A recent Los Angeles Times report titled, Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., places the blame for an increase in drug deaths on everything but the guilty parties. Instead of focusing on Big Pharma and doctors overprescribing drugs, the focus is on the victims. The article leans heavily on a tragically abused—and rapidly increasing—group of people, pain patients. It also conflates pain medications with anxiety meds, two entirely different groups.
Worse, though, the article makes claims based on assumption, not on facts. The CDC report cited does not break the totals down by types of drugs. It only gives codes according to the physical causes, not the types of drugs that caused those deaths. As a result, it’s only too easy to make claims that victimize pain patients. The article is full of anecdotes and quotes from all sorts of officials, including police and the Drug Enforcement Administration, but is quite shy on facts.
It’s most assuredly true that the number of official fatalities from pharmaceutical drugs is high. It’s also true that the real toll is far greater than acknowledged by the CDC, as it does not include even a guess at how many die from long term effects, such as cancer that develops from antibiotic use, nor does it acknowledge the deaths that result from drugs like statins or chemotherapy.
The article talks only about anxiety drugs, like Xanax, and drugs for pain, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. It doesn’t discuss the situation of people in pain who are denied drugs because doctors refuse to prescribe them. It doesn’t consider the fact that more and more people are becoming pain patients as a result of the treatments they receive from modern medicine, such as spinal surgeries that end with arachnoiditis or antibiotic-induced cancer or steroid-induced diabetes or squalene-induced arthritis.
Pain is becoming one of the most significant issues in people’s live in America. The American Pain Society estimates that 9% of all Americans suffer from chronic non-cancer pain. That’s an enormous number, and it’s obviously growing. Chronic disease is increasing at an enormous rate. There is little reason to believe that the increase in deaths from prescription drugs is the result of misuse by pain patients, but instead is related to the enormous increase in the number of people suffering from chronic illness.
The article tells tales of teenage misuse of drugs and of overdoses from mixing drugs, of suicides with drugs. It refers to liberalized prescriptions of these drugs—a suggestion that virtually all pain patients will contend is entirely untrue. Mostly, it focuses on presumed misuse by patients, rather than misuse by nonpatients. And it utterly ignores the massive number of deaths by all other pharmaceutical drugs, a number that dwarfs the risks associated with pain medications into insignificance.
The Los Angeles Times article bashes pain patients without any consideration for their needs. Yet, it virtually gives a pass to conventional medicine for creating that need. The blame for misuse of these desperately needed and horrifically underprescribed drugs is placed on those who most need them—the people whose lives are consumed by pain because of a medical system that discounts their value, treating them as discardable and ignominious objects. The medical profession, the drug agencies, and the new media have become adept at blaming the victims, which can only worsen their situation, pushing desperate people to suicide.
Truly, if doctors cared for their patients, one of their first concerns would be to eliminate pain. Instead, they victimize those in pain, label them as “drug seekers” or “mentally ill”, and use those labels to refuse their need. Now, they have the news media helping them. This is one of the great evils of our time. The willful and self-righteous avoidance of providing pain treatment to those in need is symptomatic of a medical system and society that have lost their way.
I wonder if the author of that Los Angeles Times piece ever considers the harm done by not bothering to look deeply into this issue (among others)? There appears to be no concern for the truth. Simply taking a few quotes and statistics out of context now stands for reporting. It isn’t. It’s lazy claims sitting on a finger pointed at an easy target—the victims of an immensely powerful medical system gone awry.