People live every day with excruciating pain that is untreatable with current medications, either because the medication has nasty side effects or they have built a tolerance or both. So I would have thought the prospect of a new medication to help these folks would be an occasion for good news.
But not according to Chris Hawley of the Associated Press. I first saw this story in our local paper, and was just staggered at its tone. The article begins this way:
Drug companies are working to develop a pure, more powerful version of the nation's second most-abused medicine, which has addiction experts worried that it could spur a new wave of abuse.
And it goes on and on in that vein, for paragraph after paragraph. Through it all there is all kinds of over-wrought speculation, with nary a statistic or fact in sight. This is not atypical of the tone:
"It's like the wild west," said Peter Jackson, co-founder of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids. "The whole supply-side system is set up to perpetuate this massive unloading of opioid narcotics on the American public."
or this gem:
Critics say they are troubled because of the dark side that has accompanied the boom in sales of narcotic painkillers: Murders, pharmacy robberies and millions of dollars lost by hospitals that must treat overdose victims.
Recognize that murders and robberies associated with narcotics are almost always due to their illegality, not their basic nature. These are a function of prohibition, not the drug itself, which in fact is more likely to make users docile than amped up to commit crime.
It is not until paragraph 11 that the article actually acknowledges there might be some folks who benefit from this new medication. And even this is a dry discussion of side effects by some doctors -- how about heart-rending quotes from pain sufferers? Newspapers love to include these, except in articles on pain medications where I have yet to see one such quote.
But then the author quickly goes back to arguing that pharmaceutical companies are purposefully addicting patients as part of the business model
"You've got a person on your product for life, and a doctor's got a patient who's never going to miss an appointment, because if they did and they didn't get their prescription, they would feel very sick," said Andrew Kolodny, president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. "It's a terrific business model, and that's what these companies want to get in on."
That's a pretty ugly way to portray this. Couldn't you argue the same thing about, say, medications that suppress HIV? What these opponents never discuss is that they are basically proposing to consign people who have chronic pain to life-long torture. They are saying "better in pain than addicted." Really? I will take the addiction. Hell, by the same logic I am addicted to water and air too.
The notion that we should force a person to live in lifelong pain because some other person makes choices we don't like regarding their own narcotic use is just awful. Seriously, these are the same folks who say that libertarians have no empathy.
Postscript. Only after her death have I really learned about the contributions of Siobhan Reynolds, who died the other day after years of fighting to bring the interests of pain sufferers into this debate. Radley Balko has a memorial, but this AP article is about all you need to understand what she was fighting, and how easily the plight of pain sufferers is ignored in these discussions.