I rarely say anything supportive of Jeff Sessions. In fact, this is probably the first time it has ever happened. Unsurprisingly, I can't do so without some major caveats. What Sessions said was fine but the way he said it was insensitive.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has drawn jeers for suggesting that people in pain should consider over-the-counter Bufferin instead of opioids.
On Wednesday, Sessions was in Tampa, touting the Trump administration’s efforts to combat drug abuse and trafficking.
This time, he broadened his suggestion to aspirin.
"I am operating on the assumption that this country prescribes too many Opioids," Sessions said. "People need to take some aspirin sometimes."
Sessions delivered a 25-minute address at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, speaking to local police and federal prosecutors about the devastating impact of opioid abuse, including heroin and its high-powered cousin, fentanyl.
On a subject like this, glibness is inappropriate. There are plenty of people who take opioids for debilitating and excruciating chronic Pain, and it's insulting to suggest that they can get by with a couple of aspirin.
Yet, there is no doubt that opioids are overprescribed and inappropriately prescribed, and this has caused more death and suffering in this country than the AIDs crisis or the crack epidemic.
There are countless people at this point whose lives have been ruined by addiction or who have died because they took prescription drugs as prescribed by a doctor. Many of these people took the drugs for postoperative pain, including dental procedures or arthroscopic surgeries that were treated, prior to the introduction of Oxy-Contin in the 1990s, with non-opioids or far less powerful opioids, and for shorter periods of time.
For example, in 1986 I had four impacted wisdom teeth removed and was given codeine. My suffering was excruciating despite the medication and I didn't think it was doing anything until I ran out and discovered that it had been dulling the worst of my pain. I was a very unhappy camper who would have done almost anything to get some relief, but I toughed it out and I'm alive today. If I'd had that surgery ten years later, I might now be living under a bridge after stealing everything I could from my parents and loved ones to feed an addiction no doctor sufficiently warned me about when they gave me my scrip. Or, maybe, I would have died twenty years ago after I discovered that heroin was a cheaper way to relieve my withdrawals than buying expensive black market pills.
There is no doubt that we need to find a balance between helping people with legitimate Chronic Pain or postoperative pain and also letting people feel some pain again, if it's bearable. What seems unbearable often can be endured, at least if there's a prospect that it will only last a short time, as was the case with my dental surgery.
For too long, doctors were afraid to tell anyone to tough it out, and it's obviously a hard thing to do since no one can tell just how much someone else is suffering or if they're lying about their pain just to feed a preexisting addiction.
The fact that this problem is complicated is precisely why Sessions shouldn't be glib about it. Yes, people need to be willing to suffer more pain to avoid the risks of opioids and doctors need to say 'no' more often. But there's no simple way to do that without causing suffering that could be alleviated. The chronic pain sufferer can become a victim, too, if new regulations cause lapses in their supply of pain relieving drugs.
On balance, we have to weigh the tens of thousands of annual deaths and the hundreds of thousands if not millions of ruined lives very heavily in this scenario. It's been too high of a price to pay for people never having to grin and bear the painful but fleeting moments in life. It's been too high even to offset the legitimate benefits of these drugs for people who get relief that wasn't legally available before the 1990s.
So, Sessions is trying to tell a hard but needed truth, but he's doing it in assholish way.