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Jeff Sessions' Profound Failure to Understand the Overdose Crisis

February 13, 2018 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke to a group of U.S.
Attorneys in Tampa, Fla., last week, and demonstrated his ignorance
about the root causes of the opioid overdose crisis.

“I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes
too many opioids,” Sessions said. “People need to take some aspirin
sometimes.” A day earlier, Sessions told a gathering celebrating
the birthday of President Ronald Reagan, “Sometimes you just need
to take two Bufferin or something and go to bed.”

Bob Twillman, the executive director of the Academy of
Integrative Pain Management, said, “That remark reflects a failure
to recognize the severity of pain in some patients.” Twillman went
on, “It further illustrates how out of touch parts of the
administration are with opioids and pain management.”

I think “out of touch” is an understatement.

Sessions seems unaware that high-dose opioid prescriptions are
down 41% since 2010, and that the majority of overdose deaths are
due to heroin and fentanyl. He probably doesn’t know that the
overdose rate from street fentanyl rose by 88% per year from 2013
to 2016; for heroin it rose by an average of 32% per year from 2010
to 2016. Yet it remained unchanged and stable for prescription
opioids from 2009 to 2016.

As long as policymakers
remain as clueless as Sessions about the causes and remedies of the
rising overdose death rate, look for the rate to continue to
climb.

What’s even more disturbing to me as a doctor is the attorney
general’s demonstrated lack of compassion for patients suffering in
pain. Many have been severely impacted by the restrictive policies
that have pressured doctors to curtail or cut off their patients in
pain. Some are so desperate that they turn to the black market in
search of relief, where they sometimes wind up with heroin and
fentanyl. Some even resort to suicide.

I have performed major operations on patients with complex
intra-abdominal diseases who return home in agonizing, debilitating
pain that lasts for weeks. Sometimes they need several days —
sometimes weeks — of strong opioids to help them recover at
home and resume a normal life. Aspirin won’t do the trick. I hope
the attorney general never has to experience such pain.

In what is beginning to sound like a broken record, New York
City recently reported that in 2016 nearly three-quarters of all
overdoses deaths were from heroin or fentanyl, and 97% involved
multiple drugs; 46% of the time, cocaine was involved. By contrast,
last month a Harvard study of one million postoperative patients
given prescription opioids showed a “misuse” rate of just 0.6%.

Yet Sessions, like most policymakers, seems …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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