How Much More Vicious Will the War on Painkillers Get?

Authorities look for new ways to hold others responsible for overdoses and throw them in jail.


Steveheap / Dreamstime

More searches. More prosecutions. More punishment. More jail. The way governments—federal, state, and local—are responding to the opioid crisis continue to demonstrate the dangers of a "somebody, do something" mentality.

Weekend news coverage of how police and prosecutors are choosing to address opioid deaths revolves around the nasty inertia of increasing control. Officials want more power and the ability to inflict more punishment, regardless of prohibition's lengthy history of failure.

In New York, prosecutors are looking to try to charge dealers with manslaughter when the people they sell heroin or opioids to end up dying from overdoses. The New York Times reported on this push over the weekend, and officials' attitudes can be summed up by this perfectly awful quote from narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan: "We're not winning. We've got to do more."

Brennan's only tool is a very nasty hammer, and as the Times notes, she previously used it to send a doctor to prison for at least 10 years for recklessly handing out opioid prescriptions. Two of his patients died of overdoses, and he was convicted of manslaughter (among other crimes).

Prosecutors may have the power to put people behind bars, but they're not the ones who can "win" this battle. We know from decades of the drug war that what prosecutors often end up doing is ripping apart low-income, marginalized families and tossing addicts in prison for long mandatory minimum sentences.

Culturally, there's still an image that "drug dealers" are sinister men (often black) on street corners looking to prey on vulnerable citizens. The reality is that is often not the case. And in fact, the way the law defines dealers is designed to sweep up all sorts of people with just tangential connections to the idea of distributing drugs.

Stephen Cummings, the alleged drug dealer charged with manslaughter at the center of the Times weekend report, bragged about how powerful the fentanyl-laced heroin was to a wired undercover police officer, according to authorities. He reportedly acknowledged that the heroin was powerful enough to kill a friend's father, thus the manslaughter charges.

But according to his brother, Cummings is also an addict and needs rehab. Cummings' only prior conviction is for possession. Others arrested in this sting also said that they're addicts, and they think prosecutors are trying to use them as a "test case." They should count their blessings that they don't live in Florida, where they could potentially be charged with first-degree murder.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a bill to allow police to access a prescription drug–monitoring database without having to get a court order. Republican state Sen. Robert Singer, the legislation's sponsor, acknowledges in a Washington Post story that he's doing the bidding of a county prosecutor who wants to try to go after doctors.

Civil libertarians are understandably upset at the idea that police should be able to just demand access to our personal medical information. But Singer insists that such privacy concerns are overblown: The opioid crisis is severe, and therefore, he argues, Americans should be willing to make an exception. He also, remarkably, used the fact that Americans' phones are being tracked as an example of how we should be willing to give up our privacy, even though civil liberties groups heavily oppose phone tracking as well.

Gov. Chris Christie opposes the legislation, so it may not get far. It's nevertheless worth noting as part of a trend. Other states—most recently Rhode Island—have passed laws providing similar access.

Also getting weekend coverage, we also have attorneys attempting to convince states to sue opioid manufacturers the way they sued tobacco manufacturers, accusing them of misrepresenting the benefits of painkillers.

To embrace an idea like that, you have to ignore the impact on people who suffer from chronic pain and are not addicts. This isn't anything like tobacco. Opioids are indeed dangerous when misused, but they clearly serve an important medical purpose. When we see this behavior from officials, we should think about how the government's classification of marijuana as an illicit drug slowed down the discovery of its genuine medicinal purposes.

The opioid crisis crackdown is making life even harsher and more miserable for chronic pain sufferers. Reason TV recently interviewed a doctor who refused to be cowed by government efforts to reduce access to painkillers, even for those who desperately need them. Watch below:

NEXT: Once a Killer Drug, Qat Is Now a Dropout Drug, If You Believe The New York Times

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Brennan’s only tool is a very nasty hammer

    If I had a hammer
    I’d hammer in the courthouse
    I’d hammer in the press
    All over this city
    I’d hammer out danger
    I’d hammer out responsibility
    I’d hammer out drug use between my brothers and sisters
    All over this city

  2. “Meanwhile in New Jersey…”

    That’s really becoming the new “Florida man…”, isn’t it?

    1. Florida had a head start, but give us time…

      1. There was a time when you could say of New Jersey “At least it’s not Florida” but soon you won’t even be able to say that.

    2. I believe New Jersey and surrounding areas are the nursery for many Florida Men.

  3. “In New York, prosecutors are looking to try to charge dealers with manslaughter…”

    It seems to me, as heroin and fentanyl are only sold on the black market and there is absolutely no evidence of the transaction, proving who the drugs were purchased from would be impossible in 99.999999% of the cases. There is reasonable doubt written all over a case like that. But then again, jurist are just citizens too stupid to get out of jury duty, so no telling what you can get them to believe.

