We should consider applying our shock and disgust in direction of the way we deal with pain.
The news can be numbing.
We're bombarded regularly with shocking news and numbers about the opioid epidemic. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016, more than any previous year on record.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. Male military veterans are 18 times more likely to kill themselves than their civilian counterparts, and female veterans are 250 times more likely.
A recent Associated Press report focused on spinal cord stimulators, envisioned as a way to help treat patients dealing with extreme pain, but which have been problematic for many patients.
The “Implant Files” project, a year-long investigation into implanted medical devices, found faulty devices were responsible for more than 83,000 deaths and 1.7 million injuries worldwide in the last decade.
The stimulators drew specific attention. They are reported to be responsible for 500 deaths and 80,000 injuries since 2008.
After the investigatory report was released, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would take steps to modernize and improve its oversight of medical devices.
In 2004, an FDA panel approved 5-2 to recommend conditional approval of the stimulator. Prior to the vote, the board chairperson noted “it sounds like the panel believes that the device is generally safe but based on what is questionable efficacy, it’s unclear whether the safety benefit ratio rises to the point that make it something that we should achieve to use.”
Panelists who voted to approve indicated they were thinking of patients in pain, saying “this is a very tough group of patients, and it’s difficult to treat them. “
Therein lies a key to all of these issues. We have a real need for relief of pain, both physical and mental. We still have a school of thought that says we have to fight through our pain. However we're dealing with it, if there's a market for pain reduction, the opportunistic are going to try to take advantage.
Doctors who do implant work point to the number of patients who are helped by the devices. Doctors who prescribe opioids for pain will point to the millions who assisted by the drugs, and the millions who use them responsibly (after they're prescribed responsibly) and never get addicted.
The cost is one we as a society like to discuss, but not in any real way. We continue to cut mental health programs while using “mental health” as a general scapegoat whenever something goes wrong. We hate to be or see others in pain, so we step up pressure on agencies like the FDA to do something.
We live in a world that wants quick fixes. The first step to getting anywhere in dealing with these health crises is understanding that there will be a cost. Like other issues, we can't keep kicking this one down the road.