November 22, 2019 10:06AM

The Human Cost of Overregulating Opioids

By Jeffrey Miron and Erin Partin

Many people blame excessive painkiller prescriptions for the rise in opioid overdose deaths over the past two decades; and the government has responded with strict limits on how physicians prescribe opioids. Many pain patients lost access to medications with little warning and no alternative other than illicit opioids. However, a recent Policy Analysis finds that the opioid epidemic has resulted from too many restrictions on prescribing, not too few.

A reader who read the PA reached out to us with his story:

Your article is spot on. My adult son was prescribed several opioids at a pain clinic for displaced vertebrae in his neck. Surgery was too dangerous, and a pain clinic was recommended. As time went on he needed more and more to kill the pain, but we now know it was addiction. He started using more than prescribed and needed his script filled earlier. The clinic then cut him off telling him to seek treatment elsewhere. No one would take him at that point because the Feds put the hammer down. He did what they all do, go to the street. He was lucky in that his dealer cared about his business and would not sell altered drugs.

After he spent all his mother’s money and ended up in a hospital suffering from withdrawal, I was going to force him to rehab. He is a veteran, so I took him to the VA, where they had him put in outpatient Methadone, to treat the addiction and pain. Four times a year he gets an injection in his neck of cortisone. He is alive and well now and goes to the Methadone clinic every morning at 4:30 on his way to work. The stories he tells me of the people he meets at the clinic are sobering to say the least.

He is totally turned around. Always a great kid who did not want to be that way but had no choice thanks to over-regulation. Methadone at the clinic is $95 a week. Best money I ever spent. People who go to the clinic drive for 3 hours because they take anyone with money or voucher. Not enough clinics like that around.

The stigma surrounding outpatient methadone treatment means that many, like the writer above, face unnecessary obstacles to getting treatment. The reader continues:

My son tells me the lack of available Methadone clinics is a major problem. If CVS and Walgreens can give flu shots, how hard would it be to administer Methadone. It is a simple process. He checks in and then goes to the dosing room which has a drawer like the drive-in window at a bank. They put your dose in there. You get your dose in a small cup, about an ounce, and drink it like a shot while they watch.

With the millions appropriated to combat this, more easily available dosing centers would allow the poorest of us a chance. Kevin has a car we provided. Most addicted people have no car, home or family that care anymore. Not much of a chance. No way to drive 50 miles to a clinic. People are always telling him how lucky he is to have family that cares. All types are in line there, from fancy suits to cut off shorts.

I have come to the conclusion that those who became addicted prior to the federal crackdown, are just collateral damage. An expendable generation. The powers to be do not get serious until an election is near or they lose someone. I almost lost my son.

Eliminating the over-regulation of methadone and other medication-assisted treatments, thereby expanding access, is an obvious step toward ending the opioid crisis.