Who Knew Punishing the Law Abiding Could Have Consequences

Everybody will die from opioid addictions if something isn’t done! We must roll over and let legislators and law enforcers do whatever is necessary to stop this threat!

That’s how I’ve been reading the news as of late. Opioids are the current boogeyman for the War on (Some) Drugs. Whenever a chemical becomes the boogeyman in the War on (Some) Drugs new legal restrictions are placed on it. Unlike many previous boogeymen, opioids are legally prescribed and many overdoses have been caused by legally prescribed drugs. In response to this, government busybodies have been putting pressure doctors to prescribe fewer opioids. The result of this pressure was predictable:

A report published yesterday by the health care consulting firm IQVIA shows that the total volume of opioids prescribed in the United States, indicated by the green area below, fell by 29 percent between 2011 and 2017, from 240 billion to 171 billion morphine milligram equivalents. Last year’s 12 percent drop was the largest ever recorded. The number of opioid prescriptions and the number of patients receiving opioids for the first time are also declining. The report notes that “decreases in prescription opioid volume have been driven by changes in clinical usage, which have been influenced by regulatory and reimbursement policies and legislation that have been increasingly restricting prescription opioid use since 2012.”

But as you can see in the graph, the total number of opioid-related deaths counted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated by the blue line, is not falling along with opioid prescriptions. To the contrary, it has risen sharply in recent years, driven by dramatic increases in deaths involving heroin (orange) and illicit fentanyl (the main component of “other synthetic opioids,” the category represented by the gray line). The CDC has not released final data for 2017 yet, but more increases are expected.

People addicted to opioids aren’t going to suddenly stop being addicted when their doctor refuses to renew their prescription. Instead they’ll seek out other ways to acquire opioids. Enter the black market. However, black market opioids are dangerous. Since opioids are the current boogeyman, people who deal in opioids face greater risks than those who deal in, say, cannabis. These risks necessitate concealment. The best way to conceal a chemical substance is to make it smaller and the best way to make a chemical substance smaller is to make it more potent.

Heroin and especially fentanyl are highly concentrated forms of opioids, which means they generally need to be diluted before use. Failing to dilute fentanyl properly can lead to a deadly overdoes. So the government has created the perfect storm by declaring opioids a prescription only medication and then taking away many of those prescriptions. And like typical government busybodies, instead of admitting that their policies may have been in error, they have doubled down, which is only exacerbating the situation.