Overdose of capitalism

(«Proletarian»; Nr. 14; Autumn - Winter 2017)

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The election of Trump gave the opportunity to «analysts» and «experts» of all kinds to inflict their «science» and above all their class contempt upon American proletarians, accused - wrongly - of having voted for the ultra-reactionary billionaire demagogue.

Of course, the press has overlooked the profound social distress that affects the American proletariat. This distress results in an explosion of drug addiction and alcoholism, rather than participation in the electoral circus.




According to a recent official report, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, 27 million Americans are taking drugs and one-seventh of the inhabitants of the premier capitalist power are dependent in order to function in their daily lives. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its July 7 report, the United States has more than half-a-million heroin addicts. This is one of the causes of the decline in life expectancy observed among the proletarians of this country.

In 2014, 47,055 people died from an overdose, 61% of which was due to the use of opioids. Thousands of children are experiencing health problems or retardations in intellectual development because of their mother’s drug intake during pregnancy.

This «epidemic», to use the popular media expression, particularly affects the regions devastated by American capitalism: the Rust Belt (the former Industrial Belt-the heartland of industry, light and heavy) which runs along the Great Lakes from Chicago on to the Atlantic seaboard ), victimized by delocalizations and deindustrialization, and the Appalachians, drastically affected by the closure of the coal mines.

For example, in Huntington, West Virginia, there were 520 heroin overdoses in this city of less than 50,000 inhabitants, 26 of them in less than four hours on 15 August. In Akron, Ohio, a city of 200,000 people and the former rubber capital of Ohio, 24 people died from overdoses during the second weekend of September. In Baltimore, 10% of the 620,000 inhabitants are heroin addicts according to an ABC survey (1). In Vermont, the number of people treated for opioid dependency has shot up by 770% between 2000 and 2014 (2). In an August report, the CDC estimated that approximately 24,000 babies were born in a state of dependence on drugs in 2013, the last year for which statistics are available. This represents the birth of a baby addict every 20 minutes in the United States (3).

he galloping development of drug addiction has forced governments to respond. But this reaction has been very limited: in September, the Obama administration decided to make it easier for doctors to prescribe anti-overdose drugs. 30,000 doctors (a very limited number for the whole United States) will be allowed to prescribe buprenorphine to 200 patients per doctor instead of 100 at present. Obama also wanted to develop syringe exchange programs, ensure Medicaid’s treatment of drug abuse, and promote the distribution of an anti-overdose drug (4).




Beyond the consumers of opiates who are addicted and overdose, the epidemic also affects a considerable number of children.

The number of babies born with withdrawal syndrome has increased significantly over the past decade, disproportionately affecting rural areas. Over a dozen years, the number of cases has increased more than five times, from 1.2 per thousand births to 7.5 in rural areas and from 1.4 to 4.8 in urban areas. These newborns suffer and so they cry copiously, the can be victims of convulsions, heart problems, digestive and respiratory problems...

In many cases, maternal dependence comes from the prescription of opiates during pregnancy for back pain, joint pain ... Once becoming dependent, future mothers turn to illicit drugs, especially heroin. To avoid being victims of repressive laws against drug users, they can no longer seek care for themselves and their baby during their pregnancy.           

In addition to the problems associated with withdrawal syndrome, children of opioid users experience a miserable life associated with addiction. They may be victims of violence and malnutrition by living with drug addicts. They may also be victimized by the death or imprisonment of a parent. In the states most affected by the scourge – West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio ... – social and child welfare services see large numbers of orphans or children being taken away from their families. In Virginia, the number of foster children has increased by 25% since 2012, with opioids accounting for 80% of these placements. In Ohio, the increase is nearly 20% since 2010.

Many of these children are left without care while they have seen their parents consume drugs, or even die of overdose. Many live in poverty, suffer from malnutrition, abuse and neglect. Many risk falling into delinquency or addiction, and end up in jail.

Capitalist society considers them only as a surplus population to be controlled and punished... while it is at the root of their situation.




In recent years, not only have the number of overdoses quadrupled but also the medical prescriptions of opiates (Vicodin, OxyContin ...) which affect more than three million people and which kill an average of 44 per day. The consumption of this type of medicine has exploded in recent decades in the United States to the utmost joy of pharmaceutical laboratories: 1.9 million Americans are now dependent on pain relievers, legally delivered by doctors and dentists, authors of 259 million prescriptions in 2012.

These medicines serve as a springboard to use of the cheaper heroin, easier to access and convenient to inject. Studies have shown that four out of five heroin users have become addicted after first taking painkillers: «People become addicted to medicines, and when they can no longer buy them, they turn to other medicines» according to by Brad Lamm, a former user and director of a detoxification center in Los Angeles, interviewed by channel Pix 11. «Heroin has become the most economical way to relieve their symptoms. A great number of young people start with pills, those of their parents, or those bought on the black market. In the United States, in ten years, consumption of opiate-based drugs has increased by 430%» (5).

The addicts are victims of the avidity of the capitalist drug manufacturers. In the early 1990s, pharmaceutical agglomerates found a new source of profit after discovering that back pain afflicted 35 million Americans. They then targeted – hiding the risk of addiction – all those who suffered from pain, from toothache to migraine, to occupational diseases and accidents at work. Doctors began prescribing opioids like madmen.

Severe and inhuman when it came to repressing Black proletarian consumers of crack, California – followed by other states – even passed a law protecting doctors in case of prescription abuses. Insurance companies have even reimbursed for opioids (6). Pharmaceutical companies have been enriched. This is the case, for example, with Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, placing its owners onto the Forbes list of the 20 richest families in the United States.

If some drug companies have reaped the profits while contributing to the opioid epidemic, other pharmaceutical companies want to take advantage of the health disaster by increasing the price of the drug used to treat overdoses: Naloxone.

Marketed in five different forms by competing companies, in recent years the price of this drug has exploded. One firm raised the price of ten pre-filled syringes from $120 to $330. Another increased the price of its two single dose injectors from $575 to $3,750. A third increased the price of bottles of its generic version from $ 1.84 to $ 31.66. The fierce competition between these capitalist bandits raises prices, imperiling the lives of the victims of overdose!

The epidemic of overdoses in the United States is a capitalist crime: thousands of proletarians (but not only proletarians) have been sacrificed on the altar of profit.




People of other classes are subjected to addiction, but for proletarians it constitutes an extension of their own exploitation and oppression.

The explosion of drug use reveals the deleterious character of capitalism. The decay of capitalism is pushing an ever broader fringe of proletarians to destroy themselves. This gangrene engenders passivity, individualism and not collective revolt. It stems directly from the current bourgeois lifestyle and does not in any way challenge the Marxist prevision.

The current degradation of bourgeois society confirms the fact that it is already defeated. The proletariat is today the only class capable of putting an end to the hell of capital, of destroying all spiritual or material opiums of this society. In society as in nature, life will be born of rot. In the phenomena of dissolution which appear today, let us welcome the confirmation of the prospects of the revolution. Bourgeois society is condemned, long live Communism!



(1)-«Baltimore is the U.S. Heroin Capital», March 2015.

(2)-«In Annual Speech, Vermont Governor Shifts Focus to Drug Abuse», The New York Times, January 8, 2014.

(3)-http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/ 65/ wr/ mm6531a2. htm?s_ cid= mm6531a2_w

(4)-«Obama announces new moves to fight opioid and heroin abuse epidemic», The New York Times, June 2, 2016

(5)-«The shattering return of heroin use», Les Inrocks, February 24, 2014.

(6)-«Overdoses on prescription», Les Echos, October 27, 2015.



International Communist Party



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