In the September 13 issue of Vice, Maia Szalavitz challenges the myth that the U.S. can solve the opioid crisis by reducing the supply.
Szalavitz is an informed and highly accomplished neuroscience journalist who applies common sense to the opioid epidemic. She says,
“If America really wants to reduce the death toll from its opioid crisis, we need to focus on reducing demand, not supply.”
The situation since then certainly has been chilling. In fact, it has become downright frigid, and the people who are suffering the most are the people who can least afford to: those with chronic pain.
Dogmatic Use of the CDC Guidelines
As many people feared, the CDC guidelines are being used dogmatically.
Although the CDC intended the guidelines to only be used as guidelines, physicians are using them as mandates without regard for the individual needs of people in pain.
As an example, West Virginia University Health System — including all seven of its system hospitals and their clinics — has adopted the CDC guidelines. How they will implement them remains to be seen.
Guidelines Are NOT Reducing Deaths
Ironically, while the CDC guidelines are being widely adopted, they’re not helping to reduce the number of opioid-related overdose deaths.
Since 2012, there has been a decline in the number of overdose deaths from prescription medications.
Yet the deaths from opioids has increased. Almost the entire increase has been due to heroin and illegal synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the CDC.
Opioid prescriptions are clearly NOT the problem, but our government is dead set on continuing its push to decrease effective pain care.
There is literally no reason to continue these restrictions in view of the overdose numbers continuing to climb even as prescriptions are curtailed.
if we reduce the supply of legal opioids without working to decrease the demand for them, we will see more overdose deaths. That’s where our focus needs to be.
Focus is on Reducing Opioid Supply Only
Instead, there is almost exclusive focus on reducing opioid supply with little-to-no acknowledgment there is a demand, legitimate or not.
This problem can be attributed to a knowledge deficit combined with an earnest desire for a quick fix.
Unnecessary prescribing must be curbed, but reducing the amount of opioid prescriptions and doses based upon capricious and arbitrary limits suggested by the CDC seems to be contributing to the rise of overdose deaths.
The additional funding Congress has authorized to treat opioid addiction should be tied to mandating treatment upon request. No person should be denied access to treatment by anyone who receives federal funding.
We also must not deny people in pain access to opioid treatment without providing them an equally effective alternative.
“Equally effective” are key here. None of the alternatives proposed so far come even close to the efficacy of opioids.
There are real solutions if there is the will to find them.
Let compassion lead us forward while science lights the way.
Purchase Dr, Webster’s book, The Painful Truth: What Chronic Pain Is Really Like and Why It Matters to Each of Us (available on Amazon), or read a free excerpt here.