Opiates of the Masses

No, really.

Memories are fallible. I’d thought I had written on this topic of opiates and public policy at length. And perhaps I have. Just not here. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Searching my blog for my take on opiates, I find that I cite Marx’s ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses‘, four times—make that five. But nothing more.

Carl Hart recently published a book on his heroin use—Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. By some accounts, Carl might appear to be the stereotypical heroin addict in the United States. Well, he’s black, so there’s that. But that’s where the stereotype ends.

Carl Hart is a professor of neuroscience in the psychology department of Ivy League, Columbia University—at least before he published his book. I’ve not read his book, but at my blog I’ve provided a link to the Guardian article, which prompted this post.

The gist I get from having read the Atlantic article is that the public health narrative surrounding heroin and other illicit drugs is akin to the hype of the days when Reefer Madness was all the moral outrage. And make no mistake—this outrage has everything to do with moral one-upmanship and nothing to do with health outcomes. This is pure and simple cultural performativism signalling the higher ground one occupies. As is common enough, many people have actually internalised their misinformation and disinformation to the point they truly believe there is a medical basis to their belief systems. If they are at all introspective, they would see that morals and Calvinism have nothing to do with this purported health care policy. It’s a seemingly reasonable, logical place to arrive. No emotional element is necessary.

But allow me to step back for a moment. Am I saying that there are no possible harmful effect for consuming drugs and other chemicals? No. Am I claiming that no one has ever died as a result of chemical intoxication or overdose? No, again. Am I saying that drug abuse does not incapacitate some people? Nope. I am saying none of the above. I am claiming that hyperbole abounds, the causal connection is overattributed, and cofactors are ignored in favour of an orthodox etiology.

For the record, I am a teetotaler. I do not abuse or even use chemicals referred to as drugs—illicit or otherwise. I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t even drink coffee or covfefe. I do drink Coca Cola, so my big vice in this regard is caffeine. Even rarely do I take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

As I note in my Defence of Capitalism post, it’s difficult to get good second-hand information of illicit drugs. The medical-industrial complex and the official police state peddle fear and disinformation. Whether they believe the information they dispense is true or not is irrelevant. What is important is the low truth content. It makes one wonder what to trust and what not to when these agencies routinely propagate falsehoods and misrepresent truth.

This misrepresentation isn’t limited to opiates. I found it interesting when Michael Phelps won gold at the Olympics, only to announce that he was the consummate pothead, and smoking weed was part of his daily routine. Here’s what the official Olympics website says about him, by the time he retired at Rio 2016 at the age of 31, Michael Phelps had collected a total of 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes at the Olympics, a record-breaking haul that looks unlikely to be bettered for many years to come. So much for the lazy stoner stereotype. As marijuana becomes more accepted by mainstream culture, we come to notice that many of the so-called mental health issues were just fabricated. The purpose was to shroud a moral argument in medical legitimacy. Whether the healthcare industry was complicit or it was the law enforcement regime gone rogue is a separate question. Yet again, it undermines the legitimacy of any claims.

In 2020, the world encountered the Coronavirus, COVID-19. And medical expertise, particularly around immunology and the spread of pathogens, came into question. In the United States and United Kingdom, their misinformation was further exacerbated by administrations hostile to science. But given the history of misinformation for political purposes, it may be premature to blame the general public for being reluctant to trust the alarms. They’ve created the classic Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. And so the question becomes what health information can one trust? And who is the authoritative source?

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