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Fighting America's Opioid Epidemic

Oldham & Smith Nov. 26, 2017

The attempts of many physicians to improve pain management, despite their pure intentions, has led to some serious and adverse health consequences across the length of the United States. The consequences and repercussions have increasingly come under the scanner of late. Among these repercussions, however, is the rise in prescription drug abuse among many Americans.

As it might be expected, the general use of prescription drugs is majorly restricted to acute pains that result from serious injuries, surgical procedures or medical conditions. They are only required to be used as a result of the ineffectiveness of the non-opioid alternatives. However, nonmedical and the misuse of pain relief drugs has brought an epidemic of opioid abuse, leading to a remarkable spike in the rate of the drug overdose and death in the US.

As it is reported, the number of drug overdose deaths that resulted from the black market (heroin) and prescription (Oxycontin) opiates was above 30,000 in 2015. In the year 2016, the number has increased to 75,000. The estimates reported for 2017 indicate yet another new record of deaths in the US. Recently, the United States Commission on Combating the Opioid Crisis released a preliminary report and suggested that the president declare a national emergency. For instance, from 2002 to 2016, the rate of such deaths has increased by 300%.

Yet so far, there’s been no tangible action or policy to end the opioid epidemic. The majority of what has been done or proposed focuses solely on lowering the number of prescription painkillers, yet the latest federal reports reveal that prescriptions were still in circulation; three times that of in 1999. Similarly, Other suggestions have focused on stopping fentanyl and heroin from entering the US pharma market, but so far they have failed to make a dent in the availability of these drugs to the average Americans. Evidently, the $1 billion bill passed by Congress to tackle the epidemic seems to be the only serious attempt of the people in the White House. This is, however, far from the tens of billions a year that many of the reports suggest the crisis actually costs.

But even if Congress increased the bill to combat the outbreak, what’s the best measure or approach to reducing it, at least, or finally curb it, at best. The Opioid epidemic is a complex, stubborn issue — and histories policies created to fight this epidemic has only worsened it.

Over the past few years, however, not nearly enough has been reported of the role of lawyer or legal practitioners to curb the opioid epidemic. Often when it is discussed the narrative seems to be wrong and the solutions to singularly emphasized. First, our legal and political institutions must understand the cause of the opioid epidemic. Lawyers have a crucial role in bringing a lasting solution to our problem. A lot of us talk and write about drugs prescription and abuse, we focus on drug administration without a proper understanding of the cause. The first question we must ask when any case of the epidemic is reported must be to find out the exact cause of the problem in the first place. This is where we need our lawyers. Solely, that appears not to be the only problem, nor the part of the opioid epidemic that is spreading today. Of course, we must train our physicians, police, and our pill mills on the consequences of over-prescribing. We must make our state medical boards more aggressive and professional in policing the deadly outbreak. The near-zero attention to the potentials of our legal institutions and the role of legal practitioners need to be addressed.

Lawyers or Legal Practitioners; Fighting the opioid Epidemic

As we emphasized earlier, the outbreak has been years in the making but no serious attention has been given to it until many reports of deaths were realized. Between 2005 and 2016, overdose deaths caused by increased by a whopping 406%. This epidemic is devastating, pervasive, and destroying the American communities without respect to demographic or class. The scourge has killed men, women, individuals of all races, ethnicities, and age groups. In general, regarding its immediate and direct effects on human life and development, the opioid epidemic is among some US lawyer’s most pressing challenges.

In the face of these worrisome facts, is there any reason to hope that things will improve with the intervention of the lawyers? And more particularly, can the legal practitioners make any difference in tackling the opioid epidemic? We at Oldham & Smith believe the answer to these questions is simply “yes.” The opioid epidemic possesses some distinct characteristics that differentiate it from the drug problems of the past and indirectly, point to the possible solutions. As it is widely conceived, there is disagreement that the epidemic started as a result of a lethal combination of increasing availability of heroin at a very cheap price and over-prescribing of otherwise lawful opioids. To draw a conclusion from this, the skeleton of a possible solution starts to emerge which highlights the prudent handling of opioids, the legal backing for its disruption, and the formulation of new laws to control its usage.

For example: a 360-degree law can be implemented by a lawyer to tackle the opioid epidemic on several fronts, enhancing community support while employing the different traditional law enforcement measures to curb the outbreak. An excellent example of this is The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program by the department of justice which has instituted a national strategy and which is currently funding about 32 regionally and locally- initiated projects across the country in a bid to increasing the medium by which information is collected, shared, analysed, and investigated. In another vein, The Bureau of Justice Assistance is saddled with the responsibility of monitoring Grant Programs of the Harold Rogers Prescription Drug, which have been used to initiate the PDMP programs where they were not before and to enhance and modernize the already existing ones.

This non-exhaustive list of the roles of the legal practitioners highlight an emerging understanding that any solution to this deadly outbreak epidemic must come from the legal perspective, at least. Law enforcement and its related measures are important to targeting drug organizations whose members agree to peddle heroin to some of the local communities and the increasing rogue doctors, who were found to unite with these people to disguise their trafficking in opioids. Therefore, given the persistent nature of this problem, legal practitioners have a big role to play if we are committed to providing a lasting solution to this scourge.

For more information or to file a claim contact the attorneys at Oldham & Smith.