Addiction: Socioeconomic factors must be addressed

Socioeconomic factors must be addressed

According to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, there are four states in which the rate of death from opioid overdoses are consistently much higher than the national average. No one living in the Mid-Ohio Valley will be shocked to learn they are West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The nationwide rate is 10 deaths per 100,000. Here in the Mountain State, the rate is a crippling 35 per 100,000. (Ohio sees 22, Kentucky 20, and Pennsylvania is at 10.5.)

This latest study shows the number of deaths from fentanyl has surpassed heroin. And though the study cites socioeconomic woes as a major contributor to the problem, it notes overprescription of opioids is still considered the “gateway” to this plague. That presents a problem for patients with chronic pain who have a legitimate need for such prescriptions.

An organization called Alliance for the Treatment of Intractable Pain, medical professionals and pain experts who hope to combat that problem, says “blameless patients are being denied access to essential therapies” as the government seeks solutions.

“We contradict the false narrative that all opioids are the same and all are bad. The current irrational government attack on prescription opioids is killing innocent people and leaving millions in cruel pain, needlessly destroying their lives,” said Richard Lawhern, a retired systems engineer and operations research analyst, who is an advocate for chronic pain patients and ATIP’s corresponding secretary.

On the other hand, Lawhern has said on his own website that “even narcotic drugs are unsuccessful in relieving pain for many patients,” in a discussion about a condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia.

It is a fine line to walk. Politicians and bureaucrats in search of an easy solution to a problem they were able to ignore for so long because of the region most affected have seized on the low-hanging fruit with which they are familiar. They were far too late to the party in doing so. Meanwhile, the rules intended to close the gateway on a problem that is now miles down the road might be punishing a small number of pain patients who still need those medicines.

And the socioeconomic contributors to the problem go untackled.

Anyone who takes a look at the region of the country most severely in the grip of this epidemic who does not see the socioeconomic commonalities among West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania is intentionally looking the other way. Imagine the death and misery it would take to turn their heads.