The opioid crisis has wreaked devastation on the American people physically, psychologically, and financially. The media has largely ignored it while the previous administration, including the current one, have done little to alleviate the people affected.

The Opioid Crisis and Virginia

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse on Virginia, there were 1,193 drug overdose deaths in 2018. The crisis has so far capped at the year of 2017, though deaths involving heroin or synthetic opioids other than the drug methadone remain either stable or rising across the country in its place. It should be noted that with the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and the worsening economic crisis in 2021, it should come as no surprise if further data reveals an increase in these numbers later on.

The situation in Virginia in particular has so far apparently climaxed recently with a settlement being won that will force the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, to pay $80 million to the state of Virginia, much of which will go to Virginia’s opioid abatement authority. Moreover, as reported by 59News, the Sackler family will be forced to “publicize tens of millions of documents related to their role in the opioid crisis.” This is a big victory, but one that has come all too late for the people that have suffered from this crisis caused by economic greed.

The Opioid Crisis Elsewhere

This is all on top of a historic trial set in West Virginia, where attorneys for the City of Huntington and Cabell County “have spent more than six weeks trying to convince a federal judge that the nation’s three major drug distributors fueled an opioid epidemic that they say ravaged their community.” And in the state of Georgia, the rising number of opioid overdoses “seem to hit everyone” regardless of economic, racial, or ethnic grouping. And across the country, school districts have spent at least $127 billion assisting their students affected by the opioid addiction crisis and are taking legal proceedings to “wrest compensation from the companies that manufacture” drugs such as Oxycodone.

Drugs such as fentanyl especially, about 80 – 100 times stronger than morphine, and originally developed to help cancer patients with their pain, have been “among the top three deadliest drugs in overdose deaths in nearly every county” in Pennyslvania, according to the state’s auditor general. Furthermore,  more West Virginians died of overdoses in 2020 “than in any previous year on record,” according to Acting U.S. Attorney Lisa G. Johnston. As an NPR article puts it after interviewing an addict:

According to recent data, the opioid epidemic has only intensified in Virginia and the D.C. area during 2020. In D.C., it was up from 46% compared to 2019. And in Virginia, it was up by 41%. If this was only last year, then one wonders how things are in the current year of 2021 where the coronavirus and the current economic crisis are still major issues and factors in the lives of everyday Americans.

Recently, Biden has nominated Rahul Gupta, a former West Virginia health official, to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy in order to combat the opioid crisis ravaging the country, though he would have to be confirmed by the Senate first. This is at a time when overdose deaths due to opioids rose nearly 30 percent from November 2019 to November 2020 across the country, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rahul Gupta is an ally of Joe Manchin and has been panned for doing little “to ensure safe-needle exchange during a 2017 HIV outbreak in West Virginia.” One wonders just what his ascension to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, if the Senate does indeed act in Biden’s favor, would entail and whether he’s the best person for the job.

Our Mission and Solutions

There are solutions that we need now for the short term and those for the medium and long term. If we are to get out of this crisis, a crisis which will surely continue to grow as conditions continue to worsen in the United States, there must be a people’s movement to combat this problem. Rather than send opioid users to jail, we need to rehabilitate them and take preventative measures to make sure that nobody needs any rehabilitation in the first place. This could involve reducing the use of opioid medication in modern-day medical practices used to reduce pain and treating addiction as an illness and not as a moral failing.

It is a mission of the Communist Party USA to ally with, help, uplift, and strengthen the rural proletariat, which suffers from many forms of exploitation and super-exploitation. Right now, primarily rural areas such as the Appalachian region and Mid-west of the United States are most vulnerable overall to the opioid crisis. Comrades, if we are to advance the mission to energize and organize the rural and suburban proletariat, then we must fight this menace head-on.

This involves fighting for higher wages and better working conditions so that opioid addicts aren’t driven to despair; it involves a “Medicare for All” system that covers the treatment that folks get so that their finances aren’t depleted while getting treated; and it means more funding for Medicaid and other health services to be able to tackle this country-wide problem. A Modern Healthcare briefing on May 17 at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia stated “that proposed Medicaid cuts could undermine recent progress.” It was also said: “The lack of jobs, housing, and stable environments drives addiction.” The American Medical Association also advocates for passing the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act of 2021, which would make it easier for people to get access to life-saving drugs that treat addiction such as buprenorphine.

The Virginia CPUSA supports all the above in the previous paragraph, such as “Medicare for All” and more funding for Medicaid and other health services as well as the passing of the MAT Act. We should make this a prime issue for Virginians where the opioid epidemic has also left its mark. Not just an “issue” but one of the issues. Right now, many of the people in our state congress ignore this problem or pay scant attention to it. At the end of the day, alleviating the pain and suffering of the working-class as well as organizing them to take action will have to mean tackling this problem as well.

Stan Simms

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