The Democrats’ Terrible Plan to Fix the Opioid Epidemic

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If you’ve watched any of my videos, you’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a filthy hippy liberal progressive socialist space communist. And so I will generally support the most progressive candidate that I feel has a chance in hell of winning an election, however because I am also a skeptical cynical agnostic atheist contrarian asshole, I feel quite free to criticize the most progressive candidates when they screw up, because constructive criticism is how we all get better. That and lifting heavy. Constructive criticism and lifting heavy are how we all get better. Gains!

So this week, Democratic Senator Kristen Gillibrand tweeted, “If we want to end the opioid epidemic, we must work to address the root causes of abuse. That’s why @SenCoryGardner and I introduced legislation to limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to 7 days. Because no one needs a month’s supply for a wisdom tooth extraction.”

Oh, no. Oh, no no no. Gilly! Why?!

This is typical of the worst of politics: politicians proposing legislation that sounds good and rational and wholesome on the surface but doing it in the face of all of our current scientific knowledge. If Gillibrand and Gardner had spoken to any doctors who have researched the opioid epidemic, they would know that this ain’t it.

First of all, I don’t think anyone would argue that we have a problem with opioids here in the US, where more than 130 people die of an overdose every day from abusing them. The reason why this became a problem was because of pharmaceutical companies (aka Big Pharma) assuring society that prescription opioids wouldn’t be addictive and wouldn’t lead to serious abuse, leading to some doctors prescribing them more often than they should have and also leading to these pills flooding the black market, and here we are: 130 people a day, dead.

Michigan had the same idea as Gillibrand and Gardner back in 2017, when they passed legislation limiting the number of days that doctors could prescribe opioids. It’s been long enough that we can start to see how effective that was: while the total number of opioid prescriptions have decreased by 40%, the number of deaths from opioids has remained steady. In other words, no lives have been saved but we may have more people out there living with intense pain because they don’t have a prescription. Doctors in Michigan have pointed out that because of the limits, even patients with prescriptions aren’t getting the pills they need, as they often run out too early and can’t get back to the doctor in time for a new prescription. Doctors are also complaining because all of this has greatly increased the amount of red tape they have to deal with just to do their job, which includes managing the pain of their patients.

But wait, there’s more! One of the biggest concerns with prescription opioids is how they introduce people to the black market. Once a patient can no longer get (or afford) a prescription, they may likely be driven to the street, where they can buy pills that are there because people with chronic pain often sell them in order to pay for other life-saving medication. And at that point they are likely to realize that there is a cheaper, more efficient solution: heroin and fentanyl. Over the past several years, deaths from prescription opioids have remained stable while deaths from heroin and other street drugs has skyrocketed.

So laws like this just end up making the problem worse, pushing patients to the black market to get the pain meds they need. And Gillibrand and Gardner should know that, because all the data is there for us to see, including a perfect, crystal clear case study in Michigan showing what a huge disaster it is.

I’m all for reevaluating our drug laws to stop senseless deaths due to addiction, but only when our politicians are informed by actual science. Let’s hope they reconsider before this nonsense becomes a law.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. > The reason why this became a problem was because of pharmaceutical companies (aka Big Pharma) assuring society that prescription opioids wouldn’t be addictive and wouldn’t lead to serious abuse,

    Hey Rebecca, do you have a link to substantiate this? I’ve found articles detailing “overzealous” marketing efforts, and a few noting “claims”–which sounds like a lawsuit, not a scientific review–of withholding information, or representing their products as safer than alternatives. I can’t find anything that shows drug companies specifically claimed their opioid products were not addictive. I believe there was some research a few years back that showed prescription opioids taken for pain AS PRESCRIBED did not pose a significant risk for addiction. As I understand it, the vast majority of people who take opioid medication for a legit medical issue do not become addicted.

    I agree with you that laws such as that proposed by Senators Gillibrand and Booker are likely to cause more harm than good. According to the CDC somewhere between 11 and 40 percent of the US population suffers with chronic pain. We should not be looking at ways to make life any harder for these people.

  2. As someone from Michigan who has a friend with serious chronic pain issues, I’ve seen the red tape side of this first hand. My friend also gets accused of being an addict all the time despite having proven pain issues…

  3. I look at it as, maybe we should be glad they’re trying? Obama’s response to opioids was pretty much the same as Reagan’s response to AIDS (that is to say, nothing). The Clinton campaign, some of the people I met were actually gleeful? (Yeah, they went out of their way to make Trump the less-disgusting choice.) So, that Democrats admit it is a problem is a good step.

    I just wish they understood that some patients really do have chronic pain issues.

  4. I’m curious why you’ve chosen not to post my comment. I don’t believe I was disrespectful in any way, nor do I believe I broke any of the posting rules. Can you at least let me know why? If you’d just as soon I not post on your site please let know and I’ll move along.

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