The DEA is celebrating after the DEA finally put in place restrictions for opiate pain suppression drugs. This is bad news for chronic pain sufferers and is based on some very faulty logic. Of course, faulty logic produces faulty regulation. Claiming that over the past ten years 100,000 people have died through the abuse of narcotic drugs like Oxycontin and Hydrocodone, the FDA had initiated regulations to hog tie physicians abilities to prescribe Schedule II and Schedule III drugs.
The regulation mainly forces patients to undergo doctor visits more often in order to renew their medications. Because of the high costs of medical care, this raises the overall cost of pain control by a tremendous margin. The regulation was opposed by the American Cancer Society, among other well known and high profile agencies with total credibility. Yet politicians mesmerized by the fallacious claims of anti-drug factions lump organizations in with the pharmaceutical industry lobby, discarding the venerable agencies’ veracity. Prodded by the likes of Senator Joe Manchin (D, W VA), regulations force physicians to reach to drugs like Acetaminophen or Ibuprophen to replace or dilute the opiates. The move ignores the fact that many of the sufferers of chronic pain due to cancer have sensitivities involving the liver, stomach and other organs which are aggravated by these drugs and other non-narcotic analgesics. For people with low platelet counts, it can induce internal bleeding –or at least uncontrolled bleeding like hemphelia. It ignores the fact that narcotics are used because they are the best and safest solution to curb suffering. So many of the more recently developed pain suppressants simply can’t do the job that morphine and hydrocodone do. That’s why the DEA, in December, approved Zohydro, a sustained action analog of hydrocodone that works better than Morphine Sulfate Contin, a sustained action version of Morphine. The so called public health advocates cheering the FDAs new curbing of opiates were dismayed by the FDA approval of Zohydro. The seeming contradiction of actions is demonstrative that political pressure has been brought to bear on the FDA. While they are trying to see to the betterment of the human condition, they’re also vulnerable to DEA political tactics.
The 100,000 deaths over a decade is virtually a straw man argument, a strategy that seems to work better and better with governmental decision makers. The number is equal to about 27 people a day and includes all deaths with some relationship to the addictive medications. Of the 317 million person population, the number of people affected by this do not even reach a micro-percent of a single percentage point. The number of veteran suicides each day is three times the number of opiate based fatalities and apparently isn’t enough to move governmental agencies towards corrective action. Only the VA has veteran anti-suicide programs and they aren’t very effective, considering the number of veteran suicides hasn’t dropped at all since the invocation of these programs. Sadly, some of the number of narcotic associated deaths includes veterans who’ve taken their own lives or were killed by contaminants in street obtained drugs because policies made it impossible for vets to access needed narcotics to treat their chronic pain. That’s outrageous.
This is an invented problem. With hyperbole being passed around that says doctors are handing out addictive narcotics like candy on Halloween, the facts are considerably different. Physicians are under highly pressurized oversight for the most part. There are certain organizations that cater to the street distribution of opiates, charging considerably but making it easy for addicts or their exploiters to gain access to the drugs. Simply targeting the system abusers and working with the states (like Florida) which have tremendously lax policies is all that’s needed to deal with the abuse issue. To criminalize sufferers of chronic pain and to essentially punish them for the laziness of the DEA to effectively meet their mandate is simply the wrong way to deal with the problem.
For the DEA to be driving the FDA is a profound step in the wrong direction. But then what should we expect? The DEA’s expertise has nothing to do with medicine, it is solely focused on criminalization and punishment. They’re law enforcement, not health improvement. The same holds true for the politicians who’ve reared their heads in order to micromanage agencies that the politicians have no expertise in at all.