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Opioid drugs pose dangers beyond addiction

With all due respect to Judy Foreman and to the millions of Americans suffering with chronic pain, I must take issue with her Nov. 13 letter, in which she argues against more restrictive access to opioid painkiller medications (“If FDA has way on opioids, those struggling with pain would be hurt”).

The issue with opioids such as Percocet and Vicodin isn’t only their addictive properties. Perhaps even more important is the early evidence that opioids promote tumor growth. Demonstrated so far only in animal studies, this potential for opioids to promote the spread of cancer has caused some medical centers to reduce their use of them for anesthesia.

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A safer course than masking pain with dangerous opioid drugs might be to help patients learn to accept their pain and develop better coping skills. Medical marijuana can play a constructive role in this regard.

The Food and Drug Administration is finally recognizing that a 10-fold increase in painkiller prescriptions over the past 20 years is an epidemic only partly explained by more aggressive management of chronic pain. With less than 5 percent of the global population, the United States consumes more than 80 percent of the global opioid supply and 99 percent of its hydrocodone supply. Are we, the wealthiest country on earth, really in that much more pain than the rest of the world?

Apparently, Foreman thinks so, since the title of her forthcoming book is “A Nation in Pain.” A more accurate title might be “A Nation in Denial.”

John A. Lynch


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