Drug Addiction, Facts About Addiction, Substance Abuse  |  March 10, 2016

Imagine discovering that the passenger sitting next to you on a commuter bus in Philadelphia had a syringe and was about to shoot up – and did.

Or walking into a venerable old church in Boston only to discover victims of a heroin overdose lying on the church’s bathroom floor…

These things have actually happened.  With heroin cheap and readily available – users are increasingly found shooting up, unconscious, or in some cases dead on city streets, in public bathrooms, fast food restaurants, public transportation systems, libraries and parks.

And drug paraphernalia – including dirty needles – are turning up everywhere.

All of it the result of a public health crisis of heroin and opioid painkiller addiction in America.

And it’s a crisis that’s taxing the resources of law enforcement and city services everywhere – and leading many businesses to fear increasing legal liabilities.

Remarkably – this problem is not just confined to our urban centers.  Death rates from overdoses in rural areas now outpace the rates in our cities.

President Obama and virtually every candidate for the Presidency have called for immediate action to address this rising tide of drug carnage.

But will more federal spending bring relief?

It may help.   Getting physicians to sharply reduce the number of prescriptions written for opioid painkillers might actually have a far quicker and more dramatic effect.

The truth is – this epidemic of overdosing and death is directly tied to aggressive drug company marketing of painkillers known to be highly addictive – and a gateway to heroin.  And U.S. physicians are directly culpable as well.  Rather than heed warnings from public health officials, doctors have prescribed opioid painkillers with almost reckless abandon – ignoring treatment options with far lower risk profiles in the process.

Can physicians change their ways?

The risk of medical malpractice lawsuits may provide an incentive.

In February, a California doctor was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison in the deaths of three of her patients from opioid drug overdoses.  She had been charged with recklessly prescribing these drugs.

Surely there is a better way and it probably starts with the American Medical Association.  The AMA needs to move beyond calling for better education of its members and instead actually call for stringent restrictions on opioid drug use.  And the AMA needs to push back at drug manufacturers and demand much more responsible drug marketing.

There are solutions to this crisis – if the medical community has the will.

 Photo credit: permanently scatterbrained via Foter.com / CC BY