The growing epidemic of addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is no secret. The problem has been attracting attention at the national and state levels for some time. President Barack Obama declared this week Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week and is calling on Congress to increase funding to treat people with opioid addiction.
Just in time for this week, The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity published a two-part series, carried in the Mail Tribune, detailing the effects of millions in lobbying dollars spent by the pharmaceutical industry and pain-management advocacy groups to resist new controls on prescribing the powerfully addicting drugs.
The scope of the problem is not in dispute. Since 1999, overdose deaths from opioids has nearly quadrupled. That category includes narcotic pain-relieving prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl.
Obama continues to call on Congress to appropriate $1.1 billion to expand access to treatment for opioid use disorder — the psychiatric term for any two of a variety of behaviors including overusing opioid medications, taking more than was prescribed, trying and failing to curtail use and developing a tolerance for the drug, among others.
Meanwhile, drug makers and their allies have spent $880 million in the past decade on campaign contributions and lobbying to promote the idea that opioids improve the quality of life for millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain. In Oregon, where 3.14 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications were issued in 2015, the Pain Care Forum, a lobbying group of drug manufacturers and their allies, spent $1.15 million from 2006 to 2015. During that same period, opioid overdose deaths in the state rose 8 percent.
Oregon lawmakers passed a bill this year that allows pharmacists to dispense Narcan, which counteracts the effects of opioid overdose. The new law also gives emergency room physicians direct access to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database.
Those are positive steps, but more needs to be done to prevent patients from becoming addicted in the first place. Maybe the drug manufacturers should put their lobbying millions behind those efforts, rather than resisting real solutions.