First, the capitalist class cut the production costs by limiting access to quality health care for labor to increase their profits. In the US this has led to millions of workers depending on cheap and available prescription narcotics. Employer-provided insurance companies routinely deny more costly non-narcotic treatment for injured workers and insist on prescribing cheap opioids to get the workers back on the job. Cheap opioids were tolerated by union health plans in the beginning to save money, while union bosses looked the other way as thousands of workers became addicts.
Secondly, capitalists freely fire workers who are injured at work and seek treatment, forcing workers to avoid sick leave and to rely even more on opioids, like Oxy-Contin, which ‘Big Pharma’ falsely marketed as non-addictive.
Thirdly, capitalists profit immensely from the premature deaths by overdose and related preventable causes among older workers because this lowers pension costs and health insurance payments. Wall Street has brazenly celebrated the billions of dollars of pension and health care liabilities saved by the shortened life expectancy among US workers. The drop in life expectancy and rise in premature death in the US resembles the pattern seen in Russia during the first decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rampant pillage by the US-backed mafia oligarchs under Boris Yeltsin.
Fourthly, capitalists are free to hire young replacement workers (eighteen to thirty years old) as temporary labor at lower wages and without any benefits. They are subject to the insecurities of contingent employment, as part of the ‘gig economy’ (outsourcing to ‘self-employed’ workers and employees). These overstressed workers, with no future, turn to opioids to overcome physical pain and emotional stress – until they drop out as slaves to addiction. This is the main reason for the declining numbers of young workers available in the US – despite relatively high employment levels.
Fifthly, and to add a morbid insult to injury, the opioid death epidemic has been a bonanza for the tissue and organ transplant industry, where ‘materials’ harvested from young overdose victims, including bones, skin, cornea, tendons, heart valves, teeth and blood vessels are worth tens of thousands of dollars per corpse. Organs harvested from brain-dead overdose victims are valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And harvest companies and tissue brokers hover around hospital emergency rooms like carrion birds waiting for news of new victims – often contacting next of kin before the authorities. This bizarre profiting from the completely preventable domestic deaths of US capitalism recalls Jonathan Swift’s satiric ‘Modest Proposal’ for British entrepreneurs to harvest the skin of the Irish Potato Famine victims to make commercial items, like ladies’ purses!