For some time now, American politicians have been sounding the alarm over a substance known as fentanyl, a synthetic prescription opioid that has become prolific as a recreational drug.
Recently, the United States placed sanctions on some Chinese and Mexican companies they argued were smuggling equipment for making fentanyl-laced pills into the US. But have the officials ever stopped to question why so many Americans are hooked on fentanyl? The US is quick to use its own drug crisis as another means to manufacture hate, blame and anger against Beijing, as it does with so many other things, but never at any point self-reflects to question why this pattern is not necessarily repeated all over the world. Of course, blaming Beijing and expecting it to manage America’s drug problems is politically lazy, easy and avoids accountability for the real problems at home.
What causes drug abuse? This is a complicated question, but the fundamental reason why anyone would consider taking drugs is to “feel good” when otherwise there is no reason to “feel good” about one’s life. One shouldn’t generalize, but people may feel beaten down by the world, may have had traumatic experiences, feel depressed, lonely, isolated, angry or lost, all to the point they feel they need to access certain substances just to get by or get a kick, which can range from recreational marijuana, to speed, magic mushrooms, LSD, or even opioids like fentanyl.
Consider that 11% of the US population (37 million people), are living in what is defined as poverty. Many people struggle to keep up with costs of living such as rent, and over half a million people are homeless. If you aren’t part of the wealthy and privileged in the US, life is tough, and the Darwinist, survival-of-the-fittest culture of American life can be a factor in why some people turn to drugs, notwithstanding the fact it is individualistic and many people lack direction with their own lives if they do not have vested interests. In other words, drug crises are a product of capitalism.
No capitalist society operates more readily on supply and demand economics to the fullest than the US, and, as it happens, the US has more demand for recreational drugs than any other country on Earth. And who sees opportunity in supplying it? Those in the countries of the Global South, who are disadvantaged, exploited, and sitting in a position of inequality. This alone explains the complex supply chain of drugs through Latin America and into the US. It is a capitalist enterprise in true form, which exploits the vices of a capitalist society and represents the only hope of fortune for many individuals.
The US, of course, responds to its own social problems by scapegoating foreign actors for its woes, omitting the reality that it is part of the pathology of drug abuse. It does not respond by attempting to change society by making it more stable, happy, affluent or fulfilled to annul the need for drugs, but it uses hardline tactics such as tougher prison sentences (to the profit of the prison-industrial complex) and of course foreign intervention. Since the Trump administration, the US has increasingly found political opportunity in blaming China for its own fentanyl crisis, and subsequently exporting responsibility to Beijing, which has become another wedge in the middle of deteriorating ties between the two countries.
Politicians see opportunity in saying that Beijing is responsible for “killing Americans” in the same way they did with the Covid-19 pandemic. But the truth is, supply will go wherever demand wants it. It doesn’t matter if it is Chinese firms producing it, or any other country. Fentanyl and other drugs will find increasingly creative ways to enter the US and reap the cash. The answer to this kind of problem lies at home, but when that involves doing something in a highly toxic and divided political environment, and spending money on things the other party doesn’t want, the only consensus to be found amidst it all is to target one certain country – China. The US fentanyl crisis won’t end without huge social changes, and neither will the relentless US bashing of China.