There is a genocide going on in this country. And it is a judgment on this nation that we all but ignore it.
We treat other lethal threats much more seriously. Many Americans are rightly concerned with the problem of seemingly unpredictable mass shootings carried out by terrorists or random murderous lunatics. It is easy to be cynical about solutions, but surely there is some reasonable middle ground to be sought between letting every American be his own Rambo and the systematic confiscation of privately owned firearms that would likely leave us with fewer corpses. Likewise, no one makes light of the atomic ambitions of North Korea and Iran, which is why President Trump is going to such extraordinary lengths to check the former.
Why don't we treat our war against opioids with equal alarm?
Some context here is helpful. Around 11,000 people are killed in firearm-related homicides in this country each year. Fewer than 10 Americans have died annually since September 11, 2001, at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Meanwhile, what we have come to refer to so casually as our "opioid epidemic" has now taken more than 200,000 American lives — 30 times more than the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined, far in excess of the number of Americans who died fighting in our generation-defining misadventure of Vietnam and, indeed, roughly half the U.S. death toll in World War II.
This is why it was so dispiriting to read in The Washington Post on Sunday about the casual cynicism with which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and other members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.), Trump's chosen candidate to be our nation's next "drug czar" — is there a more disgusting neologism in politics? — have effectively neutralized the ability of the Drug Enforcement Agency to go after drug suppliers working openly to supply crooked doctors serving the black market where abusers purchase the poison that will kill them. It is now, the Post reports, "virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies" involved in this activity.
This was not a gross lapse of judgment on the part of these public servants. It was the bought-and-paid-for result of relentless lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry — $106 million in total was spent on this bill and related legislation between 2014 and 2016 alone. For their efforts on behalf of the industry in their respective chambers, Hatch received $177,000 and Marino just shy of $100,000. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
This is hardly the first time Hatch's fingers have been caught in this particular cookie jar. He has received consistent funding from pharmaceutical lobbyists for decades now — and he has always repaid them in kind. In 2009 it was discovered by The Washington Times that five pharmaceutical firms and a major industry lobbying group had all cut sizable, albeit undisclosed, checks to a private charity founded by Hatch while hiring the senator's son as a lobbyist.
President Trump, who made drug abuse a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign, insists that he takes this issue seriously. Save for the cause of the unborn — which he is known to mock in private — there is no graver evil in this country to which Trump could turn his attention. Here more so than on any almost any other issue, one would think, there must surely be a broad-based bipartisan consensus that something must be done and soon. Not confirming a known tool of the dope lobby as the director of this nation's drug control policy would be a great first step.
Meanwhile, it is time to stop employing euphemisms. All the headlines are wrong. There is no "opioid epidemic" in the United States. Drug abuse is not a disease like typhoid that spreads with the cold logic of a virus across an unvaccinated population, killing with indifference. Nor are we in the middle of a "crisis" of the kind brought about by the unpredictable behavior of foreign actors, like the Soviet Union putting nuclear missiles 90 miles from our southern coast. It is a war. It is not being waged for ideals, noble or ignoble, but out of sheer greed abetted by indifference. Drug manufacturers and suppliers are destroying hundreds of thousands of Americans, body and soul, to make money. America's greatest enemies are not the Iranians or the North Koreans — they are, in all likelihood, in your stock portfolio.
There is a word for the indiscriminate killing of persons on such a scale. What we are really in the middle of is an opioid genocide.
When will it no longer be considered a gross lapse of decorum to begin referring to Hatch and his ilk as collaborators?