$.—as well as the ruling classes of the other imperialist and big chauvinist powers—will continue to use the unforeseen boon born from imperialist folly to further police, militarize, terrorize and oppress, inside and outside their borders, regardless of the human cost, whether measured in life, dignity or dollars.