Outlaw Conservative S01E032 – Opiate of the Classes

I don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to disagree with Tom Woods. I don’t listen to his show that frequently, but I do read his emails, and more often than not he is blasting some neocon or social justice warrior, which I find profoundly amusing.

Such an opportunity presented itself yesterday though, when I got an email titled “If there’s an opioid crisis, government just made it much worse”.

The libertarians obviously have a vested interest in questioning whether or not an opioid crisis even exists.

  • Their ideological opposition to the war on drugs is not well served by acknowledging hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths placed squarely on the shoulders of drug pushers.
  • They (humorously) blame the war on drugs for racial inequality.
  • Drug addicts on welfare become a useful tool in attacking the welfare state
  • Etc…

There are varying degrees of merit to these ideas. The war on drugs obviously isn’t working. We have problems in our society that cannot be fixed by throwing desperate people in prison.

I honestly think you could accomplish 90% of what the war on drugs aims to accomplish with a $50 fine + forfeit of revenues, for selling drugs. People who break the law are doing so because they don’t plan on being caught. So creating ever stiffer penalties is not the most productive of policies, especially since an endless stream of risk takers are willing to take their place.

I stop short of drug legalization, personally. The big problem with legalizing drugs, in my opinion, is that legalizing them would lead to marketing campaigns like we’ve seen with alcohol and tobacco. People buy advertising because it influences the behaviors of people who see the ads, and anyone who denies this is living in a decidedly unlibertarian ideological fantasy world. Nobody would buy advertising if it didn’t have the power to influence behavior, and anybody who believes in the power of the marketplace ought to find that uncontroversial.

The law ought to discourage behaviors which are destructive to society, but as the libertarians know all too well from arguing against gun control, criminals don’t obey laws.

Corporations on the other hand, do tend to at least try. When the government creates special privileges for corporations that the rest of us lack, through licensing and regulations and the like, very bad things happen. This ought to be an uncontroversial statement for libertarians, even if we come to differing conclusions on what to do about this.

Woods and the members of his “Elite” Facebook group, were lamenting the recent court decision in which Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $572m for fueling the Oklahoma opioid crisis.

Here’s what one of my folks (and longtime reader of this newsletter) in that group had to say:

“Good job, [expletive]. Keep it up and you’ll get your wish of opioids manufacturers ceasing to create these very useful and much needed miraculous drugs.

“I sure hope I never need surgery again. I sure hope my wife’s two brain aneurisms just magically disappear soon.

“Guess we will have to turn to street drugs to manage her chronic pain. Big improvement for us you meddling, uncaring, destructive idiots.

“Eliminate opioids from society and watch the massive increase in suicides you’ll create. Would that make you happier? Would that abate your sad feelzies? Do you prefer suicides to overdoses?

“Opioids work really well to manage pain. Do people misuse them? Of course. Guess what: those people have agency. Don’t blame the tool. Blame the user.

“This ruling is childish and very destructive. I really hope it’s overturned.”

No way can I improve on that.

Let me state this up front. Yes. I prefer suicides to overdoses, though I also see this as a false choice. Drug addicts kill themselves all the time, intentionally or accidentally, and they also have a really nasty habit of killing other, often innocent people, as well. So we aren’t talking about a choice between suicides or overdoses. We’re talking about a choice between suicides, or suicides AND overdoses AND murders, which would not happen absent the drugs.

A suicide as a conscious decision made by a sober person is sad. What’s sadder is filling our prisons and cemeteries for the sake of some global corporate entity to raise the living standards of the Sackler family through outright fraud and special government privileges.

If you or me went around selling opiates to every idiot with a headache, we would go to prison for the rest of our lives. Johnson & Johnson got off with the equivalent of a stiff fine, which won’t even cramp their style. It is hardly a libertarian principle to suggest that a handful of people ought to be granted license to do deceptively, that which anyone else would go to prison for doing honestly.

Besides that, it is not just a matter of easing the feelz of mushy moralists that this suit was brought. Johnson & Johnson was not simply held liable for the misuse of their products, in the way Democrats want to be able to sue gun manufacturers. Johnson & Johnson, just like in the suit Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family are contemplating settling for $10-12 Billion, were RIGHTLY accused of running a deceptive marketing campaign, and defrauding both doctors and patients into believing absurdly false things about the safety and efficacy of prescription opioids.

