A first step on the road to drug coverage recovery

Maia Szalavitz

Although the New York Times loves a good, unmitigated drug scare, its Sunday front-page story on methadone deaths was unusually balanced. Past Times coverage of the painkiller Oxycontin often included stories without a single quote from a pain patient who wasn’t a drug abuser (actually, the majority of patients). But this piece spotlighted patients who were helped as well as those who were harmed, showing that opioid drugs like methadone and Oxycontin aren’t just evil killers that needed to be restricted as much as possible.

Could the story have looked into the role the media played in driving doctors to prescribe methadone instead of the safer Oxycontin after the press demonized that drug? That would have given some much-needed perspective to prescription abuse problems, albeit at the expense of implicating the media, including the New York Times itself.

Could it have placed more emphasis on the fact that the vast majority of methadone deaths do not occur among people who take the drug as prescribed? Yes – the failure to tease out the numerical difference between death due to mixing methadone with other drugs and death due to methadone alone makes it difficult to determine whether more addicts are abusing methadone or more pain patients are suffering from accidental overdoses.

Could the Times have acknowledged the difficulty many patients have with getting doctors to prescribe opioids for chronic pain at all? Absolutely.

But including both sides of the story is a welcome change from prior coverage, and perhaps it marks the belated recognition that demonizing particular drugs one after another is not a sensible strategy for covering the issue.

One Response to A first step on the road to drug coverage recovery

  1. armme says:

    I agree completely.

    This was unusually balanced and not as biased as most stories are covering methadone.

    Most stories covering this “epidemic” (although I would HARDLY call it that) tell about the death tolls, make a quick note about how most deaths involve medication obtained at a pharmacy not a methadone clinic–and then move on to talking about methadone clinics and feed the fear society already has of them. Finally a story that covers the issue without bringing the clinics into it. Methadone treatment has lasted for 40years without problems like this-it wasn’t until the widespread use as a painkiller that people started overdosing. And people in treatment at methadone clinics aren’t DYING. It’s people using on the streets who ARE…for many of them methadone treatment will drastically DECREASE their chances of overdosing.

    Another point they missed in this story, though, was that opiate addiction is on the rise in the US….and with more people abusing these medicaitons its enivitable that more people will overdose.

    The sad reality is that the media and well intentioned groups trying to end “oxycontin” deaths were what caused this rash of methadone overdose deaths. By demonizing OXYCONTIN and making it very hard for legit docs to prescribe it without being “watched”–they created an atmosphere where methadone looked like a good answer….but by doing so they made it hard for addicts to obtain the drug they really wanted so they had to buy methaodne which by its very nature is not a good “high”
    drug unless mixed with other drugs. So the media and these watchdog groups helped take a drug (OXYContin) that all by itself gave the feeling that drug users seek out of circulation and doctors were FORCED to prescribe a drug that by it’s very nature is slow acting (no rush) and produces a much milder high UNLESS you mix it with other drugs.

    IOW these groups did what they set out to do: reduce Oxycontin deaths…however they did us no favors because this just drastically increased overdoses.

    We should learn from our mistake and realize that things will only continue to get worse if we make it harder for people to get into methadone treatment ..if we do that we will see people resorting to heroin abuse that never would have considered it otherwise…and the death toll will continue to rise.

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