Jacob Sullum

To justify a crackdown that will be effective only if it hurts people in pain, the Office of National Drug Control Policy says we are experiencing a "prescription drug abuse crisis" that amounts to an "epidemic."

Although there is little evidence of such an epidemic in the federal government's own survey data, the number of fatal overdoses involving opioid analgesics nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2007. Meanwhile, the amount of opioids prescribed per person has increased by an even larger percentage, meaning the risk of overdose is smaller today than it was a decade ago.

These overdose deaths mainly result from careless decisions by nonmedical users who either take too much or mix narcotic painkillers with other depressants. All the talk of an "epidemic," which brings to mind a deadly microbe that infects people who have no choice in the matter, tends to conceal this reality. The New York Times says OxyContin "hurtled through" an Ohio town, as if it were a tornado indiscriminately wreaking havoc instead of a drug deliberately taken by people who like its psychoactive effects.

By contrast, people who suffer from severe chronic pain as a result of car crashes, botched surgeries or degenerative conditions do not choose to be in that situation. It's bad enough that they are forced to beg government-appointed gatekeepers for relief. They should not be punished further because of other people's reckless choices.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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