There’s no question that, at one time or another, everyone will suffer from pain. The question is how it will be managed. In the past, before every ache and pain justified an emergency room trip or visit to the doctor’s office, pain was treated with non-narcotic medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, as well as rest, ice, and heat. Now, whether it’s a sprained ankle suffered sliding into home plate or a longstanding backache, pain is routinely treated with the narcotics once solely reserved for cancer.
The choice is not without hazards. Tolerance to the medication (requiring ever increasing amounts to achieve the same effect), addiction (both physical and psychological), and respiratory depression leading to death are all known side effects of narcotic treatment. Unfortunately, the current mindset that every healthcare encounter includes a prescription combined with the unwillingness to man up, has led to an explosion in legally written prescriptions for narcotics and a corresponding increase in the number of drug related deaths.
In four of the last five years New Hampshire has had more drug overdose deaths than deaths due to car accidents. The majority of these overdoses weren’t from heroin or other illicit drugs, they were from prescription narcotics.
Why? Obtaining prescription narcotics and selling them is easy.
How easy? The Union Leader newspaper recently reported the arrest of a suspect with more than eleven hundred 30-milligram oxycodone pills, street value approximately $35,000.00.
Where did the pills come from? Not from thefts at the pharmacy or factory.
Most likely from thefts of medicine cabinets and the voluntary sale of legally acquired pills. Have a little pain? Get a few narcotics. Need extra money? Sell them. Worried about getting caught? Don’t be.
In New Hampshire, over the counter decongestants are more tightly regulated than prescription drugs. Pharmacies won’t dispense OTC decongestants such as Sudafed or Mucinex D without seeing a photo I.D., noting the purchaser’s name, and ensuing the purchaser hasn’t received more than a specified number in thirty days. You’d think it would be a no-brainer to implement a similar process with prescription painkillers.
No. There’s no widespread method of keeping track of how many pills someone fills per month. There’s no method to determine if they are visiting multiple doctors, various Emergency Rooms, or using aliases to obtain their pills. Walk into any pharmacy and, with enough cash in your pocket, you can walk out with a bottle of pills with excellent resale value and wide appeal. Convince a doctor you have chronic pain, you can repeat this process on a monthly basis. It’s surprising more people aren’t profiting from this easily exploited system.
Our country regulates alcohol. It regulates firearms. It regulates tobacco. It even regulates over the counter decongestants. What’s so hard about regulating prescription painkillers? Maybe no one wants to force the healthcare system to acknowledge the monkey they’ve put on the back of our society.
I’m thinking it’s easier to just write another prescription.