Politicizing Fentanyl Overdoses is Not the Answer: Part 2

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For Part 1 of this multi-part series click here.

Yesterday we took a critical look at a group of politicians who are calling for stricter penalties for possessing fentanyl, and they believe that to be a reasonable approach to fighting the opioid epidemic which is taking so many lives. In speaking generally about the letter that they wrote to the White House yesterday; I did not have a chance to look at the many problems with that course of action. It seems that in their attempt to score some quick political points, the congresspeople who sent the letter did not even take the time to investigate the problem or consult with experts on the matter. The authors of the letter seem to think that the illicit fentanyl coming from China and Mexico has some connection to the fentanyl medications that are used to treat pain from very serious conditions like cancer, and that misunderstanding is taken to a dangerous extreme. If you or someone you know is struggling with fentanyl or heroin, the best drug and alcohol rehab in Florida is a click or a phone call away. Florida Springs in Panama City offers the best drug rehab in Florida and includes the most affordable options for the insured, those on Medicaid, and those who self-pay. Now back to this proposed fentanyl legislation.

The Bill itself reads, “This bill adds the entire category of fentanyl-related substances to schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. A schedule I controlled substance is a drug, substance, or chemical that has a high potential for abuse; has no currently accepted medical value; and is subject to regulatory controls and administrative, civil, and criminal penalties under the Controlled Substances Act.”

Medical Implications

So, we begin with serious and glaring errors in the bill right off the bat. “No currently accepted medical value” is not a reasonable way to describe fentanyl, as it is very clearly used by doctors around the world for anesthesia and pain management. That specific language is so blatantly wrong that it only reinforces my point that this letter to the Biden Administration was drafted without any meaningful input from experts. However, we can put aside that the language and intent of that part of the letter makes no sense, as there are even more serious issues that concern me. Fentanyl is not a vital medication to giant numbers of people, but to those patients suffering from some of the most serious acute and chronic pain that comes from cancer and other extremely serious illnesses, fentanyl is largely irreplaceable. Fentanyl patches are often able to return some quality of life to patients who are taking large numbers of pills every day or sometimes every hour, and it enables these people to cut down on the pills they must swallow. More importantly than limiting the pills one must swallow, fentanyl patches are able to offer patients with terrible pain a steady course of pain relief, without the drastic ups and downs of waiting for pills to take effect and worrying about when pills will stop being effective throughout the day. People who are familiar with the plight of patients with the most serious pain will understand that fentanyl is not easily replaced, and currently there may be no other decent options for some.

Legal Implications

If we put aside the many people who would be hurt by this reclassification on the medical side, we are left with much more disastrous effects on the humanitarian side. Pushing for drastic measures to make fentanyl “more illegal” has other serious problems. The lawmakers may be used to dealing with drugs like cocaine or marijuana, drugs that are usually taken on purpose by the end user. Fentanyl is nothing like that. One reason for the huge increase in fentanyl overdoses is the fact that people looking for heroin, oxycodone, or Xanax are being given fentanyl on accident or without their knowledge. Data suggests that very few people who are ingesting fentanyl are aware of what they are using, with most under the illusion that they are only using heroin or other less harmful opioids. Increasing the jail time faced by addicts is aways counter-productive in my opinion, but in this case, we would be punishing addicts for something they are completely unaware of. Therefore, while addicts struggle to get their lives together, and while they face the distinct likelihood of overdosing because of heroin that is often spiked with fentanyl, we now add to that misery by heaping even more punishment onto them, while treatment is the only thing that can help. We ignore that for political reasons, and we lock more people away in prison. Few medical ailments in history have been so grossly misunderstood as substance use disorder, and opioid use disorder is particularly misunderstood by many lawmakers at this moment. Tomorrow we will discuss a few more issues with this proposed bill, and we will discuss the actions we can take as a country to help all those people who are struggling with drug and alcohol problems right now. If you need help with substance use disorder, the best drug and alcohol rehab in Florida can be reached by calling the phone number above.  

By T.A. Cannon