Scientific and Political Momentum
May Lead to the “Next Big Thing”
in Addressing the Prescription Opioid Crisis
Riddle: What do you get when you take teams of research scientists competing to create a non-addictive opioid painkiller, and combine them with reports that senior citizens are especially vulnerable to opioid overdose?
First, teams of research scientists at Arizona State and Stanford (go, Pac-12) and elsewhere are hard at work to develop an opioid painkiller for use by chronic pain patients worldwide. The researchers are up against the tide of biology and history, given that opioids have been used for pain relief at least throughout recorded human history, and humans have opioid receptors built into our central nervous systems for purposes of obtaining pain relief when we are hurt. But given the epidemic of prescription opioid addiction, overdose and death in the U.S., it couldn’t hurt for science to take a serious look at whether an effective opioid painkiller could be created that would not put a patient at risk of addiction. Remember: Opioids are easily addictive, no matter what the drug companies say about patients and doctors being at fault for the present crisis. The teams of research scientists working on this project deserve support and sufficient funding.
Second, here’s one strong reason scientists are likely to get that support and funding: Senior citizens. According to recent studies reported in various journals and media, seniors are especially vulnerable to opioid overdose, even when following their doctors’ orders. Why is this important in the funding of tools to combat the opioid crisis? Because the tools will be funded largely with government money. Government money will be allocated by legislators, most likely by Congress. Congress pays attention to — well, it clearly pays attention to giant donors and political action committees — but it also pays attention to “high propensity voters” and “politically active voting blocs.” Such voters and voting blocs have always included senior citizens. So three cheers for seniors who still think that casting a ballot on Election Day is more important than catching up on the latest Kardashians episode or sharing on social media the breaking news that you just ate a sandwich.
If Congress thinks that AARP is about to get active on the opioids issue because new studies point to opioids as posing a special risk to law-abiding seniors, then suddenly we’re talking about legislators feeling new pressure to attend to the needs of a key constituency. That can only be good news from a funding and momentum standpoint when it comes to doing something about the opioid crisis, beyond branding doctors as drug dealers, branding addicted patients as drug seekers, and taking campaign contributions from Big Pharma.
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