Monday, August 20, 2007

And so?

According to the A.P., the dread scourge of pain-killing medication is making its way across the country like a tidal wave of ... pointless panic:

Retail sales of five leading painkillers nearly doubled over the last eight years, reflecting a surge in use by patients nationwide who are living in a world of pain, according to a new Associated Press analysis of federal drug prescription data.

The analysis reveals that oxycodone usage is migrating out of Appalachia to areas such as Columbus, Ohio, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and significant numbers of codeine users are living in many suburban neighborhoods around the country.

Actually, the article doesn't completely treat the growth in the use of painkillers as a menace. It's much more confused than that, alternating passages like this:

Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, director of the blood and cancer center at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam, Conn., said Vicodin is a popular painkiller to give patients after surgery, and many doctors are familiar with it.

"Over the past 10 years, there has been much better education in the medical community to ... ask if people are having pain and to better diagnose and treat it," Gordon said.

With passages like this:

More people are abusing prescription painkillers because the medications are more available. The vast majority of people with prescriptions use the drugs safely. But the number of emergency room visits from painkiller abuse has increased more than 160 percent since 1995, according to the government.

A.P. reporter Frank Bass can't seem to decide whether he's warning of a social peril or describing a commendable increase in the use of often-beneficial medications. He even, at one point, lays out the problems that some legitimate pain patients have in securing sufficient medication to treat their conditions--undermining the "dire peril" elements of the article and further muddying its thrust.

My take is that modern painkillers are an unalloyed good to which we should be happy to have access--even if some people choose to use them recreationally. Hell, recreational use doesn't necessarily strike me as a bad thing either, so long as people don't over-do it.

But a lot of people in this country seem to have trouble coming to terms with the idea that it can be morally acceptable to take and dispense substances that make people feel good. Somewhere in their makeup lurks a residue of the puritan past that insists that suffering is better than alleviating pain, and that outright pleasure-seeking is a terrible, terrible thing.

The result is news reports, like this, that can't quite commit to saying that it's a boon to the world that surgery patients, cancer survivors and the like have access to more options than ever before to make it easier to get through the day.



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