There has been much discussion in recent years about the crisis of opioid abuse, and while there is broad agreement that “something must be done,” there are innocent victims of a crackdown on opioid drugs that often go unnoticed.
According to the Cato Institute, those overlooked victims are hospitalized patients recovering from accidents or surgeries who are in serious pain, but are unable to receive necessary doses of powerful painkillers to ease their suffering.
Rather than being administered proper doses of opioid drugs, these patients are instead being treated with less effective drugs like acetaminophin, muscle relaxers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, similar to what one could obtain over the counter at a local drug store.
In other words, while these people are wracked with excruciating pain and legitimately require the powerful opioid drugs to ease their pain, they are instead left suffering in a literal “hell on earth” due to government intrusion into the pharmaceutical market.
The problem stems from a national quota set by the Drug Enforcement Administration that limits the amount of opioid drugs that can be manufactured and sold.
It was first announced in late 2016 that production of opioids would be reduced by at least 25 percent. The DEA then announced in 2017 that it would reduce 2018 production of opioid drugs by at least another 20 percent from earlier reductions.
The cuts have resulted in a shortage of powerful opioid drugs needed for the legitimate purpose of easing the pain of accident victims, cancer patients and those recovering from surgery, leaving them in a world of hurt.
Making matters worse, the DEA’s cuts are fairly misguided, as the real problem of the “opioid crisis” isn’t the drugs themselves, but the results of an addiction to opioids.
When patients who have been prescribed opioid painkillers can no longer receive those powerful drugs, they often turn to illegal drugs obtained on the street like heroin and fentanyl, which are totally unregulated and when not properly administered, can result in fatal overdoses.
The highly addictive nature of opioid drugs and a tendency for doctors and hospitals to over-prescribe the drugs as a sort of panacea for all health issues is a legitimate problem.
But that problem would likely be better addressed by more stringent oversight in regard to the prescribing of these powerful drugs, not in a blanket reduction of the overall production of the drug that has caused shortages and left legitimate patients in need.
It should also be noted that the DEA alone isn’t responsible for this terrible turn of events, as other factors are most certainly also at play, such as the ongoing consolidation of the pharmaceutical industry, the unfathomable length of time it takes the Food and Drug Administration to approve new drugs and, of course, the typical ebb-and-flow of supply and demand in a market economy.
But the mandated production cuts by the DEA has exacerbated the problems surrounding opioid abuse. Aside from leaving legitimate patients in pain, the move could also result in more patients turning to alternatives like heroin or fentanyl to deal with their incredible pain on their own, which raises the risk of overdose or running afoul of the laws against illicit drug use.
Many people have viewed the overarching “war on drugs” as largely being a failure — drug abuse rates have remained steady despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars to combat the problem — and this recent move to crackdown on the opioid crisis is simply the latest such misguided government effort to combat drug abuse and addiction.
The opioid abuse crisis deserves plenty of attention, but keep in mind there are legitimate purposes for such drugs and a blanket reduction in their availability does nothing to solve the underlying problem. In fact, it only makes things worse for those truly in need.
Let’s remember those hospital patients in severe pain as we continue to debate the best way to reduce addiction and dependence on powerful drugs.
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