Opioids . . . the latest hysteria!
Ah, what would we do without fentanyl and opioids? We’d grab onto something else, wouldn’t we, something alarming and waiting just outside . . . outside everything! And we’d be justified, because isn’t this what everyone wants? We want to be afraid?
I don’t. Do you? So why this enthusiasm for fear? Is it because fear’s exhilarating? And because these are the stories we see, those gone viral. No one is fact-checking, just forwarding and re-posting . . . it’s all so exciting, so threatening . . ..
Today it’s opiate misuse, especially with a recently-discovered new devil, fentanyl. It’s invisible! It’s hidden in all sorts of things, making evil drugs more evil and destructive . . . and, yes, these drugs are dangerous and have taken lives. Not as many taken as by auto accidents, but, still, death is involved, and that’s a terrible thing, especially when it is preventable.
But are opioid overdoses and addiction preventable? Sure, if no one uses them, and we go back to church every week. The key is that opioids are used for very severe problems, for chronic pain which by itself can lead to suicide, pain is so awful. Just saying “no” is as stupid a suggestion as is using these pain-control agents for recreational purposes.
Today’s near-hysteria about the use of medical opioids is not just in the mass media – medical journals and pharmaceutical experts are describing addiction and abuse in near-inflammatory terms. They’ve forgotten the medical efficacy of these drugs, and if kids or bored middle-aged folks find them useful party-tools, something to make alcohol even crazier, the drugs themselves remain effective medical tools. They save lives, likely more than they destroy.
Anyone suffering chronic pain – for example, it’s a rare elder who doesn’t suffer from serious arthritis – should not be denied use of our only effective management tool to prevent chronic pain from dominating and destroying their lives.
Yes, there are other tools, from alternate drugs to physiotherapy, acupuncture to yoga, which help . . . but none of these match the power of the opioid family. The wise physician will recommend the use of multiple treatments and life-style improvements. Which, lip-service aside, seems rare.
Instead, what is more common is a misplaced moralizing attitude, which not only puts these medicinal remedies out of reach but makes the sufferers suffer even more in embarrassment for requesting them. Why not moralize about alcohol, tobacco, even sugar and salt?
Unquestionably, opioids are abused. And the consequences are as tragic for the abusers and their families as they are helpful for chronic pain sufferers. That’s the key – the problem is abuse, itself, not the agents being abused. Rather than harangue seniors or the sick for wanting some relief from pain, shouldn’t the investigators focus on the causes of abusive behaviour, self-abuse?
Opioids “cure” nothing and solve only the symptoms. But there is nothing so far more helpful than that. So, doctors, pharmacists, politicians and journalists, please tone-down the self-righteousness. It’s short-sighted and abusive.