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The War Over Prescription Painkillers
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cweinbl posted:
"There's no question that prescriptions for opioid painkillers like Oxycontin and Percocet have soared in recent years. It's also clear that there are some rogue doctors and "pill mills" who unscrupulously hand out prescriptions, sometimes to patients who shouldn't get them, sometimes to drug addicts and drug dealers pretending to be pain patients. But it's also far from certain that the painkiller abuse and overdoses are as dire as the government is making it out to be. And to the extent that there is a problem, it's due more to a decade of aggressive policing, obstinate federal law enforcement agencies, and the encroachment of law enforcement into the practice of medicine than lax government oversight. The DEA in particular has been scaring reputable doctors away from pain management since the late 1990s. People who suffer from chronic pain simply can't find doctors willing to treat them over the long term. The unscrupulous doctors and pill mills in the headlines have sprung up to fill the void."
So begins a three-part series in the Huffington Post by Radly Balko (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/radley-balko/prescription-painkillers_b_1240722.html ). Balko states, "Despite the recent headlines about the rise in sales of prescription painkillers, chronic pain is still significantly under-treated in America . There are a number of reasons why. For one, there's no diagnostic test to diagnose pain, so doctors must rely on patient descriptions of what they're feeling. That can be tricky, because tolerance for pain varies widely from person to person. Culturally, pain has also long been viewed as something we encounter and endure as part of the human condition. In many religions, noble suffering is considered pious. Pain treatment is also a relatively new medical specialty; it didn't have its own medical society until the early 1980s.
But the biggest barrier to effective pain treatment continues to be bad public policy, much of it driven by the war on drugs. Opioids -- morphine, oxycodone, methadone, and other drugs derived from the opium plant (or synthetically structured to mimic it) -- are the most effective way to treat severe and chronic pain. Emerging (but still controversial) treatments like long-term, high-dose opioid therapy have shown particular promise with chronic pain. Just this month , an article in the journal Science described another promising new therapy, in which large doses of the drugs delivered over a short period of time, shortly after an injury, may help prevent chronic pain from developing at all.
But pain patients and their advocates say the bigger problem is that drug control has taken priority over ensuring access to effective treatment. ... what ought to be a research-driven debate among medical professionals has been corrupted by policies aimed at preventing addicts and drug pushers from obtaining painkillers, not what's in the best interest of pain patients. Police and prosecutors now dictate medical policy."
Do you live with chronic pain and face difficulty getting proper medical treatment? Email radley.balko@huffingtonpost.com and include a phone number if you're willing to be interviewed.
Between 75 million and 100 million Americans experience some kind of chronic pain. Many live with it because they fear using narcotics, even though narcotics would enhance the quality of their life. Others decry the social stigma that they perceive will be attached to them by using narcotics. Just one medication added 9 wonderful years to my career. Many others desire to use narcotics, but cannot find a physician willing to prescribe them. These are the true victims of "the war on prescription painkillers." Because the government attempts to punish drug abusers and "pill mill" physicians, millions of innocent Americans with chronic pain are going untreated or undertreated.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of this important article at The Huffington Post at the link provided above.
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