It’s more difficult than ever for patients suffering chronic pain to obtain the relief they need, thanks to harsh government crackdowns on the availability of prescription painkillers. Instead of helping real addicts overcome habitual drug abuse, these draconian policies target doctors, pharmacists, and the suffering patients who rely on pain management to allow them a baseline quality of life. On Jan. 29, dozens of “Don’t Punish Pain” rallies are being held around the United States to stand up for the rights of patients who are being denied the pain-reliving medications they need.
“As Libertarians, we support bodily autonomy,” said stage 4 cancer patient Cara Schulz, who also serves as the candidate recruiting specialist for the Libertarian National Committee. “What we choose to put in our bodies, especially when under the care of our personal physician, is our business. We believe government shouldn’t get in between doctors or patients. And we know this new Drug War is just as destructive as the last one.”
As happens almost universally in cases of substance prohibition, government restrictions on production and availability cause an array of new unintended consequences — without solving the original problems they were meant to address. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control created guidelines meant to address the increase in fentanyl and heroin overdoses, which led the Drug Enforcement Agency to threaten and harass doctors with prison time, bankruptcy, and loss of their medical licenses if they continued to prescribe pain medications to cancer patients and those with chronic pain.
“Many physicians, hospitals, and even pharmacies have stopped treating chronic pain altogether,” Schulz said. “According to pain management experts, millions of pain patients and cancer patients are being cut off or forcibly tapered down. Suicides are increasing. People who once were able to go to work and have a fairly normal life are now disabled.”
Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health demonstrates that the vast majority of drug abusers are not former pain-relief patients. Whatever social factors may contribute to damaging drug addiction, the doctor-patient relationship is rarely among them. And, for people who are addicted, the decreasing availability of prescription medication leads them to seek out more destructive black-market alternatives.
Cracking down on doctors results in extra harm for both the patients who need relief and the addicts who need intervention. Instead of prohibiting or severely restricting pain-relief medication, we should offer care and support to those who need it most.
The nationwide “Don’t Punish Pain” rallies on Jan. 29 will be held in 34 states, and rallies in four other states are being rescheduled for a future date. The Libertarian Party stands together with all patients who demand the right to choose what kinds of pain medications they and their doctors decide will best provide the relief they so desperately need.