2018-04-14 / Viewpoints

Opioids aren’t inherently evil

By Rep. Tom Marino

(Tom Marino, a Republican from Williamsport, is a four-term member of Congress representing Pennsylvania’s 10th District and a former U.S. Attorney. Restructuring of Pennsylvania’s congres­sional boundaries places Potter County in the 10th District.)

In 2012, I met with a community pharmacist having so much trouble obtaining prescription opioids that he had to turn away legitimate pain patients.

When I directed my staff to research what was happening in the supply chain, they found that disrupted access to needed medica­tions was indeed systemic.

In a 2014 survey, 75 percent of some 1,000 community pharma­cists confirmed that they had experienced three or more delays or issues with stopped shipments over the previous 18 months – usually with no advance notice.

On average, 55 pain patients per pharmacy were impacted by these delays, repre­senting tens of thousands of patients.

My staff found part of the problem in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control. The office had become an adversary of good actors in the supply chain, even as it ran roughshod over the will of Congress and even Justice Department leaders.

Effectiveness in any public health initiative is about optimally directing resources and getting parties to engage collaboratively for, in this case, getting needed medica­tions to veterans, hospice patients and those with chronic conditions. For many of them, opioids can be the difference between a bearable existence and utter agony.

That’s why I introduced and attracted bipartisan support for legislation to define the “imminent danger” standard – which also sought an extensive study of the opioid distribution problem to be delivered to Congress one year after enactment.

Yet, work on that report has not even begun, because the truth about the opioid crisis, and the best policies to combat it, is complex and nuanced.

But nuance doesn’t serve trial lawyers suing drug companies, or their well-paid consultants serving as “expose” sources. Nor does it advance the cause of grandstand­ing politicians.

For my part, I’m going to keep the focus on the action agenda I have pursued over recent years: to delve into the complexities of the opioid crisis, identify effective uses of resources, and build collaboration.

That has been my goal as I have helped local officials in my district set up effective court diversion programs, prevention efforts targeting high-risk kids, and recovery support initiatives. That’s also why I was an original co-sponsor and conferee of com­prehensive legislation– based on the input of scores of experts – pursuing all these avenues while expanding access to treatment and aiding law enforcement.

In short, when it comes to the opioid crisis, we must keep trying to find the truth, in the hope of designing the best policies to set millions of troubled Americans free.

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