I’ve been reading Titan, the biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr, authored by Ron Chernow. Rockefeller was the creator of Standard Oil and built an empire of oil magnates using cut-throat tactics on his competition. Chernow claims that one of Rockefeller’s earliest ambitions was to be rich. Standard Oil quickly grew so large that it became the target for the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, but the wily Standard Oil “combine” was merely inconvenienced by this and other legislation designed to contain it.
But this post is not about Rockefeller or Standard Oil. It is about the pervasive drive for domination and control by nations, institutions, and individuals. It is about “cripple-to-control,” intimidation, and other tactics used to subvert and subdue another person or group to someone’s will.
Certainly war is one example of the impetus to dominate and control, but there are others, more subtle, but just as psychologically destructive. Before war can ever begin, a group of people must delegate power to others to make decisions for the group. Delegated authority defines many institutions, like religious, governmental, educational, and corporate. The individual or group gives up freedoms in order to participate in or accommodate the requirements of the larger group.
In the modern United States, we claim we are free, and perhaps we are freer, in some ways, than others. However, our presumed independence has come at a huge cost, primarily submission to a host of laws and regulations that affect every area of our lives. The willingness to delegate authority to others on such a grand scale has the effect of keeping the populace in a child-like state of dependency, without the initiative to question or challenge the status quo.
The current “opioid crisis” provides an example of how this subtle mind control works. Governments and religions have been attempting to control what people ingest throughout time, but opium and its derivatives have been around—and used for pain relief, among other things—for thousands of years. It has been used as a medium of exchange in places like China, historically, and in places like Afghanistan today. It functions as “commodity money” on the black market, especially in poverty-ridden areas where honest cash is hard to obtain. It circumvents taxation.
The political importance of opiates spans the centuries. In 1729, the Chinese government outlawed opium, but the British used slave labor in India to grow the opium poppy and to smuggle the drug into China. Because gold was leaving the country, the Chinese government confiscated illegal shipments of British opium, leading to the “Opium Wars,” in 1839-1842. When the British won, they forced China to open its ports to more vigorous European trade.
After the Spanish-American War, in which the United States acquired the Philippines, among other territories, a missionary there became concerned about narcotics addiction. He urged US President Theodore Roosevelt to form an international committee to collaborate in the control of the narcotics trade. This led to the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (under Woodrow Wilson’s term), which put the federal government in control of every aspect of the cultivation, processing, distribution and consumption of opiates and cocaine. This followed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, which required labeling of patented medicines which contained any mind-altering substances, including cocaine, opiates, cannabis, and alcohol.
The early 20th century was characterized by a distinct moralizing tone. Leaders like John D. Rockefeller, who was a strict Baptist teetotaler and contributor to the Temperance movement, and President Woodrow Wilson, son of a fire-and-brimstone preacher, both believed they were doing God’s will and therefore justified in their business and political actions. This was the era leading up to Prohibition, beginning January 16, 1920, at the end of Wilson’s second term.
Although Franklin D. Roosevelt ended Prohibition (and thus re-instituted the whiskey tax that had provided a strong revenue source for the federal government) efforts to control and tax drugs didn’t end there. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 banned its use and sales. (Cannabis, or marijuana, has been used across cultures as a medicinal agent for 5000 years.) While the act was ruled unconstitutional years later, the prohibitions were replaced by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
The Controlled Substances Act created the drug schedule classification system used today. Under this formula, marijuana and heroin, among others, fall under Schedule I, which makes them absolutely illegal, with no recognized medical benefit. Prescription opioids, like Oxycontin and Fentanyl—two major narcotics implicated in the “opioid crisis”—fall under Schedule II, or those with recognized medical benefit but high abuse potential.
In 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared the “War on Drugs” and claimed drugs were “public enemy number one.” Despite costing over a trillion dollars to date, the “War on Drugs” continues, with no measureable benefits. Nixon claimed this federal action would curtail the high level of heroin addiction in returning Vietnam veterans.
While the “opioid crisis” has attracted the attention of government, professional organizations, media, and the public, I believe it is symptomatic of a much larger problem having to do with dominance and control on a grand scale. A good working definition of “addiction” is that it is a means of acting out power struggles with internal or external authority. That the US is an addictive nation may be disputed by some, but no one can deny the enormous growth of the pharmaceutical industry and the accompanying belief that pills or other drugs can alleviate human suffering on all levels.
That the approach to the “opioid crisis” is so skewed by selective information, misinformation, and politics makes me wonder if the “crisis” is among the authorities who feel themselves losing their grip. We are told that heroin overdoses are on the rise, especially in poverty-stricken communities, and that the addition of fentanyl to the mix increases the likelihood of overdose.
But we are not told that there is a difference between heroin (absolutely illegal) and prescription opioids, or that many drug users combine a multitude of drugs that also depress the respiratory system. We are advised that we need more funding for treatment, but we are not told that the most effective treatments to date have come from free, peer-supported groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). We are told that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) has been approved by the FDA and supported by professional organizations, but we are not told that two of the four approved drugs for MAT are also opioids, thereby, according to some, only perpetuating the problem of addiction.
Anyone who wants to address the “opioid crisis” in a realistic way should consider the power struggles generated by the laws themselves, which set up a dominance-and-control scenario that invites abuse of power as well as of drugs.