The War on Pain Management
The casualties of the drug war fill our prisons, but illicit drugs remain widely available. John Tierney, commenting on DEA's war on doctors, makes a persuasive argument that the failed drug war has motivated DEA and other law enforcement agents to define deviancy up by going after physicians, the licensed drug dealers.
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.
Tierney also makes a convincing case that "the OxyContin crisis" -- DEA's supposed reason for chasing doctors who write more prescriptions than DEA agents believe to be prudent-- isn't a crisis at all.
The D.E.A. announced that in two years, there had been 464 OxyContin-related deaths, but most of the victims had taken other drugs, too, so the cause of death was uncertain. Ronald Libby, a political scientist at the University of North Florida, notes that even that figure is a minuscule fraction (0.00008 percent) of the number of OxyContin prescriptions written, and that it's dwarfed by the more than 32,000 people who die in the same period from gastrointestinal bleeding from other painkillers, like aspirin and ibuprofen.
TalkLeft recently called attention to another of Tierney's columns on this critical issue, lamenting the 25 year sentence imposed on a wheelchair-bound man who had (in the government's judgment) too many pills to control his overwhelming pain. DEA agents with no medical training seem to believe they know more about appropriate pain management than doctors and the patients who must endure the pain. They go after the suffering patients, then they go after the doctors who try to help them. And what problem does this solve? Scaring doctors away from using their best professional judgment harms pain management and forces patients to seek illicit sources of pain relief. Tierney again:
Consider the progress the White House's drug-policy agency found last year in a field survey on drug use in Cincinnati: "Because diverted OxyContin is more expensive and difficult to purchase," the agency reported, "users have switched to heroin."
The attorney generals of 30 states have complained that the DEA's confusing and overreaching interference with medical judgment has denied patients necessary pain relief. But we know how much the Bush administration cares about states' rights when it comes to the drug war.
|< GAO: TSA Violated Privacy Act | Noah is Blogging From Iraq >|