Helping those who need drugs

A column by Mike Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Just a few weeks ago, the FBI went to court seeking an order that Apple Inc. help it break the encryption used on iPhones. Federal officials wanted to examine some phones as part of a California terrorist attack investigation.

Within days the feds went back to court. Never mind, they said. We’ve hacked into the phones ourselves.

How is it that the government can, within days, manage a technological feat Apple claimed was close to impossible – but can’t make it easier for people who need certain kinds of medicine to get it?

An older gentleman who’s had back problems for years called me last week to complain about all the hoops he has to jump through to get pain pills. He wonders why he has to be viewed as a potential drug abuser. I’ve heard similar concerns from many other people, on opioid painkillers as well as cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

He understands drug abuse is a problem, the caller told me. Just a few days before our conversation, he’d been to the barber. Upon leaving, he noticed a hypodermic syringe in the gutter.

He and lots of other people with legitimate needs for certain drugs have a point. We’ve come up with sophisticated computer-based systems to track people who buy certain medicines. We’ve enlisted health care providers including doctors and pharmacists to help monitor prescriptions and purchases.

Yet we can’t find a way to streamline the process for folks who don’t plan to abuse drugs.

One challenge, as an ex-Drug Enforcement Administration agent told me, is that some people for whom pain pills are prescribed in good faith have low incomes. They may get the pills, then decide to cope with the pain so they can sell their medication to abusers, in order to earn a few much-needed dollars. It has happened in our area.

Still, have we really put our minds to making it less difficult for non-abusers to get pain, cold and allergy drugs? We can put people on the moon but we can’t manage that?

Or, a better question: We think we can find ways to ensure marijuana is sold legally only for medicinal purposes, but we can’t come up with a better system for opioid painkillers and pseudoephedrine?

In all seriousness, have we tried asking a few really good computer hackers for ideas? They seem to be among the most deviously creative minds on the planet, after all.

Myer can be reached at: [email protected].

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