Pubdate: Mon, 26 Mar 2007
Source: Mountain Mail, The (CO)
Copyright: 2007 Arkansas Valley Publishing
Author: Polly Cleveland
Note: Polly Cleveland is an economist specializing in the work of 
Henry George.
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


My father is 96. A month ago he shuffled around the house, up and down
the stairs - quite well by himself. Then, as he put it, "I fell on my

Oops! Compression fracture of the spine. Treatment: painkillers and bed
rest. But, if he is ever to walk again, he must get up regularly and
spend two or three hours a day sitting in a chair. The doc prescribes
hydrocodone-acetaminophen (Tylenol) with a touch of codeine. That
doesn't begin to control the pain if he sits or stands.

"At my age," my father said, "I don't need to suffer." So he lies on
his back, reading or playing games on his laptop.

More than 3,000 years ago traders in the ancient Near East shipped
opium packed in little jugs shaped like poppy capsules - the seed and
resin-containing part of the plant - with painted diagonal stripes to
represent the slashes for collecting the resin. Opiates, including
derivatives like codeine, morphine, heroin, methadone and oxycodone,
are still the safest and most effective painkillers known.

People can use them for life with no more serious side effects than
constipation. Yes, an overdose can kill you. But guess what? Two or
three times the maximum daily dose of acetaminophen in hydrocodone can
fatally damage your liver. And yes, opiates are addictive - for some
people. So is alcohol - for some people.

The United States controls "drugs of abuse" with a ferocity rare in
other Western nations. The policy started with the 1914 Harrison Act
directed at Chinese opium-smokers. But the drug war as we know it
began under President Richard Nixon and metastasized under President
Ronald Reagan.

It's what sociologists like to call a "moral panic" - a fear that
undesirable groups somewhere are engaging in immoral behavior and -
BOO! - they might corrupt your children.

For Mr. Nixon, it was blacks, hippies and war protesters. For Mr.
Reagan, it was "welfare queens" and crack addicts.

Some moral panics die like the one about gambling. Remember "Guys and
Dolls?" That was before the states hit the lottery jackpot.

But the drug war fills too many political needs. Because drug
possession or sale is a victimless crime, it permits selective
prosecution. Even though whites and blacks use illegal drugs at about
the same rates, blacks are arrested, prosecuted and jailed at many
times the rate of whites.

Southern states don't allow ex-felons to vote. As a result, in 2000,
disenfranchisement of blacks in Florida gave the presidency to George
W. Bush. Now the drug war has come back to bite him in Afghanistan,
where black-market opium pays for the resurgent Taliban and al Qaeda.

At home, the Drug Enforcement Administration keeps doctors under
surveillance lest they over-prescribe strong opiates (Percocet,
OxyContin) - or worse, prescribe them to addicts. Pain specialists
have been prosecuted, lost their licenses and even been imprisoned for
careless prescribing.

Doctors run scared. So if you have an elderly patient with a fracture
- - well, not a priority for pain treatment. Yet, all the DEA
watchfulness didn't stop Rush Limbaugh from filling multiple phony

My father has set himself up with everything in reach of his hospital
bed - laptop, printer, telephone, files - an office on wheels. Time to
go now. He's ready for his favorite diversion - clobbering me and my
sister at Internet Scrabble!
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake