June 23, 2016 – I applaud the persistent efforts of United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD mobilizing the medical community to address, assess and then fight the current Opioid Epidemic but I am gravely disappointed by the potential implications from the broad-sweeping “Addiction” conclusion he shared with the media yesterday, as depicted above. More specifically, I fear Surgeon General Dr. Murthy’s “addiction” comments might be interpreted by attention-seeking politicians as his summary assessment of anyone who must take opioid prescription drugs and that inaccurately and unfairly stigmatizes legitimate patients seeking relief for their pain (after trying and failing at all alternative methods such as physical therapy, acupuncture, relaxation techniques, etc.).
These patients in severe, systemic and/or chronic pain “need” narcotic anodynes to survive in the same way asthma patients “need” certain medication-infusing inhalers to breathe more comfortably. Moreover, “addiction” is a disease which doesn’t affect every patient taking these pain-relieving drugs. In fact, it is more accurate to describe legitimate chronic pain patients as becoming “physically dependent” on opioids prescribed by Board-Certified Pain Management Physicians. In that regard, there is a distinct difference between “addiction” and “physical dependence;” the former a condition of great concern for which these physician pain specialists are carefully trained to recognize and the latter an expected result for a chronic patient. It is as normal for a chronic pain patient to become physically dependent on opioids as it is for a patient battling for 20+ years with an incurable, pervasive and autoimmune illness like Crohn’s Disease to accrue significant cumulative medical bills from a variety of medical specialties such as from a gastroenterologist, rheumatologist, orthopedist, ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist, oncologist, dentist, oral surgeon, etc.
The Slippery-Slope of only using the word “Addiction” when discussing Prescription Opioids
I also believe Surgeon General Dr. Murthy’s over-inclusive conclusion creates a dangerous slippery-slope because whenever prescription painkillers are used by healthy people just to have fun and tragedy ensues, people legitimately medically dependent on these prescription painkillers are made to pay the price when grandstanding politicians propose or enact either over-broad laws or laws which make pain management physicians think twice before deciding to open up a medical practice due to the often superfluous and redundant amount of “CYA” paperwork and public reporting required with each and every prescription written.
It’s a situation much like that involving the current tragic wild forest fires out West if their tragic impact grew so fast that it moved the government to impose homogeneous regulations on the use of FIRE when there’s a HUGE difference between people responsibly using FIRE to keep warm and/or to cook food while others use FIRE for nefarious purposes to get their name mentioned on CNN as the felon who started a fancy-named California Forest Fire. Does our society suddenly clamp down on everyone who has anything to do with FIRE? No, it does not. The government simply goes after the criminal element and life goes on.
This doesn’t happen with prescription opioid painkillers because for whatever reason politicians refuse, or are unable, to separate necessary needs and uses of these drugs from unnecessary, illegal and misuses of them. Are we slipping into the kind of society where the reckless or criminal actions of “some” affect the freedoms of the many legitimate patients regarding their ability to responsibly obtain and use life, and reasonable lifestyle, sustaining drugs? I hope not.