Today, at least 2.5 million Americans are addicted to opioid drugs and over 30,000 are dying from opioid overdoses annually. Families are being destroyed. Careers lost.
It’s worth noting that the danger of opioid drugs has been known for a very long time.
And America’s problem of addiction to these drugs can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century and to opium and morphine.
The American Civil War left countless war veterans with crippling injuries injuries that made a return to a normal life and one free from pain - impossible.
To manage their pain and their anguish many turned to injectable morphine and got hooked (at the time, Sears, Roebuck & Co even sold syringes in their catalogue).
And the opioid addiction did not end with veterans of the war. A substance called Laudanum (mixture of alcohol and opium) also became popular with affluent and middle-class women of the time.
Physicians got into the act too, routinely prescribing opium for children’s coughs and diarrhea.
The problem of addiction to these concoctions got so bad the President T.R. Roosevelt was moved to appoint the nation’s first Opium Commissioner, Hamilton Wright, all in the hope that the nation’s first opioid crisis could be reversed before it “diminished America’s greatness.”
Wright told the New York Times in 1911, our prisons and our hospitals are full of victims of it, it has robbed ten thousand businessmen of moral sense and made them beasts who prey upon their fellows, it has become one of the most fertile causes of unhappiness and sin in the United States.
How did it all turn out?
Federal law, doctors, and pharmacists finally acted to contain the nation’s first addiction epidemic.
Then as now the problem started with drug companies, physicians and pharmacists.
So one has to ask (again), how did we allow ourselves to get hooked (again) and in crisis (again)?
How is it possible that drug companies were again allowed to shop drugs they knew to be dangerous and highly addictive?
And why is it that the medical profession allowed itself to be drawn in, addicting millions in the process?
Did we not understand the dangers?
Even without prior knowledge of the dangers of these drugs, after just a few years of prescribing opioids, physicians in the first decade of the 21st century were seeing the dangerous impact of these drugs and yet chose not to act.
Is there a lesson to all of this?
Strict testing and regulation of pharmaceutical drugs is absolutely essential to protecting patient safety.
And so is the diligent oversight of physicians.
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