Time Magazine Releases Cover Story on Pain Killers

The June 15 issue of Time Magazine is out with a cover story on Pain Killers that says America’s addiction to them is the worst addiction crisis the country has ever seen.

Calling it a national epidemic, it says “9.4 million Americans take opioids for long-term pain and 2.1 million are estimated by the NIH (National Institutes of Health) to be hooked.”

The article written by Massimo Calabresi calls the crisis a “tragic combination of good intentions, criminal deception and feckless oversight to turn America’s desire to relieve its pain into such widespread suffering.”

It recounts how the FDA approved ever more powerful drugs for long-term use without enough data, the pharmaceutical companies marketed aggressively, and doctors wrote the prescriptions too freely.

The article doesn’t speak much to the issue of chronic pain, for which many prescriptions are written, other than to say 100-million people suffer from it and a quarter of them says it is severe enough to limit their quality of life, according to the Institutes of Medicine.

The National Pain Report ran a story in April asking if the media are missing the point on the pain medication dispute and cited two pain leaders who agreed that prescription drug abuse is a problem, but that pain patients who need the medication and use it responsibly needs to be remembered in the discussion.

The Time article really concentrated on the addiction and the lack of science it says exists. Calabresi writes:

“Part of the problem, according to the NIH, is that doctors have no scientific certainty over when and whether it’s safe to use opioids to treat long-term pain. “There is insufficient evidence for every clinical decision that a provider needs to make regarding use of opioids for chronic pain,” a NIH panel on opioids concluded earlier this year. The American Academy of Neurology last year concluded that the risks of long-term opioid treatment for headaches and chronic low-back pain likely outweigh the benefits.”

The lack of science both retrospectively and going forward was cited in the story.

“There were no reliable studies proving opioids worked safely against chronic pain, because it would be unethical to require pain patients in a control group to go months on end without medication. “It’s not practical for us to require people to go for a year on a placebo,” says Janet Woodcock, head of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research”

The Time article also says the issue is starting to percolate in the nascent 2016 presidential campaign. Hilary Clinton is talking about the “quiet epidemic” and Carly Fiorina, whose late daughter struggled with painkillers, has call for decriminalizing drug addiction.

Editor’s Note: The Time Magazine article hyperlinked in the article is behind a pay wall, so if you don’t have a subscription to Time, you have to pay to read it.

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