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If FDA has way on opioids, those struggling with pain would be hurt

Re “Painkiller addiction: The FDA takes action” (Editorial, Nov. 9): The Globe applauded the US Food and Drug Administration’s recent recommendation to restrict access to hydrocodone-containing drugs such as Vicodin. I strongly disagree. Making these opioids harder to get may or not may not reduce the prescription drug abuse problem. But it will almost certainly hurt legitimate pain patients who need the drugs.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine issued a report showing that 100 million people live in chronic pain, and many are disabled by it. Chronic pain is the main reason people go to doctors and is a bigger problem than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined.

By contrast, the abuse problem is smaller. In 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16,651 people died in opioid-related deaths. But those figures also show that only 29 percent of these deaths involved opioids alone; the rest involved alcohol, benzodiazepines, and other drugs. Yet it’s opioids — like the legitimate pain patients who need them — that get vilified.


An estimated 12 million people a year abuse opioids. But the denominator in this equation is huge. In 2009, 200 million prescriptions for opioids were filled nationwide, according to the SDI Vector One National database, a privately owned prescription and patient tracking service.

Opioids are not wonder drugs. But they can allow some people to manage their pain enough to get on with their lives.

Judy Foreman

The writer, a former Globe health columnist, is the author of the forthcoming book “A Nation in Pain.”