If you thought New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg couldn’t get any more ridiculous than declaring war on excessively large beverages, get ready to laugh until it hurts. Literally.
The New York Times says Bloomberg’s latest exercise of power on behalf of his hapless electorate involves sharply limiting their access to prescription painkillers:
Some of the most common and most powerful prescription painkillers on the market will be restricted sharply in the emergency rooms at New York City’s 11 public hospitals, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday in an effort to crack down on what he called a citywide and national epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
Under the new city policy, most public hospital patients will no longer be able to get more than three days’ worth of narcotic painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet. Long-acting painkillers, including OxyContin, a familiar remedy for chronic backache and arthritis, as well as Fentanyl patches and methadone, will not be dispensed at all. And lost, stolen or destroyed prescriptions will not be refilled.
City officials said the policy was aimed at reducing the growing dependency on painkillers and preventing excess amounts of drugs from being taken out of medicine chests and sold on the street or abused by teenagers and others who want to get high.
“Abuse of prescription painkillers in our city has increased alarmingly,” Mr. Bloomberg said in announcing the new policy at Elmhurst Hospital Center, a public hospital in Queens. Over 250,000 New Yorkers over age 12 are abusing prescription painkillers, he said, leading to rising hospital admissions for overdoses and deaths, Medicare fraud by doctors who write false prescriptions and violent crime like “holdups at neighborhood pharmacies.”
You may, of course, rest assured that if one Michael R. Bloomberg has need of painkillers, they will be made readily available, just as he will never be without armed protection, no matter how thoroughly he manages to disarm the populace. Actually, this initiative bears some resemblance to the gun-control debate. In both cases, the law-abiding will be punished due to the actions of miscreants. The aristocracy no longer trusts its citizens, including those who have medical degrees:
“Here is my problem with legislative medicine,” said Dr. Alex Rosenau, president-elect of the American College of Emergency Physicians and senior vice chairman of emergency medicine at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Eastern Pennsylvania. “It prevents me from being a professional and using my judgment.”
While someone could fake a toothache to get painkillers, he said, another patient might have legitimate pain and not be able to get an appointment at a dental clinic for days. Or, he said, a patient with a hand injury may need more than three days of pain relief until the swelling goes down and an operation could be scheduled.
Dr. Rosenau said that the college of emergency physicians had not developed an official position on the prescribing of painkillers in emergency rooms and that he appreciated Mr. Bloomberg’s activism in the face of a serious public health problem. But he said pain clinics in states like Florida and California, states where prescription drug abuse is rampant, as well as the household medicine cabinet, were probably a more common source of unneeded painkillers than emergency rooms.
Granted that the abuse of prescription drugs is a serious problem, and exceptionally so in New York City, this boils down to imposing a draconian solution because officials don’t have the patience to devise a more elegant one. Indisputably, these drugs are being abused by those who don’t really need them. Must the solution involve taking them away from those who do? Especially if Dr. Rosenau’s critique is accurate, and the hospitals targeted by this new set of regulations aren’t the primary source of the problem?