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The Dangerous Panic Over Painkillers

The media trumpets a crisis in Rx painkiller addiction, but only 1% of patients get hooked. The result? Doctors treat patients like addicts, while addicts escape responsibility.

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Even the overdose issue is mismanaged due to our hatred of addicts. Overdoses have now overtaken car accidents as a leading cause of accidental death, but it's  unclear how much of this increase is due to the actual rise in the use of opioids and how much to medical examiners simply attributing more deaths to these drugs since they are now found in more dead people. What is clear is that most of these deaths occur in the context of drug abuse—95%, according to one  study of one of the hardest-hit states. A large number of these deaths could be prevented by providing the antidote to opioid poisoning, naloxone, with prescriptions for the drugs. But because we want the wages of sin to be death, however, drug warriors have largely prevented  funding for programs to broadly distribute that lifesaving medication.

The opioid problem is really the stigma of addiction writ large. Consequently, if we want to stop getting in the way of access to painkillers for people who genuinely need them, we need to take responsibility for our own actions and help fight this stigma. No one but you can make yourself into an addict. But chronic pain can happen to anyone.

Additional research by McCarton Ackerman.

Maia Szalavitz is a columnist at The Fix. She is also a health reporter at Time magazine online, and co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered (Morrow, 2010), and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006).