When terrorist attacks killed almost 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001, this country promptly launched a Global War on Terror that has, by now, cost trillions of dollars and shows no signs of ending anytime soon. In those years, staggering sums were poured into the Pentagon and the rest of the national security state to deal with the crisis that the war on terror only seemed to spread and, in the process, thousands more Americans died (as, of course, did hundreds of thousands of non-Americans across the Greater Middle East).
In the meantime, year after year, another kind of terror struck in this country with tens of thousands of Americans dying annually from it. This particular reign of terror wasn’t launched by a tiny group of Islamist extremists but by a wing of corporate America, as TomDispatch regular Rajan Menon so vividly explains today. Its victims die of opioid addiction at a yearly level 20 times that of 9/11, a figure that should stun the imagination. In the process, we have become something like a nation of addicts. And of course, because such “attacks” last all year every year and because they have proved so devastating, this country has mobilized with a swiftness and sureness that’s put the war on terror to shame: a vast treatment structure has been created that now dwarfs the national security state, trillions of dollars have been spent on… whoops, wait a sec, none of that happened!
Since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, however, a president has finally gotten “tough” on opioids. Unfortunately, it’s been in the same the fashion that he’s gotten “tough” on the border — and the effects have been similar. He’s declared a public health emergency (but not a “national emergency,” as he’s threatened to do for his border wall), given a major presidential speech on the opioid crisis, set up a commission, held a “summit,” and it’s all added up to more (or perhaps less) of the same, to what Trump opioid commission member and former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy has called a “charade.” The funds that have been scheduled to go into the drive against opioid addiction — a promised $6 billion over two years (less annually, that is, than Trump is asking for as a down payment on his wall) — were modest at best, even as the president proposed slashing the budget of the Office of National Drug Policy, while leaving the Drug Enforcement Administration with only an acting head.
For all the talk, think of America’s opioid addicts as the Afghans or Iraqis of our domestic world. They can die and die and, as Menon shows, nothing much changes.