Here’s How President Trump Should Be Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

What’s really behind the skyrocketing problem of opioid addiction? The obvious culprit is the fact that in the early 90s doctors began prescribing opioid painkillers like Percocet and Oxycontin at much higher rates:

This chart seems pretty conclusive, but if you dive a little deeper things get more complicated. The main reason prescriptions went up is that doctors really had been undertreating pain for a long time. And it turns out that the biggest problem with high rates of opioid prescription don’t come from pain patients anyway. Addiction rates among pain patients are actually fairly low: anywhere from 0.1 percent to less than 8 percent, and very few pain patients ever move on to heroin or other drugs. Rather, the biggest part of the problem comes from people who score opioid painkillers elsewhere. And where do they get them? From leftovers sitting around their parents’ medicine chests. From friends. From the black market.

In other words, if we really want to address the opioid epidemic, our best strategy is not to focus all our attention on prescriptions among legitimate pain patients. Nor is it to refight the war on drugs yet again. Instead, we need to:

  • Get better at screening people with previous (or current) addictions.
  • Prescribe fewer pills after surgeries, but make it easy to get refills. The idea here is to limit the number of leftover pills lying around, but to do it without making things difficult for pain patients.
  • Crack down on pill mills and on shipments plainly bound for the black market—but without making doctors live in fear of the DEA knocking on their door if they treat their pain patients properly.
  • Get tougher on misleading pharmaceutical marketing.
  • Fund much more research on pain management and alternative pain strategies.

This is what President Trump ought to be doing as part of his “public health emergency” over opioid deaths.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.