FDA tightens reins on misused painkillers

In an effort to control prescription drug abuse, the FDA recently announced its recommendation for stricter controls on pain relievers, such as Vicodin, that contain a substance called hydrocodone. The FDA has become quite concerned with the misuse of prescription drugs over the years, but critics worry that this move will create further obstacles for those dealing with chronic pain.

While this action merely announces a recommendation, its potential consequences have engendered a spirited debate in the medical community. Refills for these medications would not last as long, so patients would have to visit the doctor more frequently. Patients would also have to physically take the prescription to the pharmacy.

The move to restructure regulations on these pain relievers reflects the FDA’s response to rising numbers of deaths due to prescription drug overdose. According to the New York Times, prescription drugs account for about three quarters of all overdose deaths.

Aside from the danger of pain medication abuse, this recommendation also sheds light on society’s view of chronic pain. In most situations, our body’s natural reaction to pain is to recoil. Our evolutionary response immediately processes the harm, and we find ways to avoid it.

In this day and age, a common method for avoiding pain is drug use. Many people incorporate painkillers into their routines, whether they are athletes popping 12 Advils a day for stress fractures or someone taking Tums for every stomach discomfort. These individuals build up a tolerance to pain medications and adjust to the dosage after two to three months, after which point the dosage must increase in order for them to feel the effects.

In some instances, the effect of taking pain medication is merely psychological: One might feel the relief just from merely swallowing pills, whether or not it is the proper time and place to take them.

This is not to discount those who experience chronic pain. While some chronic pain may not have a concrete, identifiable cause, that does not make the pain less real. I merely suggest that we turn our attention to the role of emotion in pain. Our emotions can have amazing physical effects on the body, including weakening the immune system, which makes an individual more susceptible to common illnesses such as a cold or the flu.

In our anxiety-ridden culture, it is no surprise that stress manifests itself physically, but we must also remember that it can indicate internal turmoil. In processing chronic pain, the emotional response can override the sensory.

I find myself siding with the FDA’s recommendation in this case. Though pain is a gnarly topic to unravel, its subjectivity should not prevent us from setting regulations for pain alleviation methods. Individuals can become addicted to certain prescription drugs for chronic pain, and the death toll from the resulting overdoses should make us cringe.

I also stand in opposition to our culture’s view of pain. Most people’s reaction is to shy away from pain, to cover it up. While certain instances of chronic pain necessitate the use of prescription drugs, the drugs’ authorization should not be a knee-jerk reaction. Perhaps doctors are too quick to continue a prescription refill, as they have no way of measuring or quantifying the level of their patient’s pain.

There are more holistic methods to approaching pain, including, but not limited to, art therapy, psychotherapy, methods of stress relief, acupuncture and sleep tracking. Our medical model restricts individuals to drugs only, while the psychological basis of pain is still untapped territory.

With the suggestion that our minds play a significant role in pain, perhaps restricted access to painkillers will motivate individuals to examine chronic pain without the veil of narcotics.

Emily Stets ’15 stetsec@stolaf.edu is an Opinions editor from Northfield, Minn. She is a CIS major in Creative Outlets and the Medical Model.

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