It is very difficult to get the media to report news that doesn’t fit the currently accepted view on prescription drugs and the opioid crisis. A few months ago, I sent lengthy letters to the newsrooms of all of our local television stations and newspapers, telling the the truth of the opioid crisis and pain meds, all supported with clear data, yet I have only received one reply. And that reply was, more or less, just an expression of sympathy. Precious few reporters are interested in being the tellers of truth, a fact which I find deeply disturbing, in and of itself.
Having hit those brick walls over and over, I had concluded that the effort far exceeded the reward, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There has to be a way to tell our side of the story to the news-consuming public.
By pure providence, I just received this letter from Richard Lawhern, Ph.D. It is a 400-word letter to the editor that neatly debunks many falsehoods about opioid prescriptions and the rising rate of overdose deaths in America. Dr. Lawhern has given blanket permission for anyone to use this letter to send to their own local newspaper editor. If the media won’t cover our side of the issue as news, perhaps they will allow us to spread the truth, in 400 words or less, in the editorial section.
Armed with this letter, I went to the website of my local paper only to discover that letters to the Asheville Citizen-Times editor are limited to 200 words or fewer! I cut the 400-word letter down by half, and the resulting 200-word letter is also below.
Prescriptions Aren’t the Problem
Doctors “over-prescribing” opioids did not cause our “drug crisis.” Nearly half of all overdoses don’t involve opioids at all. Among remaining drug-related deaths in 2017, half involved illicit drugs — imported fentanyl and heroin. Only about 18,000 deaths involved a “prescription opioid” — and most of those also involved multiple illegal drugs and alcohol. Medical exposure is not the problem.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says most addicts begin to abuse alcohol and drugs in their teens or early 20s – before they encounter opioids. Contrast that with folks over age 55. Seniors are prescribed opioids for pain three times more often than youth under age 18. But seniors have the lowest overdose rates of any age group. Kids now overdose six times more often.
We do have an addiction crisis in America. But it’s related to lack of care, not prescribing. Prescriptions to people in pain are rarely involved in this tragedy. Restricting drug supply and counting pills won’t help. Forcing pain patients off the only medications that work won’t help.
Restrictive policies are now driving pain management doctors out of practice across America — and driving patients into agony, disability, and sometimes suicide when they are deserted. Most of what we hear in media about opioids and addiction is flat out wrong.
We know what is really needed. Politicians just don’t want to pay for it.
Nobody knows how to “cure” addiction. We may never know. The best we can do is early prevention and later harm reduction. Some educational programs starting in Middle School don’t work (“Just Say No” was a total failure). But others have shown results. For people already addicted, the most effective harm reduction is Medication Assisted Treatment (Methadone or Buprenorphine), combined with long term community reintegration.
Reintegration means job training, safe housing, mental-health and recovery counseling — and support for people who relapse. 28-day detox clinics and Narcotics Anonymous don’t work alone. Such programs have high relapse rates when recovering addicts are discharged without support into the same circumstances that made them vulnerable to drugs in the first place.
Addiction recovery is neither cheap nor easy. We must invest billions every year in our labor force, housing and communities. We must also divert non-violent drug offenders out of the justice system. Even the Christie Commission got that one right. But more restrictions on doctors and their patients aren’t the answer.
Prescriptions Aren’t the Problem
Doctors over-prescribing opioids did not cause our drug crisis. According to CDC’s data, nearly half of all overdoses don’t involve prescribed opioids at all. Among the remaining drug-related deaths in 2017, half involved illicit fentanyl and heroin. Only about 18,000 deaths involved a prescription opioid, and most of those also involved multiple illegal drugs and alcohol.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says most addicts begin to abuse drugs in their teens or early 20s. Contrast that with pain patients on opioid therapy, the majority of which are over age 55. Seniors are prescribed opioids three times more often than youth under age 18, yet somehow seniors have the lowest overdose rates of any age group, and youth overdose six times more often. Prescriptions aren’t the problem.
Restricting pain medication to pain patients won’t stem the tide of illicit fentanyl and heroin overdose deaths. Forcing pain patients off the only medications that work, providing no alternatives, and driving those same patients to street drugs and, increasingly, to suicide won’t help either.
Lawmakers must direct their attention to the real problem–the rising tide of illicit street drugs–and stop persecuting pain patients, the most vulnerable among us.