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Maia Szalavitz Headshot

"The Doctor Wasn't Cruel Enough"

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Finally, a pain physician triumphs in the battle over "overprescribing" medications for pain. My story looking at why this case was different is on the front page of Reason today.

We need to make the media and the public recognize that these prosecutions do nothing to fight addiction -- but have literally disabled thousands of formerly functioning pain patients, who as a result of doctors' fears, no longer have access to the medications that allow them to lead normal lives.

We also need to inform people that doctors have a duty to care for addicts -- just like they have a duty to care for any other patient in their practice. If someone is messed up enough to go to physicians trying to scam them for pain medications, he or she needs help, not simply to be kicked to the curb. Let the legal system deal with actual crimes like prescription forgery or theft -- but doctors should not expel people for having symptoms of their medical problems. Nor should they be required to try to help police discover who is an addict and who isn't.

If a patient has both pain and addiction -- or if a patient simply has addiction -- he or she is better served by being kept in medical care and either maintained on opioids or gradually moved towards abstinence than by being kicked out or arrested. Why we ever thought otherwise and decided that being an addict means having a disease that is treated by being removed from the health care system and placed in the criminal justice system is a question those concerned with human rights should think through carefully.