We May Have Gone Too Far in Demonizing Opioids

Too many people are dying painful deaths, writes Ann Neumann in the Baffler
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2024 3:20 PM CDT
There's a Big Downside to Demonizing Opioids
   (Getty / Anastasiia Kuznetcovia)

The stigma in America against opioid use is an understandable one, writes Ann Neumann in the Baffler. After all, the devastating toll of addiction over the last two decades by drugs such as OxyContin has been well chronicled. Neumann covers that familiar territory in her piece, but in the context of asking a larger question: Have we gone too far in curbing access in the name of safety? She suggests we have, with the result being that too many people are dying in extreme pain. "Even morphine, which has long been used to ease the final days and hours of patients in hospice care, is only available to the fortunate ones, as supply chain problems have combined with fears of overuse, leading to vast inequities as to who dies in terrible pain," she writes.

Neuman recounts the long history of opium and its derivatives—"the most effective pain relievers known to man"—and how they have come to be demonized today, with unintended consequences. Along the way, she punctures what she calls a "myth" about the nation's opioid epidemic, the oft-told tale of, "say, a high school athlete getting hooked on Oxy after knee surgery." In reality, most of those who become addicted, she writes, have a prior history of drug use. "Understanding—and addressing—addiction is what's missing from current drug policy," she writes. A takeaway:

  • "Rather than shame and blame the drugs, the drug manufacturers, or the drug users, we will see no real progress until we compassionately tackle addiction's roots in poverty, trauma, racism, policing, and inadequate health care. A society that has seen the kind of abuse of opioids the United States has experienced, along with widespread confusion about their proper use, is a society immersed in many varieties of pain."
(Read the full story.)

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