When the cure is worse than the disease

Source: Maia Szalavitz, New York Times (Paid Registration)

As many as 18 million patients rely on opioids to treat long-term pain that is intractable but not necessarily associated with terminal illness. In 2016, seeking to curb opioid misuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced guidelines outlining a maximum safe dosage and strongly urging doctors to avoid prescribing for chronic pain unless death is imminent. The guidelines were supposed to be voluntary and apply only to chronic pain patients seeing general practitioners. Instead, they have been widely seen by doctors as mandatory.

As a result, thousands of pain medication recipients have had their doses reduced or eliminated. But this attempt to save people from addiction is leaving many patients in perpetual pain—and thus inadvertently ruining, or even ending, lives.

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