Thursday, March 25, 2004

Slate's got an article on prescription pain medication that's worth reading. But here's the short version: the media pushes a "normal people trapped by horribly addictive drugs" story, but the truth is that most of the people that abuse prescription pain medication have a history of abusing other drugs. For those with no history of drug addiction, the addiction rates for prescription opiates are in the single digits. Nevertheless, doctors are highly reluctant to prescribe anything more than mild pain killers to anyone except the dying (and sometimes even then) for fear that a prosecutor will target them as a "pill mill". As a result, people living with chronic pain are deprived of drugs that work.

It's a harder story to report on, but I'd love to see a media expose on overzealous "drug warrior" prosecutors and their effect on pain medication prescription rates.

Years ago, I sat and listened to a group of college freshmen talk about their plans for the weekend. One of their friends had just landed in the hospital for overdosing on his mother's antidepressants, which he'd taken because he wanted to hallucinate. Now, they were comparing the virtues of beer (very hard to get) and Robitussin (unpleasant, but easy to get). As I understand it, they ended up huffing keyboard cleaner.

Nothing was going to stop those guys from getting high, anymore than you could stop a lab monkey from pushing the button that lights up his pleasure centers. All the drug war did was push them off on more and more dangerous substances. Meanwhile, for every one of them, there are a dozen folks who want nothing more than to be a minimally functional human being, but can't because of pain. There are drugs available to treat that pain, but it's hard as hell to find a doctor willing to prescribe them. In my humble opinion, treating that pain is worth letting the monkeys have their soma, but, then, I never went to law school, so maybe the prosecutors know something I don't.

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