Pubdate: Thu, 15 Aug 2002
Source: State, The (SC)
Copyright: 2002 The State
Author: Tracy Edge


In July, The State ran a front-page story discussing illegal abuse of the 
pain drug OxyContin and its effect in the Carolinas. The article was filled 
with emotional stories of addiction and rogue clinicians who apparently 
deal drugs for profit. The stories dramatically exposed a serious public 
health problem unknown to many.

My point of concern is that the article focused on only one medication, 
OxyContin, while many prescription drugs are subject to illegal abuse and 
can be deadly if not taken under a physician's guidance. It also overlooked 
the need to protect patients with a legitimate need for pain medicines from 
having their access to these medications endangered by unwise enforcement 

The fact is that a lot of prescription medications are abused. We have to 
be careful not to allow our reaction to this problem of abuse to affect the 
ability of legitimate patients to get medications they truly need. In the 
case of the Myrtle Beach Clinic, the story failed to mention that the 
doctors were charged not merely with overprescribing OxyContin. They were 
charged with over-prescribing other medications with the potential for 
abuse, such as Percodan, Percocet, Tylox, Hydrocodone, Lorcet, Lortab, 
Xanax and Ambien.

All these medications and many others are abused and illegally sold on the 
street. At the same time, they bring relief to patients who suffer from 
persistent pain and who take them properly under a doctor's care. Focusing 
on one medication does not bring us closer to solving the larger problem.

It's important for all of us to be aware of the full threat drug abuse 
holds for our state. It can cause loss of livelihood and family, addiction 
and, in some cases, even death. But what most people may not realize is 
that many pain patients, for example cancer patients and people with 
chronic pain, desperately need proper access to those same drugs.

We must increase our efforts to fight illegal abuse of prescribed drugs. 
But while doing so, it is equally important for us to fight to protect the 
rights of patients who have a legitimate need for pain medication. When 
sensationalized stories are written that focus on abuse of a specific 
prescription drug, such as OxyContin, such actions may make doctors afraid 
to prescribe the medication. Pain patients may also become afraid to take a 
medication that is dubbed "the heroin of the 2000s" by the press, for fear 
of being perceived as addicts.

Prescription drug abuse is in some ways unique in its nature and 
implications. How we battle prescription drug abuse while protecting 
patients' rights requires immediate attentionas an issue separate from 
combating illegal narcotics that serve no medicinal purpose.

The misconduct of a few should not be allowed to yield consequences that 
damage innocent pain sufferers who obey the law and follow their doctors' 
instructions. Unfortunately, that is exactly what can happen when public 
officials crack down unwisely on the availability of a particular pain 
medication or launch sensational public campaigns against a particular drug 

Obviously, everyone can agree that a campaign should be waged against 
prescription drug abuse. As a member of the General Assembly, I intend to 
look for better ways to wage that war.

However, it is pointless to target one drug. The better course is to 
educate the public and take preventive measures against prescription drug 
abuse. We need to educate ourselves with the facts and use innovative 
prevention measures to ensure that pain patients do not become innocent 
victims in the war against drug abuse.

In the campaign to control the abuse of prescription drugs, the 
Legislature, state agencies and the medical community must work together to 
fight the problem. We need to start taking steps to better control 
prescriptions within our state Medicaid system by investigating and 
implementing an effective prescription-monitoring program.

Doctors need to receive proper training to treat pain as well as spot the 
signs of addiction. We need to make sure we protect the doctors who 
appropriately treat patients, while ensuring that doctors who are proven to 
have intentionally abused their position are punished, not just by revoking 
their right to practice medicine, but also prosecuting under South Carolina 
state law like other drug criminals.

While we continue this fight against illegal use of drugs, let's keep in 
mind the right of patients to get the treatment they desperately need 
without fear, difficulty or shame.

Rep. Edge represents Horry County in the S.C. House.
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