Physicians-not the government-should lead fight against opioid abuse

In the national opioid epidemic, there is plenty of finger pointing as to who deserves the most blame.

In the national opioid epidemic, there is plenty of finger pointing as to who deserves the most blame.


RELATED: A former opioid addict's story


Pharma companies are being sued by states for creating weapons of mass addiction. Physicians are being scolded as poor gatekeepers to pain medications. Patients seeking doses to numb their own pain or find financial gain are also seen as culprits.

But finger pointing won’t do anything to stop a crisis that has engulfed our nation and victimizes everyone from long-term drug abusers to teenagers on the honor roll at our local schools. There is no “common” abuser of these medications nor are there “bad” doctors pumping the streets full of pills. It’s not that simple. 

Recently, President Donald Trump announced he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, giving it both a designation normally reserved for diseases and outbreaks and with it, federal funding. And that’s a good first step. Numerous counties in the U.S. are overwhelmed by multiple overdoses each day without the resources to respond appropriately.

And strategies recommended by the president’s opioid commission are valid: increasing treatment opportunities, addressing mental health issues and mandating better education for healthcare workers. But they came from legislators and policymakers, not practicing physicians.


FURTHER READING: What can physicians do to help curb the opioid crisis?


In August, Tom Price, MD, the now former secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a former orthopedic surgeon, spoke on behalf of the committee, putting a doctor at the forefront of the federal effort. 

Next: We need to find a real solution


However, Price shouldn’t be the only physician leading the effort. True, physician organizations like the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians and others have task forces, educational resources and other initiatives to put doctors at the forefront of fighting the epidemic. These are all noble efforts and necessary in a war that continues to take American lives.


TRENDING: 5 reasons physicians should choose marijuana over opioids


But frontline physicians should take the lead in this national emergency. Physicians should be the trusted advisers the public turns to in health crises and can work with other stakeholders-law enforcement, pharma, mental health experts among them-to start chipping away at an epidemic claiming numerous lives every day.

Physicians should be directing Washington, D.C.-not the other way around-in terms of where federal funding should go, what outreach is needed and what other resources are required to best get a handle on this crisis. Those who see the crippling effects of opioids every day should be the ones all other stakeholders align with and listen to.


MUST READING: How one physician fights opioid abuse in his practice


It’s time to stop the finger pointing and start finding realistic solutions. Physicians have the most experience in this realm and should be the ones we all look to in the face of national epidemic. 

So, Mr. President, I recommend you ask physicians-not political allies-to lead the charge if you really want to find a solution. 


Keith L. Martin is editorial director of Medical Economics. Should physicians lead the charge against opioid addiction?
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