  4. Personally, I wish that every single one of these pigfuckers that are blowing up the Constitution in order to keep someone, somewhere from getting high be stricken with horrible chronic pain that only opioids can relieve– and not be able to get them thanks to their own efforts.

    1. Oh, they’ll still be able to get them, don’t you worry about that.

  5. RE: How Much More Vicious Will the War on Painkillers Get?
    Authorities look for new ways to hold others responsible for overdoses and throw them in jail.

    Not to mention ensuring those in pain remain in pain…for their own good, of course.

    1. I wish they would question whether they are somewhat responsible for the ODing by forcing people into black markets.

    2. Unless you happen to look up the growing suicide statistics for chronic pain patients who have been cut back or completely off the only thing that lets us have at least half a life.

  6. alt-alt text:

    ‘Sorry, but your personal suffering is not as important as my re-election in 2018.’

  7. Civil libertarians are understandably upset at the idea that police should be able to just demand access to our personal medical information. But Singer insists that such privacy concerns are overblown: The opioid crisis is severe, and therefore, he argues, Americans should be willing to make an exception.

    Oh, FFS. How many times have we seen some form of this argument over the last several years? “We have to give up some freedom for security because [insert crisis du jour here].” And the fucking mouth breathers just go along with this shit almost every time.

    Gov. Chris Christie opposes the legislation, so it may not get far.

    That’s genuinely surprising. Maybe fatso isn’t as bad as I thought. I’m sure he’ll do something soon to reassure us that yes, he really as big an asshole as he appears.

    1. Take the victories when they come. If he really does oppose it give him credit where it is due. It won’t outweight the bad, but not giving any credit is to lose the details of the argument.

  8. RE: How Much More Vicious Will the War on Painkillers Get?

    It can get a lot worse.
    After all, the DEA does have firearms and are more than willing to use them on anyone carrying a pill.
    All of you have been warned.

  9. I’ve been in pain with headaches for over a year now. Even the pills that I’m prescribed don’t do too much for me. It’s because of things like this that it’s so hard for me to get something stronger and it’s absolutely infuriating.

    1. Your suffering is a small price for government to pay for keeping us all safe.

    2. You may be in pain, but you’re not addicted to something. You’re welcome.

      1. People in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers.

  10. Meanwhile in New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a bill to allow police to access a prescription drug?monitoring database without having to get a court order.

    Remember this when single-payer comes down the pipeline. Your medical information won’t be private from the government, and your medical information can be used in your prosecution. You can just kiss your Civil Liberties goodbye once this happens.

    Personally I can’t wait until your health can be used to raise your taxes because you’re an outsized risk for the Public Healthcare System due to ‘x’ medical condition. The government will make the days of insurance look positively utopian.

    1. More ominously, the government doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to information security of people’s records. So in addition to government stupidity, you have the risk of your records being hacked.

      Why brings up the question – Hackers generally steal information or encrypt it and hold it for ransom. Rather than doing that, how much havoc could one create by altering your records?

      1. +1 virus that changes everyone’s gender to Xer.

        1. That’s a hacker with some sexy tastes.

        2. But my preferred gender is Bleep-bloop!

    2. Your medical information isn’t private from the government now. At least not in all cases. I remember a story from a few years ago about a guy who lost his driver’s license because his doctor thought he drank too much and told the state. And anyone prescribed a controlled substance is on a list somewhere.

    3. OTOH, in most countries w socialized medicine, narcotic analgesics are prescribed much more freely.

  11. What we really need right now is for someone to come up with a conspiracy theory that the CIA created the opioid epidemic as a plot to kill off working class white people.
    Maybe we can link it up with the secret Muslim theory. Obama using his secret Muslim connections, used the CIA to buy opiates from ISIS in order to illegally fund the war in Syria, and then sold the drugs to unsuspecting rural white people.

    1. What do they grow a whole lot of in Afghanistan?

    2. John’s not here, man.

    3. Get Maxine Waters on board, and you’re on to something.

    4. There’s a resurgence of VD in rural white communities. I’ve got a call in to Tavis Smiley to see if he can massage his AIDS conspiracy theory into a new, white-centric one.

  12. Will this crackdown on opioid use at all reduce the number of satanic clowns that are stalking our children walking through graveyards at the stroke of midnight?

  13. To answer the question posed by the headline, i don’t see how it’s possible to get more vicious than condemning millions of people to a life of chronic pain, whatever the reason.

    1. I would like to take one of the assholes proposing this bullshit and strap him down to a chair bolted into cement. I would then shoot him in the knee with a .45 and proceed to finger fuck the bullet wound. All the while asking how he’s doing with the pain.

      Hilarity ensues.

      1. Then you’re just asking for gun control, a waiting period on the purchase of chairs and cement, and a shit ton of new rules about positive consent.

  14. “We’re not winning. We’ve got to do more.”

    Isn’t that a Charlie Sheen quote?

