President Trump held a meeting earlier this summer with the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and other advisers to take a deep dive into solving the nation’s worsening opioid overdose problem.
The Trump administration is clearly shifting into high gear on this issue. HHS Secretary Price, for example, agreed with a reporter during the press briefing that followed, when the reporter called it a “national emergency.” Even more disturbing, however, were recent assertions made by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a recent interview. Christie, who heads a White House Drug Addiction Task Force, claims that in 2015 doctors prescribed enough opioid painkillers to medicate every American adult for 3 weeks.
If these numbers appear implausible or like they are missing some context, it’s because they are. And the Administration’s resorting to hyperbole creates an atmosphere of panic that is likely to lead to policies that will only make matters worse.
Let’s start with the context-dropping. What does the governor mean by “medicated?” To a practitioner “medicated” means being treated with a medicine in order to achieve a desired result. Does that mean one 5mg oxycodone tablet every 4 hours (6 per day) for 21 days? Some patients are prescribed two 5mg tablets every 6 hours. Or is he talking about 7.5 or 10 mg oxycodone tablets? Maybe he means hydrocodone. That also comes in 5mg, 7.5mg, and 10mg doses and is sometimes prescribed every 4 hours but sometimes every 6 hours. Then there’s hydromorphone (dilaudid), oxycontin, and let’s not forget codeine.