This week, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued a report urging President Trump to “declare a national emergency” in response to the “scourge” of the nation’s opioid addiction crisis. The report makes for disturbing reading. Twenty-one million citizens are afflicted with a substance abuse disorder (SUD), yet only 10 percent receive any specialty treatment for their addictions each year—a failure that “is contributing greatly to the increase in deaths from overdose.” About 40 percent of those with an SUD also have a “mental health problem, but less than half of these people receive treatment for either issue.” How high is the death toll? Approximately 142 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses; as the report put it, that’s “a death toll equal to September 11thevery three weeks.”
The Commission issued a series of constructive—if expensive—recommendations for addressing the opioid crisis. These included increasing rehabilitation center treatment capacity, eliminating federal funding barriers to treating the mentally ill in in-patient facilities under Medicaid, and requiring physicians who prescribe opioids under the Controlled Substances Act to receive continuing medical education in pain treatment and the risks of developing an SUD.
All well and good. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that one important piece of the opioid problem was omitted. Just as suicide prevention campaigns too often fail to grapple with assisted suicide advocacy as part of our growing suicide problem, the Commission’s report fails to consider the mixed message doctors send when they make opioids available to patients for use in committing suicide: “Don’t abuse opioids, because they can kill you—unless you have a terminal illness and want them to kill you, in which case your overdose will be considered ‘death with dignity.’”
Read more at First Things.