News of the Day ... In Perspective7/24/2005
DEA driving OxyContin abusers to heroin
The result of the War on Drugs in the 1980s and 1990s was to fill one-quarter of America’s prison cells with drug offenders. The availability of street drugs remained unchanged, and the price of heroin and cocaine dropped by more than half. Drug dealers also began to sell purer versions of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.
Recently, the DEA has shifted its focus to physicians who prescribe opioids such as OxyContin, some of which is undoubtedly diverted or abused, although sensation-seeking journalists fueled the perceptions of a “crisis.”
The shift prompted a letter from the attorneys general of 30 states, who complained that patients were not getting needed pain relief because doctors were afraid to prescribe.
“If enough doctors are jailed or scared into not writing prescriptions, it’s conceivable that this drug war could have more impact than the ones against heroin and cocaine—doctors, after all, are harder to replace than crack dealers,” writes John Tierney. “But even if there’s less OxyContin on the street, is that worth the suffering of patients who can’t get the prescriptions they need?”
And what has been the impact on drug abuse? A field survey on drug use in Cincinnati by the White House drug-policy agency found that “because diverted OxyContin is more expensive and difficult to purchase, users have switched to heroin” (John Tierney, “Handcuffs and Stethoscopes,” NY Times 7/23/05).
“Treating Doctors as Drug Dealers: the DEA’s War on Prescription Painkillers,” by Ron Libby, Cato Policy Analysis 545, June 16, 2005
“The Politics of Pain Management,” AAPS CD or DVD: www.aapsonline.org/shop
Letter from Attorneys General: Download PDF
“Why Is the DEA Hounding This Doctor?” from Time Magazine