The opioid crisis is getting worse, but there is also good evidence that solving this crisis will require careful strategies because the problem is more complex than many might imagine. First, let’s look at the crisis. Americans are showing up in emergency rooms from opioid overdoses in record numbers. According to the CDC, suspected opioid overdoses increased by 30 percent from July 2016 to September 2017.
But as soon as you look at the statistics in various states, you see how complex this issue is to solve with a simple solution. For example, prescription opioids are driving the epidemic in some states. In other states, illicit opioids are driving the epidemic. And in a few states, it is both.
That is only part of the complexity. Opioids, when used correctly, can be highly effective pain medications. They can make the difference between a functional life and a dysfunctional life. Jacob Sullum writes about how doctors who are tired of the scrutiny have booted all their opioid patients and relegated them to a pain-racked existence.
His article in Reason Magazine challenges the current perception that the use of opioids always leads to addiction and death. He explains that “opioid-related deaths do not usually involve drug-naïve patients who accidentally get hooked while being treated for pain. Instead, they usually involved people with histories of substance abuse and psychological problems who use multiple drugs, not just opioids.”
He argues that we should not conflate two groups: opioid addicts and patients using opioids responsibly under a doctor’s care. We will need wise and careful policies to not only treat the epidemic but also help patients dealing with chronic pain.