NOTE TO FDA MEETING CRITICS: LISTEN FIRST, CRITIQUE SECOND

In this era of permanently flared tempers and hyperpartisan rhetoric, we can advance civil and civic discourse when we take a few moments to listen to someone we’d otherwise dismiss as biased or unworthy of serious consideration. People observing the FDA meeting going on right now about prescription drug abuse would do well to Tweet about the speakers’ messages, instead of letting the message be eclipsed by the identity or affiliation of the messenger.

For example, prominent observers at the meeting have commented that a particular pain specialist addressing the FDA reportedly has connections to Big Pharma. The observers use that information to essentially brand the witness as a corporate flack, without taking a moment to reflect on what the individual is actually saying. This is wrong. If the pain specialist testifies that many patients do need access to powerful medication for pain relief, is that statement less credible solely because the speaker may have links to the drugs’ manufacturers? Or if a doctor testifies that “underprescribing is not the remedy to overprescribing,” should that notion be summarily written off because it might credibly compete with proposals to more sharply reduce prescription rates?

The crisis of prescription drug abuse is a complex and multifaceted one. There are no simple solutions. I started PAINKILLER LAW because I see kneejerk reactions by policymakers and law enforcement becoming more of a threat every day to even the most legitimate and upstanding healthcare provider, risk manager or group manager. I know doctors who’ve seen the same pain patients for 10 years without incident suddenly worried that they’ll be accused of drug trafficking because they examine the patient twice a year instead of 12 times a year. I see Medical Board investigators hauling in medical practices’ employees for questioning (under oath), without telling anyone what the nature of the investigation is. So the FDA, by simply listening to everyone who has something to say, no matter who they are, is doing a lot to advance thinking and sound policy on this issue. It’s certainly better policy than unpredictable and reactionary law enforcement activity. And as the FDA’s critics should keep in mind, reflexive suspicion and hasty Tweets won’t get us where we need to go.

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