Opioids and experiences that simulate the deadening effects of narcotics are mechanisms to keep us submissive and depoliticized. Desperate citizens in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel “Brave New World” ingested the pleasure drug soma to check out of reality. Our own versions of soma allow tens of millions of Americans to retreat daily into addictive mousetraps that generate a self-induced autism.
The United States consumes 80 percent of opioids used worldwide, and more than 33,000 died in this country in 2015 from opioid overdoses. There are 300 million prescriptions written and $24 billion spent annually in the U.S. for painkillers. Americans supplement this mostly legal addiction with over $100 billion a year in illicit marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin. And nearly 14 million U.S. adults, one in every 13, regularly abuse alcohol.
But these monetary figures are far less than what we spend on gambling. Americans in 2013 lost $119 billion gambling, with an additional $70 billion—or $300 for every adult in the country—spent on lottery tickets.
Federal and state governments, reliant on tax revenues from legal gambling and on lottery ticket sales, will do nothing to halt the expansion of the industry or the economic and psychological toll it exacts on those in financial distress. State-run lottery games had sales of $73.9 billion in 2015, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. This revenue is vital to budgets beset by declining incomes, deindustrialization and austerity. “State lotteries provided more revenue than state corporate-income taxes in 11 of the 43 states where they were legal, including Delaware, Rhode Island, and South Dakota,” Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic. “The poorest third of households buy half of all lotto tickets,” he noted. Gambling is a stealth tax on poor people hoping to beat the nearly impossible odds. Governmental income from gambling is an effort to make up for the taxes the rich and corporations no longer pay.