By now you’ve probably read the news that deaths from painkillers are rising. This is indeed bad news, but the story carries with it the same assumption made in illegal drug cases: the drug or drugs in question can’t be used responsibly except under the supervision of a doctor. With illegal drugs, all use is abuse; with semi-legal drugs, all use without a prescription is abuse.
Here’s a case to consider: you hurt yourself somehow and a doctor prescribes you Vicodin. You have, say, twenty, and you consume seventeen in the manner told to you by your doctor by the time the pain stops. Now you have three left. You noticed that in addition to helping with your pain, the drug also gave you a mighty pleasant feeling. A month goes by before one day you’re feeling less than 100%. You remember the precautions your doctor told you. You take one of your leftover Vicodins in a totally safe manner. Now, according to drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, you’re a drug abuser. You’re part of the “drug abuse epidemic”. You’re an accident waiting to happen. Take it a step further: you simply take one, safely, without any pain or other health-related motive. You just want to feel good for a while. Should that be a crime?
I know there’s a big difference between washing down a handful of pills with a 40 oz. and the scenario I just described. But in Kerlikowske’s statistics there isn’t.
These stories, when they pretend to be balanced, include the legitimate desire for patients with severe and/or chronic pain to counter it. And that’s one reason to avoid letting scary stories rush us to foolish action. But another is the desire, not generally recognized as legitimate, for people to get high. People like to feel good. People have been discovering and inventing ways to do this since prehistory. (It’s not my cup of tea, but there’s a very large and influential group of people who believe that when God Incarnate came to earth, the very first miracle he performed to show his divine nature was assisting people to this end.)
Balancing the needs of people who are in pain against accidental overdose deaths is one thing, but balancing the needs of people who are in pain and people with a legitimate desire to alter their biochemical state against accidental overdose deaths is the proper calculation if you must do one.