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The opioid epidemic – a failure of vision?

August 8, 2017

The “opioid epidemic” makes it sound like we have just discovered a new and threatening virus from outer space.

In truth this is largely another political football.  It’s something to talk about besides Trump, Trump and more Trump.

A few years back this was called white collar drug addiction but by any name it is almost as much a part of the modern human experience as the free love movement or draft-dodging of the 1960’s.

Of course the answer to it is surely another government program.  All sorts of inane logic and manual “solutions” will be proposed, electioneered on and finally have boxcar loads of tax dollars shoveled into them.

Note that this has become a separate issue from the “war on drugs”, which we lost decades ago.

In its purest form, opioid addiction stems from the overuse or misuse of legally prescribed narcotics,  although it often crosses into the shadowy underworld of street drug dealing.

The reaction is somewhat similar to the temperance movement, or war on alcohol, in the late 19th and early 20th century, the culmination of which was the ill-fated 18th Amendment.

The deleterious effects of that law have been debated ever since, but it surely did not turn the United States into a “dry” country even when it was in effect.

Now, as then, you have all sorts of mechanical solutions pouring forth. Don’t allow anyone to possess or be prescribed more than “X’ number of pills, outlaw certain drugs like Fentanyl (which when used correctly is useful and humane in conditions such as the terminal phase of cancer patient care), sue the drug makers out of existence (although no drug manufacturer can prescribe for a patient), etc. etc. etc.

The truth is, there are few pharmacological treatment protocol choices between NSAIDs and opiate medications available to patients with severe pain, whether acute or chronic.

All these one-size-fits-all solutions will do is waste a lot of money and penalize those people who truly need and use the drugs properly.

There are other pain treatment protocols, such as biofeedback, physical therapy, some of the Eastern medicine routes, such as acupuncture or even hypnosis, but opiates used properly will continue to be necessary as long as the underlying need for pain control exists.

Perhaps a better use of those Federal (read as “your”) billions proposed for inclusion into the next Federal healthcare plan might be to develop better, localized and non-addictive pain control alternatives, such as nerve blocking without the often undesirable side effects, as well as filling the pharmacological void between aspirin and morphine.

But that of course would require that someone look for solutions to the real problem, rather than just using it for yet another political football.

That’s hard, and what politician would ever pass up a chance to pass a new law in favor of actually solving a problem?

Certainly none existing today.

From → op-ed

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