Each era seems to have the drugs that it deserves. In the 1960s, there was LSD. Inspiring euphoric fantasies or vivid paranoia, it could not have been an apter drug for years of utopian social progressivism and long, debilitating foreign war. In the 1980s, there was cocaine, and then there was ecstasy: drugs that fueled both stock market and acid house excess. Now we have opioids—painkillers, essentially.
In 2015, more than 100,000 people across the world died of opioid overdoses. In 2016, there were 64,000 deaths in America alone. As German Lopez observed for Vox, this was more than all of the United States’ combat deaths in Vietnam. Economic and criminal factors are underpinning this phenomena. The corrupt means by which Purdue Pharma promoted dangerously addictive medications has been amply documented. In 2007, Purdue paid $600 million in fines after being found to have falsely misbranded OxyContin as “abuse resistant.” While the “deaths of despair” narrative has been overstated, economic hardship has also played a role.