So Johnson & Johnson just got bitch slapped by the State of Oklahoma for creating a pain reliever it turns out has some addictive qualities. A fair portion of the interwebs are cheering this development.
I’m a contrarian, though. There are some fine points that I don’t quite understand. I have questions.
Opioid pain relievers are, obviously, considered pretty good at what they were designed to do. Without deep diving into the science of how and why, my assumption is they were created principally to reduce / manage pain. It occurs to me, a guy with no medical degree or scientific training, that there are a lot of ways to get after that goal other than opioids depending on the severity of the pain in question.
So now, the question is, what, if anything, is available that’s just as effective at revealing pain as a standard opioid? Then, the question becomes, what role do doctors have in determining the most effective treatment? Finally, we get down to brass tacks and ask what responsibility does the general public have in terms of being informed about what these options are and what they are putting into their own bodies?
You see, I don’t blame the drug companies here – at least not to the level of holding them out as the ultimate bad guy. I suspect in developing bigger and better opioids they were simply responding to a demand signal in the marketplace. That is to say that when given an option, people tend to want to reduce the pain associated with medical conditions or procedures as much and as quickly as possible. I don’t blame them. I’m less than heroic under duress. I don’t want to be in pain any more than is strictly necessary. I wouldn’t do well if it came to holding up under torture. What can I say, I’m a man who knows his own limitations.
With that all said, I’m also a guy who makes his own decisions. I’ve been prescribed opioids on a couple of occasions. Fortunately, the level of pain involved was such that I could manage with a few hands full of 800mg ibuprofen and go on about my business. Even though it was readily available, I opted to bypass the higher powered pain killer because I didn’t really need it. A lot of other people would have made different assessments of their own needs under the exact same circumstance. But everything starts with that choice… and then consequences follow.
But, this is America in the 21st century, so we have to have someone to blame for every bad thing that happens. “Big Pharma” is an easy and tempting target when it comes to who caused the opioid problem. It is their product, after all… even if that product only exists because we collectively have demanded a better and faster painkiller. They gave us a hell of a product. Maybe in the future we we should be a bit more thoughtful about what we ask for and noggin through some of the second and third order effects it might have.
Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen. Never as long as we have a convenient scapegoat to relieve us of the burden of our own responsibilities.