A series of workshops, informative talks and town halls focusing on the opioid epidemic has been ongoing this week at the Community Building. Sponsored by the Oklahoma State University Center for Wellness and Recovery, the event has brought in a number of experts who have provided enlightening information to anyone concerned.
But there are many layers to opioid use and abuse, and those should be factored in, too. Not everyone who uses opioid-based pills is an addict, and while exercise and proper diet will help curtail chronic pain, it isn't always enough. In the end, it's up to those who prescribe medication to act as bulwarks against abuse.
Oklahoma became one of the first states to sue manufacturers of opioid-based painkillers, blaming these companies for essentially pushing their pills upon a hapless public. While a couple of the companies settled with the state, Johnson & Johnson has tried to get its case tossed from the courts. Prosecutors are portraying J&J as the "kingpin" of the epidemic, and according to analysts, drugmakers, manufacturers and distributors could be on the hook for as much as $100 billion.
In some ways, it's reminiscent of the lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Scott Pruitt against Colorado, for purportedly pushing its illicit weed across state lines. Ultimately, it could also mirror class action lawsuits that end up with billions of dollars in a pot intended for victims, but ultimately culminate in the lion's share of settlement money going to the attorneys. Only a pittance reaches collective plaintiffs - and many don't even realize they're entitled to a cut.
There are numerous ways to ease pain, and they should all be used in tandem by those who need help. But any attempt to demonize those who use these pain pills prudently, in the prescribed manner, and mainly as a last resort when nothing else works, should be rejected out of hand by both experts and the public at-large. Furthermore, attempts to completely eliminate such medications from the market would do far more harm than good. Many people with chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can only remain in the workforce and function normally if they can sometimes stave off the pain when it becomes too great to manage without pharmaceuticals. Those who haven't "been there, done that" may not be sympathetic, but they should ask themselves if they'd rather see people with autoimmune diseases or other catastrophic ailments join the burgeoning disability roles than continue their productive roles in society.
Although the lawsuits don't necessarily target them, doctors must shoulder their share of the blame. A physician prescribing thousands of pills a year to one patient has to consider the possibility of addiction, and intervention may be needed. When patients seem to be the victims of pill theft several times a year, the same questions have to be asked. Doctors are well-trained in their profession, and even without overzealous marketing from manufacturers, they had to know these pills have the potential to be addictive, and should consider that fact when they write prescriptions.
There's no easy answer. People who need painkillers should have access to them, within reason. At the same time, society needs a solution for those who can't get the help they need and turn to something worse - like heroin. Opioids are like fatty foods, risky hobbies or bad relatives: They serve a purpose, and can't be eliminated, but they can be approached with prudence and intelligence. People, at some point, have to take responsibility for their own actions.