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The Criminalization of Drug Use: Part 1

Part 1: Withholding Access to Pain Management Drugs

In my work, an experience has become evident: people are being denied both new and existing medications to help them deal with chronic pain. To me, it looks like a knee-jerk response to the so-called “opioid crisis”, linked mostly to fentanyl-laced street acquired drugs. Where these two issues intersect is what I hope to explore here.

The dangers of simply cutting off pain meds

I have heard from several people that have been using medically-prescribed opiates for pain management, and now they are told they must stop. This is done, based on the stories I hear, and it’s done in many cases without consideration of the impact, or consideration of the need to taper off over time. This is potentially dangerous, and not only because of the physical withdrawal. As a response to the crisis in overdoses of street drugs, it is it is wrong-minded and only criminalizes people already dealing with the day-to-day struggles of chronic pain. I have also heard too many times about people who were cut off their pain meds are now either seeking or using street acquired drugs, which is a greater risk for overdose, being criminalized, and further marginalized. How can this outcome be seen as desirable, on any level, by those who would support or defend such an action?

The wrong answer

In my experience, the criminalization of street-acquired drug use has not proven to be an effective way dealing with the crisis we are seeing in overdoses, again, often a result of illegal and unregulated manufacture and sales of fentanyl. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a proponent of any of the potential harms that drugs cause. Some drugs can cause terrible damage all on their own, even when taken as prescribed. When it comes to street drugs, there is virtually zero oversight or regulation that anyone would suggest is an acceptable standard, especially with a drug like fentanyl.

However, drugs that help people deal with their chronic pain, or any condition that affects quality of life, being made inaccessible is not a solution to the terrible overdose crisis. Is it a moral issue for you, or the medical and public health policymakers where you live, or is it a quality of life and health issue?

More harm than good

The idea or belief that people who are using drugs are in no way capable to be a part in the decision-making process about their own care is absurd to me. It’s harmful, plain and simple, that people are being forced to make choices that are dangerous and potentially life-ending. We talk about the need for harm-reduction, and we hear a lot about it in the context of prevention, but what is this if not entirely counter to any approach that seeks to prevent harms? This makes no sense to me.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Myofb1
    6 months ago

    I think it is outrageous that these doctors are denying narcotic pain management to patients who are suffering. They either worry that they will lose their medical license and get in trouble with the law. State’s have done the right thing by closing pill mills. The only trouble now is heroin or fentanyl laced heroin.. I personally seen people suffer because they can’t get a doctor to prescribe pain meds and this is not right. Some people will go to street drugs to get relief but end up dying from an overdose. No justice and this needs to stop.

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