Purdue Pharma is privately owned by the Sackler family, whose wealth skyrocketed after OxyContin sales raked in $35 billion over a 20-year period, giving the family a $13 billion net worth and making them the 19th richest in the U.S. in 2016, according to Forbes. Meanwhile, more than 400,000 people have died from overdoses involving prescription opioids since OxyContin was launched in 1996, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Daily Caller reported in January; [Emphasis Mine]

A federal prosecutor recommended felony indictments against company executives for misleading the public about abuse surrounding OxyContin. This could have resulted in jail time if convictions were secured, but the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division under President George W. Bush, reportedly rejected the notion after meeting with the Purdue Pharma executives and their defense team. She has since joined a private law firm and has successfully defended pharmaceutical companies against government investigations.

Purdue representatives lobbied top DOJ officials on multiple occasions during the Bush administration, according to news reports and congressional testimony. Future FBI Director James Comey was involved in one instance, and Rudy Giuliani, who now serves as President Donald Trump’s attorney, was tied to another.

The prosecutor who recommended felony indictments against Purdue executives found he was recommended for termination after a third instance that occurred hours before Purdue accepted a plea deal that was offered in lieu of felony charges. As part of the plea deal, Purdue and three executives conceded they downplayed OxyContin’s addictiveness and collectively paid a historic $635 million in fines in 2007. No one saw jail time.

Massachusetts was one of the states to file a lawsuit against Purdue in 2018, but it uniquely named eight members of the Sackler family. A recent complaint cites documents indicating the Sacklers headed a campaign to deceive doctors about the dangers of OxyContin and passed blame of negative press onto addicts.

“The launch of OxyContin tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” Richard Sackler, the son of a Purdue founder and the company’s president from 1999 to 2003, said while celebrating the drug’s entrance to the market, according to a document cited in the complaint. “The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white.”

If that is a lot to process, permit me to recap;

  • OxyContin is a lethal and addictive drug, as are all opioids.
  • Despite this obvious fact, through a massive lobbying effort, they got permission to sell it from the FDA.
  • The Sackler family knew this, and deceived doctors and the public in order to make money.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people died.
  • The Sacklers acknowledged repeatedly that they had deceived doctors and the public.
  • They settled one lawsuit after another, but because the profits exceeded the costs of the settlements, they kept on selling the drugs.
  • Hundreds of thousands of more people died.
  • A federal prosecutor, after a four year long investigation, recommended felony charges for this crime wave.
  • Through their political connections, they got a Bush appointee to tank the case.
  • Through those same political connections, they got the prosecutor fired.
  • The drugs are still being sold as I write this.
  • Even after settling the current suits, the Sackler’s will still be wealthy beyond most of our imaginations.
  • If any of us did this, we would never be let out of prison.

The supposedly libertarian position echoed by Tom’s listener is as devoid of honest reasoning as is the Left libertarian obsession with open borders and homosexuality. It’s also why the adults in the room have a tendency to dismiss the libertarians out of hand.

Suggesting that the “agency” of the individual drug addict is the culprit here, ignores the fundamental nature of the human condition. Human beings are not perfectly autonomous individuals who bear sole responsibility for everything they do. We are herd animals who follow leaders, and those leaders bear responsibility for the outcomes of the people they lead.

When a person goes to a doctor, they are seeking guidance and help from an authority figure who is licensed by the State. The doctor in turn, relies on information which is given to him, to make qualified decisions for his patients.

A pharmacist is supposed to act as a check on the doctor, that if he is overprescribing medication, it sets off a red flag.

The government is supposed to act as a check on the pharmacist, that if he ignores red flags and irresponsibly floods an area with dangerous drugs, there are penalties involved.

Yet, reports Michigan Live;

Michigan has more annual opioid prescriptions than people

In 2016, there were 11 million prescriptions written for opioids, about 1.1 prescriptions for every Michigan residents, about the same at 2015, according to the state’s drug monitoring system.

That compares to roughly 8 million prescriptions in 2009.

The 2016 prescriptions accounted for 835 units of opioids — enough to give every Michigan resident about 84 opioid pills, patches or other types of doses of opioid drugs.

This kind of thing does not happen unless there is a vast conspiracy of malevolent and/or profoundly irresponsible actors, abusing privileges granted to them by the government.

Now perhaps the libertarians could make the Hoppean case, that in the absence of the State, where all resources were privately owned, monarchs and other property owners would do a better job of controlling these kinds of problems. They could surely make the case, that the government failed spectacularly in its purported duty to regulate the drug market and keep people safe. They could easily make the case that regulation breeds the sort of corruption which allowed this to ensue.

But don’t tell me that Oxycontin is some kind of miracle drug that should be dumped on our streets with reckless abandon, just because you know a sick person, or like to smoke weed at parties.

That is modal libertarianism of the most degenerate sort.

 

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