July 23

Doctors and pain medications II

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Another column very much worth reading in its entirety by John Tierney on why doctors are reluctant to prescribe pain medicines.

The current zeal for sending doctors to jail for writing painkiller prescriptions may seem baffling, especially to the patients who relied on the doctors for pain relief. But if you consider it from the perspective of the agents raiding the doctors’ offices, you can see a certain logic.

He goes on about how over the years law enforcement agents have risked their lives going after drug dealers with very little to show for it. Street drugs have become stronger, prices are lower, and drug use is higher than ever. Law enforcement, in a typical burst of bureaucratic legerdemain, responded by “defining deviancy up.” In other words, we can’t catch the crooks, so let’s go after an easier target to make our numbers.

As quarry for D.E.A. agents, doctors offered several advantages over crack dealers. They were not armed. They were listed in the phone book. They kept office hours and records of their transactions. And unlike the typical crack dealer living with his mother, they had valuable assets that could be seized and shared by the federal, state and local agencies fighting the drug war.

After reading this piece it’s easy to see why doctors are reluctant to prescribe perfectly legitimate pain medications to patients experiencing perfectly legitimate pain. As always, with almost all government maneuvering to make things better, the end consumers—in this case, the patients in pain—are the losers.


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