Once Again, Pain Patients Must Suffer to Save Addicts From Themselves


The Food and Drug Administration, which for years has opposed new restrictions on prescription painkillers containing hydrocodone as an unacceptable burden on patients, has changed its mind. Assuming the Department of Health and Human Services approves this new position, which comports with what the Drug Enforcement Administration has long recommended, hydrocodone will be moved from Schedule III to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act, which will make the medications harder to get, even for people suffering from severe chronic pain. Fewer practitioners will be allowed to prescribe hydrocodone, and prescriptions will last three months at most rather than six months, requiring more frequent doctor visits. Even for short-term use (after an injury or dental procedures, for example), doctors will not be allowed to call prescriptions in to pharmacies; patients will have to physically carry a written prescription to the drugstore (and woe to those who lose that magical piece of paper). Why did the FDA suddenly decide that it's OK to erect these arbitrary obstacles between patients and the drugs they need to make their pain bearable? Here is how The New York Times explains it:

[Janet] Woodcock [director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research] said that F.D.A. officials were aware that changing the prescribing rules would affect patients. She said, however, that the impact on public health caused by the abuse of the drugs as well as their medical use had reached a tipping point….

"These are very difficult tradeoffs that our society has to make," said Dr. Woodcock. "The reason we approve these drugs is for people in pain. But we can't ignore the epidemic on the other side."

Why do "we as a society" have to make these "tradeoffs" at all? Only because the government insists on getting between people and the drugs they want. The upshot is that bureaucrats like Woodcock act as if it is morally acceptable to magnify the suffering of people who use hydrocodone to treat pain because other people use the drug for nonmedical purposes and sometimes die as a result of their own recklessness. This sort of callous calculus makes sense only to a collectivist.