  15. It’s not that hard to figure out….. 70% of DEA’s business is marijuana. With marijuana legal in one way or the other in 23 states what are you going to do with a huge enforcement agency with little to enforce? Go after physicians and people in pain… Not Good….

  16. I don’t see any reasonable Reason explanation for the opioid crisis either. People don’t start getting high on opiates if they are decently educated, not depressed nor hopeless, or teenagers who will do anything to be part of the crowd.

    The opioid epidemic did not occur in the 1940s or 50s when most couples were married with children and only one parent had to work to support his family. People were much more prosperous and not impoverished by progressive government socialism and government-induced inflation. Parents and their children believed the future would be even better for their children … and they were right.

    Today depression is the most common disease in the world and only about half of depressed people respond to antidepressants. Opiates are the escape passage from the dismal reality of contemporary life where the future is fearful to say the least. Government can pass all the laws they want but they will not be able to stop opiate addiction until society is completely reformed, socialism is realized as a hellish form of government, and the economy is greatly improved. Trump is the only who has a chance to do this, but his struggle will be uphill against a globalist Congress and billionaire manipulators.

  17. I wonder how many will die as a result of this “war on pain killers”? My wife has abdominal adhesions and is in sever pain. She has tried everything including going to deep tissue massage at a lot of personal expense. Nothing works. The “pain management” doctors will not prescribe her an opioid pain killer because of the supposed opioid crisis. She talks about not being able to deal with the pain anymore and mentions suicide often. I feel I am going to lose my wife.

    1. My first attempt to comment didn’t seem to work…
      Is medical marijuana legal in your state? If not, can you move? Have you tried Kratom, or other “unconventional” drugs?
      All I can really say to you is… DO NOT GIVE UP. EVER. Look at EVERY online board for chronic pain sufferers; try EVERY bit of advice. Don’t just get a second opinion; get EVERY opinion. Doctor-Shop until you find one willing to prescribe opioids… And if you can’t find one? Well… “illegal” doesn’t have to mean “unavailable”. Do what you need to do. And if she has mentioned suicide: REMOVE ALL GUNS AND NOOSES FROM THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY, and seek psychiatric help for her.
      I hope you read this (if you haven’t already).

      1. Just wondering how many households keep nooses around.

        1. God damn it… I meant to write “POTENTIAL” nooses: electrical cord, chain, fishing line, that sort of thing. Obviously you can never get rid of bedsheets, but it is still worth trying.

          I wrote it correctly in the original version the squirrels ate…

  18. To appreciate the opoid epidemic, read the book
    “Dreamland : the true tale of America’s opiate epidemic” by Quinones, Sam,

    Crackiing down on doctors and manufacturers is an exellent idea

    1. Yep screw the people who will be left to suffer in agony for no reason. As long as we can protect idiots from themselves by throwing them in prison if necessary we have done the right thing. I somehow wonder how people such as yourself look in the mirror and don’t see the monster staring back at them.

  19. This article covers the wars on painkillers. I agree that “war” is the wrong approach. But what *is* the libertarian position on better solutions to the real problem of addiction? Natural selection?

    1. So the big government approach isn’t working. It is resulting in exploding addiction, innocent people suffering for lack of access, enriched gangs and organized crime, and peaceful people rotting in jail. Given that background all you can bring yourself to wonder is if libertarians can offer something better?

      A fucking retarded chimp can do better. Libertarians don’t have a ready solution to every social problem ever created but we do have enough of a sense of ethics and decency to know that government violence is not the answer to social problems. If you care about the issue maybe you should figure it out the government obviously can’t.

    2. Harm reduction and minding your own business. I don’t think that a significantly larger number of people would be addicts if drugs were legalized or seriously decriminalized like they’ve done in Portugal and Switzerland. Do that and at least addicts won’t be dying from shit that’s stronger than expected or infection and disease nearly so much. I don’t think any further government solution is needed. It’s a problem that society at large needs to deal with. I would encourage people to learn about how addiction works and what it is, encourage research on what is really effective in getting addicts to clean up. And probably accept that some people are going to decide that being on drugs is better than not being on drugs and if they can do it without hurting anyone, leave them alone.

    3. One way to stop it (one way, there are multiple facets to this) is to not create a permanent class of welfare recipients. We saw what it did to minority urban populations, now it’s happening to rural populations.

      1. Another is to allow people normal access to it. ODing on narcotics is an issue more to do with uncertain levels of purity of the drug being taken. Legal access would immediately clear that up.

    4. 1st you have to define the problem.

  20. State Senator Singer is a real a-hole. Hopefully someone starts digging up his past since it’s not a big deal apparently.

  21. very nice post. I like it. Thanks for sharing this information.
    Tinder is the best online chatting application. Try it.
    http://www.tinder-pc-download.com/ tinder for pc
    http://www.tinder-pc-download.com/ tinder download

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.